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How much cyber security is enough? Companies wary as Senate weighs bill.

The Senate on Monday takes up a cyber security bill affecting companies that own power systems, water facilities, and other critical infrastructure. Though new security standards would not be mandatory, the private sector remains cautious.

By Staff writer / July 30, 2012



Cybersecurity legislation, stalled for months, is now moving forward in Congress, with the Senate poised to begin debate on whether the bill's voluntary standards for private industry will protect America from devastating cyberattacks or are still just too onerous.

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The Cybersecurity Act, as originally proposed by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut and Susan Collins (R) of Maine, was full of requirements that the private companies who own nearly all the nation's power systems, water treatment facilities, communications networks, and other critical infrastructure comply with new federal standards.

But Senator Lieberman and company last week axed the mandatory federal oversight, acknowledging they didn't have the votes to push it through. The revised bill now rests on voluntary standards and incentives to spur companies to partner with the government in meeting them.

On that basis, the bill won a critical Senate procedural motion to proceed, 84 to 11, on July 26. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada also promised at that time to include an open process for amendments.

“There’s plenty of room for changes,” Senator Reid said on the Senate floor that day. “Let’s have as many amendments as people feel appropriate.”

Many now expect a blizzard of amendments throughout the week. Businesses favor a different Senate bill, backed by Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, that's heavy on information-sharing and light on standards. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) of Texas said last week she planned to put forward the entire McCain-backed Secure It Act plan as an amendment.

Sen. Al Franken (D) of Minnesota has said he will introduce amendments to strengthen privacy protections. Sen. Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon wants an amendment to require police to obtain a warrant before requesting location data from private cellphones or laptop computers. Business groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, were also reportedly weighing whether to try to seek amendments to the Lieberman bill on grounds that the measure would mean too much information-sharing.

“While this sounds appealing on its face, a government-administered program would shift during the implementation phase from being standards based and flexible in concept to being overly prescriptive in practice,” Ann Beauchesne, the Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of national security and emergency preparedness, said in a statement, according to The Washington Post.

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