The failure of a cloture motion on Thursday ended any chance of the U.S. Senate passing the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 before the August recess.
Four high-ranking federal officials on Wednesday had urged the U.S. Senate to pass the cybersecurity bill by Friday, August 3. The four officials—John Brennan, assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; Gen. Keith Alexander, USA, commander, U.S. Cyber Command, and director, National Security Agency; Jane Holl Lute, deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; and Eric Rosenbach, deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy, had called for the Senate to pass the legislation quickly.
“The status quo is unacceptable with regard to cybersecurity, and action must be taken now,” Lute said.
Brennan described three essential legislative elements that are needed to help safeguard the critical infrastructure: new information sharing frameworks that allow for a narrowly defined category of cybersecurity threat information to be shared between the private sector and the government through civilian centers while preserving the privacy rights and civil liberties of our citizens; measures to foster meaningful improvements in cybersecurity of the most vital critical infrastructure systems—those systems that citizens rely on for vital services such as electricity and water; and clear authorities for the Department of Homeland Security to conduct its statutory mission protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure so that the department can continue to team with the FBI and national defense to bring to bear all available resources to protect the country.
This bill takes into account privacy and civil liberty issues, Brennan stated. Revisions to the original bill specifically addressed many of the early concerns, such as moving from mandatory to voluntary participation. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would take the lead, which would help ameliorate issues of having the military or law enforcement in charge. Lute said that it is essential for the DHS to have statutory authority to carry out this mission.
“We urge all senators to vote for it. The nation’s security is at risk,” Brennan declared. “We do not view this as a partisan issue, and we very much hope that the Senate does not either.”
“We see the threat as real, and we need to act now,” Gen. Alexander stated. He noted that the country has seen more than a 20-fold increase in unauthorized access attempts on the infrastructure from 2009 to 2011. These intruders may be moving from intrusion to destruction, and they are becoming more sophisticated. This legislation would allow the government to prevent the attack rather than just watch the attack occur.
The general emphasized that the information sharing framework outlined in the bill “is absolutely essential for us to do the job.” He also called for hardening private sector networks and making them more resilient, which is what the Defense Department is doing to protect its own networks.Rosenbach suggested that perhaps critical infrastructure standards should not be voluntary. However, he lauded the bill’s approach to voluntary standards. For example, companies that follow the program would receive litigation protection.