A sweeping piece of legislation aimed at protecting national infrastructure from cyberattacks was defeated in the U.S. Senate on Thursday by a vote of 52-46, with 60 votes being the necessary mandate to move the Lieberman-Collins bill forward in the legislative process.
The bill was designed to stimulate investment in cybersecurity R&D, better protect critical infrastructure such as water and power systems, define the process by which the government and private industry shares information on potential threats, and grant authority to the Department of Homeland Security to lead the government's cybersecurity efforts.
The legislation was widely opposed by the Republican Party and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who claimed that the bill placed too much regulatory authority in the hands of the government. Critics also claimed that the legislation granted corporations the right to spy on private individuals if the corporation believed that its IT infrastructure had been threatened. Constitutionalists viewed this component as a breach against Fourth Amendment guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure, and they saw substantial risk that ethical, if not legal, boundaries would be crossed, either with or without valid cybersecurity reasons.
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But, proponents of the bill believed the benefits of the legislation outweighed the privacy issues.
In a letter to the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote, "The uncomfortable reality of our world today is that bits and bytes can be as threatening as bullets and bombs. Not only will military systems be targeted by tools that can cause physical destruction, but adversaries will increasingly attempt to hold our Nation's core critical infrastructure at risk. Because the military relies on this infrastructure to defend the Nation, we cannot afford to leave our electricity grid and transportation system vulnerable to attack."
The chairman's comments were echoed by Army General Keith Alexander in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"The cyber threat facing the Nation is real and demands immediate attention," he wrote. "The time to act is now; we simply cannot afford further delay."
Congress begins its August recess on Friday, and it's unclear whether a revised bill will be voted on before the end of the year. But a number of lawmakers, including Arizona Senator John McCain, expressed hopes that the dialogue will continue when the senators return to Washington in September.
PUBLISHED AUG. 2, 2012