United States: #MLWashingtonCyberWatch: Nominees Discuss Future Of Cybersecurity

With Inauguration Day upon us, it's time for a #MLWashingtonCyberWatch update. President-elect Donald Trump has vocalized his support for the future of "cyber" throughout his campaign – but how will members of his cabinet act, or refuse to act, on his vision for that future?

During the past two weeks, the United States Senate has been holding confirmation hearings for Mr. Trump's cabinet selections. Pointed questioning from senators has surfaced many issues of critical importance to the American people, among them the future of privacy and cybersecurity. The incoming administration will confront significant issues in these areas such as the use of back-door encryption, mass data collection and surveillance, and international cybersecurity threats. The nominees for Attorney General, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS"), and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency ("CIA") were each questioned about how they will navigate these concerns as part of the Trump Administration. In this installment of #MLWashingtonCyberWatch we are discussing highlights from these hearings.

Attorney General: Senator Jeff Sessions

In his opening testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee ("SJC"), Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) stated that under his leadership the Department of Justice will pursue an offensive and defensive strategy to protect the nation's online security. Members of the SJC examined Sen. Sessions regarding unauthorized government data access, cybersecurity infrastructure, online terrorism, as well as the influence of Russian cyberattacks on the presidential election.

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who has been a staunch advocate for protecting citizens' data from unauthorized government access, pressed Sen. Sessions on how the Department of Justice will balance the sometimes competing demands of consumer privacy and data security. Sen. Sessions emphasized that he would work to protect Americans' rights but he did not offer firm opinions on potential tradeoffs when making data more accessible to government and law enforcement. Senator John Cornyn (R-UT) picked up on this theme and focused on recently proposed legislation permitting the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") to monitor and collect IP addresses as a means to combat online terrorism. Sen. Sessions confirmed that he will work to support these bills.

The SJC had several questions for Sen. Sessions regarding Russia's possible involvement in the 2016 presidential elections. Sen. Sessions did not offer an official opinion on the allegations, but he did voice his support for the FBI and suggested that protocols and punishments should be established for Russia's "objectionable" behavior. In his words, he has "no reason to disagree" with the intelligence community's recent findings that Russia engaged in cyberattacks to influence the presidential election.

Finally, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) asked if Sen. Sessions would support a recently proposed bipartisan bill to levy sanctions on Russia, as a punitive measure and as a deterrent to other nations. Sen. Sessions agreed that Congress has the prerogative to impose sanctions and that as the head of the Department of Justice he will enforce the law.

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security: General John Kelly

During retired Marine Corps general John Kelly's testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, he revealed plans for a proactive approach to cybersecurity utilizing partnerships with local governments and the private sector, in particular Silicon Valley. He acknowledged the need for the United States to stay abreast of evolving threats and to remain "agile" in its cyber capabilities.

How Gen. Kelly plans to enact his strategy however remained somewhat unclear. Gen. Kelly admitted he is not overly familiar with the National Protection and Programs Directorate – the DHS section which handles cyber security and infrastructure – although he recognized the directorate's importance. He also expressed that he does not favor mass data collection as a general principle.

Gen. Kelly stated that he considers part of his mission at DHS to include working with the private sector to prevent cyberattacks and that he would leverage resources from state governments and small businesses to make it happen. Around this point Senator James Lankford (R-OK) asked Gen. Kelly how it will be possible to create a "cyber doctrine" to encourage cooperation between departments and even branches of government, to which Gen. Kelly responded that an aggressive approach would be needed to address the country's vulnerability to cyberattacks.

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency: Representative Mike Pompeo

In his opening statements before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) expressed concerns about cybersecurity stemming from the new "borderless" international landscape created by the World Wide Web, which he conceded opens dangerous pathways for sophisticated cyber enemies. He noted that China's activities in the South China Sea and in cyberspace have resulted in mounting tensions.

Rep. Pompeo was broadly questioned by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) concerning an opinion article he authored for the Wall Street Journal advocating for the broad collection of metadata, including Americans' financial and lifestyle information. Rep. Pompeo attempted to qualify his stance, claiming that there should be legal boundaries to such metadata collection, and that the intelligence community falls shorts of its duty if it does not collect and exploit what is publicly available on social media. Sen. Wyden pressed Rep. Pompeo for an affirmation that Americans' data would be protected, particularly since President-elect Trump supports the "backdoor encryption" method that critics view as a threat to consumer privacy. Rep. Pompeo agreed on the importance of safeguarding citizens' privacy and said that he would confront the President and FBI with any CIA findings regarding the implications of encryption policies.

When asked by Senator John McCain (R-AR) what it will take to deter Russia from further hacking and interference in American government, Rep. Pompeo declared that Russian actors need to be held accountable. He noted that policymakers make the call on matters such as issuing blanket sanctions on state-sponsored cyberattacks, but that the CIA should also play a role by providing information and guidance about possible plans of action. He expressed confidence that the CIA can combat similar attacks in the future.

Whether or not these nominees are confirmed for their respective offices remains to be seen, but either way we will be keeping an eye on these crucial roles in government during the early days of the Trump Administration to see if privacy and cybersecurity truly do become a federal priority.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions