Senators Clash Over Cybersecurity Legislation

Sen. John McCain vows alternative legislation to the Cybersecurity Act of 2012.

by / February 21, 2012
Senator John McCain, Arizona U.S. Congress public domain image

Dissatisfied with a cybersecurity bill introduced earlier this month in the Senate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said late last week that he and other senators would introduce alternative legislation.

The bipartisan Cybersecurity Act of 2012 first was introduced Tuesday, Feb. 14, by Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine; Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Ca.

The Cybersecurity Act of 2012 would create a public-private partnership to secure critical infrastructure systems that, if compromised, could result in lives lost and disruption to life-sustaining services. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security would have the power to create a framework for securing critical private-sector infrastructure.

“I can’t think of a more urgent issue facing this country. Hackers are stealing information from Fortune 500 companies, breaking into the networks of our government and security agencies and toying with the networks that power our economy,” Rockefeller said in a press release. “The new frontier in the war against terrorists is being fought online and this bill will level the playing field.”

But the same day Rockefeller and his colleagues unveiled their bill, a group of Republican senators wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., saying the process was too rushed. The dissenters included Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and McCain. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., quickly joined them.

McConnell said, according to Politico, that the bill could do more harm than good. “Rather than rush into a massive bill that could have unintended consequences and may not address the problems it is supposed to, the American people would be better served by holding hearings and a markup so that members of both parties can make informed decisions about cybersecurity legislation,” he said.

Senators on both sides of the issue drew ranks soon after. Hutchison said that she and other Republican senators were working on another approach. Meanwhile, Vincent Morris, spokesman for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation chaired by Rockefeller, denied that the bill was being rushed — saying it had been in development for more than a year.

“To try and go back to the drawing board at this point in the process is an insult to members who have met often and worked hard to reach consensus during the last two years,” Morris said.

McCain said at a hearing Thursday, Feb. 16, that he and other Republicans would introduce alternative legislation. According to McCain and his GOP allies, Lieberman and company’s bill would give the DHS the right to regulate American businesses that would hurt job creation and blur the definition of private property rights.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce indicated resistance as well. Tom Ridge, who chairs the group’s task force on national security, said that the new regulations would result in a more compliance-oriented, and likely less secure, environment for businesses.

But Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano expressed support for the Cybersecurity Act, calling it a security bill, not a regulatory bill. In Napolitano’s view, the DHS has unique expertise in the federal government to secure infrastructure systems, and the agency already has a patchwork of authority over private-sector cybersecurity.