Republican committee leaders announced a competing cybersecurity bill on Thursday, even as Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., sought to consolidate support for his comprehensive proposals.
Lieberman is pushing his Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which would increase government oversight of some private networks—such as electric grids, water systems, and transportation—that could be at risk from cyberattacks. The Homeland Security Department would be responsible for determining which businesses should be considered critical infrastructure.
Lieberman and other cosponsors chafed at suggestions that the bill is moving forward too quickly.
“To me, it feels like it is Sept. 10, 2001,” he said at a hearing held by his committee. “The system is blinking red—again. Yet, we are failing to connect the dots—again.”
The bill, introduced on Tuesday, has been praised by the White House, as well as by Senate leaders. Under the legislation, all of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity efforts would be consolidated in a new National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications. It would also increase information-sharing between the government and private businesses, provide a new program for research and development, and increase standards for federal networks.
At Thursday’s hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the bill would give her agency the authority it needs to combat cyberthreats.
“While the administration has taken significant steps to protect against evolving cyberthreats, we must acknowledge that the current threat outpaces our current authorities,” she told the panel. “Our cybersecurity efforts have made clear that our nation cannot improve its ability to defend against cyberthreats unless certain laws that govern cybersecurity activities are updated.”
Some top Republicans, however, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that the bill would harm businesses and the economy.
“If the legislation before us today were enacted into law, unelected bureaucrats at the DHS could promulgate prescriptive regulations on American businesses—which own roughly 90 percent of critical cyber infrastructure,” McCain said.
At Thursday’s hearing, McCain announced that he and other GOP senators plan to introduce a competing cybersecurity bill after the Senate returns next week. Theirs, he said, will favor incentives and partnership over regulation.
McCain also articulated Republican discontent with Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plan to bring Lieberman’s bill to the Senate floor without a separate markup.
Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., a Cybersecurity Act cosponsor, pushed back at concerns about the process. The result of a three-year effort, the bill is based on several other pieces of legislation that were approved by different committees.
“Any suggestion that this exhaustive process has been anything but open and transparent is patently false,” he told the panel.
Cyberattacks represent too great a threat to drag out the legislative process any longer, Rockefeller said.
“The reason that this cybertheft is a life-or-death issue is the same as the reason that a burglar in your house is a life-or-death issue,” he said. “Cyberburglars have broken in, and they have destructive cyberweapons that could do us great harm.”
This article appears in the February 17, 2012, edition of NJ Daily.