“This is one of those days when I fear for our country, and I’m not proud of the United States Senate,” said Senator Joe Lieberman, referring to Congress’s inability to pass a critical cybersecurity bill before a month-long recess. Despite a rare op-ed from President Obama urging congress to pass legislation, the Senate couldn’t agree on privacy provisions and government regulations in the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, meaning that America’s 21st century national security strategy is likely delayed until after the election (along with immigration, corporate tax reform, and most other meaningful legislation for the tech industry).
“It doesn’t take much to imagine the consequences of a successful cyber attack,” wrote the President, in a freak-everyone-out op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. “Taking down vital banking systems could trigger a financial crisis. The lack of clean water or functioning hospitals could spark a public health emergency. And as we’ve seen in past blackouts, the loss of electricity can bring businesses, cities and entire regions to a standstill.”
The first big worry was government regulation. The original bill had mandatory security precautions, especially for “critical infrastructure” businesses, such as electricity plans and water treatment facilities. The need was based off a recent report by the The Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, which found a hair-raising increase in cyber attacks and disastrously poor preparations. One infiltration came from a USB drive plugged into a nuclear plant system by one of the organization’s own employees (though, in fairness, even missile defense sites have been troubled by malicious code from naughty porn-watching employees). The original bill was watered down to make the precautions optional, as Senator McCain and others worried it would be too onerous of a regulation.
Second, rights groups, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, worried that the legislation would give unchecked power to the National Security Agency (which dwarfs the CIA) to spy on Americans. Senator Wyden, an early opponent of the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA), explained his decision to deny passage of the bill, “Today’s vote was one in which Senators were asked to sacrifice Internet users’ privacy and civil liberties for weak proposals to improve cyber security; I voted no.”
In the end, Congress couldn’t compromise on the age-old debate between rights and security. As a result, we are threatened by more congressional inaction.