September 20, 2002 7:41 AM PDT

White House defends cybersecurity plan

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"The one (claim) I hear the most often is that it was watered down," Howard Schmidt, vice chairman of the White House's National Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, said here Thursday. "It is not watered down."

On Wednesday, the White House formally introduced a 64-page draft proposal titled "National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace." Rather than target specific industry segments or recommend new laws and regulations, the administration's plan states that industry and individuals must simply take greater cautions.

Earlier drafts of the report were more detailed and envisioned a far greater role for the federal government. An August version of the report seen by CNET News.com said that the government should improve the security of key Internet protocols and that complete online anonymity was worrisome.

"It's not the government's place to mandate and dictate to the private sector how to innovate," Schmidt said at a conference organized by the Internet Law and Policy Forum.

Schmidt, who was formerly Microsoft's chief security officer, stressed, however, that the report is a work in progress and that eight town hall meetings are planned for this fall before the document is submitted to President Bush. Those meetings will "dispel the myth that one group gets a vote more than someone else," Schmidt said.

Also at the conference, speakers praised the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) as working as intended.

Mark Bohannon, general counsel of the Software and Information Industry Association, said the law had become "a very positive force, a force of stability" that had produced "an environment that promotes everyone's interests."

The DMCA, which represents the most sweeping change to U.S. copyright laws since the 1970s, has come under legal fire from technology activists for prohibitions that limit Americans' rights to bypass copy-protection measures. Another section of the DMCA, which allows copyright holders to learn the identity of suspected pirates, is being challenged in federal court in Washington, D.C.

Orson Swindle, one of the Federal Trade Commission's five commissioners, warned of attempts to enact a broad privacy law to regulate the data collection practices of Internet companies. He said such a law would stifle innovation.

"Had we passed the kind of legislation that had been advocated a few years ago, it would have been a total disaster," Swindle said.

In May 2000, when the FTC voted 3-2 to ask for more power from Congress to regulate Web sites, Swindle was one of the two dissenters. He said at the time that "legislation could limit consumer choices and provide a disincentive for the development of further technological solutions. Government regulation may actually give consumers fewer choices, and as technology changes, less privacy."

 

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