Senate leaders in both parties say they want to vote on a controversial cybersecurity proposal before the start of summer recess, but things may get hung up on an old issue — amendments to a bill and efforts by the majority party to limit them.
On Tuesday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said he wanted to bring the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) to the Senate floor for a vote before a monthlong recess starts at the end of the week and urged colleagues to finish drafting immediately any further amendments they wish to offer.
“With cooperation, we can pass this bipartisan bill this week,” Mr. McConnell said, a day after having filed cloture on the bill on Monday.
If passed, CISA would provide incentives for the government and private sector to share “cybersecurity threat information,” both between each other and among themselves. Corporations would be encouraged to provide Washington’s top cybercops with details that could be used to describe or identify the increasing number of attacks waged against American networks — a provision that has set off red flags among privacy activists.
The bill had been stalled in the Senate since March, but several high-profile hacks that have been waged against government and corporate targets alike have given the effort a new urgency.
But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Tuesday his party would only let the bill proceed if his members get an opportunity to offer relevant amendments.
Mr. Reid said the GOP has prevented additions offered by his own party from being brought up for a vote as recently as last week, leaving “plenty of reason for Democrats to be concerned.”
When Mr. McConnell said later in the day that he’d allow 10 relevant amendments per side to be offered and made pending, the minority leader demanded that proposals from the Democratic Party be considered outright without restrictions.
“We want to pass a good bill,” Mr. Reid said. “We want to have a reasonable number of amendments, and there will be votes on those amendments.”
Even if the party leaders can iron out their differences, privacy advocates in both parties fear that passage would give the government too much access to the personal data of average Americans and are only partially mollified by a managers’ amendment tacked on to CISA earlier in the week.
Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat and the only lawmaker to vote against CISA when it cleared committee, said Tuesday that while “cybersecurity is a serious problem” and “information sharing can play a constructive role … information sharing without robust privacy safeguards is really not a cybersecurity bill.”
“It’s going to be seen by millions of Americans as a surveillance bill,” Mr. Wyden says, unless the Senate can implement further protections.
“Huge problems remain” with CISA despite this week’s changes, agreed Greg Nojeim, a senior counsel with the Center for Democracy & Technology, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit public policy organization.
Nathan White, a senior legislative manager with another D.C.-based digital rights group, Access, said the amendment “won’t stop the government from instantly passing along information to intelligence agencies,” The Hill reported.
Civil liberties and digital rights groups said they had managed to flood Senate offices with more than 6 million faxes urging lawmakers to reject the bill as of Friday.
That same day, the Department of Homeland Security said in a letter to Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, that CISA’s language, absent the adoption of the managers’ amendment, “could sweep away important privacy protections.”
Mr. Franken said the DHS letter “makes it overwhelmingly clear” that CISA “would actually increase the difficulty and complexity of information sharing, undermining our nation’s cybersecurity objectives.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, took to the Senate floor to urge fellow lawmakers to pass CISA before Congress breaks until September.
“It is unbelievable that this body would not move forward,” he said, calling it “disgraceful” to not advance the proposal in the face of “dire consequences and dire threats.”
“By blocking this legislation you are putting the nation in danger by not allowing the Senate of the United States to act against a very real threat to our very existence,” he said. “The security of the United States of America is in danger.”