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Cybersecurity Act Could Survive with Executive Order

The Senate shot down the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (CSA2012) for a second time last Wednesday in a close 51-47 vote, leaving proponents to wonder if the bill is dead.

The Obama administration, however, is not quite ready to completely write off the act and looks ready to use whatever muscle it has to get the measure passed without full support. That's why the White House is likely to deliver an executive order to keep the act from disappearing.

"As tonight's vote in the Senate illustrates, the current prospects for a cybersecurity bill are limited. Congressional inaction in light of the risks to our nation may require the administration to issue an executive order as a precursor to the updated laws we need. We think the risk is too great for the Administration not to act," White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel said in a statement.

Daniel continued to state that the administration still believes "comprehensive legislation is needed to fully address the threat we face in cyberspace."

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a speech in New York last month said cyberattacks by extremist groups could deliver as much destruction as Sept. 11. He has called the resulting damage from cyberattacks comparable to a "digital Pearl Harbor."

National Security At Risk

Failing to garner the needed 60 votes to move the bill forward, the rejection of the Cybersecurity Act proposed by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), is a blow to newly reelected President Obama.

The president has demonstrated strong support for cybersecurity legislation that would have strengthened protections for crucial infrastructure networks, such as water supply systems, financial institutions, transportation networks and electrical grids, from attacks by rogue hackers and foreign enemy nations.

President Obama this summer urged Senate members in an op-ed piece he penned for The Wall Street Journal to pass the bill stressing that it "would be the height of irresponsibility to leave a digital back door wide open to our cyber adversaries."

Collins, the senior Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, added, "In all my years on the Homeland Security Committee, I cannot think of another issue where the vulnerability is greater and we've done less."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, a co-sponsor of the cybersecurity bill and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman, said she has received intelligence warning that cyberattacks are "increasing in number, sophistication and damage."

Feinstein warned, "This is a wakeup call and we ignore it at our peril."

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Cybersecurity Act Opposition

While the controversial bill was again rejected, it was the closest the Senate has gotten to inking major cybersecurity legislation in several years. Lawmakers from both parties had negotiated at length during the last several months in attempts to come up with some sort of compromise on the bill, but to no avail.

Stewart Baker, a former assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, told Bloomberg News of the Senate rejection: "It to some degree hardens the lines of division, which makes it more likely we'll see an executive order rather than an attempt to revive the legislation in the near term. The only other thing that can produce legislation is a major cybersecurity meltdown."

The bill was first blocked by Republicans in August due to worries that it would weigh down industry across all sectors with arduous new legislation.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been a staunch opponent of the measure, aggressively lobbying against the bill for years. The Chamber maintains the bill would impose incapacitating pressures on businesses to inaugurate cybersecurity measures.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) bemoaned the voting results and said, "Whatever we do for the bill, it's not enough for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. What an unfortunate thing, but that's the way it is."

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