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Lawmakers introduce bipartisan legislation to thwart cyber terrorism and crime

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While the news media and the nation are focused on the revelations of faulty or nonexistent security on the Affordable Care Act's new website, some lawmakers in both houses of the U.S. Congress continue to voice their concerns over acts of cyber terrorism and cyber crime against government and private sector targets including the Obamacare website. In a first step to protect those targets, legislators in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday introduced new cybersecurity legislation.

House Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul, R-Texas, along with Ranking Member Bennie Thompson D-Miss., Cybersecurity, the Chairman of the Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies Subcommittee Patrick Meehan R-Penn., and Subcommittee Ranking Member Yvette Clarke D-N.Y., introduced H.R. 3696, the National Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure Protection Act of 2013” (NCCIP Act).

Cyber hackers, terrorist groups, and unfriendly nations seeking to steal, disrupt or destroy the nation’s most critical assets through cyber attacks are ramping up their efforts to do us harm, according to the lawmakers. They gave the examples of computer hackers from the Islamist nation of Iran who in the past targeted major U.S. banks, and Chinese hackers who conducted espionage against U.S. government agencies including the Department of Defense, as well as major technology firms in the private sector.

“Cyber attacks are a top national security and economic threat to the United States, and we cannot wait for a major strike before improving our defenses. Americans could be greatly harmed by a cyber assault on our nation’s power supply, water or banking systems," stated Rep. McCaul.

Attacks perpetrated against the United States banking system, power grids, energy pipelines, water systems, telecommunication networks and transportation systems "could cause catastrophic damage and result in disastrous effects on the public health and safety of Americans, the economy and national security," the lawmakers said during Wednesday's announcement of H.R. 3696.

According to the bill's co-sponsors, "H.R. 3696 would strengthen the cybersecurity of more than a dozen critical infrastructure sectors in the U.S., as well as the federal government, by codifying, strengthening and providing oversight of the cybersecurity mission of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) -- the agency responsible for ensuring the security of our critical infrastructure."

The NCCIP Act bolsters the true partnership between private industry and the federal government so that together they can raise the bar on cybersecurity. The bill ensures privacy and civil liberties are protected and prevents additional new regulatory authority at DHS.

"The NCCIP Act will allow us to face the cyber threat head on. The bill will help us responsibly coordinate our cyber defenses and strengthen their civilian leadership while protecting Americans’ privacy and civil liberties,” said Rep. Meehan.

“Threats to our cybersecurity have the potential to harm our economy, undermine our national defense, and eliminate the protection of privacy on which we depend in our daily lives. This bill will allow the Department of Homeland Security to fulfill its duty to the American people – to protect their information from unauthorized disclosure and, consequently, from misuse. I am pleased that Chairman McCaul worked with both Republicans and Democrats to protect our cyber infrastructure,” noted Rep. Clarke on Wednesday.

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