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Tuesday February 14, 2012 | 06:06 PM

Sen. Susan Collins says U.S. companies and government agencies must do a better job securing important computer networks against cyber crime and terrorism.

The Maine Republican today joined three other lawmakers in unveiling a long anticipated cyber security bill. Collins is the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“Earlier this month, FBI Director Robert Mueller warned that the cyber threat will soon equal or surpass the threat from terrorism.  He argued that we should be addressing the cyber threat with the same intensity we have applied to the terrorist threat,” Collins said today on the Senate floor.

“The threat is not just to our national security, but also to our economic well-being,” Collins said, citing a study last year that figured the cost of global cyber crime at $114 billion a year, $388 billion when the cost of lost time and productivity is calculated.

The aim of the bill is to secure computer systems, private and governmental, deemed essential to keeping the country running.

The legislation has been worked on for three years, according to a release by Collins and the other authors: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Democratic Sens. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate commerce committee, and Dianne Feinstein of California, chairman of the intelligence committee.

Some business groups have said the legislation’s requirements may be too costly and broad in their reach.

The lawmakers say the bill would create public-private partnership to secure vital computer systems that if disrupted by a cyber attack could cause mass deaths, evacuations or other massive damage to the economy or national security.

Collins, who has argued that federal regulations can be too costly, said more regulation is justified in this case.

“Some of our colleagues are skeptical about the need for any new regulations,” Collins said. “I have opposed efforts to expand regulations that would burden our economy. But regulations that are necessary for our national security and that promote - rather than hinder - our economic prosperity strengthen our country.”

Collins’ Maine colleague, GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe, said that she too has been working as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to “raise awareness about our vulnerability to cyber adversaries who are increasingly targeting our identities, our businesses, and our national security secrets.”

But Snowe said that as the legislation is considered “it is also important to recognize that many have expressed valid concerns about the need to avoid unnecessary or duplicative regulation that could stifle innovation or impede growth.  As a result, in the weeks ahead I intend to work with my colleagues to ensure our federal response to the threats we face is balanced and protects the freedoms that we all cherish.”



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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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