Info-sharing bill's advance is a landmark for DHS

A long-stalled cybersecurity information-sharing bill hitched a ride on the omnibus package posted early on Dec. 16, leaving privacy-minded opponents of the bill crestfallen as backers sighed in relief. A day later, friends and foes of the bill are poring over its text, some to divine just what it would mean for the Department of Homeland Security's interfacing with the private sector.

The bill would affirm DHS as the lead civilian agency for receiving and disseminating cyberthreat information as well as give firms liability protections for sharing such information.

Passage of the bill would be a "major step in defining DHS in law as the lead government conduit for the private sector," Chris Cummiskey, former acting undersecretary of management at DHS, told FCW in an email.

"Interestingly, Congress also seems to have added language that gives the president the option of designating a lead agency other than DHS if circumstances arise," Cummiskey added. "This tells me DHS has very little margin for error in delivering meaningful results."

The language Cummiskey's referenced gives the president authority to assign a civilian agency other than DHS to receive threat indicators from the private sector if doing so is deemed necessary for "full, effective and secure operation" of an information-sharing portal.

Bradley Saull, a former House Homeland Security Committee staffer and former DHS employee, told FCW that the codification of the DHS portal would be a reward for relationships the department has built on Capitol Hill and in industry.

DHS' Office of Cybersecurity and Communications "has done a lot not only in their day-to-day but in their outreach to the private sector and to Congress to earn themselves the credibility and the goodwill to make this possible," said Saull, now a vice president at the Professional Services Council.

Similar legislation encouraging the sharing of cyberthreat information between government and business has stalled in the past over privacy concerns, but the preponderance of large-scale hacks like the one of the Office of the Personnel Management has given this year's bill momentum, Saull added.

In statements release after the posting of the omnibus text, backers of the information-sharing bill claimed to have done enough to satisfy privacy concerns while opponents cried foul.

"The agreement in the omnibus maintains Senate language on use of a Department of Homeland Security portal to share information," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement praising the inclusion of the cyber bill in the omnibus. "The agreement incorporates the Senate bill's robust privacy protections.

Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, the Senate's fiercest critic of the legislation, tweeted "latest, worse version of CISA has no real privacy protections & would do little or nothing to prevent major hacks," using an acronym for an early version of the bill.

Activists complained that privacy protections included in a measure passed by the House Homeland Security Committee were lost in the negotiations between the House and Senate Intel panels that produced a final bill.

"This cyber bill represents a shameful betrayal of what should have been an open and robust negotiation process to combine three significantly different bills into one superior product. Instead, the Intelligence Committees cut out the Homeland Security Committee, and engaged in a race to the bottom on privacy and operational effectiveness," Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute said in an email.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee who has a background in cyber, said Dec. 16 that the information-sharing legislation is "at the end of the day…a good bill," adding that he was pleased the bill includes support for DHS' Einstein 3A intrusion detection and blocking program.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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