Technology

Senate votes down Lieberman, Collins Cybersecurity Act a second time

Cybersecurity legislation failed in Senate for a second time on
Wednesday despite calls from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other
national security officials for Congress to pass a bill.

A
procedural motion to move forward on the Cybersecurity Act, introduced
by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), was
rejected in a 51-47 vote.

Wednesday’s vote marks a bitter end for the cybersecurity bill and
kicks any legislative action on the matter on to next year. This is the
closest the Senate has gotten to passing major cybersecurity legislation
in recent years, and members from both parties had negotiated for months
to try to reach a compromise on the bill.

{mosads}Senate Republicans blocked the bill in August over concerns that it
would saddle industry with burdensome new regulations. The U.S. Chamber
of Commerce had lobbied fiercely against the measure over the past year.

“The bill that was and is most important to the intelligence
community
was just killed, and that’s cybersecurity,” Senate Majority Leader Harry
Reid (D-Nev.) said following the vote. “Whatever we do for this bill,
it’s not enough for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. So everyone should
understand cybersecurity is dead for this Congress. What an unfortunate
thing, but that’s the way it is.”

The Cybersecurity Act would have encouraged companies that operate
critical infrastructure — such as water plants, electric companies and
transportation networks — to take steps to boost the security of their
computer systems and networks. It also aimed to make it easier for
industry to share information about cyber threats spotted on their
networks with the government.

President Obama urged the Senate to pass the bill in a Wall Street
Journal
op-ed prior to the August vote, arguing that it “would be the
height of irresponsibility to leave a digital backdoor wide open to our
cyber adversaries.” Wednesday’s vote opens the door for the White House
to issue the executive order it started crafting after the Senate bill
failed in August.

Prior to the vote, Lieberman warned that the president would be
compelled to issue the executive order if the Senate voted against
moving the bill forward. But he noted that the cyber order would not
accomplish everything that legislation could, including liability
protection that would safeguard companies from legal action if they’re
hit by a cyberattack.

“I’m confident that if we fail to act, the president will act,”
Lieberman said. “I think he has a responsibility to act because if we
don’t we’re leaving the American people extremely vulnerable to a
cybersecurity attack.”

Earlier in the day, Reid issued a warning about the cyberthreat facing the United States.

“National
security experts say there is no issue facing this nation more pressing
than the threat of a cyber attack on our critical infrastructure,” Reid
said. “Terrorists bent on harming the United States could all too
easily devastate our power grid, our banking system or our nuclear
plants.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a
co-sponsor of the cybersecurity bill, said she has received intelligence warning
that cyberattacks are “increasing in number, sophistication and
damage.”

“This is a wakeup call and we ignore it at our own peril,” she cautioned.

Sen.
John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he believed the cybersecurity bill could
move forward if Reid allowed around five amendments. Following the vote,
Reid argued that he would have allowed a finite list of germane amendments
from
Republicans, including the five that they were seeking.

Republicans and Democrats failed to see eye to eye on how to beef up
the nation’s cybersecurity defenses, even after Lieberman and the
co-sponsors of the Cybersecurity Act introduced a revised version of
their bill to win more GOP votes.

McCain, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and a group of Senate
Republicans had introduced a rival cybersecurity bill this spring, the
Secure It Act, that focused on improving information-sharing about
cyberthreats, but it did not include measures aimed at creating security
standards for critical infrastructure. The GOP senators contended that improving information-sharing was the best approach because it would not tack additional regulations onto industry.

The co-sponsors of the competing bills had worked furiously this summer to try to find a compromise, to no avail.

Before
the vote, Republicans senators argued that Reid was playing politics by
trying to jam the sweeping cybersecurity bill through the Senate
without holding an open amendment process. They also argued that
industry still held legitimate concerns with the measure and it would not adequately address the rising cyberthreat.

“Frankly, the underlying bill is not supported by the business
community for all the right reasons,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).
“They’re the ones that are going to be called to comply with the
mandates and the regulations, and frankly it’s just not going to give
them the protection they need against cyberattacks.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) pushed back against Democrats’ claims
that Republicans were threatening national security by not voting in
favor of moving the bill forward, saying “disagreements over how to
address policy matters shouldn’t evolve into accusations about a
member’s willingness to tackle the issue.”

Tags Chuck Grassley Dianne Feinstein John McCain Saxby Chambliss Susan Collins
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