Editorial: Get On With It

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At presstime, the fate of cybersecurity legislation in this country was unclear. But even if the Senate agrees to something next month, it must still run the gauntlet in the House. We know there are two sides to the issue, but they should only be about the details of how we better protect ourselves from cyber threats.

This has become a far-too-partisan issue, given that we should all be able to concede that cyber threats are real and growing, and that as broadband becomes the delivery system for energy and health care and government services and more, the threat from rogue individuals and state actors needs a concerted response. And the 85% of critical infrastructure in private hands needs the incentive and opportunity to share critical information with each other and the government.

Protecting the privacy of that information is also important. But if we can put a robot on Mars, we can find a way to both protect data privacy and arm ourselves against cyber terrorists—preferably before they take control of that robot.

The Senate was heading off for August recess last week without coming to some agreement on a bill, shame on it. Last week’s debate on the bill, which among other things would allow ISPs and others to share cyber threat information in real time, felt at times like a rerun of the budget stalemates that put political hard lines ahead of the greater public interest.

After the Senate’s Democratic leader agreed to allow germane amendments to be offered to the bill, the Republican leader proposed that the first amendment be a vote on repealing healthcare, including the provisions kicking in last week providing low-cost or free wellness screenings, mammograms and more. Come again? Germane, by the way, means having something to do with the issue of cybersecurity. Then there were the Democrat-backed amendments on gun control, both helping swell the total to more than 90 amendments.

One amendment, for example, would allow the FCC commissioners to hire engineers to help them navigate the digital future, which would be a good thing, but as Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), cosponsor of the bill, said of many amendments—not at this time, on this bill.

We are not endorsing S. 3414, the Democrats’ version of cybersecurity legislation, or the Republican version, the Secure IT Act. It will likely have to be some compromise between those—we know, a dirty word these days—to be able to pass in both the House and Senate.

As his optimism turned to pessimism last week over prospects for a compromise, Lieberman said that while special interests on the outside, and on both sides, could hold to their hard-line positions, legislators could not afford to do so. We agree.

P.S.: This issue took on greater immediacy when a B&C staffer’s wife received an emailed statement that the monthly cellphone bill was $25,410.81, which had been deducted from their bank account. It turned out to be a spoof, but it was a chilling reminder of how effective a delivery vehicle for attacks the Internet can be.

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