By a vote of of 52 to 46, the US Senate has blocked the Cybersecurity Act of 2012. The bill called for establishing optional cyber security standards for the computer systems that control the US’s power grids, dams, transportation and other critical parts of its infrastructure, with the goal of encouraging businesses and the government to share information and defend the nation against malware, hackers and other cyberattacks from foreign countries.
Under the bill, which was first introduced in February, businesses were to be given legal immunity as an incentive to adopt the standards; without such, security experts said they would not upgrade their computer networks to comply with security standards,as ZDNet details.
Raising concerns that the bill impinged on citizens’ privacy, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been blocking it from the start. In many ways, the bill could be seen as a “surveillance bill” that was simply too vague in its language, as Mark M. Jaycox writes in the Guardian:
… it also would have granted companies the power to spy on users, share personal information of innocent users with the government, and use countermeasures, which could involve blocking or dropping packets – all in the name of protecting against vaguely defined “cybersecurity threats”. For example, under the bill, a “cybersecurity threat” existed whenever a company perceives a user impairing the availability of its networks. As a result, surveillance would be outsourced to private companies that are not governed by the fourth amendment – the constitutional amendment granting protection from unreasonable search and seizure. And when using countermeasures, companies can modify, block, or disrupt internet traffic so long as they believe the actions are allowed by the vague definitions of the bill.
While the Cybersecurity Act had bipartisan support, intense disputes arose over what amendments could be proposed to it and, on Thursday, the GOP filibustered it. The blocking of the legislation is a blow to the Obama administration which had seen the bill as one of its top security priorities to protect the US from what President Obama described as the “one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face.” The White House has issued a statement that the “politics of obstructionism, driven by special interest groups seeking to avoid accountability” had played a part in blocking the bill.
In recent weeks, the Cybersecurity Act had been severely watered down by one of its sponsors, Senator Joe Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut who is chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and other Republican senators had strongly opposed the bill, on the grounds that it would over-burden corporations. Last week, Lieberman and McCain — friends and allies in the Senate — fell into an argument over the bill, with Lieberman saying that McCain was doing the US Chamber of Commerce’s bidding while leaving the US open to a massive cyberattack. McCain, for his part, proclaimed his record on security issues to be indisputable.
In April, over President Obama’s veto, the House passed its own cybersecurity bill under which more information can be shared between national security and intelligence agencies and businesses.
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