Republican Senators Introduce Cybersecurity Bill Alternative - Business as Usual as Squabbling Erupts

By Peter Bernstein March 01, 2012

I almost hate to start out with pop culture references, but the introduction today by eight United States Republican senators of their own cybersecurity bill as an alternative to a recently introduced measure backed by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine.) is, as they say in the armed forces, “a target rich environment.”   Thus, before diving into the details, indulge me for a second as we remember two things embedded in American culture. 

The first is to note the twentieth anniversary today of Rodney King’s famous “can we all get along?” remark. For those too young, his arrest and beating by Los Angeles police for reckless driving that was caught on tape sparked days of racially charged (King is an African-American) riots in L.A.   Coincidentally, he was arrested and plead guilty to reckless driving just yesterday.   The second it the hit rock classic by the group War, “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”

But I digress. It is just that the politicization of everything in this presidential election year is getting sickening. There is no debate that cybersecurity -- especially the real threats to our defense capabilities and public utilities like the electric grid -- is a real, present and growing danger.   You would think there would be bi-partisan consensus then to act to protect the nation’s individuals and infrastructure. You would be wrong.

The new replacement version of the SECURE IT Act, backed by Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Dan Coats (Ind.), Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Richard Burr (N.C.)., unlike the one it seeks to replace which was authored by Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), would not give the Homeland Security Department the power to require critical computer systems to meet certain security standards.

In a press release, issued in the name of the sponsors and on Senator Chambliss’ site, there certainly was a lot everyone had to say. This includes Chambliss being quoted that, “Now is not the time for Congress to be adding more government, more regulation, and more debt — especially when it is far from clear that any of it will enhance our security…Our bill offers the right solution to improving our nation’s cybersecurity by encouraging collaboration, investment, and innovation.”

The proposed legislation encourages private companies to share information about cyber threats with the government. It would empower the secretary of Commerce to set cybersecurity standards for government agencies, but not do so for private companies and would not allow Homeland Security agency enforcement of such standards in the private sector. It also includes provisions to update the criminal code for cybercrimes and toughen penalties.

But wait there is more

Senator Grassley chimed in saying, “Instead of the heavy hand of the government, our approach promotes information sharing and keeps the taxpayers’ wallets closed.”

Let’s just say the bill and the press release did not go unnoticed by supporters of the Lieberman-Collins bill who have argued that the regulatory power is necessary. In fact, in the battle of the broadsides, Senators Lieberman, Collins, Rockefeller (D-WV) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) issued a joint statement in response to the introduction of the GOP bill which stated: “We are encouraged by our colleagues’ recognition that we must act to address the increasingly sophisticated and dangerous attacks on our national infrastructure…We can no longer delay action on deciding how to deal with this critical issue, and we are eager to work with them to bring comprehensive cyber security legislation to the Senate floor as soon as possible.”

The politics please

So here is where it gets dicey for those of you trying to keep score at home:

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has stated that he plans to bring the Lieberman-Collins bill straight to the Senate floor for a vote and skip any committee votes.
  • The Republican critics, especially an irate Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), have stated in the past that the various committees with jurisdiction (including Commerce, Judiciary, Energy, Intelligence and Homeland Security) need to hold hearings and amend the bill. In fact, the prospect of a vote without committee modifications and votes was the impetus for the new bill which the sponsors say they do not wish to see rammed down Congress’ throat.
  • The co-sponsors have parried the above saying that that Congress has been working on cybersecurity legislation for years and that their bill incorporates elements of several pieces of legislation that have already been through the committee process, and that waiting to vote, given the gravity of the threat, makes no sense.

Washington, D.C. being what it is, the chatter on the sidelines from various interests has broken out into a cyber war of words. Predictably, there are those who say “let’s vote,” and those who say this is more big-government reach and adding to the national debt for no good reason. And, here is a shocker -- it is along party lines.

While I have no stake in the hunt, I happen to be a registered Independent voter and hold Congress with the same contempt as 90 percent of the country, as reflected in the latest polls, I am confounded as to this having become a political football. One thing can be guaranteed; the bad guys are not going to take a holiday while Congress takes what is sure to be its acrimonious sweet time on doing something.   Hard to believe given that national security really is at stake. 

Edited by Rich Steeves
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