DHS: Cyber defenders will respect civil rights

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COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. (AP) - A high-ranking Homeland Security official says the agency will protect Americans’ civil liberties and privacy while it partners with the military to protect the nation’s computer networks.

An agreement with the military announced two weeks ago “in no way changes our respective departments’ promises to protect civil liberties and privacy,” Rear Adm. Michael Brown said Wednesday at the National Symposium on Homeland Security and Defense in Colorado Springs.

Brown is assigned to Homeland Security as assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications.

His boss, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, is scheduled to address the symposium Thursday.

Homeland Security announced Oct. 13 that computer experts from the super-secret National Security Agency, part of the Defense Department, will work with DHS to protect the computer networks that have become the backbone of financial, communication and transportation systems.

That agreement raised concerns among civil liberties groups, which said safeguards would be needed to protect civil rights.

Brown said the partnership won’t infringe on civil rights or expand the military’s role.

“The agreement does not give the military authority to operate inside the U.S. in the event of a cyber attack,” he said. “What it does do is formalize the process by which DOD and DHS will work together to protect the nation’s cybernetworks and increases the clarity of focus of our respective roles and responsibilities.”

The military has a legal obligation to protect citizens’ privacy and civil liberties, said Air Force Maj. Gen. David Senty, chief of staff at U.S. Cyber Command, the Defense Department command responsible for military actions in cyberspace.

“We do not see Cyber Command and NSA as a balance between liberty and security. We work to protect both,” Senty told the symposium Thursday.

He said talk of “cyberwar” has been exaggerated but critical networks are being “contested.” He said the threat of a deliberate or accidental disaster is formidable, and it could create havoc on financial, utility and transportation computer networks.

Dozens of people were killed in Siberia in 2009 and a hydroelectric turbine was destroyed because remote operators typed in the wrong computer commands, Sentry said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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