Panels’ New Minority Leaders Will Focus on Cybersecurity

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By Daniel R. Stoller

Nov. 17 — New minority party leaders on important Senate intelligence and homeland security panels will face significant cybersecurity and encryption challenges in the 115th Congress.

Democrats will have to look to their senior leaders for policy guidance and political maneuvering due to the Republican control of the House, Senate and White House. Although many democratic policies won’t be passed in the 115th Congress, cybersecurity should remain a bipartisan issue that democrats can rally around.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) will be the vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) will be the ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Christopher Sanders, cofounder and chief operating officer of cybersecurity solutions company CYGRU in Arlington, Va., told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 17 that Warner and McCaskill “can be effective at raising the profile and urgency of addressing cybersecurity issues,” Both have a “breadth of knowledge and experience in dealing with cybersecurity issues and have historically favored a balanced approach between cyber strategy and privacy,” he said.

“Cybersecurity, encryption and related privacy issues are complex problems facing our government” and McCaskill and Warner will help enhance “the effectiveness and timeliness of our government’s response to cyberthreats,” Sanders said.

Cybersecurity Comes to Intel Panel

Warner has served on the Intelligence Committee since 2012. He will be replacing vice chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) who will take over a Judiciary Committee spot being vacated by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) when he takes over the Senate minority leader position.

Andrew Howell, a cybersecurity partner at Monument Policy Group in Washington, told Bloomberg BNA that Warner “has been a very thoughtful voice on cybersecurity and encryption policy,” and will likely continue to push legislation in the next Congress to help curb cybersecurity threats that face the U.S.

Warner was instrumental in establishing the bipartisan Cybersecurity Caucus. The caucus serves “as a platform for the Senate to engage in a holistic discussion about cybersecurity and to keep Senators and staff abreast of new developments in this wide-ranging issue area,” the caucus website said.

Additionally, Warner and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, introduced legislation in the 114th Congress that would establish an independent encryption commission to balance privacy interests with law enforcement access to encrypted data for proper purposes. It is unclear if either lawmaker will proffer a similar bill in the 115th Congress.

Rachel Cohen, press secretary for Warner, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 17 that Warner “continues to believe that we need a long-term solution to digital security challenges and that the best approach is one which brings experts from all sides to the table.”

Warner will “remain active on the issues surrounding technology and cybersecurity from his new role in the Intelligence Committee,” Cohen said.

McCaskill’s Modernization Push

For the past two years, McCaskill has been the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. McCaskill takes the place of Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) who is moving to serve as the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

In the new role, McCaskill is expected to “focus her attention on federal government management and contractor oversight,” Howell said. This policy objective meshes with cybersecurity policy goals the senator may push.

For example, McCaskill will likely “focus on how agencies are doing in terms of protecting their networks and modernizing information technology infrastructure to protect from cyber risk,” Howell said.

Additionally, Sanders said that McCaskill, along with Warner, may also focus their efforts on increasing the military’s “cyber capabilities.”

However, the success of McCaskill’s or Warner’s policies may rest in the hands of the incoming Trump administration. The senators' “policy impact will be dependent on the priority the incoming administration will place on addressing the significant cybersecurity policy issues,” Sanders said.

Representatives for McCaskill didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA’s e-mail request for comment.

With assistance from Louis C. LaBrecque in Washington

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel R. Stoller in Washington at dstoller@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald Aplin at daplin@bna.com

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