By Cory Bennett - 12/10/15 05:50 PM EST
House leadership is reviewing the compromise text of a major cybersecurity bill, indicating lawmakers could be on the cusp of moving the final legislation.
Negotiators have spent the last few weeks scrambling to merge three cyber bills that all encourage businesses to share more data on hackers with the government.
“We’re very close on it,” he said.
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 the Intelligence panel, another from Homeland Security.
Lawmakers from the House Intelligence and Homeland Security committees met Thursday afternoon to hammer out some outstanding details, before kicking the draft up to leadership.
“I think it’s moving in a very positive direction,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who cosponsored his committee’s bill, told The Hill on his way to the meeting.
According to those involved in the discussions, the final language has been almost ready for several days, but an ongoing debate over privacy provisions have drawn things out at the eleventh hour.
McCaul has led much of that back-and-forth, pushing for the final text to require all companies sharing data with the government to go through a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “portal.”
“The president can designate other portals if he deems necessary or appropriate,” he told reporters Wednesday. “We just want to make sure that those are true civilian portals and not intelligence or law enforcement because, you know, you don’t want to share information with somebody that can either prosecute or spy on you.”
While 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, numerous tech companies, technologists and privacy advocates believe such a bill will simply shuttle more of Americans' personal data to the National Security Agency.
A DHS portal is seen as the best way to mitigate the amount of personal data going to the intelligence community.
Multiple people with knowledge of the talks said Thursday that some of these thorny privacy issues remained, suggesting that leadership might make the ultimate call. But lawmakers and several people involved in the negotiations insisted nearly all discrepancies surrounding the portal had been resolved.
"I think we’re all unanimous that DHS ought to be the portal," Schiff told reporters. “All the major issues that were raised in the past, all of those I think have been addressed and I think that meets the vast majority of the privacy concerns that were raised."
“Nonetheless, I’m sure there are some that want the bill to go further," he added.
The White House was given a near-final draft to review in recent days, another key approval needed for the bill to move swiftly.
“I think that the White House is pleased with how we’re proceeding,” Schiff said.
The goal is to get the compromise text through Congress in the coming days, and have the finished legislation on President Obama’s desk before the year’s end.
But the clock is ticking as the number of legislative days in December rapidly dwindles. It's unclear whether lawmakers will have time to move the cyber bill as a standalone, and there appears to be significant opposition to attaching it to an omnibus spending bill expected early next week.
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.), who co-sponsored the upper chamber’s bill, remained hopeful Thursday evening.
“I still think we’re on track to have a cyber bill out and on the president’s desk first of the year,” he said.