Cyber bill likely to hit the Senate floor soon

The Senate is expected to take up a major cybersecurity bill after it returns from next week's brief recess, according to the sponsors of the legislation.

The bill is "literally 10 days out,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard BurrThe Trail 2016: Putting the past behind them The Hill's 12:30 Report Burr pledges to retire after one more Senate term MORE (R-N.C.), a co-sponsor of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), which is meant to boost the exchange of cyber-threat data between private companies and the government.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Senate this week is expected to wrap up a defense authorization bill and some other legislative business before a weeklong recess. Then it’s on to CISA, said Burr and the bill’s other co-sponsor, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinHotel lobby cheers scrutiny on Airbnb GOP platform attempts middle ground on encryption debate Week ahead: Encryption fight poised to heat up MORE (D-Calif.), during a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event on Tuesday.

“It looks like it’s going to be on the floor when we come back,” said Feinstein, the Intelligence panel’s top Democrat.

The bill had stalled in the upper chamber amid privacy concerns and time-consuming fights over unrelated topics, including several spending bills, the Iran nuclear deal and federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

But in recent months, the Senate has inched forward on the bill.

Shortly before departing for the August recess, both parties agreed to consider an initial slate of 21 amendments, a major sticking point for a small cadre of privacy-minded lawmakers on both sides. 

In recent weeks, lawmakers have been trying to strike further deals to package some amendments to structure and reduce floor debate time.

“We can process 21 amendments in a matter of days as long as we have the cooperation of our members,” Burr said.

While industry groups, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and even the White House support the bill as a necessary step to better understand and thwart hackers, privacy advocates have rebelled, arguing that the measure would simply shuttle more of Americans' personal data to intelligence agencies.

“We have worked so hard over so many years now to try and perfect a bill,” Feinstein said, noting that this was the third iteration of an information-sharing offering.

At each step, she said, lawmakers have enhanced privacy protections, adding more requirements for companies and the government to seek out and strip sensitive information before it is widely shared among agencies. The language also now encourages companies to share data through the Department of Homeland Security, which is seen as having the best privacy oversight mechanism for civilian data.

Indeed, digital rights groups have acknowledged the latest version of CISA is the strongest from a privacy perspective.

Despite this, CISA’s privacy-minded critics, most notably Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenThe Hill's 12:30 Report Tim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense Dems push for US, EU cooperation on China's market status MORE (D-Ore.), have attacked the bill as a “surveillance bill by another name.”

“Our bill has been misportrayed,” Burr insisted, specifically citing the “surveillance bill” line. “People have lied about what’s in it.

“Privacy groups want to do everything they can,” he added, “to kill this bill.”

The Senate leaders repeatedly said they were open to accepting several of the 21 amendments. Feinstein noted that Democrats agreed to consider roughly two-thirds of the left’s proposed amendments, many of which were privacy focused.

But Burr said they could only go so far without damaging the bill’s ability to facilitate real-time sharing.

Feinstein chipped in that privacy advocates have to be willing to negotiate, jokingly alluding to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpCivil rights, feminist icons formally nominate Clinton Civil rights, feminist icons formally nominate Clinton Trump praises Michelle Obama’s convention speech MORE, who is currently leading the polls in the GOP presidential primary.

“I think that’s something Mr. Trump is going to have to learn,” she said. “You can’t just do it all yourself.

“I couldn’t resist,” she added, laughing.