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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

 11:59 AM 

Johnson tackles cybersecurity

This is an excerpt from Nicole Duran's weekly DC Wrap column. Sign up to get the full column in your inbox each week.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, is wasting no time implementing his legislative agenda. After holding an organizational meeting and appointing subcommittee chairmen, his Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold its first hearing Wednesday on cybersecurity.

Titled "Protecting America from Cyber Attacks: The Importance of Information Sharing," the hearing will examine an area Johnson cited as a top priority even before he officially became chairman.

Cybersecurity is a problem "everyone recognizes needs to be addressed," Johnson said in a recent interview. The Sony Pictures case, in which North Korea allegedly hacked into the movie studio's system in retaliation for the movie "The Interview," was a glaring reminder that Congress has yet to pass comprehensive legislation, he said.

He said it's a "serious issue of national security" but that vested interests such as civil liberty and privacy advocates and trial lawyers have held up progress. Attorneys want to "sue just about anyone for just about anything," making finding compromise difficult, he said. Every time he asks experts what the first step is, the answer is information sharing between the private sector and government, he said. However, that can only be achieved if the private sector is indemnified from lawsuits, which trial lawyers object to, he said.

Lawmakers came close to passing broad cybersecurity legislation in the last few Congresses. But final movement ultimately stalled in part because Congress has yet to react to revelations that the National Security Agency, relying on authority granted by the USA Patriot Act, collected information from Americans' telephone records in bulk.

Are the Sony hack and similar attacks on other major U.S. businesses enough to put cybersecurity legislation over the finish line this time? Says Johnson: "I'm not really confident." He adds that he has seen few bills become laws since joining the Senate in 2011.

Among the witnesses scheduled to testify at Wednesday's hearing were: Marc Gordon, chief information officer at American Express, and Microsoft's Scott Charney, who oversees the company's cybersecurity initiative.

The committee already has approved a streamlined subcommittee structure that takes the number of permanent sub panels down one, to three, and realigns jurisdiction. Most notably, no subcommittee lists oversight of the District of Columbia in its title. Madison's Tammy Baldwin was named ranking Democrat of the newly named Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management panel, which is led by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul.

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