Controversial Cybersecurity Bill Easily Clears Senate Hurdle

The Senate will now turn to a slew of amendments that do not have the support of the bill’s co-sponsors.

Sen. Richard Burr on Capitol Hill, May 22, 2015.
Oct. 22, 2015, 11:35 a.m.

Sen­at­ors voted Thursday morn­ing to move for­ward on a con­tro­ver­sial cy­ber­se­cur­ity bill, clear­ing a key hurdle be­fore fi­nal pas­sage.

The pro­ced­ur­al vote on the Cy­ber­se­cur­ity In­form­a­tion Shar­ing Act, or CISA, passed over­whelm­ingly 83-to-14, re­ceiv­ing far more than the 60 votes it needed. The bill would provide in­cent­ives to private com­pan­ies to share in­form­a­tion about cy­ber­threats with each oth­er and with the gov­ern­ment, with the goal of im­prov­ing the cy­ber­se­cur­ity of all in­volved.

Al­though the bill passed out of the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee earli­er this year nearly un­an­im­ously, it has been de­nounced by pri­vacy groups, civil-liberty or­gan­iz­a­tions, tech com­pan­ies, and a few pri­vacy hawks in the Sen­ate for what they see as in­suf­fi­cient pri­vacy pro­tec­tions.

Be­fore leav­ing for the Au­gust re­cess, sen­at­ors reached an agree­ment to con­sider 22 amend­ments along­side the bill, amend­ments that touched on pri­vacy, op­er­a­tions, and oth­er mat­ters. The co-spon­sors of CISA—Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Richard Burr and Vice-Chair Di­anne Fein­stein—worked many of those changes in­to a new ver­sion of the bill, which passed the pro­ced­ur­al hurdle Thursday morn­ing.

Sev­er­al amend­ments re­main in con­ten­tion and will re­ceive sep­ar­ate votes later. A change offered by Sen. Rand Paul, which would lim­it li­ab­il­ity pro­tec­tions so that com­pan­ies have to up­hold pri­vacy agree­ments with cus­tom­ers, got a vote im­me­di­ately after the main bill. The meas­ure has been tar­geted by busi­ness groups, which see the change as de­tract­ing from the in­cent­ives in the bill.

“This amend­ment would ac­tu­ally fatally dis­turb what’s in the bill, which is clear and con­cise,” Fein­stein said Thursday.

Paul’s amend­ment failed 32-65.

Earli­er this week, Sen. Shel­don White­house, who had offered an amend­ment to ex­pand the Com­puter Fraud and Ab­use Act and in­crease pen­al­ties for com­puter hack­ing, took to the floor to com­plain that the “mas­ters of the uni­verse” had pulled his amend­ment from the run­ning.

But on Thursday, Fein­stein re­vealed that White­house had reached an agree­ment with Sens. Ron Wyden and Patrick Leahy—two of the Sen­ate’s most out­spoken pri­vacy ad­voc­ates—to in­clude a ver­sion of his amend­ment in the fi­nal pack­age.

Wyden cast one of only 14 votes against the main bill Thursday.

Be­fore the vote, the bill’s co-spon­sors pushed their col­leagues to move the bill for­ward. “We have been listen­ing,” Fein­stein said. “We have tried to in­cor­por­ate a sub­stan­tial num­ber of amend­ments in the man­ager’s pack­age.”

“It’s not go­ing to pre­vent all cy­ber­at­tacks or pen­et­ra­tions,” she con­ceded. “It is a first step.”

But Wyden, the main ant­ag­on­ist to sen­at­ors push­ing to pass CISA, spoke out against the bill, call­ing it “an­oth­er sur­veil­lance bill.”

“The Sen­ate is again miss­ing an­oth­er op­por­tun­ity to do this right and pro­mote both se­cur­ity and liberty,” Wyden said. “Just be­cause a pro­pos­al has cy­ber­se­cur­ity in its title doesn’t make it good.”

The bill has been the fo­cus of in­tense lob­by­ing from both sup­port­ers and op­pon­ents. As tech com­pan­ies con­tin­ue to come out against CISA and pri­vacy groups pre­pare grass­roots cam­paigns to en­cour­age votes against it, the power­ful U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce and Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Roundtable have in­creased pres­sure to pass the bill.

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