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Public Statements

Cybersecurity Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COONS. Madam President, I am honored to be able to join the Senator from Minnesota in speaking today in support of all the Members of this body voting to proceed to the consideration of the important cybersecurity bill to which he and Senator Durbin have spoken.

Today we have an opportunity to celebrate progress--very real, very concrete, and very important progress--in the legislative efforts to make America both more secure and yet retain our core constitutional freedoms: the protections of privacy that Americans have held dear from the very beginning of this Republic.

As I have said before on this floor, taking action to protect our Nation from the very real and urgent threat of cyber attack is of paramount importance, something so urgent that it deserves our undivided attention. But so is protecting the privacy rights of law-abiding American citizens.

As we work together toward this commonsense, compromise piece of legislation the Senate should consider in coming days, I fought hard, along with several colleagues, to ensure we maintain the right balance between privacy and security. That balance is essential. Compromising our liberty would be as dangerous as compromising our safety. But thanks to the hard work of so many of my colleagues--in particular Senator Durbin, Senator Franken, Senator Blumenthal, Senator Merkley, Senator Sanders, and others--we found that appropriate balance in this legislation that is before us.

The changes we have made to the original text and to the House-passed version have significantly strengthened privacy rights. That is why I say we can celebrate real progress here today.

I long thought it was the privacy issues that would be the rock on which this ship would founder, that the critical and unaddressed privacy issues in CISPA and SECURE IT, spoken to by Senator Franken, would be issues that would prevent me from supporting cybersecurity legislation in this session of Congress. But we have made remarkable progress. Let me briefly review a few of the areas where that progress has been made.

We made sure companies cannot pry into the private online activities of everyday Americans in the name of national security. I want to mention one more improvement.

In addition to those mentioned by Senator Franken just before me concerning legal immunities contained in this bill, this bill appropriately gives companies the authority to share cyber threat-related information with each other and the government, without which we can't know what the rapidly emerging significant national cyber threats are. It also gives them immunity from suit if they do so. So if companies share with each other real-time cyber threat information, they cannot be sued. But prior versions of this bill might have provided bad actors with immunity against all privacy laws. So instead, we added tough provisions to ensure if a company acts recklessly or willfully to violate the law and the online privacy of its customers, they will be held accountable. This legislation now, in my view, strikes an appropriate balance between empowering companies and providing them certainty, as well as maintaining the privacy rights of Americans and their customers.

In this new, better, stronger legislation, it is no longer the case that companies can share your data and violate your privacy because you interact with them online. If that had remained in this bill, I would have expected millions of Americans to mobilize to stop this legislation. But we are here today as a group of Senators to announce that real progress has been made, and we are comfortable with and support this legislation from a privacy perspective.

I urge my colleagues, when we take up this vote later this afternoon, to vote to proceed to the bill and to allow us a full and robust debate on this cybersecurity legislation.

Getting to this new and improved legislation was a team effort, and special credit is due to Senators Lieberman and Collins for leading the way, for being willing to find common ground on challenging issues. There was also a great deal of work done by my senior Senator Tom Carper and by Senators Feinstein and Rockefeller who chair committees and were also essential to making such great progress.

One of the aspects of cybersecurity and the threat to our country that keeps me up at night is that it is constantly evolving. Our enemies are smart, they are capable, and they are fast. That means our cyber defenses have to be flexible, adaptable, and regularly evaluated in order to keep up.

One good thing about the House version of this legislation is that it includes a sunset provision requiring that in 5 years, this body once again must take a hard and serious look at cybersecurity threats, and update or change our defense as needed, and ensure that privacy protections have been fully observed.

That is not just good strategy, it is good sense. Think about the capabilities of your computer, your cell phone 5 years ago compared to today. The pace of change is faster online than ever before, and we need the kind of legislative process that allows us to review our work and ensure not only that we stay ahead of the curve in defending our country but we continue to strike the right balance between privacy and security.

That is why, similar to Senator Franken before me, I intend to introduce an amendment on the floor--which I hope will earn consideration by this body and the support of my colleagues--to take the sunset provision of our House counterparts and match that in the Senate in this bill. It is the right thing to do to help keep us safe and to help our military leaders and cybersecurity experts stay one step ahead of those who would wish us harm.

In closing, I thank Senator Whitehouse, who has been an important part of two different teams working on this bill. Senators Kyl and Whitehouse led a team that worked hard on critical infrastructure. I wish to thank Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut, who participated in the privacy side work and in the critical infrastructure work. Now we are speaking to title VII, to the information-sharing provision of the bill and the dramatic and real progress that has been made in addressing the balance between security and privacy.

There has also been great progress made, in my view, in addressing the issues of critical infrastructure, and I invite Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut, who has contributed so well to both these efforts, to address the Chamber at this time.

I yield the floor.


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