The House is on the verge of approving controversial cybersecurity legislation, but the White House and Senate don’t seem ready to play ball.
As the House Rules Committee considered the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act on Wednesday afternoon, the White House threatened a veto and lawmakers lined up more than 40 amendments, 16 of which were made in order.
The bill, known as CISPA, aims to reduce barriers to businesses and government sharing information about cyberthreats.
Starting Thursday the House is scheduled to consider CISPA, as well as three other, less controversial bills aimed at overhauling federal network security, and increasing cybersecurity R&D and education. With backing from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other leaders, all of the bills are expected to pass, likely with bipartisan support.
For months all sides have been looking to inoculate themselves against the inevitble post-disaster finger-pointing that would come if a major cyberattack happened.
House Republicans point at the Democrats in the Senate for not yet passing cyber legislation; Democrats and the White House pillory Republicans for not favoring stricter government efforts.
House GOP leaders have framed this week's votes as a way to pressure the Senate to act on cybersecurity as officials warn nearly daily of the possibility of catastrophic cyberattacks. But in the Senate, it’s been the Republicans slamming on the brakes.
After months of work by multiple committees, the Senate was set to consider sweeping cybersecurity legislation earlier this year, but Senate Republicans balked at the proposals and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined half a dozen GOP committee leaders in calling on the Senate not to slow down and not rush cybersecurity legislation.
The White House and Senate leaders are holding out for more expansive legislation that could include government oversight of certain private networks. And on Wednesday White House officials targeted CISPA by name for the first time.
"The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, in its current form," the White House said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. "H.R. 3523 fails to provide authorities to ensure that the nation's core critical infrastructure is protected while repealing important provisions of electronic surveillance law without instituting corresponding privacy, confidentiality, and civil liberties safeguards."
CISPA’s sponsors, House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., dismissed the White House statement.
“The basis for the administration's view is mostly based on the lack of critical infrastructure regulation, something outside of our jurisdiction,” the pair said in a statement released during the House Rules hearing. In addition, the sponsors pointed out that the White House objects to the bill’s current form, which doesn’t contain the latest changes hammered out with civil liberties groups.
Rogers and Ruppersberger said they have “agreed to a package of amendments that address nearly every single one of the criticisms leveled by the administration, particularly those regarding privacy and civil liberties of Americans.”
Critics, however, have nearly 40 amendments of their own, including measures that would address privacy issues, as well as expand the bill to give government officials more oversight of certain critical infrastructure networks.
If passed, CISPA and other cyber bills would add to the pressure for the Senate to move on its own cybersecurity bill. But Democrats and Republicans are divided over White House insistence that any cyber bill include more authority for Homeland Security officials to oversee critical infrastructure.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., is spearheading efforts to pass the Senate’s Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which the White House backs, but that bill has bogged down in the face of GOP dissent, as well as opposition from businesses that see Republican proposals as more friendly to industry.
While House lawmakers say they are planning to address additional cybersecurity issues in other bills, Lieberman says current proposals are lacking.
“By leaving out protection for critical infrastructure – our electric grid, water and sewer systems, transportation and financial networks – the House ignores the advice of our intelligence community, our national and homeland security leaders, as well as a number of prominent Republicans,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
A House bill that would have established a larger role for the Department of Homeland Security was blocked by House GOP leaders, and the White House has criticized CISPA for emphasizing defense agencies.
“[CISPA] effectively treats domestic cybersecurity as an intelligence activity and thus, significantly departs from longstanding efforts to treat the Internet and cyberspace as civilian spheres,” the White House said in its statement.
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