- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Senate approved Tuesday the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), the biggest move yet to strengthen ties between government agencies and the private sector amid incessant data breaches and hacks that have helped the bill gain support after years of unsuccessful attempts.

The Senate passed CISA by a 74-21 vote, in turn paving the way for a conference with House leaders that will likely end with President Obama’s autograph.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and co-author of the bill, said enacting cybersecurity legislation had been a six-year-long challenge for her and applauded colleagues on both sides of the aisle Tuesday for approving a bipartisan solution notwithstanding the technical nature of the topic.

Lawmakers in the House had signed off on a companion bill back in April, and the White House has urged the Senate to follow suit in the months since.

The bill also has been boosted by the heads of the CIA and National Security Agency, the federal agencies who stand to receive cyberthreat data and other intelligence from the private sector under the new arrangement.

“The Senate’s vote today is an important bipartisan step toward a more comprehensive approach to the cybersecurity challenges faced by our nation and businesses every day. Improved information sharing is just one piece of the puzzle, but an important one,” Rajesh De, former general counsel at the NSA, told The Washington Times.

Mr. De said the bill had reached an appropriate balance and “is a win-win for privacy and security.”

“Although it has taken far too long to get to this point, good progress has been made in addressing the balance between security and privacy,” he said.

But while routine intrusions and attacks against government and corporate networks during the last year led lawmakers to backing this bill more than previous legislative efforts, the Senate’s decision to greenlight CISA occurred in the face of opposition from some of the tech sector’s biggest names, including Apple, Google and Twitter, as well as attempts from within the chamber to rework its language up until Tuesday evening’s vote.

Critics of the bill argued CISA will give federal agencies too much access to the private data of Americans because it incentivizes corporations to share cybersecurity threats and so-called “threat indicators” with the government by giving participants legal immunity.

An amendment by Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, would have tightened the definitions of those terms, but was defeated earlier in the day along with a handful of other proposals that sought to limit the amount of personally identifiable information shared with the feds.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat and CISA opponent, said in a statement that passage of the bill is “an early, flawed step in what is sure to be a long debate over how the U.S. can best defend itself against cyberthreats.”

“Strengthening privacy goes hand-in-hand with better cybersecurity. Sharing more personal information with the government heightens the risk that hackers will poach data from an insecure federal database, and adds background noise from information unrelated to cyber threats,” he said.

Mr. Wyden called the bill “feel-good legislation that is not up to the task of thwarting digital criminals and foreign hackers.”

Nevertheless, supporters of CISA hailed Tuesday’s vote as a much-needed step toward securing the nation’s online infrastructure following cyberattacks waged in recent months against not just government targets like the Office of Personnel Management but corporate victims including Sony Pictures and Target stores.

“Today was a win for retailers and those committed to stepping up the fight against overseas hackers and cyber thieves targeting American businesses and our customers,” the Retail Industry Leaders Association said in a statement. “Common-sense legislation that gives businesses the tools and legal protections needed to share cyberthreat indicators is a step in the right direction to thwart future attacks.”

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