Shortly before 4:20 p.m. Tuesday, the White House emailed reporters that President Obama had signed a highly anticipated Executive Order aimed at protecting cyber security.
The order — setting up new programs aimed at stopping online espionage and terrorism — was already the law of the land, signed by the president. But it was also secret.
The document was "embargoed until delivery of the President's in the State of the Union address" — despite the fact it had already been signed.
Such embargoes — imposed unilaterally, rather than agreed-upon — are not binding on news organizations, which weigh the urgency of the news against the headache of, for instance, being dropped from the White House's distribution list. BuzzFeed abided by the embargo, having participated in a background briefing on the move, but thought it appropriate to report on the unusual delay.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor explained in an email Administration's decision to, temporarily, conceal the new order: "We wanted to release the EO early on an embargoed basis because the subject matter is complicated and we knew you guys would have questions. It seemed more helpful for the press corps than sending it concurrent with the speech."
Vietor added "this isn't unprecedented. Take for example sanctions Executive Orders. They are signed one day, go into effect at midnight but are not released until the next day."
The new order appears, however, to have taken effect immediately; Vietor didn't respond to a follow up question about when the order took effect.
Keeping White House executive orders secret is far from unprecedented, but usually concerns actual secrets. In 2002, the Bush White House signed a controversial executive order allowing for warrantless surveillance on those suspected of terrorism.
According to a White House synopsis the Executive Order includes:
New information sharing programs to provide both classified and unclassified threat and attack information to U.S. companies. The Executive Order requires Federal agencies to produce unclassified reports of threats to U.S. companies and requires the reports to be shared in a timely manner. The Order also expands the Enhanced Cybersecurity Services program, enabling near real time sharing of cyber threat information to assist participating critical infrastructure companies in their cyber protection efforts.
The development of a Cybersecurity Framework. The Executive Order directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to lead the development of a framework of cybersecurity practices to reduce cyber risks to critical infrastructure. NIST will work collaboratively with industry to develop the framework, relying on existing international standards, practices, and procedures that have proven to be effective. To enable technical innovation, the Cybersecurity Framework will provide guidance that is technology neutral and that enables critical infrastructure sectors to benefit from a competitive market for products and service
Includes strong privacy and civil liberties protections based on the Fair Information Practice Principles. Agencies are required to incorporate privacy and civil liberties safeguards in their activities under this order. Those safeguards will be based upon the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPS) and other applicable privacy and civil liberties policies, principles, and frameworks. Agencies will conduct regular assessments of privacy and civil liberties impacts of their activities and such assessments will be made public.
Establishes a voluntary program to promote the adoption of the Cybersecurity Framework. The Department of Homeland Security will work with Sector-Specific Agencies like the Department of Energy and the Sector Coordinating Councils that represent industry to develop a program to assist companies with implementing the Cybersecurity Framework and to identify incentives for adoption.
Calls for a review of existing cybersecurity regulation. Regulatory agencies will use the Cybersecurity Framework to assess their cybersecurity regulations, determine if existing requirements are sufficient, and whether any existing regulations can be eliminated as no longer effective. If the existing regulations are ineffective or insufficient, agencies will propose new, cost-effective regulations based upon the Cybersecurity Framework and in consultation with their regulated companies. Independent regulatory agencies are encouraged to leverage the Cybersecurity Framework to consider prioritized actions to mitigate cyber risks for critical infrastructure consistent with their authorities.