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Pressure Builds for Presidential Action on Cybersecurity

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s open letter to President Barack Obama urges him to take action to secure America’s computer networks.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sent an open letter Tuesday, Aug. 28, to President Barack Obama, urging him to take action to secure America’s computer networks, the latest development in the White House’s fractious efforts to pass some kind of cybersecurity legislation before the year’s end.

Earlier this month, the Senate failed to pass a cybersecurity bill that would’ve created voluntary security standards for critical infrastructure corporations, allowing companies and government to share information that provides intelligence to aid efforts to protect energy and utility systems.

In lieu of the failure, politicians have considered other options. White House homeland security adviser John Brennan told the Huffington Post on Aug. 8 that the Obama administration was considering an executive order for cybersecurity because of the Senate vote’s breakdown. Feinstein’s letter appears to be another move in this direction.

“Because our critical infrastructure, our financial hubs and our ability to defend the nation are at risk, we must take action to address these vulnerabilities as soon as possible,” Feinstein wrote in the letter addressed to Obama. “I therefore urge you to issue an executive order, or take other appropriate action, to advance the cybersecurity of our nation’s critical infrastructure.”

Some senators have said they would try to pass alternative cybersecurity legislation in September, but there’s a small chance it would make it before January when the 112th congressional period ends.

Feinstein appears to share this opinion in her letter. “While efforts to reach consensus continue, I fear that the Congress will be unable to pass meaningful cybersecurity legislation this year,” she wrote.

In the Huffington Post article from earlier this month, Stewart Baker, a former senior U.S. Department of Homeland Security official, said that an executive order could call on the DHS to adopt voluntary cybersecurity standards, but he said the White House couldn’t enforce them.

The White House has yet to declare an executive order or what it would entail, but if Obama decides to go this route, he’ll have to act quickly — before his possible re-election, or removal, from the Oval Office in November.