US State Department launches cyber office amid concerns about digital authoritarianism in Russia and China


The move essentially revitalizes a bureaucratic structure, complete with a senior cyber diplomat, that the Trump administration had wrecked in a bid to cut bureaucracy. The new office aims to deploy more diplomatic staff and expertise to the State Department’s priorities, such as: B. shaping norms for good governance in cyberspace and helping US allies strengthen their own cybersecurity programs.

“As events in Ukraine and Russia show, we are in a contest over the rules, infrastructure and standards that will define our digital future,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said in prepared remarks, outlining the role of the new Bureau of Cyberspace described and digital policy.

“Democracies must collectively answer the question of whether universal rights and democratic values ​​will be at the heart of our digital lives – and whether digital technologies will bring real benefits to people’s lives,” Blinken said.

Though US diplomats continue to follow cyber issues on multiple fronts, critics said that then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s move in 2017 to effectively downgrade the position of the Cybersecurity Office within the department signaled to the world America’s disinterest in cyberspace.

Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo proposed a new cybersecurity office in the Trump administration’s final days, but the initiative never got off the ground.

Cybersecurity issues have only become more pressing in recent years. About a dozen State Department employees serving in Africa had their iPhones hacked using spyware developed by Israeli technology firm NSO Group. CNN reported in DecemberR. The Biden administration has pledged to take action against the use of such spyware as it has been used to violate human rights around the world.

Jennifer Bachus, a career diplomat, will head the new office on an interim basis until the Biden administration nominates a Senate-confirmed “ambassador at large” to take the job, according to the State Department.

For at least the first year of its existence, the office will report directly to the Deputy Secretary of State. “We want to make sure that the most senior officials in this building are the primary focus of attention,” a State Department spokesman said in an interview.

Christopher Painter, who was the top cyber diplomat at the State Department until 2017, said reinstating a top cybersecurity office could give the department more leverage in interagency discussions on high-profile cyber issues.

“Where we’re talking about everything from economic tools that the Treasury Department might be using to cyber tools that the Department of Defense is using [Department of Defense] possibly use, it’s important to have that diplomatic voice,” Painter told CNN. US State Department launches cyber office amid concerns about digital authoritarianism in Russia and China

Chris Estrada

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