Will Congress Ever Take Real Action on Cybersecurity?

Sue Marquette Poremba

The cybersecurity bill failed to get through the Senate.

I’ll let you take a moment to get over the shock that an important piece of legislation didn’t pass.

The news didn’t come as much of a surprise. It was already weakened to the point that experts didn’t think the bill would do much good if passed — weakened to appease the minority who didn't vote for it anyway, despite it being a bipartisan bill.

Today, Congress begins its month-long summer recess. Who knows what will happen with the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 when they return — probably nothing, since campaign season will be in full swing and there is a short legislative period during the rest of the year. Republicans don’t want the government intervention into private industry (so what if private industry controls the nation’s critical infrastructure?) and for that, did they put the country at risk?

One senator claimed that we are setting ourselves up for a 9/11-type of attack on our infrastructure. That might be a bit of hyperbole, but the recent incidents with Stuxnet and Flame show that we’re not far from a major incident. As ABC News reported:

“We don’t want a cyber 9/11,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said, “right now, our adversaries are watching us. We’re debating, protecting America from cyber attacks, and it looks like we’re doing nothing, that when all is said and done, more gets said than gets done. Our adversaries don’t have to spy at us. They can just look at the senate floor and say ‘what the heck are they doing’?”

On the other hand, some believe that by delaying the bill, there is the opportunity to improve on it. Andrea Peterson at ThinkProgress said the watered-down version simply wasn’t good enough to be passed because it lacked privacy safeguards and didn’t stand up to expert scrutiny.

I’m straddling the middle in this debate. On one hand, I absolutely agree with Peterson that the bill with its changes (and its ridiculous amendments that deal with health care repeal and gun control — really?) is ineffective. But I agree with Mikulski that the bickering over something that deals with national security does make us look weak to our adversaries and we need to take a public stand, even if it isn’t the ideal public stand.

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