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House passes legislation to elevate cybersecurity at the State Department

House passes legislation to elevate cybersecurity at the State Department
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The House on Tuesday approved bipartisan legislation aimed at elevating cybersecurity at the State Department through prioritizing and reorganizing a key department on the heels of multiple major foreign cyberattacks against the United States. 

The Cyber Diplomacy Act would require the State Department to open a Bureau of International Cyberspace Policy, and the head of the bureau would be appointed by the president and given the rank of ambassador, reporting directly to either the secretary of State or a deputy. 

The new bureau would lead the State Department’s cybersecurity efforts, including through creating an international strategy to guide efforts by the United States to engage with other nations on cybersecurity issues and to set norms on responsible behavior in cyberspace. 

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The bill, reintroduced in February, was previously passed by the House during the last Congress but failed to be considered by the Senate. It was approved Tuesday as part of a larger package of bills by the House in a vote of 355-69. 

It was first introduced in 2017 as a reaction to former Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonHouse passes legislation to elevate cybersecurity at the State Department Biden's is not a leaky ship of state — not yet With salami-slicing and swarming tactics, China's aggression continues MORE’s decision to merge the previous Office of the Cybersecurity Coordinator with another office. 

Former Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoPompeo on CIA recruitment: We can't risk national security to appease 'liberal, woke agenda' DNC gathers opposition research on over 20 potential GOP presidential candidates Dozens of scientists call for deeper investigation into origins of COVID-19, including the lab theory MORE announced the establishment in January of the Bureau of Cybersecurity and Emerging Technology but faced bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill due to the new bureau’s structure. 

The bill is primarily sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHouse lawmakers roll out bill to invest 0 million in state and local cybersecurity Asian American lawmakers say State's 'assignment restrictions' discriminate Senate Intelligence panel working on legislation around mandatory cyber breach notification MORE (R-Texas) with co-sponsors including committee Chairman Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksAsian American lawmakers say State's 'assignment restrictions' discriminate Colombia's protests are threat, test for US Pressure increases for US to send vaccines to Latin America MORE (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinFeds eye more oversight of pipelines after Colonial attack Lawmakers push for increased cybersecurity funds in annual appropriations Biden takes quick action on cyber in first 100 days MORE (D-R.I.), Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherSenate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech Overnight Energy: 5 takeaways from the Colonial Pipeline attack | Colonial aims to 'substantially' restore pipeline operations by end of week | Three questions about Biden's conservation goals Hillicon Valley: Colonial Pipeline attack underscores US energy's vulnerabilities | Biden leading 'whole-of-government' response to hack | Attorneys general urge Facebook to scrap Instagram for kids MORE (R-Wis.), Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerTrump critics push new direction for GOP Democrats fundraise off of vote to remove Cheney from GOP leadership Kinzinger on Cheney removal: History will call this 'low point of the Republican Party' MORE (R-Ill.), and Bill KeatingWilliam (Bill) Richard KeatingHillicon Valley: Tech companies duke it out at Senate hearing | Seven House Republicans vow to reject donations from Big Tech House passes legislation to elevate cybersecurity at the State Department Overnight Defense: Trump, Biden set to meet in final debate | Explicit Fort Bragg tweets were sent by account administrator | China threatens retaliation over Taiwan arms sale MORE (D-Mass.). 

Both McCaul and Meeks spoke in favor of the legislation on the House floor earlier this week. 

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“This Congress, the House Foreign Affairs Committee aims to prioritize efforts to reassert American leadership on a variety of issues,” Meeks said. “I can't think of any issue that is more timely than ensuring American leadership is prepared to confront the growing national security challenge in cyberspace.”

“This feels long overdue,” McCaul said on the House floor. “To me, it is the last piece in terms of our cyber role in the federal government, now taking it to the international stage with our allies around the world.”

Langevin said in a statement released following the Tuesday vote that he hoped the Senate would “act with the same speed” as the House did in passing the legislation. 

“As the United States confronts increasingly bold challenges from adversaries in cyberspace, designing and implementing a whole-of-government response strategy ­--  in close coordination with the international community -- is an urgent matter of national security,” Langevin said. 

The legislation was passed less than a week after the Biden administration announced sanctions against Russia for its interference in U.S. elections and its involvement in the recent SolarWinds hack, a major incident that compromised at least nine federal agencies and 100 private sector groups. 

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It also was passed a month after Microsoft announced that at least one state-sponsored Chinese hacking group was exploiting vulnerabilities in its Exchange Server application to compromise thousands of organizations and the same day multiple agencies were compromised by a new potential Chinese hacking incident. 

Langevin pointed to the Russian sanctions in noting that more collaboration with allied nations was needed to respond to foreign cyberattacks. 

“The firm response to Russian destabilization efforts is welcome, but unfortunately, coordination with our closest allies was lacking,” Langevin said. “Moving forward, a Bureau of International Cyberspace Policy at the State Department will empower our diplomatic corps to ensure like minded nations speak with one voice in the face of norms-busting behavior.”

Gallagher also pushed for the Senate to "quickly act" on the legislation. 

"In an increasingly connected world, we must have the proper structures in place to promote our values and interests in cyberspace," Gallagher said in a statement Tuesday night. "The House took a significant step toward achieving this mission today."