Collective defense is always a tough balancing act for Americans to resolve. The Soviet Union never had to worry about property rights when planning for nuclear war. Communist China will stop whatever movement necessary to preserve order at home. Even the British are ready to make any arrests deemed necessary in the event of an attack.
Americans, however, have often refused even to give the appearance of trampling too much on the rights of the individual on the way to securing the whole. The more time goes on, the more reluctant we become, and with good reason. Even at the cost of having national security secrets published, we err on the side of liberty. Both in conventional security and in the online variety, this reluctance to act could cost us.
Yet, defending the Internet from foreign attacks is no clear-cut issue. If foreign governments are going to attack our critical lines of communication, then there are constitutional and moral mandates for the U.S. government to act. But if government intervenes too much, we risk censoring information, stifling innovation and marginalizing America online.
How do we thread the needle? Representative Dan Lungren (R-CA) has the answer. He would have us create a National Information Sharing Organization (NISO). NISO’s purpose would be bringing together government and the private sector to pool information about the threats that are out there and ways to protect ourselves against those threats.
Such coordination already exists, though less formally. When DHS founded US-CERT, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, the government emulated and cooperated with existing private organizations like Carnegie Mellon’s CERT/CC. NISO would have a mandate to engage with private organizations and corporations. Sharing information, not dictating rules and regulations, would allow the government to earn respect and become a leader in Internet security awareness.
Many Americans rely on State Department warnings when they’re traveling abroad. We can and should let Homeland Security take a similar role online. In a field full of shady characters who cross the line between legitimate and criminal work, a reliable source matters. NISO would be valuable as that reliable source.