During a press conference at the capitol on Tuesday, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CN) urged fellow lawmakers to pass his Internet spying bill in order to prevent what he dubbed "a cyber 9/11 or a 9/11 Pearl Harbor."
"The danger of cyber attacks against the United States is clear, present and growing, with enemies ranging from rival nations to cyber terrorists to organized criminal organizations to rogue hackers," he said.
The Cyberecurity Act of 2012 represents a compromise version of legislation the former Democrat has been pushing since 2010, which flips his originally proposed mandates and replaces them with a voluntary incentive plan -- a move key to securing support from Republicans. It would also open up channels for information sharing between corporations and government agencies, which has many civil liberties advocates very worried about how the nation's law enforcement and spy agencies will use that private data.
"We did not want to lose the chance to pass cybersecurity legislation this year that could prevent what Secretary Panetta warned about, which is a cyber 9/11 or a 9/11 Pearl Harbor, before it actually happens," Lieberman said (watch his comments at 25:25 in this video).
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has not actually warned about a "cyber 9/11" -- a former CIA officer said something to that effect, however -- but he did testify in February 2011 that "the potential for the next Pearl Harbor could very well be a cyber attack."
Lieberman's bill also has the support of President Barack Obama and, according to co-sponsor Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), enough Senate Republicans are on board that it actually has a shot at passing. And though bears some important distinctions between the House's cybersecurity bill, the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), civil liberties groups still say that Lieberman's bill would, at best, make the government work to support corporate cybersecurity while also granting those same corporations immunity for helping the government spy on private citizens.
It also affords some protections to civil liberties by mandating that any information gleamed from corporate information sharing only be used to prosecute criminals -- the definition of which specifically excludes copyright and drug offenders -- save people's lives or intercept an ongoing cyber attack. The most important difference between Lieberman's bill and CISPA is that the Senate compromise would not place the National Security Agency in charge of the nation's cyber defense, instead handing that responsibility over to civilian agencies
Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) said he plans to take up the cybersecurity bill after the Senate finishes debating which expiring tax cuts to extend into the next year -- a move that's riled some Republicans, who claim that it places money over America's national defense. Lieberman's bill, however, is still vastly different from the House's cybersecurity bill, and it's not clear whether the two can be reconciled before the congressional recess in August.
"What's clear is that the cyber train is leaving the station and we are happy to help break the news that it looks like the Senate is moving to pass something much better than CISPA from a privacy standpoint," the American Civil Liberties Union said in prepared text. "Not all of the problems with the Cybersecurity Act are solved yet, and you better believe that amendments to strip the privacy protections are in the mix."
Photo: Screenshot via the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.