This Week in Tech: Senators push for cybersecurity with time running out

{mosads}In a bid to win more GOP votes, the revised bill removed provisions that required operators of critical infrastructure to meet security mandates. It also gave the Homeland Security Department a smaller role than it had in the original version of the bill.

In the revised version, critical-infrastructure operators could elect to participate in a voluntary cybersecurity program where they can receive incentives, such as liability protections or access to government intelligence. But to receive those incentives, companies must show through self-certification or a third-party audits that they meet a set of accepted cybersecurity practices. Those voluntary cybersecurity practices would be developed by private industry groups but reviewed and approved by an inter-agency council headed by the secretary of Homeland Security.

“In other words, we are going to try carrots instead of sticks as we begin to improve our cyber defenses,” Lieberman said. But he said if the voluntary measures don’t work, “a future Congress will undoubtedly come back and adopt a more coercive system.”

So far, industry groups and GOP senators have kept quiet about whether the concessions Lieberman made in the critical infrastructure section addressed their concerns about the bill being too regulatory. TechAmerica commended Lieberman and the other co-sponsors for their work on the legislation but noted any measure that passes the Senate needs to “strike the right balance by prioritizing our nation’s cybersecurity without hindering the future of America’s IT companies in a way that would open them up to unnecessary liability or hamper our industry’s ability to innovate and respond to the latest cyber threats.

On the other hand, privacy groups applauded the changes. The American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Democracy and Technology credited the revised version with ensuring companies shared cyber threat information directly with civilian agencies.

The White House is also applying a full-court press on getting the bill passed. Although the White House had called for Congress to ensure cybersecurity legislation required critical infrastructure operators to meet security standards, President Obama urged the Senate to pass the Lieberman bill as soon as possible in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published shortly after the revised version was introduced.

In other technology news, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is set to hold a hearing on Tuesday afternoon to examine the Cable Act, a 20-year-old law governing the distribution of video services.

Lawmakers are expected to consider whether the law needs to be updated in light of changes in the TV marketplace, including the rise of Internet video. Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said he wants to find a way to protect viewers from disruptive programming disputes. Viacom and DirecTV recently agreed to a new contract after a prolonged standoff caused millions of viewers to lose access to 17 channels, including MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, for one week.

“In particular, I want to take a close look at how we make sure that consumers do not continue to get caught in the crossfire in programming disputes, facing dark screens and losing access to news, sports and other entertainment programming,” Rockefeller said in a statement.

Slated to testify is a lineup of top cable and broadcasting executives, as well as consumer advocates. The witnesses include Melinda Witmer, chief video and content officer at Time Warner Cable, National Association of Broadcasters Chief Executive Gordon Smith, American Cable Association Chairwoman Colleen Abdoulah, and Martin Franks, executive vice president for planning, policy and government affairs at CBS Corp.

Mark Cooper, research director at the Consumer Federation of America, and Preston Padden, an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado School of Law, will also testify. Padden also had an extensive career in the media industry and formerly served as the president of ABC’s television network and a top executive in the Walt Disney Company’s government relations shop.

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a Tuesday morning hearing to examine legislation to allow states to tax online purchases. The Marketplace Equity Act, sponsored by Reps. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), is the House counterpart to the Senate’s Marketplace Fairness Act.

Womack and Speier are expected to testify before the panel, along with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R), Joseph Henchman of the Tax Foundation, Steve DelBianco of NetChoice and Wayne Harper, a Republican Utah state representative and incoming president of the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board.

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 bills would empower states to collect taxes immediately on online purchases, no matter where the retailer is based.

The move 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.

The House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet will hold a hearing on Wednesday to discuss an overview of cloud computing. The hearing is titled “Cloud Computing: An Overview of the Technology and the Issues facing American Innovators.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday afternoon to consider the nomination of William Joseph Baer to head the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. The agency is currently reviewing a deal between Verizon and a group of cable companies, and has reportedly launched an investigation into whether cable companies are trying to stifle competition from online video.

Tags Jay Rockefeller Steve Womack
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