Cybersecurity bill would give president, DHS too much power, critics say

Fears about overreaching authority fuel worries

The president already has adequate measures available to respond to cyber emergencies and doesn’t need the additional tools that legislation now under consideration in the Senate would provide, according to Philip Reitinger, deputy undersecretary of the National Protection and Programs Directorate at the Homeland Security Department.

Reitinger, testifying June 16 before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said DHS is still reviewing the legislation and has no official position, according to a report on NextGov.com. However, he questioned its powers for the president.

“Laws already address presidential emergency authorities and Congress and the administration should work together to identify any needed adjustments, as opposed to developing overlapping legislation,” he said, as quoted at NextGov.

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Thomas Carper (D-Del.) introduced the legislation last week, and it has gained significant support in the Senate. Named the 2010 Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (S.3480), the measure would grant the president the power to declare a national cyber emergency and issue emergency measures in the presence of a credible threat to the nation’s infrastructure.

Reitinger contended that the 1934 Communications Act already grants the president the needed authority to deal with a cyber emergency. However, Collins said the anachronistic law doesn't deal adequately with Internet concerns, even though Congress amended it in 1996 in an attempt to do so.

Phil Bond, president of the industry group TechAmerica, in an article in The Hill, expressed concern about the legislation.

“If the bill passes in its current form, it will turn the Department of Homeland Security into a significant regulatory agency,” Bond said in that article. “Regulations like these could seriously undermine the very innovation we need to stay ahead of the bad actors and prosper as a nation.”

 

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