McConnell to Pair Cybersecurity Measure With Defense Bill

Privacy advocates still fear the information-sharing bill could lead to more NSA spying.

Stone wall: McConnell & Co. frowns on Obama delays.
National Journal
June 9, 2015, 11:19 a.m.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell an­nounced on Tues­day his in­tent to pack­age con­tro­ver­sial cy­ber­se­cur­ity le­gis­la­tion in­to an on­go­ing de­bate over a de­fense policy bill.

Mc­Con­nell, al­lud­ing to the re­cent hacks of fed­er­al em­ploy­ee data at the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment and a breach that took down the Army’s web­site, said he would seek to tack on a pro­pos­al that would in­crease the shar­ing of so-called “cy­ber-threat” data between the private sec­tor and gov­ern­ment to the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act.

“Giv­en the cy­ber­at­tacks that oc­curred earli­er in the week, it is the in­ten­tion of Chair­man [Richard] Burr of the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee to of­fer cy­ber­se­cur­ity to this bill, a bill that came out of In­tel­li­gence 14-1,” Mc­Con­nell said dur­ing a press brief­ing.

A Mc­Con­nell aide con­firmed the cy­ber­se­cur­ity le­gis­la­tion would be in the form of an amend­ment but that there was no sched­ule yet for when it would be de­bated.

The meas­ure Mc­Con­nell and Burr will put for­ward is the Cy­ber­se­cur­ity In­form­a­tion Shar­ing Act, which eas­ily passed the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee in March. Demo­crat­ic Sen. Ron Wyden cast the lone dis­sent­ing vote at the time, call­ing it a “sur­veil­lance bill by an­oth­er name.” Both he and Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Demo­crat on the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, have said they still have con­cerns about the pri­vacy im­plic­a­tions of the bill.

Sim­il­ar ver­sions of in­form­a­tion-shar­ing le­gis­la­tion have been pro­posed in re­cent years but failed to gain enough trac­tion due to fears that they could bol­ster gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance — a con­cern that only grew among civil-liber­ties groups in the wake of Ed­ward Snowden’s dis­clos­ures two years ago.

Two com­pan­ion bills sim­il­ar to CISA eas­ily passed the House last month.

Pres­id­ent Obama earli­er this week chas­tised Con­gress for not mov­ing more quickly to ad­opt le­gis­la­tion to shore up the na­tion’s cy­ber de­fenses. Re­spond­ing to a ques­tion about the OPM hack at a press con­fer­ence in Ger­many, Obama warned that in­tru­sions will con­tin­ue to get worse as “both state and non-state act­ors are send­ing everything they’ve got at try­ing to breach these sys­tems.”

In Janu­ary, the ad­min­is­tra­tion rolled out what it called a cy­ber­se­cur­ity frame­work that it said would im­prove cy­ber pre­pared­ness and help ward off massive breaches like those that have felled com­pan­ies like Tar­get and JP­Mor­gan in re­cent years. The frame­work came just months after Sony Pic­tures en­dured a de­bil­it­at­ing hack of its net­work that of­fi­cials pub­licly blamed on North Korea.

A corner­stone of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­pos­al is to in­crease the shar­ing of some di­git­al data between the private sec­tor and the gov­ern­ment by of­fer­ing ex­pan­ded leg­al-li­ab­il­ity pro­tec­tion to com­pan­ies that vol­un­tar­ily par­ti­cip­ate. But some cy­ber­se­cur­ity ex­perts are not con­vinced that more in­form­a­tion shar­ing would be very ef­fect­ive in pre­vent­ing or lim­it­ing high-pro­file hacks, and worry that such a re­gime could ac­tu­ally fur­ther threaten cus­tom­ers’ pri­vacy by al­low­ing gov­ern­ment agen­cies — in­clud­ing the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency — more ways to grab data.

Though the White House has largely been sup­port­ive of in­form­a­tion-shar­ing pro­pos­als in Con­gress since the Sony hack, it has in­dic­ated that it may have some linger­ing pri­vacy con­cerns about the bills put forth in both cham­bers.

But more con­sequen­tially, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has threatened to veto the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act for reas­ons un­re­lated to cy­ber­se­cur­ity.

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