WASHINGTON | Thu Jul 11, 2013 - The US Senate Commerce Committee is circulating a bill that marks the upper chamber's first stab at cybersecurity legislation and seeks to formalize part of an executive order that sets up voluntary standards for critical industries.

The staffs of Senator John Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the committee, and his Republican counterpart Senator John Thune of South Dakota late on Wednesday released what is expected to be the first of several Senate bills aimed at improving US defenses against cyber attacks, a committee source said.

Rockefeller expects the committee to debate the bill by the end of July, the source said. It will be part of a lengthy, complex process of reconciling interests in Congress, the private sector and the government as the country faces a growing threat of hacking attacks and cyber espionage.

The new bill follows the path laid out by President Barack Obama's executive order in February. That order directed the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a non-regulatory agency within the Commerce Department, to develop the framework for collaboration between the government and the private sector over improving cyber protections.

The Senate's new bill would formally add cybersecurity to NIST's statutory authority to ensure it continues to work with the industry on voluntary standards and best practices after Obama's order expires. The draft also seeks to better educate Americans in cybersecurity, improve research in the field and start a public awareness campaign.

The House of Representatives in April for the second time passed a bill designed to help companies and the government share information on cyber threats. It did not address industry standards and the Obama administration has threatened to veto it over privacy concerns.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and Intelligence Committee chairman, is working on information-sharing legislation in the Senate. The House's previous cybersecurity legislation stalled in the Senate last year.

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