The Public Eye with Eric Chabrow

Obamacare Fatal for Cybersecurity Act?

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Obamacare Fatal for Cybersecurity Act?

The fate of the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, a nearly four-year endeavor, could be known as early as Aug. 2. That's when the Senate is scheduled to vote to stop debate and immediately vote on the bill.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on July 31 called for the cloture vote - which would require a super-majority of 60 votes to stop the debate - a hurdle that has not been achieved during the 112th Congress.

I am amazed that we are letting the clock tick down when we know that it's not a matter of if there is a cyberattack on this country, it is a matter of when. 

Reid, on the Senate floor, expressed frustration with Republicans for proposing amendments they know would doom the bill. Reid specifically cited a statement by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who earlier in the day said Republicans want to amend the Cybersecurity Act to include a provision that would repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. "To say I'm disappointed is a tremendous understatement," Reid said. "I thought we'd all put national security above partisan politics."

It's not just Republicans who have offered non-germane amendments; New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg proposed a rider to the bill that would ban high-capacity ammunition clips.

What also exasperates supporters of the Cybersecurity Act is the refusal by GOP senators to accept compromise [see Senators Purge Regulations from Cybersecurity Bill]. An earlier version of the Cybersecurity Act would have given the federal government authority to regulate the mostly privately operated critical national IT infrastructure. But to win Republican support, the sponsors of the bill - who include Connecticut Independent Democrat Joseph Lieberman and Maine Republican Susan Collins - excised government regulation from the measure.

Still, many Republicans continue to object to the revised bill because it would create a process where the government and business would collaborate to develop IT security standards that industry could voluntarily accept or ignore. Just the idea the government would help develop IT security standards that would be voluntary is an anathema to some Republicans.

The revised bill, prompted by Republican objections, also weakened the authority the original measure would have given the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate cybersecurity initiatives and strengthened liability protection for businesses sharing cyberthreat information.

Yet, some Republicans say they need more time to get the bill right, comments that baffle Cybersecurity Act supporters, including Collins: "The Senate has had 25 hearings; how many more hearings, briefings and reports do we need? I am amazed that we are letting the clock tick down when we know that it's not a matter of if there is a cyberattack on this country, it is a matter of when."

Speaking on the Senate floor, Reid read a letter from Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency and the military's cyber commander, which states:" "The cyberthreat facing the nation is real and demands immediate action. The time is now; we simply cannot afford further delay."

Strong warnings from the likes of Alexander - many national security leaders from the Bush and Obama administrations have endorsed the bill - confound some bill supporters why Republicans won't back it.

"In the face of the cautionary notes we've heard from leaders of this body and around the country and in face of that very strong reality, why we wouldn't pass a broad and tough bill that facilitates information-sharing and protects our critical infrastructure and strikes a fair balance in the middle is beyond me," says Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.

Lieberman has worked on IT security legislation for over a decade, including the Federal Information Security Management Act, enacted a decade ago. The Cybersecurity Act is his swan song; he retires from the Senate a year's end. "I hope I'm wrong, normally I'm an optimistic person, but right now I'm a pessimist," Lieberman said.

Yet, he said, he'll be working up to the scheduled cloture vote to try to win over Republican support for the bill.

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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