Senate blocks Cybersecurity Act

Senate blocks Cybersecurity Act

Summary: The U.S. Senate has blocked the Cybersecurity Act of 2012.

Senate blocks Cybersecurity Act

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted against moving forward on the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, ending the bill's chances at final passage. The final blow came despite U.S. President Barack Obama's statements saying the legislation would help the U.S. fight "the cyber threat to our nation," which he called "one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face."

Senate Republicans succeeded to stop a desperate attempt by Senate Democrats to force a final vote on the measure. 60 votes were required under Senate rules, but the final tally was 52 to 46, largely along party lines.

The Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (PDF), first introduced in February 2012, set cyber security standards for critical infrastructure, and gave legal immunity to companies who would meet them. Its main goal was to encourage information sharing on cyber threats between businesses and the U.S. government, giving incentives to companies that adopt the protections against hackers and malware.

The new law would have required the Department of Homeland Security to assess risks and vulnerabilities of computer systems running at critical infrastructure sites. Annual reports from the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Defense as well as the Intelligence Community Inspectors General, would have to describe what information is received, who gets it, and what is done with it. On the other hand, it also would have given Americans the right to sue the government if it intentionally or willfully violates the law.

Security experts worried private companies wouldn't make upgrades to protect their computer networks without enforceable regulations, while business lobbyists argued regulations would harm many firms. As such, the improved bill included amendments that narrow the definition of what information about cyber threats could be shared between companies and the government. It also said companies would provide cybersecurity information mainly to civilian agencies, as opposed to with military groups.

The White House issues the following statement:

Today, despite the strong leadership of Senators Reid, Lieberman, Collins, Rockefeller and Feinstein, an overwhelming majority of Senate Republicans blocked consideration of the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, the only comprehensive piece of cybersecurity legislation that would have begun to address vulnerabilities in the nation’s critical infrastructure systems. Senate Republican opposition to this vital national security bill, coupled with the deeply-flawed House information sharing bill that threatens personal privacy while doing nothing to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure, is a profound disappointment. The Administration sent Congress a legislative package in May 2011 that included the new tools needed by our homeland security, law enforcement, intelligence, military and private sector professionals to secure the nation, while including essential safeguards to preserve the privacy rights and civil liberties of our citizens. Since that time, Administration officials have testified at 17 hearings on cybersecurity legislation and presented over 100 briefings, including two all-Member Senate briefings and one all-Member House briefing. Despite the President’s repeated calls for Congress to act on this legislation, and despite pleas from numerous senior national security officials from this Administration and the Bush Administration, the politics of obstructionism, driven by special interest groups seeking to avoid accountability, prevented Congress from passing legislation to better protect our nation from potentially catastrophic cyber-attacks.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has been fighting the bill from the start, is pleased with the latest news. That being said, the organization warns the battle may have been won, but the war is far from over.

"Regardless of today's vote, the issue of cybersecurity is far from dead," ACLU legislative counsel Michelle Richardson said in a statement. "When Congress inevitably picks up this issue again, the privacy amendments in this bill should remain the vanguard for any future bills. We'll continue to work with Congress to make sure that the government's cybersecurity efforts include privacy protections. Cybersecurity and our online privacy should not be a zero sum game."

The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) was meanwhile quite disappointed with the news. "The Senate vote is a reminder that we have a long way still to go," Dean Garfield, ITI's president and chief executive, said in a statement. "We hope that, despite this setback, Senators will continue to work with stakeholders and reach agreement on a proposal that embraces security innovation as the best way to counter the threats we all know are out there. Any effort must recognize the critical importance of private-sector leadership for information and communications technology innovation, increased information sharing, and a risk-management approach."

See also:

Topics: Security, Government, Government US, Tech Industry

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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  • Wow. They actualy did something right?

    I'm amazed.
    William Farrel
    • It looks more like another case of gridlock,

      but like the radio DJ host I used to listen to once espoused, gridlock is good... apparently... :)
      • True

        Outright rejection of the bill would have been better than yet another filibuster.

        Senate majority leaders (regardless of party) need to stop giving into filibuster threats. If that means that bills have to be debated round the clock with nobody allowed to leave, then so be it. I can pretty much guarantee that if that becomes the policy, filibusters will be as rare as they were 50 years ago.
        John L. Ries
        • Even better...

          Take away their chairs. That will move things along quickly.
          • Not necessary

            Suffering through 12-36 hours of continuous debate without being allowed to leave, or worse, missing weekend flights home should be sufficient.
            John L. Ries
      • True

        Outright rejection of the bill would have been better than yet another filibuster.

        Senate majority leaders (regardless of party) need to stop giving into filibuster threats. If that means that bills have to be debated round the clock with nobody allowed to leave, then so be it. I can pretty much guarantee that if that becomes the policy, filibusters will be as rare as they were 50 years ago.
        John L. Ries
  • Interesting

    Democrats control the Senate right now...

    Noting that the article states 52-46, along party lines, but does not mention the Democrats have full control. So if the act is blocked, the majority (52) must be the Democratic party.

    Maybe I'm confused or the article obfuscates, but I'll see if I can find a link to the actual voting, since the article seems to lack it. The link might do more to clear up my confusion...
    • Update

      The LA Times had a similar article that clearly spelled out the details ("Most Republicans and a few Democrats voted to block...")

      And I did re-read the ZDNet article; it makes more sense now. Not sure what wasn't clicking at the time...

      I wonder if Obama is playing at "reverse psychology", noting the number of times he's compromised with the GOP in the past... or if I'm thinking into that too much as well... :)
      • What happened was...

        ...The Democrats tried and failed to come up with the 60 votes they needed to avoid a filibuster (filibuster threats have now become routine), so they gave up. Rather disgusting actually.
        John L. Ries
    • You're confused...

      When either side procedurally blocks, it requires 60 votes to override and force a vote. The Dems, having only 52, did not have enough to force a vote, despite having enough to have won the vote should it have occurred.
  • Politicians and their bedmates

    It's not really fair to the public to have the press so far in bed with the government. I just looked up and read a half-dozen news stories about this bill failing to pass, and not one of them tells people all the unrelated measures that were in this bill. It had become a "Christmas tree" bill with amendments on subjects ranging from abortion in Washington, DC to gun control. Yet it all moves through the Congress, and more importantly through the press, under color of protecting the nation from cyber threats. This happens all the time: it isn't until years later that we find out that this or that became law when it was slipped into the "Children and Happiness Act of 2012."
    Robert Hahn
    • hey look...

      Children need to earn their happiness, we're just not going to *give* it to them.
      • hey look...

        at Loverock. Mommy spoiled him to death and look at the result.

    • The State Approved Press

      Most people believe the 1st Amendment guarantees our freedoms of speech, press and assembly. But that is not the case. The 1st Amendment only denies Congress the authority to write laws that would abridge those rights. It is the State Constitutions that guarantee our rights. That is why the State Representatives to the Constitutional Convention demanded the inclusion of a 1st Amendment.

      There have been many false claims about the Citizens United v FEC decision.

      Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are supposed to be the inalienable rights of natural persons, “we the people”!

      Every article that I have read on this topic discusses free speech and avoids any discussion of free press!

      Exercising free press rights has always involved the cost of paper, ink and distribution.

      In the 184 year period prior to Watergate and the creation of the Federal Election Commission, ”we the people" had the freedom to raise and spend money to exercise our press rights, that only State approved newspaper and broadcast corporations enjoy today.


      The Citizens United v FEC decision was not the first Supreme Court decision that recognized corporations have speech and press rights as legal persons.

      The Federal Election Commission did not exist until 1975. But campaign finance reforms following Watergate included a press exemption:

      2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i) exempts newspaper, broadcast and magazine corporations from the definition of contribution and expenditure. The Buckley v. Valeo decision, which upheld these reforms, effectively redefined free press as the right of media corporations!


      Now, when a newspaper corporation expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate for public office or describes a candidate in a favorable or unfavorable news story, it is not considered a contribution or expenditure.

      Giant newspaper corporations are allowed to raise and spend an unlimited amount of stockholder money influencing the political process in the U.S. because their political communications are said to have no value.

      But if a group of Citizens pool and spend money to advocate the election or defeat of the same candidate using the exact same words that a newspaper uses, their communication is either a contribution or expenditure. And, under the Buckley v. Valeo decision, that could create the appearance of corruption and justifies regulations that restrict ordinary citizen’s freedom to pool money to pay the cost of paper, ink and distribution of political advocacy!

      Since Watergate regulations based on the definitions of expenditure and contribution have restricted the speech and press rights of every U.S. Citizen political party and organization.

      Campaign finance reforms have given Media Corporation’s speech and press rights superior to "we the people"! But corporations cannot interview candidates, write editorial endorsements or speak their political opinions on radio or television. Their employees do that. Campaign finance laws have given editors, talking heads and reporters speech and press rights superior to every other citizen.

      Even foreign owned newspapers and cable networks are exempt from U.S. election laws!

      I do not believe congress intended to give foreign citizens and foreign corporations more freedom to influence our elections than their constituents and the Democrat or Republican parties.


      My solution:

      Amend the language used in 2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i) with the definitions included below!

      The term expenditure does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed by any candidate, political party, citizen or citizens group, corporation, broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication.

      The term contribution does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed by any candidate, political party, citizen or citizens group or corporation, broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication.

      Press means any Citizen or group of Citizens of the United States that engages in any form of public communication.

      Media means any Citizen or group of Citizens of the United States that engages in any form of public communication.

      Newspaper means any form of printed material that includes any advertisement or other information for the purpose of public distribution, including information printed on paper, billboards, signs, fliers, web pages, and other electronic print material.

      Instructions for the federal and supreme court :

      Newspaper and broadcast businesses operating in the United States are free to fund the cost of their political communication from pools of stockholders money that is not regulated by federal campaign finance laws. The purpose of this legislation is to clarify that the speech and press rights of the flesh and blood Citizens of the United States are no less than the speech and press rights of legal persons taking the form of newspaper and broadcast businesses operating in the United States.

      Corporations are just another way for people to assemble to demand a redress of grievances from government. The 1st Amendment does not limit how people assemble!

      Lovell v. City of Griffin SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES 303 U.S. 444 Argued February 4, 1938 Decided March 28, 1938

      The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. These indeed have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty, as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine and others in our own history abundantly attest. The press in its historic connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion. What we have had recent occasion to say with respect to the vital importance of protecting this essential liberty from every sort of infringement need not be repeated. Near v. Minnesota, supra; Grosjean v. American Press Co., supra; De Jonge v. Oregon, supra.[note 2]

      Whatever differences may exist about interpretations of the First Amendment, there is practically universal agreement that a major purpose of that Amendment was to protect the free discussion of governmental affairs. This of course includes discussions of candidates, structures and forms of government, the manner in which government is operated or should be operated, and all such [384 U.S. 214, 219] matters relating to political processes. The Constitution specifically selected the press, which includes not only newspapers, books, and magazines, but also humble leaflets and circulars, see Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U.S. 444 , to play an important role in the discussion of public affairs.


      UNITED STATES v. ASSOCIATED PRESS et al. Nos. 57, 58 and 59. Argued Dec. 5, 6, 1944. Decided June 18, 1945

      It would be strange indeed however if the grave concern for freedom of the press which prompted adoption of the First Amendment should be read as a command that the government was without power to protect that freedom. That Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society. Surely a command that the government itself shall not impede the free flow of ideas does not afford non-governmental combinations a refuge if they impose restraints upon that constitutionally guaranteed freedom. Freedom to publish means freedom for all and not for some. Freedom to publish is guaranteed by the Constitution, but freedom to combine to keep others from publishing is not. Freedom of the press from governmental interference under the First Amendment does not sanction repression of that freedom by private interests.
      • Corporations are creatures of the state

        They would not exist at all if governments didn't issue corporate charters, and they have special privileges that other collections of citizens don't (specifically their stockholders and officers are afforded the privilege of not being held responsible for the actions and debts of the corporation); indeed their stockholders don't even have to be citizens. Further more, it is frequently held that corporate officers are legally required to focus on profit maximization, which individuals and partnerships are not required to do; therefore it should be assumed that any corporate involvement in politics is for the express purpose of promoting the financial interests of the corporation and its stockholders; not the public interest.

        In short, corporations are not "just another way" for citizens to petition for redress and they should not be considered to have the same rights as natural persons. If corporate stockholders and officers want to "participate in the political process", they can do it themselves on their own time and at their own expense, just like their employees have to.
        John L. Ries
    • PORK

      No matter what else might have been tossed into this piece of "legislation", the worst was an outright ban on all gun magazines with greater than 10 round capacity. First, that has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with Cyber-security. Second it was a blatant attempt to back-door gun legislation without telling anyone. And finally it would have made criminals of most of the ~50 million Americans that own guns. Nice try!
  • Kind of odd phrasing

    "Senate Republicans succeeded to stop a desperate attempt by the Senate Democrats to force a final vote on the measure."

    Since when is a vote on cloture "desperate"? The Republican minority blocks bills like this all the time.

    Not trying to judge the merits of the bill- I don't know what all is in it - but this Senate outcome is the rule, not the exception, these days. The description seems kind of overheated in describing business as usual.
    • The Republican minority blocks bills like this all the time.

      The republicans learned the tactic from the democrats, who started the practice when they were in the minority, and which has now evolved into a requirement that, 60 votes are the minimum to block/stop a filibuster of a bill. It's gotten so easy to block a filibuster that, some bills even fail to come up for a vote, with just the threat of a filibuster.

      Democrats can't complain about the practice, since, they initiated it, and use it every time they are in the minority, for even the most miniscule or insignificant of bills.
      • No, the Democrats really can't complain

        Nor can the Republicans, since filibuster threats have become standard procedure on both sides of the isle. Declaring filibusters to be unconstitutional (as Senate Republicans tried to do when G.W Bush was president), is, however, not the answer (for starters, the Constitution explicitly gives both houses of Congress the privilege of making their own rules). The more sensible one is for the Senate Majority Leader (regardless of party) to stop giving in to threats.

        If a Senator objects to a proposal being considered on the floor because of procedural concerns, then every reasonable effort should be made to accomodate him, but if all he's really wants to do is to block the proposal, then it should be debated under the default rules and a cloture motion should not even be introduced until there has been at least 24 hours of actual debate.
        John L. Ries
        • OK. Maybe 24 hours is too long

          How about 6? If cloture is rejected, then debate should continue until everybody is done talking, alternate rules are adopted by unanimous consent, or a majority agrees to table the bill. The Senators will get tired eventually.
          John L. Ries