As you might remember, I wrote this letter to Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn a few weeks ago concerning S.773 or the Cybersecurity Act of 2009. In that letter, I expressed my serious concern that the government was overstepping its bounds by creating such a law and expanding Presidential powers to such a dangerous level, something I believe even more strongly now that I've read the accompanying bill S.778.
Earlier today, I received the letter below from Senator Coburn and, I'm glad to see that he has some of the same concerns I do about the legislation and he intends to work in a bipartisan way to help craft a bill that is less intrusive and has less potential for abuse. While the discussions of S.773 and S.778 are far from over and this letter does not fully address my expressed concerns, I'm encouraged to see that some people are keeping a level head in the face of an Executive Branch power grab and look forward to seeing what a bipartisan bill will look like.
I still encourage each of you to write your Senators and urge them to reshape both S.773 and S.778 prior to passage to ensure that ordinary Americans liberties are not trampled upon. Safety is important but, as Benjamin Franklin so eloquent said: "Those who would trade freedom for security deserve neither".
I couldn't have said it better myself. Now, here's the response from Sen. Coburn.
"Dear Mr. Papillion,
Thank you for your recent letter regarding cyber security. I appreciate your interest in this issue and welcome the opportunity to respond to your concerns.
Let me start by saying that I, too, believe that Americans should never be forced to forfeit their Constitutional rights for a promise of security. On the other hand, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I recognize that potential threats could arise that could seriously undermine America's cyber infrastructure and Internet capabilities.
I think Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives must put aside their political self-interests and need to come together to develop a sensible approach that protects individual constitutional rights, and allows those charged with defending America's national security to have the ability to thwart serious cyber threats that could cripple America.
Like you, I have some real concerns with both S. 773 and S.778 as currently written. Specifically, I believe that S. 778 does not represent the best possible approach to combat potential cyber threats. I look forward to working with members of the Senate to make serious improvements to both S. 773 and S. 778.
Let me be clear-if Congress is going to create a new Office of the National Cybersecurity Advisor, and if Congress is going to extend new authorities to the Executive Branch to combat cyber threats-it must be done in a way that respects the Constitution, allows for robust congressional oversight, and is narrowly crafted to address specific threats. Allow me to explain my thinking and principles on these two legislative measures in detail.
As you may already know, S. 773, the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, and S. 778 would drastically reshape the Executive Office of the President by establishing within it a new Office of the National Cybersecurity Advisor. These bills are currently before the Senate Commerce Committee but have yet to receive a committee hearing.
First, S. 773 fails to define several key terms. I strongly believe S. 773 could benefit from Senate hearings that would allow for amendments and clarifications pertaining to some of the bill's provisions. For example, the bill would grant the Commerce Secretary significant access to review a private citizen's Internet data as well as give the President the power to shut down Internet traffic in a "national emergency." Of note, the bill does not define what specifically constitutes a "national emergency."
Similarly, S. 773 doesn't statutorily define what constitutes "critical infrastructure" when it comes to the dominion over the Internet. In other words, the bill would give a long leash to the President to define such crucial terms as the person deems necessary.
Lastly, I believe the costs of these bills, S. 773 in particular, are unacceptable. Although well intended, S. 773 comes at a hefty price to tag to taxpayers. As written, S. 773 would authorize more than $70 million of new spending per fiscal year without corresponding offsets or spending decreases.
I believe for Congress to make a truly informed evaluation of S. 773, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) should score the bill and detail its cost.
I wholeheartedly oppose the careless and arrogant spirit that advises Congress to spend your hard earned money on things you neither desire nor fall within the scope of the Constitution. Our national debt now stands at over $11 trillion. Our government wastes at least $350 billion every year through fraud and duplication. It is unconscionable for members of Congress to not do the hard work of paying for new programs by spending less elsewhere. I procedurally hold every legislative bill or amendment from passage that proposes new spending and new programs without similar reductions in spending or elimination of existing, lower priority programs. I have worked hard to save the hard working taxpayer millions of dollars in wasteful spending.
Again, thank you for your correspondence. As S. 773 and S. 778 move through the legislative process, I will certainly keep your views in mind. If you have any additional concerns, please feel free to write again.