Homeland Security chief pushes Senate to move cyber bill

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Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Tuesday is calling for the Senate to move on a stalled cybersecurity bill in October.

Johnson said enhancing information sharing between law enforcement and private companies is critical to improving the nation’s digital defenses.

“The greatest thing we need right now is help from the other branch of government to pass cyber legislation,” Johnson said during remarks at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco. “The House has already passed comprehensive cybersecurity legislation that greatly enhances my authorities, that greatly enhances information with the private sector; in my view that is the key.”

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The Senate punted the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) in August, with leadership vowing to take up the bill in September. A busy legislative calendar has pushed that timeline at least to October, lawmakers say, where it faces similar scheduling challenges.

The bill would create incentives for companies to share cyber-threat data with the government, something law enforcement and legislators say is needed to help stem the rise of large-scale cyberattacks.

Tech companies and privacy-minded lawmakers have criticized the bill as a “surveillance bill by another name,” saying that it would only give more power to an already intrusive intelligence community and wouldn’t do much to prevent hacks.

If and when the legislation gets floor time, lawmakers will consider 22 amendments from both Republicans and Democrats.

One of these amendments would require that companies share all data through Johnson’s agency, which is seen as having the government’s best data privacy procedures.

Other amendments would require companies to inspect and strip personal details from cyber threat data, raise the standard for removing sensitive data and require a process to notify people whose personal information may have been inappropriately shared.

Still, those amendments may not be enough to satisfy critics.

“While some advocates will paint these amendments as ‘steps forward,’ the amendments merely shuffle deck chairs on the Titanic—even with the better amendments, the bill is still a bad idea,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in September. “Democrats and libertarian Republicans should be opposing CISA outright.”

Despite opposition, pressure to pass some form of the legislation is mounting, with presidential candidates, lawmakers and various law enforcement and intelligence agency leaders urging movement.

Johnson called for the Senate not to delay further than October.

“My hope is that Congress, in particular the Senate, will take up cyber legislation in October,” Johnson said.