President Donald Trump on Wednesday undid an Obama-era policy that set limits on how the United States deploys its cyber weapons. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Trump is seeking to relax regulations and make it easier for the country to launch cyber attacks.
The move comes as many U.S. intelligence agencies and elected officials raise the alarm of continued foreign interference into U.S. elections, particularly by Russia. The new presidential directive, which Vice reports was championed by National Security Advisor John Bolton, will make it easier for the U.S. respond to cyber attacks with its own mobilization of cyber weaponry and, potentially, conventional military power.
Regulations introduced under President Barack Obama set strict guidelines on how and when cyber attacks could be launched: Presidential Policy Directive 20, which Trump undid on Wednesday, set a framework that required multiple members of the executive branch to be consulted before any cyber attack was launched.
Reactions to the policy reversal were mixed. As Vice reports, many in the military and intelligence communities applauded the change as a move toward creating a workable cyber strategy. However, other experts worried about what sort of power this might cede to the Pentagon and other intelligence agencies—entities that might now have more power to independently launch cyber attacks.
The mixed response reveals the country’s lack of comprehensive policy on cyber warfare: For instance, the U.S. currently has no official definition of what constitutes a cyber act of war. And while the War Powers Resolution of 1973 set guidelines and created congressional oversight for presidents who wish to wage armed conflict, existing legislation makes it unclear how much power the president has to wage war when the soldiers do not have boots on the ground, but rather fingers on keyboards.