Today the White House issued a Cybersecurity Legislative Proposal. The proposed legislation focuses on protecting the American people, the nation’s critical infrastructure, and the federal government’s computers and networks.  While legislation of this nature would simplify the breach reporting process for businesses, and overall streamline cybersecurity laws, a number of legislative attempts to do this have previously failed.  It is important to note that while this proposal sets forth some guidelines, the specific details of how each provision would be instituted are not yet clear

Our critical infrastructure – such as the electricity grid, financial sector, and transportation networks that sustain our way of life – have suffered repeated cyber intrusion, and cyber crime has increased dramatically over the law decade. The President has thus made cybersecurity an Administration priority. 

  1.  To protect the American people, the proposed legislation calls for a national data breach reporting law which would simplify and standardize the existing patchwork of 47 state laws that contain these requirements. Additionally, the proposal calls for penalties for computer criminals and clarifies the penalties for computer crimes, synchronizes them with other crimes, and sets mandatory minimums for cyber intrusions into critical infrastructure.
  2. To protect our nation’s critical infrastructure the proposal calls on legislative changes to fully protect this infrastructure. Specifically, proposal will enable the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to quickly help a private-sector company, state, or local government when that organization asks for its help. It also clarifies the type of assistance that DHS can provide to the requesting organization.

Additionally, the proposal permits businesses, states, and local governments to share information about cyber threats or incidents with DHS. To fully address these entities’ concerns, it also provides them with immunity when sharing cybersecurity information with DHS. At the same time, the proposal mandates robust privacy oversight to ensure that the voluntarily shared information does not impinge on individual privacy and civil liberties.

Further, the proposal emphasizes transparency to help market forces ensure that critical-infrastructure operators are accountable for their cybersecurity.

Finally, the proposal requires DHS to work with industry to identify the core critical-infrastructure operators and to prioritize the most important cyber threats and vulnerabilities for those operators. Critical infrastructure operators would then take steps to address cyber threats, develop risk mitigation plans, and permit DHS to modify the processes which are implemented if they are insufficient. 

  1.  To protect federal government computers and networks the legislative proposal includes: an update to the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) as well as formalizing DHS’ current role in managing cybersecurity for the Federal Government’s civilian computers and networks, in order to provide departments and agencies with a shared source of expertise; giving DHS more flexibility in hiring highly-qualified cybersecurity professionals; the permanency of DHS’s authority to oversee intrusion prevention systems for all Federal Executive Branch civilian computers while codifying strong privacy and civil liberties protections, congressional reporting requirements, and an annual certification process; and preventions on states requiring companies to build their data centers in that state, as opposed to in the cloud, except where expressly authorized by federal law.

The Administration’s proposal also attempts to ensure the protection of individuals’ privacy and civil liberties through a framework designed expressly to address the challenges of cybersecurity. Some of these provisions include: requiring federal agencies (and likely federal contractors) to follow privacy and civil liberties procedures; limitations on monitoring, collecting, using, retaining, and sharing of information; requiring efforts to remove identifying information unrelated to cybersecurity threats; as well as immunity provisions for those business which comply with the proposal’s requirements.  

As the proposal concludes: 

Our Nation is at risk… [t]he Administration has responded to Congress’ call for input on the cybersecurity legislation that our Nation needs, and we look forward to engaging with Congress as they move forward on this issue.