GOP senators present cybersecurity bill

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Seven Republican senators presented an alternative cybersecurity bill Thursday, saying legislation backed by the Obama administration would be too intrusive, too expensive and too burdensome on businesses.

The Republican alternative would provide for voluntary information sharing between the federal government and the private sector owners of U.S. computer and telecommunications networks that are the target of cyberattacks by hackers, spies and criminals.

“There’s no new authorized funding, there are no new regulations, there is no growing of the federal government, no government mandates on the private sector” in the new bill, said Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the senior Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The bill would provide liability protection and amend antitrust laws so that companies can share with each other and the government information about cyberthreats without fear of being sued or prosecuted, said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the senior Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee.

The Strengthening and Enhancing Cybersecurity by Using Research, Education, Information and Technology, or SECURE IT Act, is the latest effort by lawmakers to confront the question of how best to defend the vital Internet backbones on which the nation’s military, commerce and industry all rely.

Last month, a group of senators led by Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, presented an omnibus cybersecurity bill (SB2105) that generally is endorsed by the administration and would give the Department of Homeland Security authority to set standards for security on critical private sector computer networks — such as those that run the power grid or the telephone system.

The Republican alternative instead would encourage firms to deal directly with an existing network of six cybersecurity centers across the country run by the highly secret National Security Agency.

Supporters of the Collins-Lieberman bill say a civilian agency should be in charge of policing and protecting civilian networks. They say that the bill only gives the Homeland Security Department authority to step in where existing federal regulators were not doing the job of securing computer networks in that sector.

Democrats are backing the Collins-Lieberman bill, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has pledged to bring it to the floor as soon as possible.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Thursday that he and his six GOP co-sponsors — Mr. Chambliss, Mrs. Hutchison, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Sen. Daniel Coats of Indiana and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — would seek to offer their bill as a substitute when the debate begins.

The four sponsors of the Collins-Lieberman bill — Mrs. Collins, Mr. Lieberman and Democratic Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Dianne Feinstein of California — welcomed the new proposal.

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