Yesterday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the Cyber Diplomacy Act, clearing the path for a new cyber ambassador. If signed into law, the act would establish an Office of Cyber Issues within the State Department and give the office’s head the status and rank of an ambassador.
The new ambassador would be tasked with promoting “an open, interoperable, reliable, unfettered, and secure information and communications technology infrastructure globally,” according to the text of the bill. The position would be appointed by the president, but subject to Senate confirmation.
The bill is seen by many as, at least in part, a reaction to recent cyber decisions from the Trump Administration.
“The U.S. cannot lead on international cyber issues if we don’t have anyone sitting at the negotiating table or a clearly-defined strategy to guide them,” said bill co-sponsor Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., at the bills introduction in September of this year. “Rather than help the situation, the Trump Administration has made the mind-boggling decision to wind-down the already limited work the State Department conducts on cyber issues. I am proud to join my colleagues today in rejecting that approach by introducing the bipartisan Cyber Diplomacy Act, which will build the structure, strategy and oversight at the State Department to ensure that U.S. leadership extends to the critical areas of cyberspace. As cyber issues continue to permeate every region and issue area – from intellectual property to human rights – setting international norms to guide states’ behavior and developing international agreements to enforce them will be more important than ever.”
In a joint statement at the bill’s introduction co-sponsors Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., further called for greater action by the State Department on cyber diplomacy issues.
“The U.S. is increasingly under attack by foreign actors online. Now more than ever, we need a high-ranking cyber diplomat at the State Department to prioritize these efforts and ensure we keep the internet open, reliable and secure. The bipartisan Cyber Diplomacy Act will help counter foreign threats on the internet while promoting human rights and new jobs and economic growth.”
The bill also includes provisions that require the State Department’s annual country report on human rights to include assessments related to Internet freedoms. Additionally, the bill attempts to create an international cyber policy that advances democratic principles and rejects attempts by Russia and China to extort more control and censorship over the Internet, furthering the idea that the act is a reaction to Trump Administration policy decisions.
To monitor the progress of the United States’ cyber diplomacy efforts, the bill requires frequent updates to Congress and establishes a notification process for future and current International cyber arrangements.