After months of delay, the Senate is moving forward on a broad cybersecurity bill designed to boost private and government computer network security.
On Wednesday evening the Senate opened debate on a procedural vote that could lead to a final vote on the Cybersecurity Act of 2012. The bill, which is backed by the White House, would encourage certain critical industries to adopt voluntary security standards; clarify and streamline information sharing between government and businesses; and update federal network security policies.
"Our systems are too fragile, too critical, and too vulnerable," Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said in a floor speech. "It's a recipe for disaster and it's time to do something about it, before it is too late."
The bill had been bogged down amid criticism over plans to give Homeland Security officials more oversight of certain critical infrastructure networks.
Rockefeller and other cosponsors of the bill proposed a compromise that removed any mandatory government standards for private networks, but some Republicans still fear the voluntary measures could become regulation. Critics also have lingering concerns that the bill could give companies too much leeway in monitoring and sharing network information.
Another sponsor, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said he was disappointed that the changes didn't win more vocal support, but privacy advocates who originally opposed the bill now say the revised language includes much-needed privacy protections.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he did not know if the bill could gather the 60 votes needed to overcome possible opposition, but the bill's sponsors said they were confident the Senate would at least vote to proceed with debate.
In preparation for Wednesday's opening debate, the legislation's backers spent Tuesday highlighting the potential threat from cyber-attacks. A vote on the motion to proceed is expected later in the week.