Future Tense

In State of the Union, Obama Promotes Cybersecurity Measures “Especially” to Protect Kids

In the State of the Union address tonight, President Obama spoke briefly about cybersecurity, giving a nod to the high-profile hacks that have increasingly plagued both private companies and the government. And twice Obama referenced keeping American children safe from cyberthreats.

“No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids,’ he said. “I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyberattacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information.”

It seems Obama was trying to do two things. First, by focusing on children, he brings attention and concern to cybersecurity, an issue that has flown under the radar for too long. But Obama’s emphasis on kids also reflects the complicated and diverse problems associated with protecting children online as their lives are increasingly digital. Not only are kids on social media, email, and the Web in general, but more and more of their educational and medical records are online as well.

Justine Drennan of Foreign Policy also noted that Obama may have been referencing threats made by hackers during the recent CENTCOM Twitter hack; the perpetrators wrote on Pastebin, “We won’t stop! We know everything about you, your wives and children.”

Obama has talked about children and cybersecurity before. In remarks at the Federal Trade Commission last week, Obama said:

Here at the FTC, you’ve pushed back on companies and apps that collect information on our kids without permission … we need a structure that ensures that information is not being gathered without us as parents or the kids knowing it. We want our kids’ privacy protected—wherever they sign in or log on, including at school.

During his comments at the FTC, Obama also proposed the Student Digital Privacy Act, to protect students’ personal information and privacy online. State-sponsored hackers probably have more pressing targets than American fourth-graders, but that doesn’t mean that their information, like everyone’s, shouldn’t be protected.

Obama’s speech was heavy on technology: In addition to cybersecurity he also championed Internet access, scientific research, and innovation. He even requested that astronaut Scott Kelly, who will spend a year in space, “Instagram it!” So far, Kelly’s not on Instagram—but he’ll probably be signed up soon.

See more of Slate’s State of the Union coverage.