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The Elections and Cybersecurity

Bipartisan rhetoric sounds good but cybersecurity action is likely to languish

When President Obama was reelected last week, political pundits quickly turned to speculation and prognostication. Was the president’s reelection tantamount to a mandate? Would the election motivate both parties away from partisanship toward more cooperation? Good questions and very timely in light of the oft mentioned “fiscal cliff” we face in January. Given my particular focus, I immediately began contemplating how the elections would impact Washington in terms of cybersecurity. This could be an opportunity for the President to push his cybersecurity agenda more aggressively. Now that the elections are done, this could also be the perfect time for congress to rally behind the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 which already received bipartisan support in committee. Yup, these things could happen but I for one am not counting on either one of these possibilities because: 1. The president can’t alienate his opponents. Given the inaction on cybersecurity legislation over the past few months, the President threatened to issue an executive order on his own. Now that the President has been reelected, he has nothing to lose, right? Wrong. The president needs to work with his congressional adversaries on pressing financial issues to avoid a potential global recession. While Mr. Obama firmly believes in the need for cybersecurity legislation, he can’t afford a small political win that serves to offend and fire up republican opposition. 2. Democrats and republicans have bigger fish to fry. While there will likely be a few passionate voices on the Hill, most members of the House and Senate will eschew cybersecurity in favor of fiscal policy, immigration reform, etc. 3. Cybersecurity is a difficult balancing act for both parties. For republicans, cybersecurity legislation is an analogue for “big government,” which is anathema to the party’s platform. Alternatively, democrats walk a fine line between cybersecurity legislation and privacy – a liberal bugaboo that equates cybersecurity with an Orwellian notion of government as big brother. Republicans and democrats who support cybersecurity legislation may be risking their careers in the process. Politics aside, cybersecurity remains an extremely geeky issue that few legislators or their constituents understand. Given today’s political realities, cybersecurity legislation is likely to remain on the back burner for the foreseeable future – or at least until we see a visible and damaging cyber event. In other words, the 2012 election will have the same impact on cybersecurity as the 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 elections had.

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