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Congress

Cyber Debate Moves To Senate After Divisive House Vote

April 27, 2012

The House wrapped up its "Cyber Week" after passing four pieces of legislation aimed at increasing cybersecurity, but questions remain as the focus turns to the Senate.

House members defied a White House veto threat and voted on Thursday night to enact legislation aimed at encouraging businesses and government to share information with each other.

On Thursday and Friday the House also approved three less controversial bills that reform federal information security policies and increase cybersecurity research and development.

"The House made important progress this week on cybersecurity," Business Software Alliance President Robert Holleyman said in a statement. "Now there is a full package of measures on the table that complement each other to significantly upgrade America's cybersecurity posture."

Where that full package of bills goes from here, however, is still unclear. The three R&D and federal IT bills have wide support in both chambers and similar proposals are included in both Republican and Democratic bills, but the information-sharing bill known as CISPA may complicate the debate in the Senate.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act gathered 42 votes from Democrats, despite some opposition from the House Democratic leaders. But the bill has been panned by civil liberties groups and the White House threatened to veto it unless it includes greater privacy protections as well as greater authority for Homeland Security officials to oversee private critical infrastructure.

Republicans have rejected White House critical infrastructure proposals as too dependent on government regulation. Those concerns have split the Senate and a proposal by Senate Homeland Security and other committee leaders has bogged down in the face of Republican opposition.

"We are troubled House leaders blocked consideration of protections for critical infrastructure systems, ignoring the advice of our military and intelligence leaders as well as most cybersecurity experts," said the Senate bill's sponsors, including Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn.; ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine; Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller; D-W.Va., and Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. They called the other House bills "necessary but by no means comprehensive" elements of cybersecurity reforms.

House GOP leaders said more cyber bills are in the works, but legislation that would have mirrored White House and Senate proposals was gutted in the House Homeland Security committee and it does not look likely that Republicans will be willing to compromise, said Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who supported CISPA but also pushed for expanded protections for critical infrastructure.

"If Republican leadership is going to play politics with national security then it doesn't look good for a critical infrastructure bill," he told National Journal during the CISPA debate on Thursday.

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