Cybersecurity Act of 2012 Dies in the Senate – Activists Claim Victory

While many feared that the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 would do a lot of damage to civil rights, today comes news that the bill has died in the senate because if failed to achieve cloture. At this point, activists are celebrating a victory in the war to protect basic civil liberties like the right to privacy.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

At the eleventh hour, supporters were urging the senate to pass the legislation. They said that the threats to national security were real and immediate. From CNN:

“The risks to our nation are real and immediate,” Brennan said, adding that the White House doesn’t see the legislation as a partisan issue, but rather a matter of national security.

Brennan said that if passed, the new legislation would give the government the three legislative elements it needs to fend off cyberattacks: new information sharing between the government and private industry, better protection of critical infrastructure like the power grid and water filtration facilities, and authority for the Department of Homeland Security to unite federal resources to lead the government’s cybersecurity team.

“First and foremost, we see that the threat is real and we need to act now,” said Alexander, who recently returned from a hacker convention in Las Vegas, where he urged the best and the brightest to put their skills to work for the government.

He stressed that the new legislation would enable the government to prevent an attack, not just respond to one, and said the FBI, DHS, Cyber Command and the NSA can unite as a team to do so. He said he believes the current legislation adequately addresses privacy and civil liberty concerns that critics have raised

Unfortunately for supporters, the legislation failed to gain cloture in the senate, killing the bill in its tracks. From CNN:

“This is a moment of disappointment that I really cannot conceal,” Lieberman said after the vote. “But the threat of cyberattack is so real, so urgent and so clearly growing that I am not going to be petulant about this.”

On a telephone conference all with reporters Wednesday, Brennan and with other administration officials urged Congress to pass the bill.

“The risks to our nation are real and immediate,” Brennan said, adding that the White House didn’t see the legislation as a partisan issue, but rather a matter of national security.

Republicans opposed to the bill argued that the cybersecurity standards that would have been put in place allow for too much government regulation.

“How can the Senate ignore these repeated warnings from the experts of how at risk our national security, our economic prosperity, and indeed our American way of life it is,” Collins asked. “It just is incomprehensible to me that we would not proceed to this bill. There certainly is plenty of blame to go around.”

While the bill was moving along in the senate with numerous changes, one of the provisions caused many to feat that it could end up getting ISPs to block things like TOR and VPN. Other provisions that were fixed with amendments would have ushered in a whole new era of heightened surveillance for the American people. While it may have died for reasons other than what many activists were pointing out, activists are taking it as a victory regardless.

Demand Progress, one of the numerous civil rights organizations opposed to the bill was thanking their supporters. On what Demand Progress called a day action, the organization urged people to contact their representative about the threats it poses to civil rights. When the campaign got half a million responses, Demand Progress was more than happy to share their gratitude.

“We applaud the growing — and pleasantly surprising — number of senators who are prioritizing the privacy rights of Internet users. It’s a clear testament to the impact of grassroots activism” said Demand Progress executive director David Segal. “We support the pro-privacy changes which have been made to the legislation and urge the Senate to uphold and strengthen them. While we thank Senators Franken, Wyden, and others for their efforts to raise privacy concerns, the draft bill doesn’t go far enough, and many of the protections contained therein could be stripped by floor amendments or in conference, so our members are still urging their senators to vote against final passage of the legislation.”

When news came that the legislation died, the organization hailed the demise of the Cybersecurity Act of 2012. From an e-mail sent to ZeroPaid:

Million-member activist group Demand Progress hailed today’s demise of the Senate cyber-security bill today. It failed to achieve cloture, so will not proceed to a final vote. In recent months, members of the civil liberties and Internet freedom organization had sent more than 500,000 emails to the Senate urging lawmakers to stand up for Internet freedom and privacy as they debated cyber-security bills.

“There’s a newly empowered base of Internet activists across the United States, and alongside us stands a newly-strengthened corps of pro-privacy senators whom we look forward to working with to fight any future attacks on the Internet,” said Demand Progress executive director David Segal. “We’re grateful for their hard work to protect our privacy as the cyber-security bill was debated, and ask rank-and-file Internet users to thank them and encourage them to work with us down the road — we’ll surely need their help again.”

The email also said:

Even prior to the bill’s demise, grassroots activism has helped compel modifications to the legislation which made it far preferable to earlier drafts and to the House cyber-security bill (CISPA) which passed earlier this year. These changes included affirming that control of cyber-security data will remain in the hands of civilian agencies, that said data’s only allowable uses will be for cyber-security purposes or to prevent imminent threats, and others. But privacy activists remained concerned about potential for the legislation to allow companies to monitor their users’ data.

Demand Progress is now urging their supporters to e-mail their representatives who opposed the bill and thank them for opposing the bill. From Demand Progress:

You guys were amazing throughout this fight: Demand Progress members sent 500,000 emails to the Senate and made thousands of phone calls in opposition to the bill. Countless other activists took up this fight too — groups like the ACLU, EFF, Center for Democracy and Technology, Fight for the Future, and Free Press.

Just as important was the coalition of senators working on the inside to stand up for our rights. Several senators voted against cloture at least in part because of privacy concerns. And there’s a broader, newly-empowered bloc of senators who’ve helped fight for pro-privacy changes to the legislation — people like Ron Wyden (OR), Al Franken (MN), and Bernie Sanders (VT).

I personally wouldn’t put it past the US government to try and re-introduce this bill though. If they do, it’ll be on a tighter deadline as the US election draws ever closer. Still, a victory is a victory I would take what I can get.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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