By David Fagan and Josephine Liu

The Obama Administration today sent Congress its long-awaited legislative proposal for improving U.S. cybersecurity.  The proposal is in the form of individual legislative amendments tackling various issues, packaged together as a comprehensive legislative framework.  As we previously discussed, cybersecurity is a subject of interest in both chambers of Congress.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and six Senate committee chairs requested last July that President Obama provide input on cybersecurity legislative reforms; today’s proposal responds to that request. 

While the legislative proposals are extensive – the complete section-by-section analysis is, on its own, more than 20 pages – the following provisions are likely to be of particular interest for businesses operating in this space:

  • National data breach notification.  The proposals would seek to create, for the first time, a unified federal standard for notification to customers in the event of a security breach.  Specifically, business entities would be required to notify customers following the discovery of a security breach involving sensitive personally identifiable information, and also to notify law enforcement and national security authorities under certain circumstances.  These provisions would preempt the 47 existing state data breach notification laws, and would be enforced by the FTC and state attorneys general. 
  • Development of critical infrastructure cybersecurity plans.  DHS would work with industry, through a rulemaking process, to identify core critical infrastructure operators and specific risks.  An entity would not be designated as a critical infrastructure operator unless (1) disruption of the entity’s operations would have a debilitating effect on national security, national economic security, or national public health or safety; and (2) the entity depends on information infrastructure to operate.  Operators designated under this process would be responsible for developing cybersecurity risk mitigation plans, which would be assessed by third-party auditors.  DHS would be authorized to enter into discussions or take other action if operators’ plans are insufficient. 
  • Voluntary sharing of cybersecurity threat information.  The proposal would authorize private entities to share cybersecurity threat information with DHS, and would provide them with immunity for doing so.  DHS would be tasked with developing policies and procedures to minimize the impact on privacy and civil liberties and to prevent misuse of the shared information. 

The White House’s proposed framework also increases the penalties for computer crimes; prohibits states from requiring that private data centers be located in that state as a condition of doing business; updates the Federal Information Security Management Act; authorizes DHS to provide voluntary assistance to industry and state government to mitigate cyber incidents; formalizes DHS’s role in overseeing intrusion prevention across the executive branch’s civilian computers; gives DHS greater flexibility in hiring cybersecurity professionals; and reactivates an “expert exchange” program between the government and private companies to share best practices. 

The proposal drew initial positive reactions from principal drivers of cybersecurity legislation in the Senate – Senator Lieberman (I-CT), Senator Collins (R-ME), Senator Carper (D-DE), Senator Rockefeller (D-WV), and Senator Snowe (R-ME) – and from certain trade associations, although observers have noted that much work remains to be done if legislation is to be enacted this year.