Washington, DC – Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-OR) spoke with POLITICO Pro about cybersecurity topics from the electric grid to data privacy and more. A few highlights are below.
By Tim Starks
May 20, 2020
If there was one piece of cybersecurity legislation you really wanted to see completed before you leave Congress, what might it be?
I think if we can figure out data privacy, work on data security, work on grid cybersecurity, both the power grid and tech networks, that’s really important work.
What kind of data privacy or cybersecurity concerns do you have about Covid-19 contact tracing apps?
In terms of following up on contact tracing, which is going to be essential to opening the economy safely, you do have privacy issues relative to health care. You have privacy issues if somebody — there are these apps that are really going to fully trace and track where you go, everywhere you go, every second of the day. And then what are your options to opt in or opt out? If somebody near me turned positive, I’d really like to know that so I could isolate and not spread. What does that really mean and look like? It gets down to, there has to be absolute full disclosure to the user about what those apps do or don’t do and what happens to the data that are collected. That’s the consumer lens I see them through. I think where people get really upset, and that includes policymakers, is when you’re deceived.
What needs to be done to protect the electricity grid?
The president was smart to issue an executive order on securing the electric grid. The threat’s real. I’ve been read in at a fairly high level in classified settings. Taking down the electric grid by an unfriendly, after we were suffering through the pandemic, [would] look like child’s play. We need to move expeditiously. There’s a better and better partnership now between the private side and the public intelligence side in terms of sharing information. That was a real barrier at one point on information sharing. There’s still not as much as some would like on the a private side. What the testing labs do is really important, trying to break things.
What’s your real specific concern about Chinese suppliers on 5G? How isn’t this just another “Red Scare?”
All you have to do is read Henry Kissinger’s book “On China” or [Michael] Pillsbury’s “The Hundred-Year Marathon.” If after reading those you don’t have a clear understanding of the Chinese mission and goal from which they never wavered, then you’re in the wrong space. I really strongly believe we can have a positive relationship with China. We have to recognize they play by different rules or no rules at all. They don’t respect intellectual property. They produce equipment that is suspect and could leave us vulnerable to attack, and we’ve got to be smart enough to understand that, and then move forward on onshore manufacturing where it makes sense.
What could be done to deter China about stealing Covid-19 research?
We’re pretty good at this. We live by different standards, though. We don’t go in and steal all their intellectual property. We’re really good at sniffing out where these attacks are coming from. And we have abilities and capabilities to respond. And I think the Trump administration unlike any before, certainly not like the Obama administration, has responded and has made clear, we know who you are, we know where you are and we can prove it if we have to. Just knock it off. It could be the time but certainly it’s his leadership style; he’s not going to take it. He’s empowered very capable folks to do what’s necessary to protect the homeland.
What’s your greatest fear on cybersecurity?
The electric grid is the single biggest threat to our way of life, because if you take down the electric grid, you take down everything. You’re taking down refrigeration and water pumps and ATMs and Netflix, for God’s sake. It could be very damaging and last for an extended period of time. I’m just going to tell you when the meat’s rotting in the freezer that doesn’t work anymore, and the shelves are empty in the store, you’ve got a pretty demoralized and decaying society in a matter of days. We could not let that happen.
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