Senate to tackle CISA after mid-October break

Richard Burr official photo, 114th Congress

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, the latest bill in an ongoing legislative effort to craft a legal framework for private companies to share information on cyber threats with government and with each other, is bound for the Senate floor after an upcoming recess which concludes Oct. 19, according to its lead sponsor.

Under CISA, said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, IT managers at companies facing a cyber attack could "pick up the phone and call their competitor without a lawyer" to warn of the tactics the attacker is using, without worrying about legal liability. The bill, Burr said at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's 4th Annual Cybersecurity Summit in Washington, would also allow transmission of the forensic data about the attack to the government without fear of liability, and would allow the government to push information out to companies about ongoing attacks and to share information that might prevent future attacks.

CISA would give network operators and other private firms certain protections from antitrust and consumer privacy liabilities when they report cyber threat information to government, or share it with each other. Participation by companies in reporting cyberattack information under the legislation would be voluntary.

The measure stalled in the Senate this summer under the weight of dozens of amendments concerning privacy issues with the bill itself, and more general arguments over foreign policy and spending. If it passes, it will have to be conferenced with two companion bills in the House of Representatives.

The Senate bill has been heavily contested by privacy groups that say the measure could expose too much personally identifiable data to the government, as well as by legislators concerned about government surveillance.

Mistrust of government's ability to properly handle personal data has also grown since the repeated breaches of government databases and the release of government documents by Edward Snowden, Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a keynote at the summit.

DHS, Burr said, is the agency with the privacy framework to handle the resulting civilian data under the reporting system.

Burr and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), the Intelligence Committee's vice chair, defended the measure, saying they have worked hard to relieve privacy concerns and that they expected a vigorous debate on 21 expected amendments that made the final cut.

The White House is looking for legislative action on cybersecurity, because "cybercriminals aren't waiting," said Michael Daniel, the administration's cybersecurity coordinator. But there is some daylight between the details of the Senate bill and what administration officials want.

One sticking point is whether attack data should be shared in "real time" or "near-real time."

Mayorkas said DHS would likely report the information out in near-real time, allowing his agency to give data a "final scrub" to remove personally identifiable information "that doesn't necessarily serve investigators."

Speaking to reporters after the panel, Feinstein and Burr pushed back, saying real-time dissemination of the data would be most effective and incentivize better private sector participation.

"If you set up a system that deals in near-real time, there will be some segment that won't use it because they believe it won't be used effectively," Burr said. Companies reporting information under the program, he said, would be doing so believing it will be used to help it stop an attack on itself and other companies, he said. Without immediacy, he said, there's less reason to use it.

Feinstein expects the heavy opposition from privacy groups and from some senators to continue, but added that the bill is the product of long discussions with industry, privacy groups, and others, as well as from her long personal experience in crafting and honing information sharing legislation.

"You can't satisfy everyone no matter what you do. I think that's where we are now," she said.

Correction: This post was revised on Oct. 7 to reflect the time period when the Senate is expected to take up the bill.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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