The 113th session of Congress opened last month, and over the next two years, cyber security will join the shortlist of hot-button agenda items set for debate and discussion. And pushing those conversations along will be high-powered teams of lobbyists, who are experiencing a major Beltway boon thanks to deepening, and often hype-induced, worries around the susceptibility of the nation's critical infrastructure to attack.
The million-dollar question is how these lobbyists' influence, which includes providing information, arranging congressional testimony and funding re-election campaigns, will translate into action by lawmakers.
According to Jerry Brito, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia, cyber security lobbying mainly consists of two components: One is the technology manufacturers that believe new regulations will further embolden a market for what they're selling. The other is corporations resistant to any laws that will require them to spend large amounts of money on security products they believe they don't need. A third force, with shallower pockets, is public interest groups concerned over the privacy ramifications of certain measures.
“Lobbying in itself is not bad,” Brito said. “You can't label it bad because it comes from all sides. The problem is that lobbying often has the effect of not getting the truth out [and instead] getting the player that can spend the most to be the winner. I think folks who want cyber security legislation have the advantage here because they have a lot more to gain.” As such, threat inflation is an inevitable by-product.
Take, for example, the year's most hotly contested cyber proposal on Capitol Hill, The Cyber Security Act of 2012, which ultimately was shot down by the Senate. The key sponsors of the bill, outgoing Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, count cyber defense contractors Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics as their top corporate donors over the past five years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Another sponsor, Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., formerly employed Jim Gottlieb as his chief of staff. According to a Washington Examiner column, Gottlieb “is now a lobbyist at Capitol Counsel representing tech giant Cisco Systems on ‘legislation pertaining to cyber security,' according to a recent lobbying filing.”