(CN) – A cyber-defense bill that divided national security hawks and privacy advocates was put on the ropes on Thursday by Republican Senators inclined to leave the protection of critical U.S. infrastructure mostly to private corporations.
The White House expressed its “profound disappointment” about the development.
“Despite the President’s repeated calls for Congress to act on this legislation, and despite pleas from numerous senior national security officials from this Administration and the Bush Administration, the politics of obstructionism, driven by special interest groups seeking to avoid accountability, prevented Congress from passing legislation to better protect our nation from potentially catastrophic cyber-attacks,” the statement said.
The CyberSecurity Act of 2012, proposed by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., ostensibly aimed to patch holes in the computer systems behind the United States’ water, electricity and banking infrastructure.
It gained the support of President Barack Obama; Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency; Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and most Congressional Democrats.
The bill also raised concerns among civil libertarians at the American Civil Liberties Union and bipartisan privacy advocates in Congress, such as Sens. Al Franken, D-Mich., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., who proposed an amendment strengthening such protections.
A more hardline digital civil liberties group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, warned that the bill could usher in an era of governmental and corporate “cyber spying” through the vague language of the statute.
The bill’s sponsors revised the statute to address these concerns even to the apparent satisfaction of the ACLU, paving the way for a vote on Thursday to preclude a filibuster through a maneuver known as a cloture.
To achieve a cloture, which ends debate before a bill’s vote, a 60-senator majority is needed.
On Thursday morning, backers of the legislation only reached a 52-to-46 majority, sidelined mostly by anti-regulation sentiment in the Republican Party. The bill is expected to languish as Congress breaks for summer recess later this week.
The ACLU issued an ambivalent statement on the development.
“Regardless of today’s vote, the issue of cybersecurity is far from dead,” said Michelle Richardson, the ACLU’s legislative counsel. “When Congress inevitably picks up this issue again, the privacy amendments in this bill should remain the vanguard for any future bills. We’ll continue to work with Congress to make sure that the government’s cybersecurity efforts include privacy protections. Cybersecurity and our online privacy should not be a zero sum game.”
Meanwhile, the hacker group Anonymous expressed its reluctant gratitude to the Grand Old Party on its official Twitter feed.
“US Cybersecurity Bill Is Blocked by … A GOP Filibuster? Um … Thanks??” tweeted YourAnonNews.
The tweet linked to a New York Times article with a similar headline.