Industry hoping for action on data security bill this year

Legislation would update the six-year-old bill establishing requirements for securing personal or sensitive data.

The window for advancing a comprehensive federal data security bill is closing, but stakeholders are holding out hope that narrowly crafted proposals to improve government information security compliance and fight cybercrime might still get traction this spring.

A joint hearing of two House Oversight and Government Reform Committee panels Thursday examined one such bill, introduced last year by Information Policy Subcommittee Chairman William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., and co-sponsored by Government Management Subcommittee Chairman Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y. The legislation, which Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., has also supported, would update the six-year-old Federal Information Security Management Act to establish requirements for securing personal or sensitive data.

The bill proposes a broader definition of "personally identifiable information"; strengthened reporting and auditing requirements, and calls for privacy impact assessments for agency purchases of lists containing potentially sensitive information from commercial data brokers.

Karen Evans, OMB's e-government administrator, told lawmakers in written testimony the FISMA bill could "seriously impact established agency security and privacy practices while not necessarily achieving the outcomes of improved privacy or security."

But Cyber Security Industry Alliance President Tim Bennett said Tuesday that while OMB has been "proactive in addressing shortcomings and trying to improve federal agency information security practices," its guidance has been "uneven" and too focused on compliance with memoranda and circulars. Bennett, who also testified at the hearing, said congressionally mandated enhancements could make existing OMB rules more meaningful.

Waxman is "committed to helping [the FISMA bill] move forward," an aide said. A spokesman for Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Tom Davis, R-Va., said: "It's going to be tough getting it on the schedule but we can hope for the best. We want the legislation to come before the next breach, not after."

A Senate-passed bill by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking member Arlen Specter, R-Pa., that would give federal prosecutors tools to fight identity theft and cybercrime could be introduced in the House. Staffers for House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., recently discussed the legislation with CSIA Chairman John Thompson, who is CEO of computer security firm Symantec, Bennett said. Other representatives from CSIA have been making the rounds on Capitol Hill.

"The bad guys are moving quicker and getting more sophisticated every day and we don't have time to lose," Bennett said. "These are issues that we think would be foolish to postpone until the next Congress. Let's at least have some incremental improvements."