This Week in Tech: Cybersecurity showdown arrives in Senate

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The GOP co-sponsors of Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) rival bill, the Secure IT Act, have already made good on their promise to file their measure as a substitute amendment. Those Republican members are also likely to introduce pieces of Secure IT as amendments so that the final product looks more like their bill, which they argue has a higher chance of passing the House.

On Monday, the co-sponsors of the Cybersecurity Act and Secure IT Act, as well as other senators involved in earlier compromise efforts, will continue negotiations on different parts of the bill. While it's unlikely that any sweeping agreement will be reached, the senators might be able to find amendments to Lieberman's bill that both parties can back.

The group began their discussions last week. On Friday, Lieberman and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) met with representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to go over their concerns with the Cybersecurity Act, specifically the information sharing measures. The Chamber is the most prominent critic of Lieberman's bill, and the group’s opposition carries a lot of weight with GOP members.

Later on Friday, the senators met with Homeland Security Department officials, including Rand Beers, the under secretary for the department's national protection and programs directorate.

Senators had already filed a raft of amendments to the cybersecurity bill by Friday afternoon. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) filed amendments with the Secure IT bill in them. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) submitted five amendments that cover areas of data security, privacy and stiffening penalties for cyber crime.

Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) announced plans last week to file amendments aimed at boosting the privacy protections in the bill. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) filed an amendment last week that proposes to establish a chief privacy officer in the Office of Management and Budget.

Additionally, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is working on his own set of proposed changes to the bill. Wyden plans on filing his GPS Act as an amendment, which would require police to obtain a warrant before requesting location data from a person's cellphone, laptop or GPS device, except in an emergency. He also plans to file an amendment that would narrow the FISMA reforms in the bill, and another that would state that the international cooperation-related provisions could not be interpreted "to authorize the president to enter into a binding international agreement establishing disciplines on cybersecurity without advice and consent of the Senate," according to a Wyden spokesman.

But even if Lieberman's bill manages to clear the Senate, it faces long odds of emerging from the House intact. GOP House leaders indicate they oppose any legislation to pressure companies to adopt tougher cybersecurity standards.

In other technology news, the Senate, Commerce and Science Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday to examine legislation that would allow states to tax online purchases.

Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is a co-sponsor of the online tax bill, the Marketplace Fairness Act. The measure is also supported by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on counterpart sales tax legislation last week.

Under current law, states can only collect sales taxes from retailers that have a physical presence in their state. People who order items online from another state are supposed to declare the purchase on their tax forms, but few do.

The legislation is backed strongly by traditional brick-and-mortar stores, who say the current system gives an unfair advantage to online retailers. Online giant Amazon is also lobbying for the legislation, arguing that a national standard is preferable to a patchwork of state laws. Amazon reportedly has plans to dramatically expand its physical distribution centers, which would make it subject to taxes in many states under current law anyway.

Online auction site eBay and many anti-tax groups oppose the bills, saying they will stifle e-commerce and burden taxpayers.

On Tuesday morning, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee's subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management will hold a hearing to consider whether to update the 1974 Privacy Act, which restricts how the federal government can handle people's personal information.

Subcommittee Chairman Akaka has sponsored a bill, S. 1732, which would implement privacy safeguards and require federal agencies to notify the public in the event of a data breach.

The witnesses will be Mary Ellen Callahan, The Homeland Security Department's chief privacy officer; Greg Long, executive director of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board; Greg Wilshusen, director of information security issues for the Government Accountability Office; Peter Swire, law professor at Ohio State University; Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union; and Paul Rosenzweig, a visiting fellow for The Heritage Foundation.