The Homeland Security Department Issues a Big Warning About the Senate’s Cyber Bill

DHS said Monday that the Senate’s cyberinformation-sharing bill would “sweep away important privacy protections.”

The seal of the Department of Homeland Security is seen on a podium.
National Journal
Aug. 3, 2015, 9:29 a.m.

The Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment said in an of­fi­cial let­ter that a cy­ber­in­form­a­tion-shar­ing bill un­der con­sid­er­a­tion in the Sen­ate would be det­ri­ment­al to Amer­ic­ans’ pri­vacy and the coun­try’s cy­ber­se­cur­ity.

The agency said a pro­vi­sion in the bill that au­thor­izes the private sec­tor to share cy­ber­threat in­form­a­tion with any fed­er­al agency would “in­crease the com­plex­ity and dif­fi­culty of a new in­form­a­tion shar­ing pro­gram” and “sweep away im­port­ant pri­vacy pro­tec­tions.”

DHS Deputy Sec­ret­ary Ale­jandro May­or­k­as, who signed the let­ter, also wrote that dis­trib­ut­ing in­form­a­tion across many agen­cies would mean the “in­ef­fi­ciency of any in­form­a­tion shar­ing pro­gram will markedly in­crease; de­vel­op­ing a single, com­pre­hens­ive pic­ture of the range of cy­ber threats faced daily will be­come more dif­fi­cult.”

The Cy­ber­se­cur­ity In­form­a­tion Shar­ing Act passed out of the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee nearly un­an­im­ously in March, but some law­makers have since raised ques­tions about its pri­vacy pro­tec­tions and ef­fi­ciency. Sup­port­ers on both sides of the aisle say it will fa­cil­it­ate cy­ber­threat shar­ing between the private sec­tor and the gov­ern­ment, thereby mak­ing it easi­er for both to de­tect and shut down on­line in­tru­sions.

The let­ter, a re­sponse to a re­quest for in­form­a­tion from Sen. Al Franken, was sent Fri­day and re­leased by the Min­nesota Demo­crat’s of­fice Monday. The prob­lems DHS out­lines in the let­ter mir­ror many of the con­cerns that pri­vacy ad­voc­ates and se­cur­ity ex­perts have raised about the bill, which could come up for a vote in the Sen­ate this week be­fore the cham­ber breaks for Au­gust re­cess.

In re­leas­ing the DHS let­ter, Franken said Monday that CISA is not yet ready for a vote. “The De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cur­ity’s let­ter makes it over­whelm­ingly clear that, if the Sen­ate moves for­ward with this cy­ber­se­cur­ity in­form­a­tion-shar­ing bill, we are at risk of sweep­ing away im­port­ant pri­vacy pro­tec­tions and civil liber­ties, and we would ac­tu­ally in­crease the dif­fi­culty and com­plex­ity of in­form­a­tion shar­ing, un­der­min­ing our na­tion’s cy­ber­se­cur­ity ob­ject­ives,” he said in a state­ment.

Franken, an out­spoken pri­vacy ad­voc­ate in the Sen­ate, asked DHS last month to set out any con­cerns it may have with the bill’s pri­vacy, ef­fect­ive­ness, and ef­fi­ciency. The agency iden­ti­fied a num­ber of is­sues with the bill, in­clud­ing a pro­vi­sion that would make it dif­fi­cult for the agency to an­onym­ize in­com­ing data and pre­serve Amer­ic­ans’ pri­vacy, and a worry that the sheer volume of in­form­a­tion that would be shared un­der the law would be over­power­ing.

DHS has been in­tim­ately in­volved in cy­ber­in­form­a­tion-shar­ing ever since re­cent le­gis­la­tion cre­ated the Na­tion­al Cy­ber­se­cur­ity and Com­mu­nic­a­tions In­teg­ra­tion Cen­ter cy­ber­threat clear­ing­house with­in the agency. A num­ber of fed­er­al agen­cies and over a hun­dred private-sec­tor com­pan­ies par­ti­cip­ate in DHS’s in­form­a­tion-shar­ing pro­gram.

In the re­sponse to Franken’s re­quest, DHS said a stronger in­form­a­tion-shar­ing law should pre­serve the NC­CIC as the hub for any ex­pan­ded pro­gram, rather than spread­ing cy­ber­threat in­form­a­tion out across gov­ern­ment agen­cies.

The agency also said it was con­cerned that an al­low­ance in the Sen­ate bill for com­pan­ies to mark in­form­a­tion they share with the gov­ern­ment as pro­pri­et­ary could get in the way of the pro­gram’s goals and pre­vent agen­cies from act­ing on the cy­ber­threat in­form­a­tion they re­ceive. DHS re­com­men­ded that in­form­a­tion, once an­onym­ized, no longer be re­garded as pro­pri­et­ary.

With only a week be­fore the Sen­ate ad­journs for the sum­mer, CISA is up against a tick­ing clock. Sen­at­ors are work­ing to reach an agree­ment to move for­ward with the bill early this week, but law­makers from both parties are clam­or­ing to add amend­ments to the bill.

A spokes­man for Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell said the sen­at­or wants to move to the cy­ber bill im­me­di­ately after a vote on de­fund­ing Planned Par­ent­hood on Monday af­ter­noon. The bill to de­fund Planned Par­ent­hood is not ex­pec­ted to pass.

If it does not get a vote this week, the bill will get shunted to the fall, where it will com­pete for sen­at­ors’ at­ten­tion with oth­er press­ing is­sues, such as fights over ap­pro­pri­ations and the debt ceil­ing.

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