Cybersecurity bill clears Senate hurdle

Sometime in the next few weeks, the Senate is expected to take up a bill designed to strengthen the nation\'s cybersecurity infrastructure. The Senate Homeland ...

By Max Cacas
Federal News Radio

By voice vote, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved a bill that could dramatically reshape how agencies secure their computer networks.

The committee approved the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010 (S. 3480) a little more than three weeks after Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) first introduced it.

The bill would designate the Homeland Security Department as the lead agency in defending the .gov domain, something not currently found in the law. It would also codify the office of White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt, making his job subject to Senate confirmation and oversight.

Supporters of the measure have been combating reports about a provision of the bill, which opponents say would give the President a kill switch to effectively shut down the Internet in the event of a cyber attack.

Collins took great pains to explain that they’ve been tweaking S. 3480 to address those concerns over the last week or so.

The amended bill, for example, clarifies and strengthens language regarding what kinds of infrastructure are covered by the cybersecurity measure. The original bill talks about “perceived threats” and the “potential extent and likelihood of death, injury, or serious adverse effects to human health.”

The amended bill now says “the actual or assessed threat,” and “the extent and likelihood of death, injury or serious adverse effects to human health.”

In addition, changes in the measure also would establish a redress process for owners of covered critical infrastructure who believe they were erroneously added to the list; and ensures that members of the private sector are appropriately incorporated into federal cyber security efforts.

Other changes in the bill would require Congressional approval should the President wish to extend the application of emergency measures beyond 120 days. The measure approved yesterday also would require DHS to complete an identity management plan for cyberspace.

Debate on the bill was noteworthy for the relative lack of rancor by members. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had concerns about the possibility of expanding DHS to deal with the cybersecurity mandates in the measure. He agreed not to block a committee vote after Chairman Lieberman agreed to address McCain’s concerns in a possible amendment once the bill reaches the Senate floor.

When that will happen next is uncertain, because the Senate now is expected to return to work July 5th and remain in session through the 11th – the time originally scheduled for the July 4th recess. A companion bill, H.R. 5488, has been introduced by Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.).

The Senate committee also:

  • Approved the nomination of John Pistole to be the head of the Transportation Security Administration.
  • Approved S.674, the Federal Supervisor Training Act of 2009. The Federal Managers Association last night praised the committee for taking the action.
  • Deferred action on S. 3335, the Earmark Transparency Act. The bill’s author, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), says the measure would essentially fulfill a request by President Obama that congressional earmarks be posted on one easily accessible website. However, Michigan Democrat Carl Levin objected to the measure, questioning whether any website could possibly display every earmark for every bill. Lieberman pledged to work with Coburn and Levin to iron out any questions, and return the earmark bill to committee for a possible vote next month.

Check out all of Federal News Radio’s coverage of cybersecurity issues here.

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