Opponents launch 11th-hour campaign to kill cyber bill

Opponents launch 11th-hour campaign to kill cyber bill
© Getty Images

Privacy advocates have launched a last-ditch campaign to block a major piece of cybersecurity legislation that could soon be added to an expected omnibus spending deal.

The bill would encourage companies to share more data on hackers with the government.

ADVERTISEMENT
Fight for the Future, which has been leading a coalition of digital rights and civil liberties groups opposing the measure, on Monday launched an online petition urging the White House to veto the final legislation. The group also included a widget that allows people to call the White House to express their opposition.

Privacy advocates have long argued that the legislation would allow the intelligence community to collect more private data on Americans. Technologists and numerous technology companies have expressed similar concerns.

But many industry groups, lawmakers and even the White House counter that the bill is the necessary first step in the fight against hackers. Privacy provisions in the measure will ensure personal data is not shared throughout the government, they say.

“Now is when we’ll find out whether President Obama really cares about the Internet and freedom of speech, or whether he’s happy to roll over and allow technologically illiterate members of Congress break the Internet in the name of cybersecurity,” said Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future.

Lawmakers are on the cusp of having a final text ready and hope to have the bill on President Obama’s desk before the year's end.

Negotiators have been working 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.

On Monday, privacy advocates said that lawmakers had decided to attach the bill to an omnibus spending bill that is expected as soon as Monday. Most observers believe the tactic gives the cyber bill its best shot of getting through Congress in 2015, as only a handful of legislative days remain before the upcoming recess.

But several people with direct knowledge of the talks cautioned that no final decision had been made.

Multiple lawmakers have expressed opposition to the strategy, arguing that the final cyber text should get a standalone vote in both chambers. Their resistance threatens to kill the omnibus strategy.

If the cyber bill does roll through Congress, Fight for the Future called on the White House to reject the measure.

Throughout the final negotiation process, digital rights groups have warned that lawmakers were omitting the most stringent privacy clauses, a claim the bill’s backers reject.

“This administration promised to veto any information sharing bill that did not adequately protect Internet users’ privacy, and the final version of this bill doesn’t even come close,” Greer said. “It’s time for President Obama to deliver on his word.”