Senators voted Thursday morning to move forward on a controversial cybersecurity bill, clearing a key hurdle before final passage.
The procedural vote on the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, or CISA, passed overwhelmingly 83-to-14, receiving far more than the 60 votes it needed. The bill would provide incentives to private companies to share information about cyberthreats with each other and with the government, with the goal of improving the cybersecurity of all involved.
Although the bill passed out of the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this year nearly unanimously, it has been denounced by privacy groups, civil-liberty organizations, tech companies, and a few privacy hawks in the Senate for what they see as insufficient privacy protections.
Before leaving for the August recess, senators reached an agreement to consider 22 amendments alongside the bill, amendments that touched on privacy, operations, and other matters. The co-sponsors of CISA—Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr and Vice-Chair Dianne Feinstein—worked many of those changes into a new version of the bill, which passed the procedural hurdle Thursday morning.
Several amendments remain in contention and will receive separate votes later. A change offered by Sen. Rand Paul, which would limit liability protections so that companies have to uphold privacy agreements with customers, got a vote immediately after the main bill. The measure has been targeted by business groups, which see the change as detracting from the incentives in the bill.
"This amendment would actually fatally disturb what's in the bill, which is clear and concise," Feinstein said Thursday.
Paul's amendment failed 32-65.
Earlier this week, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who had offered an amendment to expand the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and increase penalties for computer hacking, took to the floor to complain that the "masters of the universe" had pulled his amendment from the running.
But on Thursday, Feinstein revealed that Whitehouse had reached an agreement with Sens. Ron Wyden and Patrick Leahy—two of the Senate's most outspoken privacy advocates—to include a version of his amendment in the final package.
Wyden cast one of only 14 votes against the main bill Thursday.
Before the vote, the bill's co-sponsors pushed their colleagues to move the bill forward. "We have been listening," Feinstein said. "We have tried to incorporate a substantial number of amendments in the manager's package."
"It's not going to prevent all cyberattacks or penetrations," she conceded. "It is a first step."
But Wyden, the main antagonist to senators pushing to pass CISA, spoke out against the bill, calling it "another surveillance bill."
"The Senate is again missing another opportunity to do this right and promote both security and liberty," Wyden said. "Just because a proposal has cybersecurity in its title doesn't make it good."
The bill has been the focus of intense lobbying from both supporters and opponents. As tech companies continue to come out against CISA and privacy groups prepare grassroots campaigns to encourage votes against it, the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Financial Services Roundtable have increased pressure to pass the bill.