Lawmakers strum notes on dueling cyber bills

The alternative cybersecurity bill introduced by a group of Republican senators encourages voluntary information sharing between the government and private sectors. but includes no requirements for securing privately owned critical infrastructure, reports William Jackson at Government Computer News.

The bill’s introduction sets up a “classic” political duel between sponsors of rival bills, according to one political observer.

The Strengthening and Enhancing Cybersecurity by Using Research, Education, Information, and Technology, or Secure IT Act, introduced March 1, is the GOP response to bipartisan comprehensive cybersecurity legislation offered in February by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and others. Although sponsors of the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 say it takes a light touch on security, the bill has been criticized as an attempt at an end run around Senate committees claiming cybersecurity jurisdiction and for imposing too many regulations on industry.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced during a hearing on the Lieberman bill that ranking Republican members of Senate committees with cybersecurity oversight responsibility would introduce their own measure.

McCain stressed that the Secure IT act would not give the government control over the Internet in order to protect it, reports Josh Smith at the National Journal

“The only government actions allowed by our bill are to get information voluntarily from the private sector and to share information back,” McCain told reporters. “We have no government monitoring, no government takeover of the Internet, and no government intrusions.”

The Lieberman and McCain bills are notable for things they do not include, what former ambassador David Smith called the “two bugaboos” of cybersecurity legislation: A presidential “kill switch” for the Internet and monitoring of nongovernment networks by the National Security Agency (NSA), Jackson reported.

“Everybody can relax,” said Smith, a senior fellow the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. He said that although neither bill is complete in itself, each contains good provisions that could be combined to produce a better bill. The real danger is that competing bills could block passage of needed legislation.

“We’re now set for a classic Washington duel on a vital matter of national security,” he said.

In a related development, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission, testified March 5 in the Senate over the best way to address the nation's vulnerability to cyberattacks, reports Suzanne Kelly at CNN's Security Clearance blog.

The men, who now run the Bipartisan Policy Center's Homeland Security project, are calling on senators to take more urgent action on the issue of cybersecurity. They cite recent public statements by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Mueller warning that the cyber threat is expected to overshadow other terrorist threats facing the United States in the not-too-distant future.

Kean and Hamilton also said that they have asked retired Gen. Michael Hayden, who was director of both the CIA and the NSA, to find ways to better coordinate information between government and private industry on hacking incidents.

Hayden has publicly called for legislators to harness the power of the super-secret NSA in fighting cyberattacks, saying the NSA has the ability to fight the war, now it needs the authorization to unleash it.


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