Controversial Cybersecurity Bill Moves Forward

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act passed in the Senate by a wide margin, but must still clear the House and President Obama's desk. Proponents say the bill bolsters cybersecurity; opponents say personal privacy is at risk.

by / October 30, 2015
The controversial bipartisan Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act took a step forward when it passed the Senate with substantial support Tuesday. 

Senate Bill 754, known casually as CISA, has aroused both praise and disapproval from senators and the public at large, but had no trouble passing with a 74-21 vote. 

Proponents of the bill have called the legislation a necessary tool in the fight against the constant cybersecurity threats facing the government and private industry, and have highlighted the need for greater collaboration between the public and private sectors. 

Under the legislation, private companies would be legally allowed to share information and data with the government.  

“Passing the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act would make it easier for public- and private-sector entities to share cyberthreat information and vulnerabilities in order to lessen the theft of trade secrets, intellectual property, national security information, as well as the compromise of sensitive personal information,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said on Oct. 26 in support of the bill.

Her colleagues echoed her sentiments warning of the dangers of not passing the information-sharing legislation. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, quoted national security experts, including former Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta, who had previously warned of the potential for a “cyber Pearl Harbor” attack.

“If it sounds scary, that’s because it is scary,” Reid said in his pre-vote remarks.

Although many have outlined the need for comprehensive legislation, Reid said it was far from strong enough to fully protect the United States from cyberattacks.

“We have a bill before us that’s better than nothing, and [democrats] support it," he said, "but it is far, far, far too weak."

But opponents maintain the bill would effectively open the door to the unchecked sharing of private information between private companies and the government. Opponents say the vague language in the bill could act as a way around existing warrant requirements for government agencies looking for domestic information gathering opportunities.

“Like many Montanans, I have grave concerns about whether my personal information gets handed over to the government,” Sen. John Tester said in an Oct. 26 statement.

Tester’s colleague Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada,  echoed similar concerns about the sharing of private information during his comments on the Senate floor Oct. 27.

While supporters of the information-sharing bill argue sufficient privacy protections were included in the language, the proposal has a ways to go before it becomes law.

Though the legislation passed in the Senate, the bill must still also clear the House of Representatives and be reconciled with other similar legislation passed this year before it can receive a signature from President Obama.

Eyragon Eidam Assistant News Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the assistant news editor for Government Technology magazine, and covers legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.