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Major CISPA opponent steps down, jeopardizing White House's veto promise

Published time: May 17, 2012 20:58
Edited time: May 18, 2012 00:58
Sarah Tew/CNET

Sarah Tew/CNET

The House-approved legislation that would erode Internet privacy for Americans might have just bypassed a major hurdle. The White House official who publically condemned CISPA has suddenly stepped down as Obama’s cybersecurity coordinator.

Howard A. Schmidt announced on Thursday that he will be stepping down as the White House’s cybersecurity coordinator, a post he has held for over two years. Michael Daniel, a 17-year veteran at the Office of Management and Budget's National Security Division, will assume Schmidt’s role.

Schmidt’s announcement comes at a time when cybersecurity is one of the most heated topics being weighed in by lawmakers in Washington. As an opponent of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act — CISPA — Schmidt is believed to be instrumental in the White House’s opposition to the bill. After members of the US House of Representatives passed CISPA earlier this year, the White House declared that the president’s top advisors would suggest that the commander-in-chief vetoes the legislation if it makes it to the Oval Office. With Schmidt out of the picture, however, the future of CISPA is now more uncertain than ever.

Larry Clinton of the Internet Security Alliance tells the Bank Info Security website, “Howard can be credited for being one of the major influences on the emergence of cybersecurity as a major issue requiring far more intensified public policy analysis and direction than was the case before Howard took office." But as an opponent of CISPA, even the White House’s own cybersecurity coordinator found flaws with the bill. Until his replacement officially condemns the act himself, the same cannot be said for him.

In a statement made available early Thursday from the new cybersecurity coordinator, Daniel says, "The challenges in this area are real and serious, but I have the benefit of building on the progress Howard has made through his leadership and I look forward to continuing my career in public service in a new way.”

Army General Keith Alexander of the National Security Agency applauds the appointment of Daniel, whom he says, “understands the challenges that are facing our nation in cyberspace and the importance of moving forward with urgency to address the threats.” Regardless of what level of threat CISPA poses for Americans, however, those that have examined the proposed legislation largely agree that the bill, in its current form, does not address the issue of cybersecurity as much as it raises concerns of Americans over privacy provisions.

This would not be a case, many would argue, where an urgent answer is perhaps not the best way to handle CISPA.

“Cyber security, when done right and done narrowly, could benefit everyone,” Kendall Burman of the Center for Democracy and Technology told RT earlier this year, “but it needs to be done in an incremental way with an arrow approach, and the heavy hand that lawmakers are taking with these current bills . . . it brings real serious concerns.”

Despite widespread approval in the House, opponents from Washington and Silicon Valley alike have voiced concerns. Software developers Mozilla said CISPA “has a broad and alarming reach that goes far beyond Internet security,” and Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) says it exemplifies “the federal government’s insatiable desire to control the Internet.”