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'Significant' number of senators backing privacy push, Wyden says

A “significant” number of senators are working to draft privacy amendments for a major cyber bill moving forward in the Senate, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThe first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally A bold fix for US international taxation of corporations Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure MORE (D-Ore.) said Friday.

“There is a good group of senators who have approached us about saying they want to work for additional privacy protections when this bill comes to the floor,” Wyden said Friday during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), which would grant companies liability protections when sharing cyber threat data with the government, passed the Senate Intelligence Committee by a 14-1 vote in March.

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Most industry groups, and a wide range of lawmakers and government officials, are backing the bill. They believe the measure is a necessary first step to better understand hackers’ tactics and defend critical networks.  

Privacy advocates have lambasted the measure as simply another surveillance outlet for the National Security Agency (NSA), which would receive some of the data shared by companies.

Wyden, a vocal NSA critic, was the lone dissenting vote during the committee markup. He maintained that the bill fell short on privacy provisions, and he isn't alone in that view.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Dakota Access pipeline to remain in operation despite calls for shutdown | Biden hopes to boost climate spending by B | White House budget proposes .4B for environmental justice Biden .5T budget proposes major hike in social programs Biden hopes to boost climate spending by billion MORE (D-Vt.) told The Hill on Thursday that he is one of those senators involved in the effort to draft new privacy protections for the bill.

Last Congress, Leahy backed the USA Freedom Act, which would have eliminated some of the more controversial NSA data collection programs.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperFive reasons why US faces chronic crisis at border Appeals court agrees to pause lawsuit over Trump-era emissions rule Five things to watch on Biden infrastructure plan MORE (D-Del.), who has offered his own cyber bill, has also expressed privacy concerns about CISA. But he told The Hill that Intelligence panel leaders have since folded in more than half of his suggestions, improving his opinion of the measure.

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Wyden said the forming coalition is robust. “An awful lot of Senate staff” members have approached his office, the Oregon Democrat said.

The reform-minded senators agree information sharing is needed to address the growing cyber threat but that better guidelines to restrict NSA reach and ensure Americans’ sensitive information is not shared with intelligence agencies.

During the Intelligence panel’s markup, Wyden offered an amendment that would have forbidden the government from mandating companies insert weaknesses into their products, giving government a “back door” through any encryption.

That issue has driven a wedge between privacy-minded lawmakers and government officials.

The committee shot down the proposal, but it seems as if it might get another shot as a floor amendment.

“I will tell you I am going to fight for this as hard as anything I can imagine,” Wyden said.