Lieberman to try again on cyber bill, but victory may be elusive

Washington — After Republicans, including friend Sen. John McCain, defeated his plan, Sen. Joseph Lieberman says he wants to try again to win consensus on a cybersecurity bill aimed at protecting critical U.S. industries from attack.

But having already stripped his bill of everything he thought was objectionable, Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, said Tuesday he’s not willing to give up much more.

“I don’t see a lot more that we can change,” Lieberman said. “The bill has to be meaningful.”

The longtime senator considers this legislation one of the most important of his career, and given that he is retiring at the end of the year, one that he hopes will help shape his legacy.

Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Lieberman wants critical industries, such as power, transportation, water and financial systems, to follow new security protocols to protect them from cyber assaults.

“We’re suffering minor attacks and major thefts every day,” he said.

The senator believes that much stronger, more crippling attacks on the nation’s vital infrastructure are inevitable.

“There will be a major attack,” he said, “it’s just a matter of time.”

To try to win support for his bill, Lieberman changed it to make compliance voluntary. Companies that followed the new protocols would be given some immunity from lawsuits filed as a consequence of a cyber attack.

But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many businesses say the voluntary standards in the bill are just a prelude to mandatory regulations that would cost businesses a lot of money. The chamber’s opposition to the bill prompted most Republicans last week to vote against ending a filibuster on the bill.

“It’s very significant,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, of the chamber’s influence.

Even a usual ally, Arizona Republican McCain, turned on Lieberman, introducing a rival plan.

“I think it’s important for us to recognize in this debate the people who are most directly affected in many respects is the business community,” McCain said.

Some Democrats view the chamber’s opposition to Lieberman’s bill as an attempt to deny President Obama a victory before Election Day. Obama has said that a new cybersecurity law is a priority.

“They are spending millions of dollars to defeat the president, and this is just another way the chamber can hurt him,” a Senate aide said.

Lieberman said he doesn’t know if politics have infused the cybersecurity debate. “But in American politics today, it seems there’s nothing that’s nonpartisan,” he said.

Despite the setbacks, Lieberman hopes to press for consideration of his bill again when Congress reconvenes in September.

“We’re not going to give up because the threat is too real,” he said.

But winning 60 Senate votes that would end the filibuster on his bill will be tough. Last week only 52 senators supported the bill.

And opponents like Jody Westby, CEO of Global Cyber Risk LLC, a Washington-based consulting firm that provides cybersecurity services to businesses, are busy lobbying against it.

Westby said government involvement isn’t needed because companies already follow best practices when it comes to protecting their computer systems.

“And the last thing this country needs is more regulation,” she said. “Lieberman has to step back and regroup.”

She also said no bill “would be better than doing something bad.”

If Lieberman manages to marshal his legislation through the Senate, it would have to be negotiated with a much different cybersecurity bill approved by the House earlier this year.

More information on the proposed bill is available on the senator’s website.