Energy may lead cyber info sharing

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The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is mulling a request to support a governmentwide bill that would protect private-sector cybersecurity information from disclosure, but a draft bill pertaining specifically to the energy sector may be more acceptable to industry and agencies, officials say.

Following a move Oct. 9 by committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) to include infrastructure protection language in a bill now before the panel, Sens. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) asked the committee to adopt a measure the senators introduced late last month.

Their bill, called the Critical Infrastructure Information Security Act, provides exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act and anti-trust laws in order to encourage the private sector to share information on cyberspace incidents and vulnerabilities with the government.

Sharing information is more important than ever, given the climate following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Bennett said at an Oct. 10 hearing. Bennett and Kyl's bill is "somewhat of an orphan, and we are looking for someone to adopt it," he said.

Although almost every Senate committee could assert oversight of the matter, the energy sector, with its record of sharing information between the public and private sectors, is a natural place to start, Kyl said. "We need to start this someplace or else we'll be talking about this when we leave at the end of the year," he said.

The Energy Department supports the idea of fostering governmentwide information sharing contained in the Bennett-Kyl bill, said Lee Sarah Liberman Otis, Energy's general counsel. But DOE is more enthusiastic about a draft substitute of an administration bill developed by the committee's staff to amend the Reclamation Recreation Management Act of 1992, she said. That draft includes sections mirroring the protections afforded by the Bennett-Kyl bill. But because of its sector-specific language and context, DOE believes it will be more readily accepted by agencies and industry, she said.

The draft's sections on disclosure of sensitive information shared with the government and protection from anti-trust laws will enhance existing information-sharing partnerships, such as with the North American Electric Reliability Council, Otis said.

Energy would also like to work more with Bingaman's staff and the Justice Department on another section of the draft concerning background checks for certain employees in the energy industry because the scope of these checks is still unclear, she said.

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