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Looming Executive Order on Spyware Is on the Money

CyberScoop reports that the Biden administration intends to issue an Executive Order to prohibit the use of spyware that poses security risks to the US, and it’s shaping up nicely. Read more: White House expected to issue executive order reining in spyware

The report is based on a letter that CyberScoop obtained that was sent from the Departments of State and Commerce to members of the US House Intelligence Committee. The letter states the Administration is preparing an Executive Order that will prohibit US government use of commercial spyware that”poses counterintelligence or security risks to the United States or risks of being used improperly”.

This leaves open the possibility that the government will use spyware products that are being used “properly” elsewhere, and don’t pose a counterintelligence or security risk. In other words, it’s a carrot-and-stick approach to foreign spyware vendors — behave responsibly and US government contracts are at least a possibility, behave badly and get sanctioned instead.

Reassuringly, the letter shows that these departments are thinking clearly about exactly what aspects of commercial spyware are problematic. After summarising the US government’s plan of action, the letter spells out the specific issues that these actions are intended to address:

Taken together, these efforts aim to reduce the proliferation and improper use of new technological tools to facilitate repression and human rights abuses, mitigate the counterintelligence threats these tools can pose to the U.S. Government, ensure that U.S. companies and former U.S. Government personnel are not facilitating authoritarian or repressive practices abroad, and provide tools to Americans and others around the world to improve their digital security.

There is justified outrage and concern among politicians in Europe and the US at the abuse of commercial spyware. Read more: House Intel Chairman vows to put ‘greater emphasis’ on fighting spyware

This can result in a haphazard approach where some proposed regulation is positively counterproductive, so it is good to see some clear-eyed thinking on the issues here.

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