|Pres. Barack Obama|
Tuesday, 13 January 2015
President Obama Outlines New Cybersecurity Initiatives To Protect Consumers
Barack Obama on Monday unveiled a slew of initiatives to improve Americans’ data security.
In a speech at the Federal Trade Commission, the president outlined proposals aimed at improving student data protection and protecting Americans’ financial health. They will, however, require approval from the Republican-majority Congress, which has already received three veto threats from the White House in less than a week in session.
“As we’ve all been reminded over the past year, including the hack of Sony, this extraordinary interconnection creates enormous opportunities but also creates enormous vulnerabilities for us as a nation,” Obama said.
Obama’s Student Digital Privacy Act would stop companies from selling student data to third parties, except for educational purposes, and from using such data to create targeted advertisements. The act is modeled on a California initiative that will take effect in January 2016.
The current legislative defense for student data is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. Massachusetts senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, and Utah’s Orrin Hatch, a Republican, last year drafted an updated version of the bill that would do things such as require school districts to monitor which companies they have contracts with and control how much data such firms can collect.
The White House provided a list of 75 educational companies that have pledged to protect student and teacher data.
Obama said it was partially the responsibility of parents to protect their children’s online behavior and teach the best practices, but said they needed help from the companies involved as well.
“Michelle and I are like parents everywhere, we want to make sure our children are being smart and safe online, that’s our responsibility of ours as parents, but we need partners,” Obama said. “We need a structure that ensures that information is not being gathered without us as parents, or the kids, knowing it. ”
Last week, a picture reportedly of Obama’s daughter Malia wearing a T-shirt for the rap collective Pro Era surfaced online. Obama, however, made no mention of initiatives to address how minors’ information is used and distributed on social media.
There is little regulation in the area; furthermore, children who have grown up on the internet have a tendency to be more adept at evading existing rules, like Instagram’s requirement that users be 13 or older.
Monday’s speech was the first of a three-day promotion of cybersecurity efforts that are part of the president’s preview of next week’s State of the Union address. Obama used the speech to highlight his technology acumen, saying he was the first president to speak at the Federal Trade Commision since Franklin D Roosevelt in 1937.
“You would think one of the presidents would just come here by accident,” Obama said.
He also highlighted one of his signature issues, immigration, after being introduced by FTC commissioner Edith Ramirez, who worked with him on the Harvard Law Review. Before unveiling the measures, Obama highlighted the journey Ramirez took to the FTC, as the daughter of Mexican immigrants,
Obama also unveiled data protection initiatives geared towards all American consumers. Like the student protection programs, these proposals must be approved by Congress, though Obama said their scope was bipartisan.
“It’s one of those new challenges in our modern society that crosses the old divides,” said Obama. “It transcends politics, it transcends ideologies – liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican. Everyone is online.”
One proposed piece of legislation is the Personal Data Notification & Protection Act. If passed, it will require companies to alert customers within 30 days of discovering a security breach regarding customer information. It is meant to simplify the current framework for data breach notifications, which varies state by state.
The bill comes after a number of attacks on major corporations. In 2014, hackers stole information on an estimated 56 million debit and credit card customers from Home Depot. In 2013, hackers breached Target’s system and stole 40 million card numbers and 70 million records, including phone numbers and addresses.
Obama said the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights would be released within 45 days. The administration announced the bill in 2012; it has been up for public consultation and revised by the Commerce Department.
Obama fended off skepticism about how the bills will look after corporate lobbyists have gone through them, by saying data protection should unite all Americans. “Business leaders want their privacy and their children’s privacy protected just like everybody else does,” he said.
One effort that does not have to go through Congress is a partnership with companies to give free access to credit scores. Companies including JP Morgan, Bank of America and USAA are signed on. Obama said being able to access credit scores for free would provide people with an early indicator of economic health.
He also announced that the Department of Energy will release a voluntary code of conduct for utilities companies, in an effort to get such companies to protect consumer’s electricity data.
The proposed measures come weeks after the hack of Sony Pictures. The president and other senior government officials have pinned the attack on North Korean hackers acting in response to the Sony film The Interview, which is about an assassination plot against the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un.
As part of his cybersecurity push, Obama will speak to the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday. The next day, he will be in Iowa to talk about expanding access to fast internet services.