Lawmakers still at impasse over cyber bill

Lawmakers still at impasse over cyber bill

Lawmakers seeking a compromise on the final text of major cybersecurity legislation are still at an impasse, a co-sponsor of one of the bills said Tuesday afternoon.

“As of about an hour ago, we’re still exchanging [drafts],” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the Homeland Security Committee’s top Democrat, told The Hill.

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It seems likely talks will spill into at least Wednesday, Thompson added.

Negotiators are scrambling to merge three bills that all aim to encourage businesses to share more data on hackers with the government. The Senate passed its bill, which originated from the Intelligence Committee, in October — six months after the House passed two complementary bills from the Intelligence Committee and the Homeland Security panel.

Thompson co-sponsored the Homeland Security bill with Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas).

According to several people tracking the negotiations, the Senate and House Intelligence committees had essentially created a final text as of last Friday, and handed it over to the House Homeland Security Committee for the panel’s blessing.

But committee staff pushed back, frustrated that the vast majority of their bill’s provisions had not been included in the language.

The crux of the disagreement centers on provisions that would allow companies to share information directly with a number of government agencies other than the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), possibly including intelligence agencies.

“Right now there are some issues about how that’s to take place,” Thompson said.

McCaul, Thompson and their staff have long been insistent that businesses should share information exclusively through the DHS, which is seen as the agency best capable of scrubbing out sensitive details before the data is disseminated throughout the government.

A DHS-only portal would also reduce surveillance fears that have plagued the information-sharing bills.

While many industry groups, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and even the White House have insisted the bill is a necessary first step in combating cyberattacks, numerous tech companies, technologists and digital rights groups believe the measure would simply shuttle more personal data on Americans to the National Security Agency.

“I think we have to clearly define the role of DHS and it should not be one where [people] have to work through somebody else,” Thompson said.

Over the weekend and late into Monday night, the two sides were regularly exchanging drafts as Homeland Security tried to inject more of its desired language into the completed text.

According to Thompson, the two sides’ latest offerings are still some distance apart.

“Well, [it's a] work in progress,” he said.

The 11th-hour disagreements have imperiled lawmakers' plans to have the final bill on President Obama’s desk before the year’s end.

The House and Senate have still not voted to go to an official conference on the bill, but if the Homeland Security panel signs off on the compromise text, conference negotiations could be wrapped up in days.

The full House would then be able to swiftly vote on the completed bill, and the Senate could attach it into an omnibus budget deal that is expected sometime later this week.

While that outcome seems increasingly unlikely, Thompson said he was still hopeful it could come to fruition.