Jan 12, 2015 · 2 minutes


President Obama is expected to announce new cybersecurity legislation that would protect student privacy, require companies to warn consumers when their data is at risk, and prevent future cyberattacks.

Schools around the country are giving students tablets, laptops, and other devices in an effort to take education beyond the textbook. Obama's Student Data Privacy Act is meant to ensure that the companies selling new technologies to schools aren't using them to collect information about those students -- an increasing concern in much of the country.

The Personal Data Notification and Protection Act, on the other hand, is meant to protect Americans after their information has already been stolen. It would require companies to inform customers of data breaches within 30 days of their discovery, making it easier for consumers to know when someone may have compromised their personal data.

Considering the sheer number of breaches revealed over the last several months, and the massive breaches at companies like Target and Home Depot, a law requiring companies to be forthright with their customers will probably become increasingly necessary. Cyberattacks are unlikely to decrease in frequency any time in the foreseeable future.

Obama's other proposals won't be as welcome to many. They mostly involve increased data-sharing between private companies and federal agencies in an effort to reduce the risk of attacks on the scale of the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack revealed in November 2014.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is currently trying to decide how aggressive it can afford to be while introducing new legislation meant to curb attacks. Some want companies to communicate more with intelligence agencies and vice versa, while others advocate for increasing the penalties associated with illegal cyberattacks.

Politicians are already trying to use the Sony hack to drum up support for controversial bills which would require more data-sharing mentioned between the government and private entities. But apparently the criticisms of those efforts aren't enough for the White House to consider the downsides of contributing to the flood of fear-mongering laws already introduced.

Obama's first two proposals are spot-on. Everyone deserves to have their privacy respected, but students who are only using products because they're legally required to do so should have even more protections. And the rapid disclosure of data breaches could help consumers avoid fraudulent charges while also warning other companies of threats.

But rushing legislation to respond to a trumped-up attack against a non-critical company is foolish, whether it's done by a Congressman from Maryland or by the White House. That proposal is almost certain to receive swift, vicious criticism from opponents who say many of the laws meant to improve cybersecurity actually pose a threat to online privacy.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]