Senate Intel panel passes cybersecurity bill

Senate Intel panel passes cybersecurity bill
© Thinkstock

The Senate Intelligence Committee passed a controversial cybersecurity bill 14-1 during a markup Thursday, a move that Chairman Richard BurrRichard BurrSenate intel panel to hold hearing on Russian meddling in Europe Overnight Tech: Uber CEO resigns | Trump's Iowa tech trip | Dems push Sessions to block AT&T-Time Warner deal | Lawmakers warned on threat to election systems | Overnight Cybersecurity: Obama DHS chief defends Russian hack response | Trump huddles on grid security | Lawmakers warned about cyber threat to election systems MORE (R-N.C.) called “historic.”

“I have all the confidence in the world going to [Senate Majority Leader] McConnell and asking him for this to be expedited on the Senate floor,” Burr told reporters after the vote.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) would enhance the sharing of information about cybersecurity threats between the private sector and government agencies by granting liability protections to companies offering the data.

“This has been a long road,” said Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinDem senators urged Obama to take action on Russia before election Senate panel questions Lynch on alleged FBI interference The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the panel who has been pushing versions of CISA for several years.

Government officials and most industry groups argue the bill is necessary to mitigate the impact of cyberattacks, which have hit giant retailers like Target and Home Depot, major banks like JPMorgan, and Anthem, the nation’s second-largest health insurer.

If CISA had been in place, “I think we might have minimized what happened at Anthem, we might have minimized what happened at Home Depot,” Burr said. “But certainly we would have made sure that elsewhere in the industry, there wouldn’t have been a threat because federal government would have responded.”

But the measure has drawn the ire of the privacy community, including Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenElection hacking fears turn heat on Homeland Security Commerce secretary spoiled Treasury secretary’s secret wedding: report Dems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity MORE (D-Ore.), the lone vote Thursday opposing CISA.

Opponents are worried the bill will create another outlet for the intelligence community to collect sensitive data on Americans.

In a statement Thursday, Wyden called CISA a "surveillance bill by another name."

Similar White House and Democratic objections held up the bill’s markup for several weeks.

The Intel panel made several notable privacy concessions to address those concerns.

Feinstein said there were roughly 15 Democratic amendments related to privacy offered during the markup, 12 of which are in the final legislation, either in whole or in part.

CISA will not allow electronic, real-time sharing with intelligence agencies. If companies want to digitally exchange cyber threat data, they will have to go through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a civilian agency.

“Our preference is the electronic transfer through the DHS portal,” Burr stressed.

A White House cyber info-sharing proposal would have placed the DHS at the center of nearly all public-private threat data exchange.

Feinstein believes the changes will assuage the administration's and other lawmakers’ concerns.

“I talked to the president’s chief of staff [Denis McDonoughDenis McDonoughTrump administration must release Clinton emails State Department tried to hide Sunday shows preview: McMaster hits circuit for second straight week Obama chief of staff: 'The president cannot order a wiretap' MORE] yesterday,” Feinstein said. “I think he believes that a number of improvements have been made in the bill.”

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has been discussing an info-sharing bill this year that would mirror the White House proposal.

Sen. Tom CarperTom CarperDems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity Overnight Energy: Lawmakers challenge Trump's proposed EPA cuts Overnight Energy: Tillerson maintains support for Paris deal despite Trump decision MORE (D-Del.), ranking member on Homeland Security, even introduced a version of the administration's proposal. But Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonSenate Republicans reluctant to rush vote on healthcare bill GOP sen: 'We should not be voting' on healthcare this week GOP at decisive moment on Planned Parenthood MORE has chosen to defer to the Intelligence bill, calling it more “robust.”

Carper wrote to the Intelligence panel with concerns about its bill, as did Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyGoing national with automatic voter registration Republicans slam Trump’s new policy toward Cuba Trump draws a harder line on Cuba MORE (D-Vt.), a staunch opponent of increasing the intelligence community’s access to private data.

Feinstein said she had spoken with both senators about their hesitations.

“I think we’ve met most of those concerns,” Feinstein said. “There’s been a major effort to handle those in this bill.”

Discussing the privacy concessions, Burr said that Feinstein “has stretched me so far, I feel like I’ve had cosmetic surgery.”

In a statement, Carper said he was "encouraged by the bipartisan progress ... made today," but added that he had yet to read the bill's full text.

“The only way we’re going to get this first step done is if it’s bipartisan,” Feinstein said.

The committee plans to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote shortly after the upcoming recess, which spans the last week of March through mid-April.

“I’ve learned never to try to forecast what’s going to happen in the United States Senate,” Burr said.