In the opening pages of his 1998 thriller, Net Force, author Tom Clancy aptly describes a small communications device that would be recognized today in either the world of business or government as a smart phone.
Clancy's novel envisions a new type of terrorism where the country's computer systems are taken over, leading to famine, mayhem and other destruction. His protagonist is the chief of a newly formed agency meant to guard and fight against such attacks.
Clancy's novel, published 12 years ago was, at the time, set in a futuristic 2010.
Of course, fiction, science fiction and comic strip writers, have always had a penchant for predicting the swoop of advancing technology.
It was Dick Tracy, after all, who wowed readers with his two-way wrist radio in 1946. His force of crime-fighters had hi-tech networked communications.
But Tracy's creator could little imagine the roll computers would one-day play in the world of communications and control. It would, after all, be another three decades before Al Gore would invent the Internet.
Speed forward to August of 2010 and Maine's U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a key player on the Senate's Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, is promoting a bill that would create an agency and, presumably, a director as Clancy envisioned.
The director of the Office of Cyberspace Police, according to the legislation, would oversee all related federal cyberspace activities and harmonize government efforts to secure cyberspace.
The new director would be a cabinet-level, Senate-approved position and be responsible for all elements of cyberspace policy, including military, law enforcement, intelligence and diplomacy. Also, a host of non-government entities in business and industry that provide key infrastructure to the country — think power and water companies for starters.
Collins and co-authors Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., have been touting the legislation since June and made a renewed push for it earlier this month.
“As our national and global economies become ever more intertwined, cyber terrorists have greater potential to attack high-value targets," Collins said during a press conference on the legislation.
"From anywhere in the world, they could disrupt telecommunications systems, shut down electric power grids, and freeze financial markets," she said. "With sufficient know-how, they could cause billions of dollars in damage and put thousands of lives in jeopardy."
So far, according to Collins, the U.S. effort at cyber security has been "disjointed and uncoordinated."
In other words the virtual left hand doesn't know what the virtual right hand is doing when it comes to keeping our key computer systems secure.
“The Internet may have started out as a communications oddity some 40 years ago, but it is now a necessity of modern life and, sadly, one that is under constant attack,” Lieberman said in June. “It must be secured."
We support this legislation and hope Collins is successful in her efforts to see it become federal law. Without it, we fear the fiction envisioned by writers like Clancy and others could too easily become reality.