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Walter Rodgers

Cyberattacks: Can Google -- or Uncle Sam -- protect you?

US cybersecurity is weakened by our desire to keep government out of business.

By Walter Rodgers / April 29, 2010


Who can do a better job of protecting us from cyberthreats: private companies like Google, or Uncle Sam?

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This was the question discussed at a recent event hosted by the Center for National Policy in Washington. It was one of those seminars that should have been attended by everyone who conducts business online. The views of the two experts on hand – Doug Raymond of Google and Rob Knake of the Council on Foreign Relations – echo the debate in Washington over regulating banks and Wall Street. And the stakes of a cybersecurity crisis are just as high as a financial crisis, if not higher.

US consumers lose billions each year to viruses, spyware, and Internet scams, while global corporations lose even more. US defense networks are hit by 80,000 cyberattacks each year.

America’s cybersecurity is undermined by our rigid insistence that the government stay out of the business of Internet firms. But this noninvolvement badly stings American businesses. It forfeits America’s technological edge and cripples new innovation as cyberattacks from other countries siphon off our intellectual properties and profits.

The Internet industry has been telling the government to mind its own business for years. That effort got a boost last month when a federal court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission can’t enforce “Net neutrality,” the idea that broadband providers not be allowed to restrict access to any content providers.

The ruling sidelined the FCC as a watchdog of broadband services, leaving it with almost no regulatory jurisdiction in that area. If this decision stands, said Mr. Knake, the Internet “will fundamentally be an unregulated and unregulatable industry unless Congress intervenes.”

Google’s Mr. Raymond said the federal government just can’t move fast enough to meet the challenges Internet providers face from foreign cyberattacks. “The best people to stay ahead of the curve and come up with solutions are those who are on the ground managing those products day to day.” Basically, that means: Leave industry free to manage its own products.

The FCC ruling is a short-term victory for some industry players, but it may hurt all of us in the long term by limiting Washington’s ability to regulate the Web and keep it safe. It’s also made mush of the constitutional power of Congress to “provide for the common Defence.”