Cybersecurity Bill to Resurface After Next Week’s Recess, Co-Sponsors Say

A stalled information-sharing bill is expected to get a vote soon, despite opposition from some in the tech and civil-rights communities.

Sen. Richard Burr.
Win McNamee AFP/Getty
Oct. 6, 2015, 11:55 a.m.

A con­tro­ver­sial cy­ber­se­cur­ity bill that has been stalled in the Sen­ate since Au­gust will re­turn to the floor after next week’s re­cess, the bill’s co-spon­sors said Tues­day.

Be­fore the Sen­ate ad­journed for the sum­mer work peri­od, law­makers agreed to bring up the Cy­ber­threat In­form­a­tion Shar­ing Act, or CISA, after they re­turned to Wash­ing­ton in Septem­ber. The bill has been await­ing Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s green light to re­turn to the floor since then but was put aside in fa­vor of oth­er press­ing is­sues like budget ne­go­ti­ations and Pres­id­ent Obama’s nuc­le­ar deal with Ir­an.

“We have both pestered our lead­er­ship to death to make sure the bill comes up,” said Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Richard Burr, re­fer­ring to him­self and rank­ing mem­ber Di­anne Fein­stein, who ap­peared along­side him Tues­day at the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce.

Burr and Fein­stein thanked the busi­ness as­so­ci­ation for its out­spoken sup­port of their com­mit­tee’s bill. “If it wer­en’t for the Cham­ber of Com­merce, I don’t think we’d be lit­er­ally 10 days out from tak­ing up this bill on the Sen­ate floor,” Burr said.

The bill would set up in­cent­ives for the private sec­tor to share cy­ber­threat in­form­a­tion with oth­er com­pan­ies and with the gov­ern­ment, which sup­port­ers say will boost cy­ber­se­cur­ity for all in­volved. Pri­vacy ad­voc­ates have cri­ti­cized the bill, however, for what they see as lax pro­tec­tions for per­son­al data.

Burr and Fein­stein took on the at­tacks, which come both from tech ad­vocacy and civil rights groups and pri­vacy-minded sen­at­ors like Sen. Ron Wyden, a long­time CISA ant­ag­on­ist.

“People have lied about what’s in it,” Burr said. “It’s been called a sur­veil­lance bill; it’s been called a lot of things.”

Burr was likely re­fer­ring to Wyden’s state­ment when he cast the only no vote on the bill in the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, call­ing the le­gis­la­tion “a sur­veil­lance bill by an­oth­er name.”

A spokes­man for Mc­Con­nell said Tues­day that CISA re­mains a pri­or­ity but did not con­firm its re­turn to the floor, be­cause the week’s sched­ule has not yet been re­leased.

Burr said the only hurdle in the way of CISA is the de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill, a ver­sion of which will be up for a pro­ced­ur­al vote this af­ter­noon. A Sen­ate aide con­firmed that CISA is likely to come up after the break.

But some ad­vocacy groups that have lob­bied against the bill are wary of the sen­at­ors’ claims that it will hit the floor im­min­ently, point­ing to dis­trac­tions like the House lead­er­ship race and on­go­ing fights over high­way fund­ing and the budget.

In the months since CISA first came up this year, out­side groups have in­tens­i­fied their cam­paign to turn the tech in­dustry against the pro­posed le­gis­la­tion.

Tech com­pan­ies are split: Some, like IBM, have joined the Cham­ber of Com­merce in sup­port­ing the bill. (The busi­ness group has also as­sembled about 50 tech as­so­ci­ations to back up its sup­port.) But private-sec­tor sup­port for the bill took a hit last month when a prom­in­ent as­so­ci­ation of tech com­pan­ies, BSA | The Soft­ware Al­li­ance, came out against CISA and a pair of sim­il­ar bills in the House.

“Groups are ab­so­lutely ready to go. There will be ma­jor co­ali­tion pushes at the grass­roots and in­side the Belt­way in op­pos­i­tion to CISA,” said Robyn Greene, policy coun­sel at New Amer­ica’s Open Tech­no­logy In­sti­tute, which has been in­volved in lob­by­ing against the bill.

Burr and Fein­stein told the audi­ence at the Cham­ber of Com­merce event that they had done everything they could to ad­dress the pri­vacy-is­sues op­pon­ents have raised.

“I am con­vinced today that we could put 10 more pri­vacy pro­tec­tions in, and the pri­vacy com­munity would not be sat­is­fied,” Burr said.

Fein­stein echoed the chair­man’s sen­ti­ment: “Some people you just can’t sat­is­fy no mat­ter what you do, and I think to a great ex­tent, that’s where we are.”

They called on the busi­ness com­munity to rally to their side dur­ing next week’s work peri­od, build­ing mo­mentum be­fore the bill hits the floor again. Fein­stein asked the audi­ence to “make a full-court push, call mem­bers, talk with mem­bers, tell them what I just told you.”

Be­fore break­ing for re­cess, ne­go­ti­ations over the in­form­a­tion-shar­ing bill res­ul­ted in a lineup of 22 amend­ments that were to get a vote when the bill comes up again. The amend­ments in­clude pro­posed changes to the op­er­a­tions and pri­vacy pro­tec­tions of the in­form­a­tion-shar­ing le­gis­la­tion, among oth­er tweaks.

Even if the le­gis­la­tion makes it through the Sen­ate, it still needs to be re­con­ciled with the pair of cy­ber­se­cur­ity bills the House passed earli­er this year, Fein­stein said. “We’ve got a dif­fi­cult gap to cov­er between the House and the Sen­ate with two dif­fer­ent dir­ec­tions that the House has gone.”

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