Congress' Profound Failure on Cybersecurity

But the opponents of the bill weren't interested in having that inconvenient truth aired. So they deployed their full arsenal of parliamentary tricks to kill the bill. They loaded it down with more than 70 amendments, most of which were highly controversial and had nothing to do with the legislation at hand, including provisions on gun control (don't get me started) and abortion. This is like the Grasshopper and the Ants parable, but a thousand times worse. While corporate America tries to keep things as Wild West as possible while they loot the American Dream, they seemingly have no regard for the future. But winter is coming.

"We all recognize the problem, that's really not the issue here," Mitch McConnell (R – Kentucky), the Senate Minority Leader, said from the Senate floor. "It's the matter that the majority leader has tried to steamroll a bill."

This bill is no more a steamroller than a cat on a tricycle. It was many years in the making — there was nothing fast about it. Was it one of the Senate Democrats' finest moments? Not quite. In an effort to woo sufficient members of McConnell's rabid right wing to win the supermajority needed to overcome the filibuster, Democrats simply, profoundly caved. They offered to make the bill's vital security safeguards optional, which in the context of the coming cyberwar is like telling members of the Massachusetts Militia that the Minutemen can show up whenever it's convenient.

The problem, as most people who are paying attention know, is that our current collection of uneven, random and deficient computer security protocols will fail precisely because they are optional. The Democrats' last-ditch efforts to save the bill by gutting it might have created some small boost in their efforts to look tough on security issues before the election this fall, but the resulting law would have done little to better protect the American people. In the end we are probably lucky that it failed, having avoided being lulled into a false sense of security.

So what happens next? The Obama administration has some power to require that executive agencies write and enforce a number of the security rules included in Lieberman's original cybersecurity bill. The administration has hinted that it might use that power, and I hope that it does, despite well-rehearsed and inevitable howls of faux outrage that the President is sidestepping the will of Congress. After all, when the Congress has demonstrated that its will is to leave America's critical infrastructure flapping in the breeze, the President's only choice is to act as Commander in Chief to a threat to the nation.

But any moves by the executive branch can only be piecemeal. The White House needs the blessing of Congress before it can require agencies and private companies to share information on threats. That kind of collaboration was exactly what was missing in the years before Sept. 11, and it appears America's military and intelligence agencies learned that lesson well. Apparently, the politicians in Congress have not. Through their election-year cowardice, both Democrats and Republicans have colluded to let terrorists and enemy states create a new "Day of Infamy." Therefore, let's make November 6, 2012, Election Day, their day of reckoning.

Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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