Feinstein urges Obama to issue cybersecurity executive order

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Tuesday urged President Obama to issue an executive order "or take other appropriate action" that would boost the cybersecurity of the nation's critical infrastructure.

In a letter sent to the president on Tuesday, Feinstein voiced skepticism that Congress would pass cybersecurity legislation this year after a sweeping bill she co-sponsored with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) was blocked by Republicans earlier this month. Without a compromise on legislation in sight, Feinstein urged Obama to use his authority to issue an executive order that would establish cybersecurity standards and incentives for critical infrastructure operators to better secure their computer systems and networks.

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"While efforts to reach consensus continue, I fear that the Congress will be unable to pass meaningful cybersecurity legislation this year. Therefore, I believe the time has come for you to use your full authority to protect the U.S. economy and the networks we depend on from future cyber attack[s]," Feinstein wrote. "While an executive order cannot convey protection from liability that private sector companies may face, your administration can issue cybersecurity standards and provide technical assistance to companies willing to take voluntary steps to improve their security."

Feinstein added that Obama could also direct the Department of Homeland Security and community of intelligence agencies to share "as much information as possible to the private sector about cyber threats, including classified information."

"These are meaningful, if limited, steps that can be taken now," she said. "The threats to our national and economic security are simply too great to wait for legislation."

GOP senators and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce fought hard against Lieberman's bill, arguing it would open a back door for the government to saddle industry with new regulations. They claimed that voluntary cybersecurity standards outlined in the bill would end up becoming new security rules that industry would be mandated to follow.

Feinstein isn't the only senator that's called on Obama to issue an executive order on cybersecurity. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who also co-sponsored Lieberman's cybersecurity measure, made a similar appeal earlier this month in a letter to the White House.

John Brennan, the White House's chief counterterrorism adviser, has said the Obama administration is considering imposing cybersecurity rules via executive order after the Cybersecurity Act failed to gain enough Republican votes to move forward.