White House endorses Senate cyber bill

Greg Nash

The White House has come out in support of the Senate’s long-stalled cybersecurity bill, a major victory for backers looking to move the bill before the August recess.

“Cybersecurity is an important national security issue and the Senate should take up this bill as soon as possible and pass it,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz in a statement.

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The endorsement will increase pressure on Senate leaders to reach an agreement to limit floor debate and come to a final vote on the bill — which would increase the data shared on hackers between companies and the government — before the month-long break.

Supporters, including most industry groups, believe this information exchange would help both the public and private sector better understand and defend themselves against potential cyber threats. But privacy advocates are concerned the bill would allow companies to hand over troves of customers’ personal data to government intelligence agencies.

“While there are still areas of concern that we hope to address, the bill's sponsors have made a good faith effort to address some of our biggest concerns,” Schultz said.

The Obama administration has long supported a bill to boost cyber info sharing and even backed, with some reservations, the House-passed companion bills to CISA.

But officials have refused to weigh in directly on the Senate’s Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) during the months it has spent mired in the upper chamber.

A letter this week from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), declaring that CISA “could sweep away important privacy protections,” led some to believe the White House wasn’t close to supporting the measure.

At the heart of the matter is how companies will share information with the government. The administration has insisted all information should initially flow through the DHS, which it believes has the proper data privacy protocols to ensure personal data doesn’t get in the hands of intelligence agencies.

CISA would also allow some limited sharing directly with some non-DHS agencies. But the bill’s co-sponsors, Sens. Richard BurrRichard BurrDem groups invest big in Bayh in Ind. Senate race The Trail 2016: Fight night Poll finds races for president, Senate tight in North Carolina MORE (R-N.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Senators already eyeing changes to 9/11 bill after veto override WH tried to stop Intel Dems' statement on Russian hacking: report MORE (D-Calif.), tried to appease those concerns by restricting those scenarios in a managers’ amendment, which The Hill obtained Monday.

The proposed edit would also restrict how agencies can use data collected under CISA, another area of White House concern.

“It takes out any subsidiary use of the data,” Feinstein told reporters on Tuesday. “It means you can’t use it for violent crime or anything else. You can only use it strictly for a cybersecurity purpose.”

The White House recognized those advancements in its endorsement.

“We are very encouraged by this progress and want to work with Congress to ensure that cybersecurity legislation preserves the long-standing, respective roles and missions of civilian and intelligence agencies and contains appropriate privacy protections,” Schultz said.

As of Tuesday evening, Senate leaders still seemed far from reaching an agreement to limit what amendments could be offered on the floor.