House Passes Three Bipartisan Cybersecurity Bills to Protect Critical Infrastructure

by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
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On July 28, 2014, the House of Representatives passed three bills aimed at enhancing the cybersecurity efforts of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in certain critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy sector: 1

NCCIPA directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to coordinate with federal, state and local government entities and, most notably, private entities and critical infrastructure owners and operators to perform numerous cybersecurity improvement tasks. Those tasks include facilitating information sharing, developing resiliency strategies and providing cyber incident response. The bill, introduced by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), Ranking Member Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Subcommittee Chairman Patrick Meehan (R-PA) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Yvette Clarke (D-NY), also recognizes the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, a subdivision of DHS established in 2009, as the interface for sharing real-time cyber threat information.

CIRDA aims to enhance cybersecurity research and development, requiring the Secretary to submit to Congress (1) “a strategic plan to guide the overall direction of federal physical security and cybersecurity technology research and development efforts for protecting critical infrastructure” and (2) “a report on the Department’s utilization of public-private research and development consortiums for accelerating technology development for critical infrastructure protection,” both of which must be updated every two years. 

Finally, the Boots-on-the-Ground Act requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to classify and evaluate the individuals performing cybersecurity-related duties, identify weaknesses in the workforce, and develop a workforce strategy including a recruitment plan, 5-year implementation plan, and 10-year projection of needs.

Chairman McCaul noted that one of the primary purposes of the collective legislation was to address the “pre-9/11 mindset when it comes to cybersecurity.”2 Specifically, Chairman McCaul noted that an attack on the nation’s “oil and gas pipelines [or] power grids . . . could cause crippling economic damage and could even cost lives.” Furthermore, DHS has acknowledged both that “[t]he reliance of virtually all industries on electric power and fuels means that all sectors have some dependence on the Energy Sector,” and that “[m]ore than 80 percent of the country’s energy infrastructure is owned by the private sector.”3 Thus, it is significant that these House bills (1) recognize Energy as a “critical infrastructure sector” and (2) aim to utilize public-private sector cooperation to improve the nation’s cybersecurity.

Also, the proponents of the bills contend that they strike the right balance between security and privacy concerns. While any bill that requires information sharing, especially among government and private sector entities, will likely raise privacy concerns, Rep. Meehan was quick to note that these bills have received support from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as both “pro-privacy and pro-security.”4 The ACLU has previously supported the idea that from a transparency perspective, among the various federal agencies, DHS is best suited to handle cybersecurity issues.5


1 The full list of sectors includes:  Chemical; Commercial Facilities; Communications; Critical Manufacturing; Dams; Defense Industrial Base; Emergency Services; Energy; Financial Services; Food and Agriculture; Government Facilities; Health Care and Public Health; Information Technology; Nuclear Reactors, Materials, and Waste; Transportation Systems; and Water and Wastewater Systems. 

2 See Comm. on Homeland Sec., House Passes Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Critical Infrastructure from Cyber Attack (July 28, 2014), http://homeland.house.gov/press-release/house-passes-bipartisan-legislation-protect-critical-infrastructure-cyber-attack (“House Comm. on Homeland Sec. Press Release”).

3 See Dep’t of Homeland Sec., Energy Sector Overview (June 12, 2014), http://www.dhs.gov/energy-sector (emphasis added).

4 See House Comm. on Homeland Sec. Press Release.

5 See Am. Civil Liberties Union, Way to go DHS! And Shame on the Rest of You (Apr. 18, 2014), https://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security/way-go-dhs-and-shame-rest-you; DHS Cybersecurity: Roles and Responsibilities to Protect the Nation's Critical Infrastructure: Hearing Before the H. Comm. on Homeland Sec., 113th Cong. (2013) (statement of Michelle Richardson, Legislative Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union), available at http://docs.house.gov/meetings/HM/HM00/20130313/100390/HHRG-113-HM00-Wstate-RichardsonM-20130313.pdf.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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