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Infrastructure protectionObama considering executive order for infrastructure protection

Published 13 August 2012

President Barack Obama is exploring whether to issue an executive order to protect the U.S. critical computer infrastructure from cyber attacks; White House sources say an executive order is being considered after a 2 August procedural vote in the Senate that all but doomed a scyberecurity bill endorsed by Obama as well as current and former national security officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations

President Barack Obama is exploring whether to issue an executive order to protect the U.S. critical computer infrastructure, according to White House homeland security adviser John Brennan

One of the things that we need to do in the executive branch is to see what we can do to maybe put additional guidelines and policies in place under executive branch authority,” Brennan said in remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations.

I mean if the Congress is not going to act … then the president wants to make sure that we are doing everything possible,” Brennan said.

Msnbc reports that when asked specifically whether he was referring to executive orders, Brennan said such orders from the president would be a “good vehicle” to direct government agencies to take action “to make sure the nation is protected.

Brennan’s comments, and similar suggestions earlier this month by White House press secretary Jay Carney, follow a 2 August procedural vote in the Senate that all but doomed a scyberecurity bill endorsed by Obama as well as current and former national security officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations.

The legislation was one of the most lobbied topics of the past session by both critics and supporters, with battle lines that crossed party boundaries and divided the business community. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, representing more than 375 companies, tended to favor it, for example, while IBM did not.

The Senate bill had already been softened to meet objections of both business interests and privacy advocates. The bill would have created voluntary cyber security standards for critical infrastructure companies and let business and government share information to allow them to anticipate threats to computer systems that operate water, electricity and other utilities.

In addition to the industries involved, which opposed the bill on the grounds that it would add burdensome regulations on business, those who oppose the bill were concerned with privacy issues and civil liberties. These groups also opposed the Senate bill and are credited with influencing six Democrats who voted alongside Republicans to block Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s attempt to avert a filibuster of the bill.

Many of the groups that opposed the bill saw too many threats to privacy and civil liberties in the legislation, particularly provisions that would allow companies to monitor private communications and pass that data to the government.

Some legal experts think the elements of the bill could in fact be implemented by executive order. “The president can say we can’t wait, and I’m going to do what Congress can’t and protect the American people from cyber attacks,” said Stewart Baker, a former senior official at DHS. “In an election year, that sounds like a pretty promising approach,” Baker said.

Matthew Eggers, senior director of National Security and Emergency Preparedness at the Chamber of Commerce, responded to the possibility of an executive order with a statement of his own.

 “It would be counterproductive and would cut short the proper legislative process, which needs to continue.” Eggers told msnbc. “A new order,” he added, “would cast aside legitimate industry concerns and could trigger actions hindering greater public-private collaboration.”

While some senators have said they will try again in September to get a bill passed, most analysts see little chance of both Houses acting before the 112th Congress comes to an end in January.

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