Privacy Trumps Cybersecurity, Poll Shows

Cyber security analysts work in the "watch and warning center" during the first tour of the governmentís secretive cyber defense lab  Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The Homeland Security Department's Control System Security Program facilities are intended to protect the nation's power grid, water and communications systems. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
National Journal
Josh Smith
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Josh Smith
July 10, 2012, 5:33 p.m.

Pro­pos­als to in­crease cy­ber­se­cur­ity by al­low­ing busi­nesses and gov­ern­ment to share in­form­a­tion may en­joy bi­par­tis­an sup­port in Wash­ing­ton, but Amer­ic­ans aren’t sold on the idea, the latest United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll finds.

Al­most two-thirds of re­spond­ents — 63 per­cent — said gov­ern­ment and busi­nesses should not be al­lowed to share in­form­a­tion be­cause it would hurt pri­vacy and civil liber­ties. But 29 per­cent of those sur­veyed said in­form­a­tion-shar­ing should be al­lowed to bet­ter pro­tect com­puter net­works.

The United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll, con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al, sur­veyed 1,004 adults from Ju­ly 5-8. The poll has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 3.7 per­cent­age points.

The poll’s res­ults strike at the heart of bi­par­tis­an pro­pos­als that would en­cour­age busi­nesses to share in­form­a­tion by provid­ing li­ab­il­ity pro­tec­tions and re­vis­ing some pri­vacy laws. Those meas­ures also would al­low gov­ern­ment agen­cies to share clas­si­fied threat in­form­a­tion with some busi­nesses.

The spe­cif­ics of the pro­pos­als dif­fer slightly, but the White House and ex­ec­ut­ive-agency of­fi­cials, as well as Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress, are push­ing for in­form­a­tion-shar­ing meas­ures.

In April, the House passed the Cy­ber In­tel­li­gence Shar­ing and Pro­tec­tion Act, known by its ac­ronym CISPA, de­fy­ing a civil-liber­ties back­lash and a White House veto threat.

House Speak­er John Boehner, R-Ohio, had char­ac­ter­ized his cham­ber’s in­form­a­tion-shar­ing pro­pos­als as “com­mon-sense steps that would al­low people to com­mu­nic­ate with each oth­er, to work to­geth­er, to build the walls that are ne­ces­sary in or­der to pre­vent cy­berter­ror­ism from oc­cur­ring.”

The White House, backed by Home­land Se­cur­ity Sec­ret­ary Janet Na­pol­it­ano and the U.S. Cy­ber Com­mand chief, Gen. Keith Al­ex­an­der, is push­ing for more real-time com­mu­nic­a­tion between busi­ness and gov­ern­ment.

In­form­a­tion-shar­ing has been a re­l­at­ive bright spot of agree­ment not only among Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans, but with busi­nesses. However,  the sur­vey’s find­ings in­dic­ate law­makers have made little head­way in as­suaging pri­vacy con­cerns out­side the Belt­way. People sur­veyed in the latest poll sided against the White House and Sen­ate Demo­crats on an­oth­er key is­sue: wheth­er gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials should be able to set cy­ber­se­cur­ity stand­ards for private busi­nesses.

In the Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll, 55 per­cent of re­spond­ents said that busi­nesses should be al­lowed to set their own stand­ards. On the oth­er hand, 36 per­cent said the gov­ern­ment should be al­lowed to re­quire busi­nesses to meet spe­cif­ic se­cur­ity stand­ards.

Lead­ers of the Sen­ate’s Home­land Se­cur­ity, Com­merce, and In­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees have been push­ing the Cy­ber­se­cur­ity Act of 2012, which would al­low the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment to help set man­dat­ory stand­ards for cer­tain crit­ic­al net­works, such as elec­tric grids or wa­ter sys­tems.

The bill is based on pro­pos­als offered by the White House, which in­sists: “Vol­un­tary meas­ures alone are in­suf­fi­cient re­sponses to the grow­ing danger of cy­ber­threats.”

The Cy­ber­se­cur­ity Act could come to the Sen­ate floor this month, after hav­ing been  delayed for months by Re­pub­lic­an ob­jec­tions to the gov­ern­ment stand­ards. Its spon­sors ar­gue that the act’s stand­ards are min­im­al and would not ap­ply to the vast ma­jor­ity of private busi­nesses that run net­works. Still, that hasn’t stopped Re­pub­lic­ans and busi­ness groups, such as the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce, from com­plain­ing about reg­u­lat­ory over­reach. “Poli­cy­makers should not com­plic­ate or du­plic­ate ex­ist­ing se­cur­ity-re­lated in­dustry stand­ards with gov­ern­ment-spe­cif­ic stand­ards and bur­eau­cra­cies,” the cham­ber and two dozen oth­er in­dustry groups wrote in a re­cent let­ter to Con­gress. “Reg­u­la­tions would di­vert busi­nesses’ fo­cus from se­cur­ity to com­pli­ance.”

The pri­vacy flap is déjà vu for Home­land Se­cur­ity Chair­man Joe Lieber­man, ID-Conn., and the Cy­ber­se­cur­ity Act’s oth­er co­spon­sors, who are meet­ing with civil-liber­ties groups op­pos­ing the bill. A year ago, Lieber­man and his al­lies re­vised an­oth­er pro­pos­al in re­sponse to crit­ics who said it could give the pres­id­ent the power to shut down the In­ter­net.

The poll’s res­ults largely mirrored the party-line rift, but Demo­crats and those re­spond­ents lean­ing Demo­crat­ic were split, 46 per­cent in fa­vor of gov­ern­ment stand­ards to 46 per­cent against. Fully two-thirds (67 per­cent) of those sur­veyed who iden­ti­fied them­selves as Re­pub­lic­ans or Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing op­posed gov­ern­ment stand­ards. Mean­while, 57 per­cent of re­spond­ents who said they are in­de­pend­ents or mem­bers of oth­er parties also op­posed man­dat­ory stand­ards.

One area where Amer­ic­ans do back their law­makers is con­cern about cy­ber­threats: A com­bined 67 per­cent of those sur­veyed said they were either very or some­what wor­ried about threats to the coun­try’s com­puter net­works. An­oth­er 19 per­cent said they are not too wor­ried about such threats, while 13 per­cent said they are not wor­ried at all.

Broken down by edu­ca­tion, 66 per­cent of those with a col­lege de­gree and 71 per­cent who at­ten­ded some col­lege said they were wor­ried about cy­ber­threats, versus 61 per­cent of people with a high school edu­ca­tion or less.

By a sig­ni­fic­ant mar­gin, wo­men were more con­cerned about cy­ber­threats: 72 per­cent of wo­men said they were wor­ried com­pared to 62 per­cent of men. Only 9 per­cent of wo­men said they were not wor­ried at all, com­pared to 16 per­cent of men.

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