Still No Deal on Senate Cybersecurity Bill

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Sen. Dianne Feinstein/AP File Photo

Senators have not reached an agreement that would allow them to add amendments to a cyberinformation-sharing bill in exchange for quickening its passage.

With the fight over Planned Parenthood behind them, senators now have the rest of the week to deal with a cybersecurity bill that has eluded passage for years—or to punt until after the August recess.

The fate of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act may now rest on reaching a bipartisan deal that would add a package of amendments in exchange for an expedited debate timeline.

Supporters say the bill would allow the private sector and the government to share information about cyberthreats that would help them both fight hackers and intruders more effectively, but privacy advocates and security experts are concerned that it goes too far.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr, the top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the cosponsors of the cyber bill, took the first steps toward altering the bill—something that Republicans and Democrats have called for—when they circulated a manager's amendment that addressed some of the privacy concerns that surround CISA.

According to amendment text obtained by National Journal, changes in the proposed amendments include limits on how the government can use information gleaned from private companies, and a check on "defensive measures" that companies are allowed to take in retaliation for being hacked.

A summary being circulated alongside the amendment called the narrowing of allowed uses of shared cyberthreat information a "very significant privacy change."

The manager's amendment was first reported by The Hill.

But the changes are not yet enough to move Sen. Ron Wyden, one of the CISA's most fervent opponents in the Senate.

"I appreciate that the sponsors of this bill have begun working on a manager's amendment to address some of the very serious concerns that have been raised, but I would say to my colleagues that this bill needs a lot more work," the Oregon Democrat said on the Senate floor after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to open debate on CISA.

"The manager's amendment does not fix the provision of this bill that will allow private companies to hand large volumes of their customers' personal information over to the government with only a cursory review, even if that information is not necessary for cybersecurity," Wyden continued.

A coalition of privacy groups have been mounting a coordinated advocacy push against the bill this week, generating more than 6 million faxes from Americans urging lawmakers to vote against it.

Drew Mitnick, policy counsel at Access, said Monday that the changes in the proposed amendment do not address the privacy group's surveillance concerns. "The changes under the manager's amendment would not stop the government from instantly passing along information to intelligence agencies or keep law enforcement from using information to prosecute whistleblowers," he said.

While the manager's amendment is a first step toward making the changes to CISA that senators want to see, it is separate from a deal that would green-light a bundle of Republican and Democratic amendments in exchange for speedy consideration of the bill.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, who said last week that a deal was in the works, reiterated to reporters Monday the need for amendments on CISA.

"We want to get to the bill. It's only fair to get a few amendments," the New York Democrat said. "Republican leadership has always said that they don't want to fill trees and they want to allow amendments. We have some members who feel strongly about certain amendments, and they should be allowed to offer them."

Asked about progress toward a deal, a spokesman for Schumer said Monday it did not yet exist. McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said senators are "still working on it."

"There is no agreement on amendments," a Senate Democratic aide said Monday. "If Sen. McConnell doesn't seek [unanimous consent], the timeline on votes takes us into Friday, so not sure what he's planning here."

Sen. Rand Paul, another outspoken privacy advocate, told National Journal on Monday that he would not vote for CISA in its current form. He called for amendments, including one that he put forward.

Paul's changes were not included in the manager's amendment. Nor were changes requested by Wyden or Sen. Mark Warner, who wants to add provisions that would increase the role of the Homeland Security Department in the information-sharing process. A spokesperson for Warner said the senator is still trying to get his amendments included.

If the Senate does not reach a deal soon to speed up CISA's progress, members will have very little time to debate it before they decamp for the summer. And if the Senate doesn't act this week, CISA will get tossed into autumn's legislative sludge, alongside budget and appropriations fights that are sure to take up senators' time and energy.

Alex Rogers contributed to this article.