White House reviewing cyber compromise

Getty

The White House is reviewing a near-final draft of major cybersecurity legislation that would encourage companies to share more data on hackers with the government, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of the negotiations.

Several sources cautioned, however, that the Obama administration’s approval is not certain and that portions of the text were still being negotiated.

ADVERTISEMENT
If the White House does sign off, it would help clear the path for Congress to wrap up the long-delayed cyber info-sharing bill before the end of the week.

It would also signal the impending closure of several days of round-the-clock negotiations between the Homeland Security committees and Intelligence committees.

Negotiators have been scrambling to merge three cyber bills with the hopes of having a final measure on President Obama’s desk by the end of the year.

Unofficial discussions have been taking place since the Senate passed its Intelligence Committee-originated bill in October, six months after the House passed two complementary bills — one from Intelligence, another from Homeland Security.

In the last week, talks have ramped up dramatically. Staffers worked through the weekend and have been trading drafts at all hours of the day.

All sides are hoping to essentially have the compromise text completed before voting to go to an official conference, so the process could move swiftly.

That would allow the full House to vote on the finished conference report in the coming days. The Senate could then follow suit and quickly attach the language to an expected omnibus budget deal sometime later this week.

Proponents of the cyber bill — including many industry groups, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and even the White House — have insisted the measure is a necessary first step to combating cyberattacks.

But numerous tech companies, technologists and digital rights groups believe such a bill will simply shuttle more personal data on Americans to the National Security Agency.

Privacy advocates have been making a frantic last-ditch attempt to obstruct the final bill. A coalition of 19 civil liberties organizations on Wednesday sent a letter to Congress and the White House urging them to oppose the negotiated text.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) — who cosponsored his committee’s privacy-advocate favored bill — said Tuesday he was still working to include more civil liberties provisions.

The Homeland bill is viewed as having the strongest language to minimize the chances that personal details will be distributed to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Specifically, the Homeland bill would require all companies to go through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when sharing data with the government. Many cyber policy experts believe the DHS is best suited to scrub data sets of personal information.

"Right now, I think we’re relatively close to reaching something I think the privacy advocates will appreciate," McCaul said Wednesday. "It’s really down to two issues: the portals. What we’re trying to insert into the language is that no intelligence agencies can be one of the portals."

McCaul also expressed opposition to tacking language onto the omnibus. 

"I’d prefer that we go through the normal regular order process," he said. "I’ve warned by leadership, if this is not done right... they will lose votes on the omnibus."
 
Julian Hattem contributed.
 
This post was updated at 11:16 a.m.