Cybersecurity Bills Line Up in Congress

New GOP bill encourages public-private approach

Cyber security to guard against threats from terrorists is getting a lot of attention from Congress these days, overtaking privacy on the legislative front. A group of eight GOP Senators introduced Thursday an alternative cyber security bill to the one introduced last month by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Ct.) and Susan Collins (R-Me.), setting up a debate in the Senate over the two approaches.

The Strengthening and Enhancing Cyber security by Using Research, Education, Information, and Technology Act (Secure IT), takes a lighter approach than the Cyber security Act of 2012. Introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dan Coats (R-IN), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Richard Burr (R-NC) Secure IT calls for private companies to collaborate with the government about cyber threats; federal contractors would be required to share information with the government. It also strengthens penalties against cyber crime.

The Cybersecurity Act would give the Homeland Security Department the broader authority to require that critical computer systems, private and publlic, meet security standards and penalize companies lacking in safeguards.

"We are concerned other bills would add another overlay of a new department over the security systems already in place," said Hutchison when she introduced the bill on the floor Thursday afternoon. "We believe private industry is better equipped than Homeland Security."

During a press conference Thursday morning, Chambliss noted that the private-public approach helps the bill walk the fine line between security and privacy. "We understand and share the concerns about privacy, so we took specific steps to protect privacy. For example, only cyber threat information may be used or shared. If it’s not cyber threat information, you can’t share it under this Act and you don’t get liability protections."

Wireless companies, cable companies, and the telecommunications industry are throwing their weight behind the Secure IT Act and its public-private partnership approach to battling any cyber threats.

"While the bill would help improve the nation’s cyber security capabilities, it also avoids the creation of new regulatory obligations and thereby helps to ensure that America’s wireless industry retains the flexibility and freedom it needs to innovate and continue to be an engine for economic growth," said Jot Carpenter, the vp of government affairs for the CTIA – The Wireless Association.

GOP leaders are hoping to head off the Cyber security Act before Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-W.Va.) brings it to the floor, as he has promised to do, effectively bypassing any committee review.

That angered Democrats, who accused the Senate leadership of rushing the Cyber security Act. "How often do we bring a bill to the floor without a markup in committee," McCain said during a press conference Thursday morning.

The GOP-controlled House is likely to fall in line with the Secure IT bill. On Wednesday, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology set up a bipartisan working group of six members to examine the issue focusing on "private-sector companies to work with each other and the public sector," an approach adopted by the Secure IT bill. A hearing is set for next week.