SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States, pushing to promote global Internet freedom, on Tuesday declassified some of its initiatives on safeguarding government networks as it pursues partnerships in the effort.
The move comes as Washington has become more vocal in opposing other governments’ censorship of the Internet and presses its argument that Internet access is a basic human right to express and gather online.
The U.S. State Department is planning a meeting on Thursday with tech companies and another will be held in the summer.
The move also comes in the wake of Google Inc’s announcement in January that it had faced a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack” in December, allegedly from inside China, and said that it was no longer willing to censor search results in the country as required by Beijing.
To make its cybersecurity efforts more transparent, the White House released some initiatives, which had been classified when they were created in 2008 during the Bush administration.
The initiatives include steps to consolidate the government’s Internet access to improve security, improve detection and prevent intrusions into government networks and better coordinate federally funded research.
It also seeks to improve sharing of information about incursions between federal agencies, creating a government-wide cyber-counterintelligence plan and increasing the security of classified networks.
“We’re not going to end up beating our adversaries because they’re weak. We know that they’re strong and they’re getting stronger,” Howard Schmidt, President Barak Obama’s new cybersecurity coordinator, said in a speech in San Francisco. “We’ll beat them because we will become stronger.”
The initiatives also seek to define the government’s role for protecting U.S. electrical grids, water supply and other elements of critical infrastructure from cyber attack. The private sector owns and operates an estimated 85 percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure.
In the Senate a key U.S. lawmaker on Tuesday said he plans to propose a bill that would make U.S. technology companies be subject to civil or criminal liability unless they take reasonable steps to protect global human rights.
At a hearing, Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on human rights and the law, said there were questions over whether repressive governments had used filtering software made by U.S. companies to censor the Internet.
Durbin and some other lawmakers are pushing U.S. technology companies to join the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a voluntary code of conduct that requires companies to take reasonable measures to protect human rights.
So far Google, Yahoo! Inc and Microsoft Corp have joined the standard-setting body. Some companies have balked, citing membership fees, which range from $2,000 to $60,000 depending on the company’s annual revenue.
Durbin provided few details of the legislation, but it may require technology companies to follow requirements similar to the GNI.
“This is an issue that will not go away,” Durbin said.
At the hearing, Google Vice President Nicole Wong said the world’s top search engine is not prepared to say who is carrying out cyber attacks from China due to an ongoing investigation.
“We do know such attacks are violations of China’s own laws,” Wong said in prepared testimony.
In January, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled an initiative to promote Internet freedom worldwide that includes grants to help citizens living under repressive regimes to access an unfettered Internet.
Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner told lawmakers on Tuesday that since 2008, the department has implemented $15 million in programing to support online freedom and another $5 million in funds will be decided in the next several months.
Reporting by Ian Scherr in San Francisco and Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Dave Zimmerman, Tim Dobbyn and Leslie Gevirtz