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The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Congress has passed for six decades, hangs in limbo. President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the bill, most vocally because it doesn’t include a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — a much-debated provision dating back to 1996 that gives internet companies liability protection for content posted by their users.
Cyber security has become a fundamental part of national security, but that’s not what Section 230 is about. The NDAA is wide-ranging legislation to be sure, but that scope should not include regulation of the internet. It’s a dangerous mistake for the president to try to turn this must-pass defense bill into a vehicle for his grievances against social media companies.
The NDAA has already passed the House and Senate with veto-proof majorities. Trump, however, had not signed it as of Friday and has until Dec. 23 to issue a veto. Some Republicans who supported the bill have left the door open on whether they would vote to override a veto.
This veto threat has always been a bad idea that adds doubt to a necessary defense bill. It’s proven to be an even worse idea with the revelation that a foreign operation, suspected to be the Russians, has hacked several different federal agencies in an intrusion that went unnoticed for months. Those agencies include the Department of Treasury, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, and Department of State, among others.
This year’s NDAA would improve U.S. cyber policy in various ways, including by creating a new national cyber director position. While our nation is under cyber siege from foreign actors, the president wants to use must-past defense legislation to wage an unrelated war on social media companies he doesn’t like. Irresponsible doesn’t begin to cover it.
There’s plenty not to like about Silicon Valley and how big tech is and isn’t regulated. But this bill, at this time, is hardly the avenue to legislate that issue.
“This cyberattack likely perpetrated by the Russians spotlights the glaring vulnerabilities of our federal cybersecurity system,” Sen. Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement on Friday. “The President should immediately sign the NDAA not only to keep our military strong but also because it contains significant cybersecurity provisions that would help thwart future attacks.”
Trump, and any legislators thinking about supporting a potential veto of the NDAA, need to decide which is more important: Political posturing against social media giants, or the defense posture of our nation.
“If he were to veto this legislation over an internet provision unrelated to protecting Americans and our interests, the President would be undermining national security, threatening the livelihoods of Maine’s shipbuilders, delaying long-overdue updates to our nation’s cyber defenses, and preventing our nation’s servicemembers from receiving a deserved pay raise,” Sen. Angus King said in a statement after the Senate passed the bill last week.
King serves on both the intelligence and armed services committees, and is a co-chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. 26 of that group’s cybersecurity recommendations were included in this year’s NDAA, the creation of a national cyber director among them.
“I’m proud to continue working with Democrats and Republicans to ensure our nation’s servicemembers have what they need to defend this country,” Maine’s 2nd Congressional District Rep. Jared Golden, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said last week when the bill passed in the House. “Whether that’s vehicles and equipment, like Bath-built ships, or providing a pay raise for our troops, this bill supplies crucial support for a variety of issues critical to our national security and to Maine.”
Rep. Chellie Pingree from Maine’s 1st Congressional District also voted for the legislation.
“The annual NDAA is a true compromise bill, and it isn’t perfect, but this year it includes several priorities that will benefit our state and nation. In Maine, passage of the NDAA authorizes the shipbuilding work at BIW and ensures our naval fleet is strong,” Pingree said. “This important bill elevates American values and will help the military prepare against the threat of climate change. I’m proud that several provisions I’ve advocated for, including better services for survivors of sexual trauma, are included in the final bill.”
Each of Maine’s members of Congress have indicated that they would vote to override a veto from Trump, if he issues one. The best outcome would be for Trump to drop the threat and sign the bill into law without further delay. But if he does end up going through with the veto, members of Congress from around the country should join together to override him. Now is not the time for uncertainty in national defense policy, particularly on the cybersecurity front.