Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dueling ideas: Maine's senators on cybersecurity

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Both of Maine's senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, have backed cybersecurity legislation in hopes of avoiding or averting the catastrophes described in David Scharfenberg's main piece. But their approaches have been different, leading to conflicting bills in the US Senate.

Collins's effort, also backed by senators Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and Tom Carper (D-Delaware), is most controversial because it would give the federal government significant authority to monitor, or even shut down, the Internet or portions of it, if the president declared a cybersecurity emergency. (The fact that the Department of Homeland Security would be in charge of actually doing this doesn't exactly make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, either.)

But beyond that — and despite creating two more federal agencies (the Office of Cyberspace Policy and the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications) — the bill does make some sense, because it also addresses education and training of future cybersecurity professionals, even introducing some concepts as early as elementary school.

Snowe's plan, proposed jointly with Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia), would not go quite so far. It would create a new office in the White House (the Office of the National Cybersecurity Advisor) and set new federal standards for cybersecurity, with which private companies and government agencies would have to comply. It would also provide for licensing and certification of cybersecurity professionals.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is reportedly working to combine the two bills and bring the merged proposal to a vote in the Senate sometime in September.