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CSO - The chances of Congress passing a cybersecurity bill before the presidential campaign drowns everything else out are dimming, but a couple of senators are giving it a try anyway.
Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) are circulating a draft bill that they hope will settle one of the major debates over competing legislative proposals: How heavy the hand of government should be in regulating industries that operate critical infrastructure. They are proposing incentives instead of mandates.
How much it matters if they succeed is another question. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor Tuesday to say it matters very much. He cited a letter (PDF document) from a bipartisan group of former national security officials from both the Bush and Obama administrations, who wrote that the nation is at risk of being unprepared for, "'cyber 9/11,' (and) it is not a question of whether this will happen; it is a question of 'when.'"
The group includes Michael Chertoff, former secretary of Homeland Security; Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense; Mike McConnell, former Navy vice admiral and director of the National Security Agency; General Michael Hayden; Retired General James Cartwright; and William Lynn III, another former secretary of defense.
In the letter, the group called the threat of a cyber attack "imminent." And they said it "represents the most serious challenge to our national security since the onset of the nuclear age 60 years ago."
Reid attacked Republicans for blocking a pending cybersecurity bill now in the Senate, backed by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), accusing them of not taking the threat of cyberattack seriously and failing to present any credible alternatives, and said he wants to pass a bill before the current Senate session expires at the end of the month.
But Joel Harding, a retired military intelligence officer and now information operations consultant expert and consultant, while he supports legislative action, said, "We cannot create this legislation quickly enough -- we needed it a decade ago. "
And even if something does pass, Harding said on the day it is signed into law that "it will be obsolete unless there is a new understanding, that legislation will consistently need to be updated to reflect rapidly changing technology and techniques."
Rainey Reitman, activism director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, agrees with Harding.
EFF has objected strenuously to what it says is a lack of privacy protections in most of the pending proposals, and Reitman said she couldn't comment specifically on the Kyl-Whitehouse proposal, "because we haven't seen it."
"However, anytime the federal government is given the power to regulate technology, it creates the possibility that technology will outpace the government's ability to keep up," she said. "They have made efforts in the bill to address that concern, but it could be years before we really know whether they were successful."