July 13, 2012
|Janet Napolitano (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)|
The Obama administration has given the Department of Homeland Security powers to prioritize government communications over privately owned telephone and Internet systems in emergencies.
An executive order signed June 6 “gives DHS the authority to seize control of telecommunications facilities, including telephone, cellular and wireless networks, in order to prioritize government communications over private ones in an emergency,” said Amie Stephanovich, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).
The White House says Executive Order 13618, published Wednesday in the Federal Register, is designed to ensure that the government can communicate during major disasters and other emergencies and contains no new authority.
“The [order] recognizes the creation of DHS and provides the Secretary the flexibility to organize the communications systems and functions that reside within the department as [she] believes will be most effective,”White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in an email. “The [order] does not transfer authorities between or among departments.”
She said the order replaced one originally signed in 1984 by President Reagan and amended in 2003 by President George W. Bush after DHSwas set up and took responsibility for emergency response and communications.
When the original order “was written during the Cold War, the motivating national security concern was maintaining communications capability following a devastating nuclear strike,” Ms. Hayden said.
The new order “address[es] a world in which our economy and government are far more reliant on communications technologies to maintain essential functions than we were then,” she wrote.