By Cory Bennett - 12/16/15 02:31 AM EST
A long-delayed cybersecurity bill was included in the sweeping omnibus spending deal released early Wednesday.
The inclusion likely ensures the biggest cyber bill in years will soon get to President Obama’s desk, a significant win for the bill’s backers, who scrambled to finish negotiations on the compromise text in recent weeks.
Negotiators have been working on the cyber measure’s final language since the Senate passed a version from the Intelligence Committee in October. The House passed its two complementary bills in April: one from that chamber's Intelligence panel and another from Homeland Security.
For the last two weeks, lawmakers had targeted the giant $1.1 trillion spending measure as a possible method of getting the merged bill through Congress before the end of the year.
They just made it in time to get on the omnibus. According to people involved in the discussions, negotiators didn't hammer out all their differences until Tuesday afternoon.
As it became increasingly likely congressional leaders would attempt to move the cyber bill in the omnibus, lawmakers and digital rights advocates mobilized in opposition.
Four privacy-minded House members sent a letter to their colleagues late Tuesday.
“Reports indicate a new bill is being negotiated by just a handful of members for inclusion in the omnibus,” said the letter, signed by Reps. Justin AmashJustin AmashLibertarian looks for anti-Trump bump The Hill's 12:30 Report Ten third-party candidate names at top of Never Trump’s list MORE (R-Mich.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Ted PoeTed PoeIRS head vows to finish term despite impeachment push Overnight Cybersecurity: House to offer bill on government hacking powers House simmers with criticism for Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Texas). “Neither negotiations — nor even bill text — have been made public. We cannot cast such a consequential vote with no input.”
After the omnibus was released, digital rights groups opposing the bill accused lawmakers of trying to avoid a transparent debate about a bill they believe will simply shuttle more of Americans' personal data to the National Security Agency (NSA).
“Congressional leadership is subverting fair process in order to pass a surveillance bill under the false flag of cybersecurity,” said Drew Mitnick, policy counsel at digital rights advocate Access Now. “They are attempting to insert it into unrelated, must-pass legislation.”
Supporters — including a bipartisan group of lawmakers, many industry groups and even the White House — have countered that the bill is a necessary first step to fighting hackers. The legislation must move swiftly to help stem the fallout from data breaches, they say.
Backers also point to clauses they say would ensure any personal data is removed before the information is shared with the NSA.