Expectations were raised last month that the federal government would soon enact legislation to address the legal and regulatory obstacles that prevent private companies and government agencies from working together to prevent cyberattacks. President Obama announced he was forwarding a set of revised proposals to Congress, and congressional committee leaders announced hearings on a wide range of cyber issues. It appeared that both parties felt cybersecurity was an area where they could work together.
A month later, very little progress has been made. The President and his team put forward a revised version of their 2011 proposal, taking into account all that has been learned in the intervening years from specific cyber breaches and industry feedback. But that proposal has been met with little enthusiasm by Congress. Even members of the President’s own party have refused to introduce the proposal, choosing instead to support committee hearings. Thus far, those hearings have highlighted the need for action and, ironically, demonstrated the high level of agreement between the parties and between the President and Congress on the goals of good legislation – share information, limit liability, restrict access to shared information under the Freedom of Information Act, and protect privacy.
The holdup, essentially, is not substantive, it is political. There is one contingent who believe that reform of the National Security Agency should come before legislation. Among those who agree that information must be shared more widely now, there are disagreements are over who should share it, when should it be shared, and how will it be protected after it is shared. And then there is the classic congressional fight over turf. At last count, three committees in the Senate and two committees in the House claim jurisdiction over this issue.
The one positive note is that several members seem determined to shake loose the stuck gears. Senator Angus King of Maine, an Independent, has called on Congress to set an internal deadline for compromise legislation on the issue. He sees a need to force an agreement between committee chairs and leadership in order to move forward. Senator Tom Carper of Delaware (D) is not waiting for such an agreement and is moving forward with his own legislation based on the President’s proposals. Neither senator’s approach is sure to work, but their efforts to move ahead where there is so much fundamental agreement are appreciated.