Farenthold: Cyber Will Be Next Administration's Greatest Challenge

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas Jacquelyn Martin/AP File Photo

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Reports of self-radicalized terrorists could force lawmakers to draw boundaries for what citizens can consume on the internet.

Reports that the shooter responsible for 49 deaths in Orlando was self-radicalized by online information could force lawmakers to confront the boundaries of the freedom of speech, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, said Tuesday.

Cyberwarfare -- whether an attack on the electrical grid, or information deliberately dispersed on the internet to inspire others to plan their own attacks -- will “create some real challenges for the next administration of, 'Where does the First Amendment end, when it comes to propaganda from terrorists?'" he asked during a panel hosted by The Hill.

He added, "Do we say, 'Alright, you’ve got an absolute right to read whatever you want and interact with whomever you want throughout the world?' Or does this terrorist propaganda come closer to something like child pornography -- that it’s completely illegal to possess?”

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That's not the only technology question confronting the government. 

“The one thing we really did learn from the 9/11 Commission was not sharing data, even among government, is really dangerous,” Farenthold said. 

Farenthold is one of a bipartisan group of lawmakers attempting to pass the OPEN Government Data Act, which would require that federal data be published in a machine-readable, easily navigable format. The legislation would codify President Barack Obama’s 2013 executive order on the same topic.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., led the effort to pass the Data Accountability and Transparency Act, known as the DATA Act, which requires departments to make their spending information available to the public. The OPEN Government Data Act includes all other public information.

“The American taxpayer already paid for all the data that the federal government has," Farenthold said. "And making it available to people gives innovators the opportunity to use it. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with open data -- we’re going to throw it out there and let the innovators innovate.”

But there are potential security concerns if agencies accidentally share sensitive information.

“We don’t need to be publishing the list of our spies overseas,” he said, and other data, such as census files, must be decoupled from any potentially identifiable information.

Asked about establishing data sharing standards, Farenthold said the draft bill is a first step and simply expresses the spirit of government transparency.

“The details, I think, will sort themselves out,” he said.