Controversial cyber bill clears first Senate hurdle

Controversial cyber bill clears first Senate hurdle
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A long-stalled cybersecurity bill cleared its first procedural hurdle in the Senate on Thursday.

The Senate voted 83-14 to end debate on a major package of amendments to the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), which gives companies incentives to share cyber threat data with the government. 

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The bill still faces a number of other procedural votes — and likely more days of debate — before it gets to a final vote, but Thursday’s vote was the first serious step forward for CISA after months of false starts. 

"We have been at this for six years," 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 (D-Calif.), a CISA co-sponsor, just before the vote. "This is the third bill. We have been bipartisan."

The manager’s amendment, from Feinstein and CISA co-sponsor Sen. 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.), is meant to mitigate some of the privacy and surveillance fears that have kept CISA off the Senate floor for so long.

The package is expected to be adopted by the Senate.

“It makes important changes to the bill,” Feinstein said on the floor Wednesday, “to address privacy concerns about the legislation.”

While many industry groups, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and even the White House have backed CISA as a necessary first step to better understanding and repelling hackers, privacy advocates and an increasing number of tech companies have argued the bill would simply shuttle Americans’ personal data to the government without actually strengthening cyber defenses.

The Burr-Feinstein amendment is meant to assuage worries that Feinstein’s colleagues expressed as CISA moved through the upper chamber.

Various provisions within the amendment restrict the data that companies can share with the government, eliminate controversial government uses of that data and set up a more robust government scrub of any personal information it accidentally receives, Feinstein explained.

The clauses are a combination of six edits from Burr and Feinstein and portions of 14 amendments from other lawmakers that have been tacked on since August.

Before the August recess, Senate leaders agreed to consider at least 22 amendments on CISA, including the Burr-Feinstein package. The duo was able to get eight of those amendments rolled into their manager’s package, in addition to six proposals from other senators.

The edits likely helped CISA gain the support of key Democrats, including 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.), the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, who was backing a competing cyber bill earlier this year.

The package, he said on Wednesday, makes CISA a “significantly smarter and stronger bill.”

Carper had two amendments added to the manager's package in recent weeks. Notably, one would establish a filter at the Department of Homeland Security to scrub any personal information such as Social Security numbers before cyber threat data is shared government-wide.

“The [manager’s] amendment we are debating today makes a number of improvements to the bill that was first made public after the Intelligence Committee reported it out,” he said. “It also includes several changes that I, as well as several of my colleagues, have been calling for.”

But the package hasn’t won over civil liberties groups and leading CISA critic Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenCommerce secretary spoiled Treasury secretary’s secret wedding: report Dems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity Senate bill would repeal most ObamaCare taxes, delay Cadillac tax MORE (D-Ore.).

Wyden was joined in his no vote by a cohort of privacy-minded senators, including Sens. Al FrankenAl FrankenDrug pricing order would cut regulations Dems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity Congress poised to prohibit airlines from forcibly removing customers MORE (D-Minn.), 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.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders: ‘Thousands will die’ under GOP health bill A tale of two drug bills — one proposed bill will worsen the drug prices crisis The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (I-Vt.), who is running for president.

Wyden took to the floor Wednesday to warn that the Burr-Feinstein amendment only requires companies to “remove any information that the company knows is personal information unrelated to a cybersecurity threat.”

“This language, in my view, clearly creates an incentive for companies to dump large quantities of data over to the government with only a cursory review,” he added. “This bill says, with respect to personal data, when in doubt, you can hand it over.”

Wyden will push for the Senate to approve alternative language that he believes would set a higher bar for businesses.

His changes would require a firm to “remove, to the extent feasible, any personal information ... that is not necessary to describe or identify a cybersecurity threat.”

“The alternative that I am offering gives companies a real responsibility to filter out unrelated personal information before that company hands over large volumes of personal data about customers or people to the government,” he said.