White House Backs Cybersecurity Bill, With Tweaks


As the Senate continued to work on a compromise on moving a cybersecurity bill to the floor for amendment, debate and a vote, the Obama Administration issued its strong support for S. 3414, while offering a couple of amendments of its own.

The Cybersecurity Act of 2012 is being championed by independent Joe Lieberman and four cosponsors including the ranking member of the Homeland Security Bureau, Susan Collins of Maine. But the other Republican ranking members on relevant committees are not on board.

"The Administration strongly supports Senate passage of S. 3414, the Cybersecurity Act of 2012," said OMB in a statement. "While lacking some of the key provisions of earlier bills, the revised legislation will provide important tools to strengthen the Nation's response to cybersecurity risks. The legislation also reflects many of the priorities included in the Administration's legislative proposal."

The White House signaled it would not take kindly to amendments weakening any of the bill's privacy protections.

"The Administration particularly appreciates the bill's strong protections for privacy and civil liberties and would not support amendments that weaken these protections. The Administration agrees that it is essential that the collection, use, and disclosure of such information remain closely tied to the purposes of detecting and mitigating cybersecurity threats, while still allowing law enforcement to investigate and prosecute serious crimes. All entities -- public and private -- must be accountable for how they handle such data."

Senators on both sides suggested midday Thursday they were still talking and negotiating, with the primarily Democratic backers of the bill saying they had made concessions, including making cybersecurity guidelines voluntary, and the opposition saying they were voluntary in name only.

But the White House said it would not support amendments "(1) reducing the Federal Government's existing roles and responsibilities in coordinating and endorsing the outcome-based cybersecurity practices; (2) weakening the statutory authorities of the Department of Homeland Security to accomplish its critical infrastructure protection mission; or (3) substantially expanding the narrowly-tailored liability protections for private sector entities."

Republicans argue that private industry needs broad liability protections from antitrust concerns over competitive issues arising from sharing info with the government or each other. The White House argues that "overly broad" industry immunity "would undermine the very trust that the bill seeks to strengthen."

The White House does not support everything in the bill. OMB said it had concerns about provisions "purporting to prescribe the Executive branch's responsibilities in coordinating with foreign governments and conducting diplomatic negotiations." OMB said that should be changed to make it clear that the President "has exclusive constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy." It also seeks clarification on "protection of intelligence sources and methods, as well as information sharing and policy coordination."