Senator slams panel for passing a "surveillance bill by another name"

A Senate committee overwhelmingly passes a controversial bill aimed at sharing user data with the government, in efforts to prevent cyberattacks. Just one lawmaker opposed.

(Image via CNET/Wikimedia)

A Senate committee has passed a controversial bill, which aims to allow private firms and technology companies to share cyber-threat information with the government, despite privacy concerns.

The bill, dubbed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), passed a closed-door session of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday by a 14-1 vote.

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The one senator who voted against the bill, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), said the privacy protections did not go far enough.

The bill is seen as a one-stop shop for helping companies share what they see as information that threatens their systems and users with the federal government, in an attempt to prevent cyberattacks on the scale of Target, Home Depot, and state-sponsored attacks as Sony suffered.

But opponents are worried that the bill could be used to gather even more information and intelligence on Americans, who have already been dragged through the surveillance swamp amid leaks from former government contractor Edward Snowden.

Although Wyden praised the bill's motive and effort, he said the bill does "not include adequate privacy protections."

Wyden went on to warn that a bill, which aims to allow the sharing of cyber-threat data between privacy companies, technology giants and the federal government, that does not contain the necessary privacy protections is a "surveillance bill by another name."

A total of 12 out of the 15 privacy-related amendments were passed in full or in part during the proceedings. That includes one amendment that prevents CISA from allowing real-time sharing with intelligence agencies, such as the National Security Agency. If companies want to share threat data, they will have to go through a civilian agency, such as Homeland Security.

The CISA bill, however, represents a set of priorities for private businesses and technology companies which claim they continue to be a key target of cyberattacks from both hackers and state actors.

The committee's chairman called the bill "historic," adding that he has "all the confidence" that the bill will be expedited on the Senate floor.

A similar bill is currently running through the House, but has little chance of succeeding.

The House bill, formally known as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), was re-introduced to the House earlier this year with the exact same text as it was written two years ago.

The bill's author, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), came head-to-head with the Obama administration, which threatened to veto the bill should it pass the president's desk.

That veto threat was reportedly echoed a second time around.

Though the White House has also not publicly commented on whether or not it would veto the Senate's proposed CISA legislation, some critics have called it an "even more toxic bill" than its failed predecessor.

CISA will go to a full Senate floor vote later this year.