Senate kills privacy advocates' bid to change cyber bill

Senate kills privacy advocates' bid to change cyber bill

The Senate on Tuesday dismissed a last-ditch effort from privacy-minded senators to change a controversial cybersecurity bill that is quickly headed for a final vote.

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) — which would encourage businesses to share more data on hackers with the government — is now expected to pass without any of the amendments desired by privacy advocates, despite a months-long campaign from a number of lawmakers.

Before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinA national interest rate cap would harm consumers in the name of consumers Senate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts GOP's Kennedy sends warning shot to Trump nominee Menashi MORE (D-Ill.) told his colleagues the edits were needed to help strike the appropriate balance between ensuring security and protecting civil liberties.


"We are always going to be faced with that challenge," he said. "Are we going too far? Are we giving too much to the government? That, in fact, is the debate we have today."

But Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGOP's Kennedy sends warning shot to Trump nominee Menashi Democratic senators quietly hope Biden wins over rivals Grassley: Kavanaugh classmate didn't contact Senate panel MORE (D-Calif.), a CISA co-sponsor, cautioned the edits would "undo the careful compromises we have made on this bill."

Many industry groups, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, and the White House argue CISA is needed to help the country better defend itself against cyberattacks. But privacy advocates criticized the bill as a surveillance measure that will simply shuttle more of Americans’ personal data to the government.

In recent days, leading CISA critic Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Trump: 'Great to see' Pelosi plan to lower drug prices Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices MORE (D-Ore.) made a vocal bid to win over enough votes to get through several privacy-focused amendments from himself and four other senators.

These amendments, “seek to achieve the same goal ... to reduce the unnecessary sharing of Americans’ private and personal information,” he said on the Senate floor Monday.

Wyden was pushing his own amendment that would have injected stricter requirements for companies to remove personal information from their cyber threat data before handing it to the government. The proposal fell by a 41-55 vote.

His change, he argued, would have provided CISA with “a straightforward standard that could give consumers real confidence that their privacy is actually being protected.”

As it stands now, “the message behind this bill is, when in doubt, hand it over,” Wyden added.

Feinstein shot back just before the vote Tuesday, arguing that Wyden's language would create "a very unclear requirement" for businesses.

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (R-Nev.) offered a similar amendment that would have also raised the personal data scrubbing standard for the government.

"I believe that my amendment does strike a balance, increasing privacy, but still providing that real-time information sharing," Heller said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrLawmakers applaud Trump's ban on flavored e-cigarettes Trump to hold campaign rally in North Carolina day before special House election Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post MORE (R-N.C.), CISA's other co-sponsor, pushed back.  

"It changes [CISA] in a way that would either cause companies to choose not to participate, or it may change it in a way that delays notification to the federal government," he said.

Heller's proposal went down in a 47-49 vote.

Casting his 15,001th Senate vote, Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security Senate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts Senate panel approves three spending bills MORE (D-Vt.) tried but failed to strip the bill of what he believes are detrimental exemptions to a vital public transparency law, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

"We should not be passing legislation that weakens this critical law," Leahy insisted Monday. 

Under CISA, businesses sharing data on hackers with the government would receive some protections from having the details of this information revealed through a FOIA request.

"While the bill seeks to share information about the nature of cyber threats and suggestions on how to defend networks, this information should not be made widely available to hackers and cyber criminals who could use it for their own purposes," Feinstein argued on the floor Tuesday.

The Leahy measure garnered only 37 votes.

Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenThe Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? The Memo: Times correction gives GOP lifeline in latest Kavanaugh controversy Politicon announces lineup including Comey, Hannity, Priebus MORE (D-Minn.) also failed in his effort to restrict the volume and type of data the government would receive under CISA.

His offering, which received 35 votes with 60 against, would have narrowed the definition of “cybersecurity threat” in the bill.

“These changes will help ensure that CISA’s broad authorities are not triggered in circumstances where no real cyber threats are present,” he said in a final pitch to his colleagues Monday night. “This makes the bill more privacy protective and more likely to work effectively.”

But Feinstein warned it would inject uncertainty into the bill, and possibly even stop companies from sharing vital cyber threat data.

Privacy advocates got one final bid at altering the bill Tuesday afternoon, with an amendment from Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity Bill to return B in unredeemed bonds advances MORE. The Delaware Democrat wanted to add more stringent data scrubbing requirements specifically for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which would receive most of the cyber threat shared under CISA.

Like his fellow privacy-minded colleagues, Coons' effort fell short, receiving 41 votes.

Even though Coons didn't get his language approved, a variation of his desired changes was included in a manager’s package from the bill’s co-sponsors, Burr and Feinstein.

Their package contains nearly two dozen edits from various senators, including some of Coons’s language merged with a proposal from Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperTo stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Energy: Trump tweets he's revoking California's tailpipe waiver | Move comes as Trump visits state | California prepares for court fight | Climate activist Greta Thunberg urges lawmakers to listen to scientists Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity MORE (D-Del.). That package is expected to pass Tuesday evening.

While privacy groups did urge the upper chamber to adopt each of the amendments, the alterations stood no chance of fully winning over staunch CISA supporters.

Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said the amendments were “important” and could have lessened the likelihood that personal data will be transferred to the government, “but at the end of the day, the world that we’ll face is one in which instead of minimizing the flow of user information to the NSA, the bill will mandate it.”

— Katie Bo Williams contributed.

— This story was updated at 4:39 p.m.