12:46 PM

Cybersecurity Bill Passes Senate Committee

Senators supporting the legislation, aimed at protecting the U.S. from cyberattacks, stress the need to enact it as soon as possible.

A crucial piece of cybersecurity legislation is one step closer to becoming law after being approved during a Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday.

The Cybersecurity Act, S. 773, aimed at protecting critical U.S. network infrastructure against cybersecurity threats by fostering collaboration between the federal government and the private sector firms that maintain that infrastructure, is now on its way to the Senate floor.

The bill, co-sponsored by committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), was introduced last April and then re-introduced last week with some key changes. Notably, it no longer gives the president unilateral power to disconnect networks from the Internet in the event of a major cyberattack.

The bill also includes amendments for how the president and private sector can work together to help secure critical infrastructure.

During the hearing, senators expressed how important it is that the Senate passes the legislation quickly, as it's long overdue.

Sen. Rockefeller called the fact that the bill still hasn't been passed like "starting in kindergarten," as both President Obama and former President George W. Bush both called for comprehensive cybersecurity legislation.

"The government hasn't gotten its act together; the private sector has had problems getting its act together," he said. "It's extraordinary and very discouraging."

Co-sponsor Sen. Snowe weighed in as well, noting the "gravity" of the threat and stressing how much effort went in to developing a bill that "goes to great lengths" to bring the public and private sectors together to mitigate the threat.

"I hope we get broad support for this legislation," she said.

Noting that the bill gives various government departments a year to implement cybersecurity policy, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) said that might even be too much time in light of potential cyber threats.

"We'd better get it done before a year because our enemies are out there," he said.

The Cybersecurity Act calls for a revision of cybersecurity processes and oversight in government, the facilitation of public-private partnerships on keeping computer systems safe, the funding of cybersecurity research, and the hiring of more cybersecurity specialists.

Companion legislation that would create the national cybersecurity adviser position -- the National Cybersecurity Advisor Act, S.778 -- is still pending before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

The House last month passed its own cybersecurity bill, the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2009 (HR 4061), first introduced by Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) last year. That bill funds research and development for a comprehensive cybersecurity plan that would involve the cooperation of several federal agencies.

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