Senate Dems wooed on cyber bill

Senate Dems wooed on cyber bill
© Greg Nash

The Senate Intelligence Committee overwhelmingly approved a major cyber bill, but leaders still face a tough task: winning over critical Democrats.

Sen. Tom CarperTom CarperOvernight Finance: Trump takes victory lap at Carrier plant | House passes 'too big to fail' revamp | Trump econ team takes shape Warren calls for probe of Trump hotel conflicts of interest Dem: Trump must ensure business deals don't violate Constitution MORE (D-Del.), whose support could be crucial, told The Hill he is pleased with many of the changes made during a markup, but wants to keep working with the Intel panel's heads as the bill moves to the floor in April.

“I appreciate the spirit and sense of cooperation that has been demonstrated,” Carper said off the Senate floor on Thursday.

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The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) would grant legal liability protections for companies sharing cyber threat data with the government. It was voted out of committee by a 14-1 vote two weeks ago.

Many parties across industry and government agree greater data sharing is needed to strengthen the nation’s cyber defenses. Without a full picture of the cyber threat, it can't be stopped, they say. But privacy advocates worry such a move could bolster the government’s surveillance capabilities.

Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, will be a critical voice in determining CISA’s fate.

The Delaware senator has backed his own cyber info-sharing bill that closely mirrors a White House proposal preferred by privacy advocates.

After initially releasing their bill, Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard BurrDems pledge to fight Sessions nomination Battle for the Senate: Top of ticket dominates Shakeup on Senate Intel: Warner becomes top Dem MORE (R-N.C.) and ranking member Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinThis Week in Cybersecurity: Dems press for information on Russian hacks Overnight Defense: Armed Services chairman's hopes for Trump | Senators seek to change Saudi 9/11 bill | Palin reportedly considered for VA chief Lawmakers praise defense bill's National Guard bonus fix MORE (D-Calif.) reached out to key Senate Democrats like Carper to get thoughts on improving CISA’s privacy provisions.

Carper told the Hill he submitted a three-page letter describing areas of “close alignment” and “six or seven areas where I thought they want to change things up a bit.”

“They agreed with us in total on one area, which is important, and disagreed with us on two, and made significant changes in three other areas,” Carper added.  

In total, he said, the committee “acted on over half the areas we mentioned.”

The senator declined to discuss exactly which changes in the bill resulted from his input.

Major sticking points have been whether the private sector should be able to share data with intelligence agencies including the National Security Agency (NSA), and how law enforcement officials can use that data.

The Intelligence panel injected language to address these issues. CISA only allows non-electronic data sharing with the NSA and has better detailed exactly when that data can be used.

But the amendments have failed to win over outside privacy groups.

Carper said he is encouraged but indicated the alterations haven’t brought him fully on board just yet. He wants to get there, though.

“My hope is that going forward we’ll have the opportunity to work with [Feinstein], to work with Senator Burr, to make some additional changes,” he said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee and a vocal critic of the NSA’s surveillance programs, also submitted privacy-enhancing suggestions before the markup.

Leahy told reporters this week that he has yet to dig into CISA’s post-markup text, but vowed to withhold support if it does not meet his privacy standards.

“I’ve made it very clear,” he told The Hill last week. “If my concerns are not answered, then I’m going to have to vote against it.”

The Intelligence Committee has already lost the support of civil-liberties advocate Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). He called CISA a "surveillance bill by another name" after casting the lone vote against the measure during markup.

Still, the Intelligence panel’s leaders are confident they will get the support needed to pass their cyber bill.

“We believe this bill is widely supported,” Feinstein told reporters following the markup.

“I have all the confidence in the world going to Sen. [Mitch] McConnell and asking him for this to be expedited,” Burr added about the majority leader.

“We’ve listened to everybody and we’ve tried to incorporate as much as we possibly could and still have a platform that we think could be signed into law.”