Election unlikely to slow US cybersecurity efforts

Security experts expect the divided congress to remain mostly bipartisan on efforts to enact cybersecurity and online privacy measures.


The current US strategy for dealing with cybersecurity and privacy issues is unlikely to be significantly changed by the power shift that came with last week's midterm elections, experts said.

Some course corrections are to be expected for sure, but security experts say that cybersecurity privacy efforts are more likely to garner bipartisan support than many other issues that will come before Congress.

"In the current environment, security and privacy are purple issues," not red or blue ones, said Amy Mushahwar, an attorney in the Washington, DC, office of Reed Smith LLP.

Many of the Republican lawmakers who are expected to lead key House committees in the next Congress are seen by analysts as sharing with their predecessors a commitment to boost cybersecurity and privacy regulations.

In the US Senate, where the Democratic party retains control, analysts expect current cybersecurity and privacy goals to remain in place.

Experts do note that the Republican-led House of Representatives is less likely to pursue legislation that would impose major new regulations on industry or on critical infrastructure sectors such as power utilities or financial services. And Republican lawmakers in general have been somewhat less keen than their Democratic counterparts to push issues such as Net neutrality.

One area where the changes in leadership will be closely watched is the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce, currently chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), currently the ranking minority member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, is expected by some to take over Waxman's role as chairman of the committee.

Barton has already signaled his intent to push for tougher Internet privacy policies.

In a statement released Wednesday, Barton said that the Energy and Commerce Committee next year will put "Internet privacy policies in the crosshairs. I want the Internet economy to prosper, but it can't unless the people's right to privacy means more than a right to hear excuses after the damage is done."

The statement was part of a response by the committee to a letter from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that answered 18 questions posed by Barton and the committee's current chairman, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), about the social networking company's privacy practices.

Experts expect that two other Republican members of the committee, Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), will play key roles in creating cybersecurity and privacy rules.

Upton has strongly opposed Net neutrality regulations proposed by Waxman this year, and he has expressed opposition to granting the FCC any new authority to oversee the Internet. At the same time, Upton has sponsored legislation aimed at protecting the electric grid against physical and cyber attacks.

Stearns, currently the ranking member of the Energy Committee's subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, was a co-sponsor with the subcommittee's current chairman, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), of a bill that would regulate marketing data used by companies for behavioral, or interest-based, advertising activities. The bill would require increased disclosure of privacy practices and the manner in which companies collect, use, share and store data.

Boucher was not re-elected last week; Stearns is expected to be involved in pushing the bill again next year.

Another key bill, introduced by Illinois Democrat Rep. Bobby Rush, is a somewhat more stringent version of the Boucher bill that would give the FTC more enforcement authority on cybersecurity and Internet privacy matters.

Mushahwar said she expects that neither bill will come up to a vote before the new Congress is sworn in early next year.

She did note that there's a good chance that a version of Boucher's bill will be re-introduced next year with some significant tweaks. Any new proposal would likely change the Boucher bill's requirement that companies get opt-in from users before sharing their data. An opt-out clause is more likely under a Republican approach that favors industry self-regulation rather than privacy and security mandates, she said.

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