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.”