Rockefeller seeks to reassure on cybersecurity bill

Senate Commerce Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Thursday attempted to assuage industry concerns over the scope of his panel's cybersecurity bill, saying the legislation does not seek to give the government new emergency powers or the authority to dictate business operations.

"Let me be very clear: When it comes to cybersecurity, the familiar 'regulation versus leave-it-to-the-market' debate that always dominates discussions between the government and the private sector is a dangerous false choice," Rockefeller said in his written remarks at the Business Software Alliance's 2010 Cybersecurity Forum.

"The government cannot do this on its own, and neither can the private sector. This has been demonstrated and proven."

Rockefeller defended the bill he wrote with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, as striking a balance between government and business interests. The bill was introduced last year but an updated, reworked version was released and approved by his committee in March.

"We have worked closely with you and other stakeholders to refine the language," Rockefeller told industry officials. "In case there is any remaining confusion, let me be clear: This bill does not create any new emergency powers for the president or anyone else in government. It simply requires all key players to get together ahead of a crisis and prepare."

He noted that the bill seeks to give companies incentives to adopt good cybersecurity practices. The government could compel companies that fail to do so to adopt remediation plans.

"I know some groups have had concerns about these proposals. But here's the truth: the government will not be choosing winners and losers, nor will it be laying down arbitrary standards from on high," Rockefeller said.

The Business Software Alliance, Information Technology Industry Council and TechAmerica have raised concerns about some provisions included in the legislation, such as requiring companies to comply with cybersecurity practices identified by the National Institute for Standards and Technology. Rockefeller noted that some business groups also have criticized language in the bill that would require an audit of a company's security plan.

"I think we can all agree that effective cybersecurity simply is not possible without a reliable mechanism to evaluate performance. We have yet to be presented with a viable alternative," he said. "So, we have built on the audit-based framework already used by many in the private sector. We expect that if the private sector takes the lead as laid out in our bill, the standards and certification will be flexible and dynamic, not bureaucratic and burdensome."

He encouraged industry to continue giving lawmakers their best ideas as the bill works its way through other committees and to the Senate floor.

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