Even in the face of what most experts label as a potential "Cyber Pearl Harbor" threat, Washington's partisan divide carried the day on Capitol Hill yesterday, stalling the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 with a Senate vote of 51-47 against the legislation.
The result drew a quick response from the staff of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: "The U.S. defense strategy calls for greater investments in cybersecurity measures, and we will continue to explore ways to defend the nation against cyber threats," DoD spokesman George Little said. "New legislation would have enhanced those efforts. If the Congress neglects to address this security problem urgently, the consequences could be devastating."
The gridlock that prevented the measure from moving forward can be tied to the same themes that have kept Congress from taking action on anything, including solving the issues that will keep the nation from going over the "fiscal cliff." The White House focused it's influence on the Senate rather than the House, and Senate Republicans chose to view the legislation not as a national security concern but as a "more proof that Democrats want government in everything" concern. (What party came up with the Patriot Act, by the way?)
Senate Republicans were unflinching in their dislike of the bill as written. "[The Senate bill] would have created a new bureaucracy that would have slowed down the process and forced companies to focus on compliance with new government mandates that would not insure better and faster notifications of cyber threats,” Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee who also is retiring, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Meanwhile the issue is also complicated by the fact that companies are left to do the calculus around whether it would be more cost effective -- absent liability laws around cyber attacks -- to invest in the hardware, software, and manpower required to effectively prevent cyber attack or to simply weather the attack and fix what breaks afterwards.
History might have to repeat itself -- albeit this time with new technology -- in that it might take a catastrophic cyber invasion to solve the arguments.