Fourth of July celebrations may not be the only place where fireworks occur this week if U.S. senators have their say. Congress is poised to haggle again over cybersecurity legislation when the upper chamber returns from its July 4 recess.
The issue of contention? Senators are advancing a number of cybersecurity alternatives, and privacy groups have problems with each. This month could be the newest chapter in the lengthy debate about how the nation should protect its networks.
In April, the House passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which would allow Internet companies to hand confidential customer records over to the federal government. But CISPA hasn’t made it through the Senate.
President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, saying it would impede citizen privacy and wouldn’t protect critical infrastructure.
Senators have drafted their own answers to the cybersecurity problem, and at least two of these proposed bills’ fates are yet to be determined.
Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have sponsored the Cybersecurity Act, which has been endorsed by the White House and is backed by Senate Democrats. The Lieberman-Collins bill is purported to include tougher privacy protections and would authorize the Department of Homeland Security to set mandatory security standards for critical infrastructure.
But Senate Republicans, including John McCain (Ariz.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) are pushing their own bill, the Strengthening and Enhancing Cybersecurity by Using Research, Education, Information, and Technology Act (SECURE IT). It emphasizes information sharing over regulation to improve cybersecurity. The lack of government regulation, the Republicans argue, doesn’t restrict the autonomy of private businesses.
But Senate Democrats and the White House argue that Secure IT would be inadequate because it lacks concrete protections or regulations.
In an effort to reach compromise, a bipartisan team of senators, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., drafted a bill that would pressure but not force companies to meet security standards.
With the November 2012 presidential election in the near future, lawmakers’ priorities will turn elsewhere very soon. The time to pass any of these bills is quickly running out.