The Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs announced a new Cybersecurity Task Force Tuesday. This followed shortly after news that Robert Mueller’s office indicted 13 Russian nationals and three companies posing as American political activists to sow discord.
“The Internet has given us amazing new tools that help us work, communicate, and participate in our economy, but these tools can also be exploited by criminals, terrorists, and enemy governments,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. The purpose of AG Session’s new group is to study cyber risks and advise him on how to deal with them.
The Deputy AG will appoint a senior official as chair, and the Task Force will consist of representatives from the Criminal Division, the National Security Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Office of Legal Policy, the Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties, the Office of the Chief Information Officer, the ATF, the FBI, the DEA, and the U.S. Marshals. Additional subcommittees may be established to focus the Task Force’s efforts.
In a memo distributed Friday, AG Sessions listed attacks on our infrastructure, efforts to interfere with elections, theft of corporate, government, and private information, the use of technology to frustrate law enforcement, use of the internet to spread violent ideologies, and the weaponizing of consumer devices to launch attacks on citizens and businesses as threats to American cybersecurity. He called on the Task Force to make evaluating these risks and coming up with a strategy to combat them their top priority and expects a detailed report by June 30.
What Will the Task Force Accomplish?
As Sessions states in the memo, “many of the most pressing cyber threats that our nation faces transcend easy categorization.” And most of these areas are already monitored by the various divisions of the DOJ. So, what will Jeff Sessions’ shiny new Task Force accomplish? Unless the new committee is given some authority above what the individual Divisions already have, there isn’t likely a lot they can do that isn’t already being done. But the government loves committees, subcommittees, and task forces. So, it’s entirely possible that this is all for the sake of appearances.
However, the memo says that the Task Force will not only “canvass the many ways that the Department already combats the global cyber threat, but also will identify how federal law enforcement can more effectively accomplish its mission in this vital and evolving area.” Also, there is that mention of people using the internet to spread hateful ideologies as one of the cyber threats. Also, the DOJ announcement states: “The scope of the Task Force’s report is not limited to these categories.” Could it be that the investigations and recommendations result in a decrease in privacy for American citizens, and perhaps even internet censorship?
The desire to uncover criminals and foreign operatives before they can strike is understandable, but, unfortunately, the federal government doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to erring on the side of respecting liberty.
What purpose will the new Task Force serve? Perhaps it will accomplish a big fat nothing; maybe it’ll merely grow the surveillance state without making anyone else safer in return. On the other hand, it’s possible the DOJ will manage to make the nation more secure without having to sacrifice liberty in the process. Only time will tell.