Obama Wades Into Security vs. Privacy Mess

President trying to walk a line some feel Bush tripped over

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Will Obama be listening in on our VOIP phones?

    President Obama last month unveiled new cybersecurity initiatives, including yet another layer of government ostensibly dedicated to ensuring American security. But as the Pentagon and others consider Obama's pows, they're finding that the President may have made a promise impossible to keep.

    "We will deter, prevent, detect, and defend against attacks" on our digital infrastructure "and recover quickly from any disruptions or damage," Obama said in a speech on May 29.

    Not only will he keep America's Internet safe, he promised do it without impinging on our privacy and civil liberties, a clear effort to draw a contrast with his predecessor, who was often criticized for warrantless wiretapping.

    "Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not -- I repeat, will not include -- monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic," said Obama.

    But some feel the Internet presents unique civil liberty concerns. How does one defend cyberspace when the military is prohibited from entering U.S.-based networks? Or defend against attacks that pass through third-party foreign countries without violating their sovereignty?

    "The government is in a quandary," Maren Leed, a defense expert and former Pentagon special assistant on cyberoperations, told The New York Times. "(A)bout what constitutes an intrusion that violates privacy and, at the other extreme, what is an intrusion that may be acceptable in the face of an act of war."

    Making matters murkier is the squishy nature of international borders in cyberspace.

    "How do you understand sovereignty in the cyberdomain?" Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a chief architect of the new cyberstrategy, asked The Times. "It doesn't tend to pay a lot of attention to geographic boundaries."

    There is precedence at the Justice Department for drawing a line in the cyber-sand, however. In 2006, David Carruthers, CEO of BetOnSports, a popular gambling site that calls London home, was arrested while on layover at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. This was done despite BetOnSports' servers operating HQ being based in Costa Rica.

    “It is very difficult. Those are the questions that are now really starting to emerge vis-à-vis cyber," said Cartwright.