Intel panel approves cybersecurity bill

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 12-3 Tuesday to advance a cybersecurity bill that privacy advocates fear will give more information to the National Security Agency (NSA) and other government agencies.

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The bill's authors — Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) — hailed the vote as a step towards protecting the country from growing online threats.

Cybersecurity "is a serious problem and we need to begin" addressing it, Feinstein said after Tuesday's vote.

"No bill is going to be perfect that's going to be able to encompass a bipartisan approach.”

Chambliss said the senators tried to find a middle ground.

"We had to make compromises between what the business sector wanted and what the privacy folks wanted," Chambliss said, adding that the committee did "a good job of achieving compromises on significant issues."

The bill, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, would encourage private companies to share information about cyber threats with the federal government and each other and give the companies liability protections for sharing information about and responding to cyber threats.

Privacy advocates have slammed the bill, saying it would, among other things, give government agencies — including at the state and local levels — too much information without limiting how they can use it.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) — two vocal critics of the NSA — both opposed the bill.

According to a release, the panel adopted seven amendments to the bill, including a managers' amendment from Feinstein and Chambliss to "strengthen privacy protections."

The panel also adopted amendments to create limitations for how long cyber threat information can be retained and to require a report from the Director of National Intelligence on intelligence information sharing.

"We're going to have to watch this bill carefully, watch what happens when it's enacted," Feinstein said, calling it "very much a first step."

She said she has not heard from Senate leadership about moving the bill to the floor but is hopeful the Senate will vote on it this year.

"The cyber threats to our nation are all too real," Chambliss said in a statement, urging Senate leadership to "take up and pass this bill before the August recess.”

-- This post was updated at 6:13 p.m.