According to a report by CNET’s Declan McCullagh, a draft bill in the U.S. Senate would grant President Obama “cybersecurity emergency powers” to disconnect and even seize control of private sector computers on the Internet.
Back in May, when Obama proposed a “cybersecurity czar with a broad mandate” and the administration issued a report outlining potential vulnerabilities in the government’s information security policies, I cautioned about the constant temptation by politicians in both parties to expand government authority over “critical’ private networks.” From American telecommunications to the power grid, virtually anything networked to some other computer would potentially be fair game for Obama to exercise “emergency powers.”
Policy makers should be suspicious of proposals to collectivize and centralize cybersecurity risk management, especially in frontier industries like information technology. When government asserts authority over security technologies, it hinders the evolution of more robust information security practices and creates barriers to non-political solutions—both mundane and catastrophic. The result is that we become less secure, not more secure.
Instead, the Obama Administration should limit its focus to securing government networks and keeping government agencies on the cutting edge of communications technology. As today’s news illustrates, the dangers created by such a broad mandate may come to pass.
Dan Rather actually made the following two contradictory statements in the same speech:
I personally encourage the president to establish a White House commission on public media.
A truly free and independent press is the red beating heart of democracy and freedom.
He’s right that the free press is a “watchdog on power.” But that’s not compatible with the idea that, as reported, “the government makes an effort to ensure the survival of the free press.” A press funded, promoted, propped up, subsidized by government is not a free press. Nor is it in any position to be a watchdog; it’s more likely to become a megaphone for the states preferred ideas and expansion of government in other spheres, like health care, energy, finance, telecommunications, scientific research and policy and so on.
Democracy as a concept and political system is not at stake, as Rather thinks, when a particular business model engaged in public communications and broadcasting suffers at a particular point in history. It’s been beaten to death, but everyone knows the transformative importance of the Internet and its role in making voices heard that never had a chance when Rather and his two rival channels dominated the news and airwaves for 30 minutes each evening.
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More restraint is in order when it comes to the Obama administrations intent to escalate “antitrust” enforcement against business and enterprise in America.
A skeptical interpretation of antitrust’s realities—up to and including recent campaigns targeting Intel, Google, XM-Sirius; and earlier campaigns against Microsoft and the AOL Time Warner merger, as well as rejected mergers like Echostar/DirecTV—is that antitrust often advances the well being of various species of political predators rather than consumers.
Antitrust is a form of economic regulation. And like all economic regulation, it transfers wealth from somebody to somebody else, often in response to special-interest urging. Partly in recognition of such shortcomings, many economic sectors like transportation and telecommunications were (partly) deregulated and liberalized during the last quarter of the 20th century. But antitrust regulation typically gets a pass. Even in the “new economy,” this century-old smokestack era concept is used to justify constraints and conditions imposed on vigorously competitive modern companies. Antitrust is wrongly seen as being in the public interest, as having a superior role to play in policing markets relative to the alternatives.
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Even an economy in shambles shall not sway the elevation to Federal Trade Commission chairmanship of Jon Leibowitz, an interventionist-minded commissioner who, like all planners, knows better than others how markets should be structured.
In several important areas, his inclinations (judging from the cheers emanating from interest groups like PIRG and Center for Digital Democracy) lean toward substituting political “discipline” for what competitive markets offer.
He supports “opt-in” with respect to behavioral advertising, which we’ve often described as not-necessarily good for a lot of reasons. We’ll come back to this later.
He supports antitrust intervention with respect to firms like Intel (and watch out, Google), and favors destructive “conditions” on mergers. Nineteenth-century, smokestack-era antitrust, rather than withering, now seems dedicated to exploiting and hobbling large-scale transactions in ways that end up creating entities that would not emerge in free markets. Several mergers lately have resulted in such artificially constrained frankensteins, or suffered catastrophic delays. Thus “competition policy” (ha!) neuters the healthy competitive response to them that could have come about. (See my FCC comment on XM/Sirius in that regard.)
On “net neutrality,” we leap beyond whether markets are adequate to discipline errant behavior; here the starting point is the nominee’s doubt that even antitrust intervention is necessarily “adequate to the task”; thus the implication that new laws may be in order.
Let’s just take net neutrality for now. There are plenty reasons I think it’s an outrage to regulate price and access on networks and infrastructure; but just for the moment, the entire concept rests upon numerous (I often feel deliberate, in my less-charitable moods) misperceptions or misrepresentations about competitive markets and capitalism. These include but are not limited to the following: (Adapted from an FCC filing I made).
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