Senate Panel Approves Bill Aimed at Thwarting Computer Attacks

Legislation aimed at protecting the nation’s financial networks and power grids from computer hackers and safeguarding consumer data online won approval from a U.S. Senate panel in a party-line vote.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the measure today, with the committee’s 10 Democrats voting in favor and its eight Republicans voting no. The bill, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who chairs the Judiciary panel, parallels many of the cybersecurity recommendations made by the Obama administration in May.

The measure, S.1151, would set a national standard for notifying consumers about data breaches, replacing varied reporting requirements in 47 states. It also would make concealing a data breach a crime, and toughen penalties for damaging computers that manage the nation’s critical infrastructure, including in the defense, transportation and public health and safety sectors.

Data breaches at Tokyo-based Sony Corp. and Citigroup Inc. have sharpened U.S. government scrutiny of how businesses protect consumer information and notify the public about cyber attacks. Sony was criticized by U.S. lawmakers including Representative Mary Bono Mack for taking six days to disclose an attack that exposed 100 million customer accounts and prompted the temporary shutdown of the company’s PlayStation Network.

The Leahy bill, known as the Personal Data Privacy and Security Act of 2011, is one of a number of cybersecurity and online-privacy measures introduced in Congress this year as lawmakers increase their focus on how companies are dealing with threats from hackers and malicious software.

Comprehensive Bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, is compiling comprehensive cybersecurity legislation on his side of Capitol Hill. In the House, a task force of 12 Republicans led by Representative William “Mac” Thornberry of Texas is expected to send its cybersecurity recommendations to House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Oct. 3.

Leahy introduced similar cybersecurity measures in 2005, 2007 and 2009 that stalled in the Senate. The measure approved by the Judiciary committee today is co-sponsored by Democratic senators Charles Schumer of New York, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Al Franken of Minnesota, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

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