The NOC proposal seems an increasingly tough sell, with the president's recently released proposal suggesting that authority reside in the Department of Homeland Security instead.

But Senator Whitehouse, among others, says he does expect the Senate bill to be tougher on companies controlling critical infrastructure than Obama recommends. One idea: a separate domain — think .secure rather than .com or .org — for critical infrastructure, with heightened security and heightened surveillance of users.

Whitehouse, who is sympathetic to the civil liberties concerns that come with security upgrades, says a .secure tag would send a clear signal to users that they cannot expect the same privacy they enjoy in the .com domain.

The proposal, trumpeted by some military leaders too, has faced robust opposition from Silicon Valley types who frown on any perceived assault on the open nature of the Internet. And private sector pressure is sure to be a major force in shaping any legislation that comes out of Congress. You can bet, for instance, that the utilities and banks will have something to say about the cybersecurity mandates proposed by the Obama Administration and Senate leadership.

James Lewis, a former State Department official now with the Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies, says the Obama and Senate proposals, whatever their differences, are in the same league. Both make an important attempt to impose cybersecurity responsibilities on powerful corporations.

"They're going to get a lot of pushback," he says, of administration officials. "I hope they stick to their guns."

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