Senator urges Obama to issue 'cybersecurity' executive order

After a Senate vote on a federal cybersecurity law was blocked, Sen. Lieberman pressures the president to move forward and publish an executive order with similar advisory guidelines.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
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Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman sent a letter to President Obama today urging him to use his executive power and publish "advisory" guidelines on a cybersecurity order.

"Countless national security leaders from your Administration and the previous Administration have made clear that the threat from cyber attack is similar to the threat we faced from terrorism on September 10, 2001 -- the danger is real and imminent, yet we have not acted to defend against it," Lieberman wrote. "We know our adversaries are already stealing valuable intellectual property and exploiting our critical infrastructure -- those systems that control our water, electricity, transportation, finance, and communications systems -- to prepare for attack."

Lieberman is one of a handful of senators that have been urging the president to publish the guidelines under executive order. Originally, the guidelines were written into federal legislation, which was derailed after a planned vote last month. Now, in a mostly partisan deadlock, Democrats insist on new guidelines and Republicans steadfastly oppose them.

Supporters of the security bill and its guidelines consider it vital in ensuring that private U.S. businesses tasked with running the electric grid, utilities, nuclear power plans and other key pieces of critical national infrastructure are taking appropriate measures to protect their facilities against attacks from hackers, cyberspies, and malware.

The original measure was sponsored by Lieberman, who is an Independent, along with Republican Sen. Susan Collins, and Democrat Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV and Dianne Feinstein. It has already been watered down to meet the objections of politicians who oppose the regulations and argue that forcing companies to meet minimum security standards would be unduly burdensome.

According to Reuters, President Obama will most likely issue the executive order. People involved in the process told the news agency that they saw recent drafts of the document. "It tells those who have the ability to regulate to go forth and do so," one person told Reuters. A spokeswoman for the administration's National Security Council, Caitlin Hayden, also confirmed that an order was being considered but she did not give more details.

Despite the possibility that the president might publish the order, Lieberman said he still hopes that federal legislation can be agreed upon since it would be more extensive and inclusive.

"Executive action cannot make all the changes necessary to facilitate the type of information sharing we urgently need - only new statutory authorization will be sufficient," he wrote in his letter today. "While the Senate failed to make these critical changes to the law, I hope that you will use your authority to the extent possible to facilitate greater cybersecurity information sharing."