The US Government’s Online Security History

June 04, 2019

US Government Online Security History | Blog

The worlds of cybersecurity and data privacy are rapidly developing, meaning laws regulating them are continuing to evolve. While there’s considerable debate on both sides of the aisle about the best way forward to keep Americans safe online, perhaps the best way to illuminate the future is to examine where we came from. When it comes to the government's online security history, there have been many stops and starts in the past few decades, as federal leaders explored how to navigate this quickly changing arena.


Here’s a look back at how some of the recent administrations handled this increasingly important issue:


Bill Clinton:

The Democratic president signed into law the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act in 1994. The legislation was designed to require phone companies and manufacturers of phone equipment to build in equipment for surveillance, allowing federal law-enforcement agencies to wiretap any phone device. The measure was prompted by the rise in digital-telephone networks, which law enforcement said posed an obstacle in their work to pursue criminal investigations through wiretapping. Privacy advocates, however, pushed back against the law, arguing that it too broadly allows for domestic surveillance.


George W. Bush:

Not unsurprisingly, after the Sept. 11 attacks, all eyes were on President Bush to tighten security on all levels, marking a turning point in the government's online security history. Shortly after the terrorist attacks, Bush created the President’s Surveillance Program, which authorized the National Security Agency to conduct warrantless telephone surveillance of anyone communicating with someone overseas if either person is suspected of having a link to terrorism. The administration also relied on the Patriot Act, adopted in 2001, to allow electronic surveillance in the fight against terror, a program that was heavily criticized for giving the NSA broad authority in surveilling phone, email, text and other communications.


Barack Obama:

In 2017, Obama expanded NSA’s ability to share intercepted communications from global targets with 16 other federal agencies. While the move was applauded by some for instating a tighter series of checks and balances, others criticized it for opening up collected data — before privacy protections are instated — to too broad of a group of agencies.


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