Problem: The U.S. is facing an increased number of cyber-attacks, which originate primarily from China and Russia. Not only are private businesses being targeted for proprietary information, but the federal government is a target as well. A major cyber-attack on the U.S. has the potential to cripple economic and military capabilities nationwide and could result in mass deaths, evacuations or a catastrophic national security breach.
Solution: Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) is sponsoring the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which would create government jurisdiction over key infrastructure systems (such as the power grid and water supply) and develop cybersecurity performance requirements for any system categorized as critical infrastructure.
Problem: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is leading a campaign and proposing new legislation to oppose the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which would, as currently written, designate regulatory power to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). McCain, wanting regulatory authority to go to the National Security Administration (NSA), will not support the current bill, and may succeed in preventing it from passing into law this year. This means that another year will pass without a bolstering of federal cybersecurity, and critical infrastructure will be more vulnerable than ever to cyber-attacks.
Problem: This type of opposition is not uncommon. Partisan debate is a natural product in creating policy, and is foundationally beneficial for creating laws that balance the interests of different groups. Such an argument becomes irrelevant, however, in this case, due to a number of factors that should be considered.
First: Sen. McCain has a history of agreeing with Sen. Lieberman (who is a stingy conservative on security issues) on cybersecurity issues, as they are both proponents of a strong national defense.
Second: The basis of disagreement is over semantics. Does is really matter which executive agency governs cybersecurity issues? The reality is that Sen. McCain, being born into a renowned military family and having an extensive and decorated career in the armed services as well, is likely to have an unspoken allegiance towards military-run agencies (the NSA would be included in that category, DHS would not).
Third: This bill is too important not to be passed into law. As previously stated, the high vulnerability of critical systems that support the United States is a monumental threat to national security. Should a landmark cybersecurity bill be halted, and possibly stopped, due to the personal political loyalties of a few senators? Even if there were highly credible criticisms of the bill (which there are), the partisan differences need to be reconciled quickly, because neither the public nor private sectors can afford for the bill to fail.
Bottom Line: The abysmal Congressional practice of maintaining one’s “electability” and obliging to personal loyalties should never come in front of making good decisions for the country. But it does… Maybe that’s why Congressional approval is at 10%. Maybe that’s why most people have a passionate hatred of politics. Maybe that’s why China is catching up to us as a superpower at record-pace.
Whatever the reason may be, the partisan politics and disagreements need to stop. There’s too much good that can be done in this country, only to waste our government time and resources on issues that can be reconciled. The specific senators mentioned in this post have worked together on several related issues. It’s time for them to step up to the plate and do it again.