The new network, dubbed Govnet, is the brainchild of Richard Clarke, the newly appointed presidential adviser for cyberspace security, and is intended to carry data, voice-over-IP and possibly video.
"Planning for this network has been going on for several months," Clarke said in a statement Wednesday, adding that the General Services Administration--the agency responsible for providing service and equipment to the U.S. government--will play a critical role. "We need the combination of skills the GSA has to establish this network quickly."
The agency posted a so-called request for information on its Web site Wednesday, calling for the high-tech industry to create potential blueprints for the new network.
The proposal outlines a network that uses the current Internet protocols that would be limited to communications between government agencies and other authorized users. "There will be no interconnections or gateways to the Internet or other public or private networks," the RFI said.
In addition, the proposal requires that all data on the network be encrypted using the current standard recommended by the National Security Agency and that the network be immune to worms, viruses, denial-of-service attacks and other Internet hazards.
During the announcement of his new position Tuesday, Clarke explained why a secure network for critical government services is needed.
"Our economy, our national defense, increasingly our very way of life depends upon the operation--secure and safe operation--of critical infrastructures that in turn depend on cyberspace," he said. He made no mention of the Govnet at the time.
However, the idea of a separate Internet for critical government services is not a new one for Clarke. Last December, at Microsoft's SafeNet Conference, Clarke proposed just such a network.
"We need to bifurcate cyberspace: We need to have a secure zone in cyberspace and then we can leave the rest of it as it is today," he said at the time, when he had been serving as President Clinton's National Coordinator for security, counterterrorism and infrastructure protection on the National Security Council.
The secure Internet should have the equivalent of armed guards at the doors and no one would be anonymous, he added. "In this zone, privacy and security could be achieved, as long as there is no anonymity."
The request for information calls for a network release in the contiguous 48 states, with the possibility of future expansion into Canada, Alaska and Hawaii. Industry proposals are due by Nov. 21, and Clarke intends to hold information-exchange meetings on the topic.