The Cyber Diplomacy Act, which would create an Office of Cyber Issues within the State Department, passed through the House Foreign Affairs Committee Nov. 15. Under the bill, the head of the office would have the rank and status of an ambassador and be responsible for leading the State Department’s diplomatic cyberspace efforts by promoting “an open, interoperable, reliable, unfettered and secure information and communications technology infrastructure globally.”

“The US is increasingly under attack by foreign actors, and these actors are online. Now, more than ever, we need a high-ranking cyber diplomat to prioritize these efforts and work with foreign governments,” said the bill’s author Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif. “This bipartisan bill will help counter foreign threats on the internet, and it’s also going to help promote human rights abroad and will create new jobs, new economic growth, here at home.”

The bill also commits the United States to working with international partners to establish norms of behavior in cyberspace and promote open internet. To do so, the bill requires that the president work with technology companies, security researchers and other stakeholders to clarify the applicability of international law to cyber-based attacks and what steps countries can take in retaliation when they have been attacked in cyberspace.

The issue of what constitutes a cyber act of war has long been the subject of debate between policy experts and lawmakers alike. The bill requires that the president work to secure commitments of responsible country behavior that would include not conducting the cybertheft of intellectual property, not attacking critical infrastructure through cyberspace and not conducting threats against emergency response systems.

“This measure would help the United States shape international cyber norms, rev up coordination with our allies, stiffen our defenses and coordinate our responses to future malicious activity,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.

The bill is cosponsored by both Democrats and Republicans in the House, giving it a strong chance of a positive reception when it reaches the floor.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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