Cybersecurity Act Gives Feds Power to Protect Infrastructure
The Cybersecurity Act of 2012 would give the Department of Homeland Security power to regulate the kind of company security protections government deems necessary to protect critical infrastructure -- such as power and phone companies, water and treatment plants, wireless providers and other companies based on DHS risk assessments. Details emerged during a formal hearing chaired by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) last week.
Lieberman began the hearing by stating that the proposed law wouldn't tell companies how to meet security requirements, that they could use any hardware or software they chose, and that all indications were that the law would enhance security innovations. Lieberman also said that despite rumors that have been circling the Internet, there is no Internet "kill switch" in the bill that would allow the President to seize control of the Internet, and there is nothing in the bill that touches on the balance between intellectual property and free speech. He specifically pointed out that there is nothing related to the ill-fated SOPA and PIPA bills in his legislation.
Lieberman also said the bill was carefully crafted to protect privacy and ensure that it is aimed specifically at avoiding cyber attacks that could lead to mass casualties, damage to the economy or destruction of infrastructure necessary for the health and safety of citizens.
Data Sharing Urged
Lieberman's comments were echoed by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who stressed lessons learned from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in which much of the blame could be placed on the lack of information sharing between law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Collins said the new law has specific provisions for information sharing that would help head off a cyber-terror attack.
Collins noted that the U.S. government is already under daily attack from other nations and from terrorists. "They come from all directions," she said, noting that the urgency was underscored by intrusions that have already occurred at the Department of Defense and other agencies.
Noting that cybercrime already exceeds the global drug trade in terms of dollars, she pointed out that the lack of a good cyber defense is a threat to the economic well-being of the United States. "Cyber terrorists have ability to cripple critical infrastructure," Collins said. Referring to recent attacks from China and Russia, she added the threat is being pursued by "global competitors seeking to undermine our leadership."
"This bill is urgent," Collins said. "We cannot wait to act. We cannot wait until our country suffers a catastrophic attack."
The bill is a joint effort by several committees, including the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, with Chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-West Virginia), testifying, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), who also testified.
The bill was introduced by the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs February 14 and is expected to be debated by the full Senate during the next working session, which begins at the end of February. The bill enjoyed bipartisan support while it was being developed. However, a group of Republican senators have said they may introduce their own cybersecurity bill.
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