Congress is moving closer to taking up comprehensive cybersecurity legislation, and a Senate aide confirmed this week that Majority Leader Harry Reid will bring a package to the floor before President’s Day.
Meanwhile, eight former senior government officials sent a letter this week to Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging the Senate to approve legislation to better protect the nation’s critical computer networks from attack.
A senior aide to Reid, Tommy Ross, said that legislation could be on the floor as early as next week.
“What comes to the floor will reflect wide agreement,” Ross said this week at the annual “State of the Net” conference.
Last November, Reid wrote to McConnell that he would bring the Cybersecurity and Internet Freedom Act to the floor during the Senate’s first work period of 2012, which ends on President’s Day.
Over the past several years, dozens of cybersecurity bills from across a variety of committees have been penned, but no comprehensive legislation has ever made it to the floor of either chamber of Congress. This year could be different.
Backers of the new legislation say it will address significant cyber issues, improving the security of the nation’s critical infrastructure and encouraging the sharing of threat information between government and industry without violating individual privacy. The legislation is also expected to address whether to set up a new White House office of national cyberspace policy.
But significant hurdles remain over issues of regulation, privacy protections, and how much authority the executive branch should have to direct response actions in an emergency.
“As former executive branch officials who shared the responsibility for our nation’s security, we are deeply concerned by the severity and sophistication of the cyber threats facing our nation,” said the letter that was sent this week to Reid and McConnell, and that was signed by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III, former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, and former White House cyber czar Richard Clarke, among others.
The authors noted that the administration has weighed in with its proposals, most of which are not too far afield from drafts of Senate legislation.
“The threat is only going to get worse,” the letter said. “Inaction is not an option.”
Some observers are hopeful that at least some elements of the legislation could win enough support. But a key lawmaker, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, “does not support enacting cybersecurity on a piecemeal basis,” a spokeswoman said.