Republicans Signal Move to Consideration of Cybersecurity Bill

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At press time, it appeared the Senate would proceed to consideration of the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S.3414), but Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he had talked to his colleagues in the Republican-led House and they were not supportive of it as currently constituted.

Senate Republicans signaled they would vote to proceed to debate and a vote on a primarily Democrat-backed cybersecurity bill so long as there was an open amendment process. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has agreed to that open process, according to Sen. Joe Lieberman (Ind-Conn.), so long as the amendments are germane.

If the cloture vote to proceed to consideration is approved -- it requires a three-fifths majority -- backers of a separate, Republican-backed bill, the Secure IT Act, will be introduced by those Republicans as a substitute.

Republicans were arguing on the Senate floor Thursday that for all S. 314 backers talk about modifying the bill to make its cybersecurity standards for critical infrastructure protection voluntary, that was not really the case.

McCain, a cosponsor of the Secure IT Act, said that although the bill claimed those standards were now voluntary, any notion of voluntary "evaporates" upon a closer reading of the legislation. The bill gives the authority of that regulate critical infrastructure -- that would include the FCC -- to make those voluntary standards mandatory. What's more, he said, the bill requires that any agency that does not make those standards voluntary to explain why it didn't.

McCain mocked S. 3414's inclusion of cybersecurity talent shows for kids and other outreach efforts to kids. He also complained that the bill had not been the subject of any hearings, or "a whiff" of regular order.

Sen. Lieberman and cosponsor Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) said the bill was a compromise, that the voluntary portions were voluntary, and that it was critical to pass it ASAP. Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) said the bill now struck a balance and that real progress had been made.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) pointed out that all the ranking members of the relevant committees with the exception of Collins did not support the bill.

Sen. Al Franken (D- Minn.) called the cybersecurity Act of 2012 "the only game in town." He said the Secure IT act gives immunity for knowing violations of privacy, like sending users e-mails to the National Security Agency, a big difference from 3414.

But Franken's support of 3414 was not unalloyed.

The Cybersecurity Act does give ISPS a brand new right to monitor and take countermeasures with impunity, a "snooping," right as Franken called it, that he does not like. He said he would introduce an amendment to strike that, and added that he has seven cosponsors.