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House Intel panel approves cyber bill

The House Intelligence Committee unanimously approved its cyber threat data-sharing bill during a Thursday morning markup.

“We’re off to a great start,” Committee Ranking Member Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCIA impeachment whistleblower forced to live under surveillance due to threats: report In our 'Bizarro World' of 2020 politics, the left takes a wrong turn Greenwald slams Schiff over Biden emails on Fox MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters after the markup. “I think the prospect for successful passage of cyber legislation have gone up dramatically.”

The panel unveiled its bill, the Protecting Cyber Networks Act, earlier this week. The measure grants legal liability protections for companies when sharing cyberattacker information with civilian agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or Treasury Department.

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Committee leaders adopted one manager’s amendment during the markup that incoporated privacy-strengthening suggestions from the White House and seven or eight committee members on both sides of the aisle, said Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).

“Folks are happy,” he told reporters.

Nunes believes White House support is critical for the bill’s chances.

“We think that we’ve met the concerns that have been raised in the administration and hope that they’ll have a favorable response,” Schiff said Thursday.

The Protecting Cyber Networks Act is one of three major cyber data-sharing bills currently moving in Congress.

The Senate Intelligence Committee approved a similar measure by a 14-1 vote two weeks ago. The House Homeland Security Committee is also expected to markup a bill encouraging companies to share data through the DHS.

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All three offerings would authorize liability protections for exchanging cyber threat data with various government agencies.

The issue has been a top legislative priority this year for many industry groups, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and many government officials. They argue both the public and private sector need a better understanding of emerging cyber threats to strengthen their defenses.

Previous attempts at moving cyber info-sharing legislation have gotten caught up over fears the bills could embolden the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance capability.  

But over the last year, repeated breaches at government agencies, and across the retail and banking sectors have exposed hundreds of millions of Americans’ sensitive data and increased pressure on lawmakers to take action.

A number of Democrats, including Schiff, have come on board to an info-sharing bill, after opposing previous efforts.

“I think that we have done everything possible to meet the concerns of the privacy community apart from those who simply don’t want information sharing in a bill of any kind,” Schiff said Thursday.

Still, many privacy groups have opposed the House and Senate Intelligence committees’ efforts.

But the main barrier to passage could be a logistical one. With three info-sharing bills on the table, it’s not clear how they will all come together.

Nunes and Schiff said they would prefer to combine the two House bills and send one measure to the floor. That could simplify the process of merging the House and Senate’s bills, should they both pass.

“At this point, it’s beyond our pay grade on how this moves forward,” Nunes said.

— Updated 11:13 a.m.