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 DurbinSunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire MORE (D-Ill.) told his colleagues the edits were needed to help strike the appropriate balance between ensuring security and protecting civil liberties.

ADVERTISEMENT

"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 FeinsteinSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing Democrats want Biden to debate Trump despite risks 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 WydenTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns 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 HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play 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 BurrSenate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag Hillicon Valley: Google extending remote work policy through July 2021 | Intel community returns final Russia report to Senate committee after declassification | Study finds election officials vulnerable to cyberattacks Intel community returns final Russia report volume to Senate after declassification review 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 LeahySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing Vermont has a chance to show how bipartisanship can tackle systemic racism 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 FrankenCNN publishes first Al Franken op-ed since resignation Political world mourns loss of comedian Jerry Stiller Maher to Tara Reade on timing of sexual assault allegation: 'Why wait until Biden is our only hope?' 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 CoonsWary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure 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 CarperNot a pretty picture: Money laundering and America's art market OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump's pitch to Maine lobstermen falls flat | White House pushed to release documents on projects expedited due to coronavirus | Trump faces another challenge to rewrite of bedrock environmental law NEPA White House pushed to release documents on projects expedited due to coronavirus 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.