Bloomberg News

Obama-Backed Cyber Bill Blocked by Senate Republicans

November 14, 2012

Senate Republicans today killed cybersecurity legislation backed by President Barack Obama, heading off Democratic calls for action this year on a law to guard against computer attacks.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, moved to reconsider a bill that was blocked in August by Republicans who said it would lead to more government regulation of business. On a 51-47 vote, supporters failed to get the 60 votes needed under Senate rules to bring the bill to a vote on passage.

“Everybody should understand, cybersecurity is dead for this Congress,” Reid said after the vote.

The legislation, introduced in February by Senators Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, and Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, would create a system of voluntary cybersecurity standards for companies that operate infrastructure such as power grids and chemical plants considered essential to U.S. national security. The bill would also encourage companies and the government to share information on cyber threats.

The vote came as the Obama administration considers issuing an executive order to implement some elements of the bill. Obama has signed a separate directive that sets policy for how the government handles threats in cyberspace, according to three current and former administration officials.

Republicans and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobby, have opposed the legislation’s voluntary standards, saying they would be a back door to government regulation and fail to keep pace with evolving threats in cyberspace. The chamber released a letter today reiterating its opposition.

‘Second Chance’

“We’re being given a second chance to raise our defenses,” Lieberman said before the vote, saying the nation needs protections against cyber terrorists and criminals. He referred to assaults this year on the computer network of Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known as Saudi Aramco, and websites of major U.S. banks.

Obama administration officials have continued to warn about cyber threats capable of widespread damage. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a speech in New York last month said computer assaults by other countries or extremist groups could be as destructive as the Sept. 11 attacks.

Senate Republicans, including John McCain of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, have criticized White House consideration of an executive order and urged more limited legislation to encourage government and companies to share information about cyber threats, along the lines of a bill they introduced in March.

Veto Threat

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives in April passed a similar information-sharing measure, sponsored by Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who leads the House Intelligence Committee, and the panel’s top Democrat, C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Maryland.

The Obama administration has threatened to veto the House measure, saying it doesn’t safeguard the privacy of consumer data that may be shared or protect the nation’s infrastructure from cyber attacks.

The Lieberman bill is S. 3414. The McCain bill is S. 3342. The Rogers bill is H.R. 3523.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Engleman in Washington at eengleman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net


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