The White House on Wednesday receieved a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (PDF link) from two attorneys with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), demanding that President Barack Obama release the text of what they called a "secret" new cyber security law that appears to enable "military deployment within the United States."
The FOIA was filed in response to an article that appeared in The Washington Post this week, claiming that Obama issued a secret directive shortly before the elections that empowers the military to "vet any operations outside government and defense networks" for cyber security purposes.
However, because the exact text of the directive remains a secret, nobody can really say exactly what it does. That was somewhat disconcerting to American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Michelle Richardson, who told Raw Story on Wednesday that without the text, "it's hard to see what they mean."
In their FOIA, EPIC attorneys Amie Stepanovich and Ginger McCall go even further, arguing that the directive is tantamount to the president issuing a "secret law" that may enable "military deployment within the United States" in order to vet network security at companies like AT&T, Facebook, Google and others. And indeed, the Post's article seems to substantiate that concern, explaining that the order will help "finalize new rules of engagement that would guide commanders when and how the military can go outside government networks to prevent a cyberattack that could cause significant destruction or casualties."
But that's literally all anyone outside of the chain of command knows about this order, McCall told Raw Story Thursday afternoon. "We don't know what's in this policy directive and we feel the American public has the right to know."
"The NSA's cyber security operations have been kept very, very secret, and because of that it has been impossible for the public to react to them," Stepanovich added. "[That makes it] very difficult, we believe, for Congress to legislate in this area. It's in the public's best interest, from a knowledge perspective and from a legislative perspective, to be made aware of what authority the NSA is being given."
Such an order, reportedly issued last month, may have actually overridden Congress concerns amid a debate on cyber security. Senate Democrats failed on Wednesday to pass a cyber security bill that would have put the civilian-run Department of Homeland Security in charge of the nation's cyber defenses instead of the military-run National Security Agency. Republicans succeeded in blocking the bill even though it had the support of 51 senators, in a move The New York Times described as "setting the stage" for executive action to safeguard the nation's network infrastructure.
"Our concern is buttressed by an earlier FOIA request that we submitted, when [NSA Director] General Keith Alexander had been asked a few questions [during his confirmation hearing] that he did not answer publicly," Stepanovich said. "He submitted answers in a private, classified supplement, which we also do not have publicly available. There was a question about the monitoring of private communication networks. Whatever answer he gave is not public, but it may implicate now what the NSA is attempting to do."
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Story updated with quotes.