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Government Tech Policy Highs and Lows of 2012

By Kenneth Corbin, CIO
December 21, 2012 12:56 PM ET

CIO - Perhaps it's little surprise that in a year when the political discussion was consumed by a raucous presidential election the development of technology policies was a slow grind, in the end producing more noise than substance.

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Bills were proposed, debated and lobbied before eventually stalling, leaving a number of issues from intellectual property to cybersecurity for the next congress to consider.

At the same time, there was considerable activity in official Washington outside of Capitol Hill on ever-controversial matters such as privacy, as well as a continued unfolding of major reforms to the massive IT apparatus of the federal government.

Here are a few of the highlights:

SOPA/PIPA and the IP Wars

The year in tech policy began in the midst of a heated debate over intellectual property, and what tools the federal government should have at its disposal to crack down on sites that traffic in pirated content.

IP-reliant industries like Hollywood and the recording sector were strong backers of two controversial bills to strengthen copyright enforcement -- the House's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's Protect IP Act (PIPA) -- while digital-rights groups, Web giants like Google and Twitter, and eventually, smaller sites and individual across the Web gave voice to a strong opposition.

Critics of SOPA and PIPA warned that the bills would give government authorities and copyright holders excessive powers to take down lawful Websites in the name of combating infringement. Those protests rose into a groundswell of opposition that culminated in a day of protest when Wikipedia and scores of other sites went dark for a day, a dramatic capstone to a broad-based opposition movement that eventually scuttled the bills.

Cybersecurity Stalls

Cybersecurity has been an enduring subject of debate in tech policy over the last several years, as lawmakers of both parties have acknowledged that the existing set of laws and policies are insufficient to protect critical digital infrastructure from an increasingly sophisticated and varied barrage of attacks. And there is broad agreement that reforms need to be made to reduce barriers to sharing information about threats among public- and private sector entities.

But the consensus quickly breaks down from there.

In 2012, a bipartisan group of senators made a concerted effort to advance a comprehensive cybersecurity bill that, in addition to information-sharing provisions, would provide for a larger role for the federal government to oversee the security of critical infrastructure owned and operated by private companies.

But that bill, backed by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), ran into staunch opposition from Senate Republicans, led by John McCain (Ariz.), who countered with a far more limited bill that would focus on information sharing.

A last ditch effort to advance comprehensive cybersecurity legislation derailed in December when Senate Republicans blocked a procedural vote that could have brought the Lieberman-Collins bill to the floor. At the time Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) expressed his dismay, and called on the White House to act under its own authority with an executive order to bolster the country's defenses against cyberattacks.

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