Senate Committee Advances Legislation To Combat Cyberthreats Facing Companies

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By Alexei Alexis  

A bill to combat cyberthreats facing U.S. businesses was approved July 30 by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, kicking off what is expected to be a much broader legislative effort in the chamber involving multiple panels.

Under the committee's proposal (S. 1353), which was advanced on a voice vote as part of an “en bloc” package of bills, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would be authorized to facilitate the development of voluntary cybersecurity standards for the private sector.

“Our bill takes some important steps to help our private companies and our government agencies to defend their networks against their adversaries,” Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), who introduced the legislation with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the panel's ranking member, said in a statement. “It doesn't do everything we need to do to improve our cybersecurity, but it's a good start and I thank Senator Thune for working with me on this urgent issue.”

In addition to the NIST provisions, the bill includes language to strengthen cybersecurity research and development efforts and to increase the public's awareness of cybersecurity risks.

GAO Amendment Adopted

The committee adopted a series of non-controversial amendments, including one that would require the Government Accountability Office to issue a report on progress made to advance voluntary cybersecurity standards.

Rockefeller is one of several key Senate Democrats who have called for the enactment of comprehensive cybersecurity legislation, despite an executive order that President Obama signed in February to address the issue (42 DER A-4, 3/4/13). Other proponents of legislative action include Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

The president's order directed NIST, a division of the Department of Commerce, to develop a “framework” with voluntary cybersecurity standards for the private sector. A draft framework is due by the fall and a final version must be produced by February 2014.

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to coordinate the development of a program to promote the framework once it is finalized. In addition, regulatory agencies must review existing cybersecurity mandates to determine whether they are sufficient.

According to congressional aides, the Commerce Committee bill would enshrine NIST's non-regulatory role on cybersecurity, giving certainty to U.S. businesses.

“The bill is significant in that it moves the Senate forward on cybersecurity legislation,” Jessica R. Herrera-Flanigan, a partner at the Monument Policy Group, told BNA. “It is an important first step and the fact that it is a bipartisan effort that looks to NIST's important role in the cybersecurity debate is helpful.”

Thune Lays Out Other Priorities

At the committee markup, Thune said he was hopeful that the panel will be able to work as collaboratively on moving a data security breach notification bill, which has proven to be challenging in the past. He noted that he has already joined Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Angus King (I-Maine) in crafting such legislation (S. 1193).

“I think we should consider putting this issue near the top of our 'to do' list,” he said.

In addition, Thune said that both he and Rockefeller are hopeful that the Senate Intelligence Committee will be successful in crafting bipartisan, consensus legislation to promote robust sharing of cyberthreat information, with strong liability protections. The senators also look forward to seeing legislation from the Senate Homeland Security Committee to make needed improvements to the Federal Information Security Management Act, he said.

Rockefeller was among the co-sponsors of a comprehensive cybersecurity bill that died in the previous Congress after it was blocked by Senate Republicans, largely over regulatory concerns and the expedited process that was used to get the measure to the floor.

At a recent hearing, Thune said there is an effort to avoid a legislative impasse this time by following “regular order” in the committees of jurisdiction (144 DER A-26, 7/26/13).

Bill Wins Industry Endorsements

The Commerce Committee bill has been endorsed by leading industry groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In a July 29 letter to Rockefeller and Thune, the Chamber praised the senators for including “sensible” and non-regulatory provisions in their proposal.

“The bill takes smart and practical steps, including authorizing the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to work closely with industry on an ongoing basis to develop voluntary guidelines and best practices to reduce cyber risks to U.S. critical infrastructure,” the Chamber said.

By contrast, the group was a staunch opponent of the bill that was blocked in the previous Congress and lobbied aggressively to prevent its passage.

Full text of the Senate bill is online at:

The GAO amendment is available at

The Chamber letter is available at letter

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