Dems reopen cybersecurity debate

After reaching a stalemate over comprehensive cybersecurity legislation in the last Congress, several influential Senate Democratic Committee chairman indicated this week they plan to re-open the legislative process.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) introduced a placeholder bill this week that indicates the lawmakers' intent to craft new comprehensive cybersecurity legislation during the current Congress.

Reid was joined in the effort by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who all chair committees with jurisdiction over cybersecurity.

“Today we rely more heavily than ever on technology to run everything from power plants to missile systems to personal computers,” Reid said.

“Cyber attack could, for example, bring down our nation's air traffic control system in a matter of seconds, with devastating impact on the economic vitality of tourist destinations throughout Nevada and our country. We must strengthen security to ensure that never happens."

A Senate aide said Reid views cybersecurity as a high priority and will lead the legislative effort, but the path forward remains unclear. The individual Committee chairs may choose to hold separate hearings on various portions of the bill, but that has not yet been decided.

"Cyberspace is an arena of great potential and vulnerabilities. Congress and the Administration have been acting to address some portions of these vulnerabilities," Levin said.

"However, much more needs to be done across the government, and in partnership with the private sector and the international community. This bill would be a significant and essential step in speeding that process along.”

While the placeholder bill, S.21, acknowledges the need for a comprehensive overhaul of the federal government's cybersecurity policies, it doesn't indicate how senators plan on resolving longstanding disputes over which committee should have oversight of private sector security practices.

Last year, bills from Rockfeller and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and an effort from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee appeared to gain the most traction, with the former assigning jurisdiction over civilian cybersecurity to the Commerce Department while the HSGAC bill tasked DHS with the responsibility.

However, a source close to the negotiations said they believe a comprehensive bill would be a tough sell, which is why the legislation may be broken down into smaller portions that can be attached to larger spending bills.