Week ahead: Congress poised to finish cyber bill

Congress is on the precipice of passing a major cyber security bill that has been years in the marking.

{mosads}Lawmakers have been scrambling to merge three cyber bills that all encourage businesses to share more data on hackers with the government. A series of round-the-clock negotiations produced a near-final text that is being reviewed by both House leadership and the White House.

House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who co-sponsored one of the bills, told The Hill on Thursday that a final deal could be reached at any point. 

“We’re very close on it,” he said.

Unofficial discussions have been taking place since the Senate passed its Intelligence Committee-originated bill in October, and six months after the House passed two complementary bills: one from the Intelligence panel, another from Homeland Security.

Congress has been looking to pass some iteration of a cyber info-sharing bill for more than three years.

Lawmakers from the House Intelligence and Homeland Security committees met Thursday afternoon to hammer out some outstanding details, before sending the draft up to leadership.

According to those involved in the discussions, the final language has been virtually finished for several days, but an ongoing debate over privacy provisions has held things out at the eleventh hour.

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

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), a co-sponsor of his committee’s bill, has driven much of that back-and-forth. He wants the final text to require all companies sharing data with the government to go through a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “portal,” instead of going directly to any intelligence or law enforcement agency. 

Multiple people with knowledge of the talks said some of these thorny privacy issues had not been resolved as of Friday and suggested that leadership might make the final call. But lawmakers and several other people involved in the negotiations insisted nearly all discrepancies surrounding the portal had been resolved.

“I think we’re all unanimous that DHS ought to be the portal,” Schiff told reporters. “All the major issues that were raised in the past, all of those I think have been addressed and I think that meets the vast majority of the privacy concerns that were raised.”

Even if lawmakers are able to complete the compromise text, Congress is running out of legislative days to move the bill before recessing for the end of the year. 

It appears the best chance for the measure to speed through in Capitol Hill’s final week would be as an attachment to an omnibus spending bill, which is expected to be unveiled on Monday.

“We’re going to have to wait until we have a deal on the omnibus to figure out everything else, and that’s everything from extenders to any of the riders,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the other co-sponsor of his panel’s information-sharing bill.

However, several lawmakers have indicated they would block such a maneuver, according to multiple people with knowledge of the talks. 

Leadership has been left searching for other bills that could carry the cyber measure through Congress, several people said.



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