Senate Republicans revamp cybersecurity bill

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The new version of the legislation, S. 3342, aims to address the concerns of privacy advocates, who had warned that the old bill would give spy agencies access to Americans' private online information.

The Republican senators said their new bill tightens the definition of "cyber threat information" and clarifies that the government cannot use or retain the information for reasons other those specified in the bill. They also said it creates new oversight authorities to protect privacy and civil liberties.

Hutchison said the lawmakers worked closely with interest groups to draft the new version of the bill, and they believe the new Secure IT is a "consensus bill that will significantly advance the security of our government and private sector networks."

“Our bill focuses on giving companies and the government the tools and knowledge they need to protect themselves from cyber threats, and creates new important requirements for government contractors to notify their agencies of significant cyber-attacks to their systems,” she said in a statement.

Importantly, the bill still does not give the government any power to set mandatory security standards for critical infrastructure systems.

The White House and Senate Democrats argue that standards for critical systems, such as electrical grids and gas pipelines, are a necessary part of any cybersecurity legislation. They argue that without mandatory standards, the country will be at risk for a devastating attack that could cost thousands of lives.

A separate bill offered by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) would empower the Homeland Security Department to set cybersecurity standards. But Republicans argue security mandates would burden business and do little to improve cybersecurity.

"The key to successfully fighting this threat is not adding more bureaucrats or forcing industries to comply with government red-tape,”  McCain said in a statement. “Instead, we must leverage the ingenuity and innovation of the private sector in partnership with the most effective elements of the federal government to address this emerging threat.” 

In an email, Leslie Phillips, a spokeswoman for Lieberman, said the senator is "encouraged that Republicans recognize the urgency of cybersecurity and looks forward to a lively floor debate."

"He is, however, disappointed that SECURE IT does not address the grave threat of cyber attack against critical infrastructure," she said.

The Secure IT Act is also co-sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he plans to bring the Lieberman-Collins bill to a vote next month.

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) are working on a compromise that would pressure, but not force, critical infrastructure systems to better protect their systems.

—Updated at 2:10 p.m.