06.11.15

Leahy: Senate Should Have Full, Open Debate On Nation’s Cybersecurity

WASHINGTON (Thursday, June 11, 2015) – Cybersecurity legislation should be considered in an open and transparent manner on the Senate floor for all members to debate, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Thursday.

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee includes provisions affecting Americans’ privacy rights and government transparency.  And while the bill has been pending before the Senate for months, Republican leaders are just now rushing to pass the legislation without debate.  Leahy urged Senators not to support this approach.

“I agree that we must do more to protect our cybersecurity, but we should not rush to pass legislation that has significant privacy implications for millions of Americans,” Leahy said.  “We must be thoughtful and responsible.  Attempting to stifle meaningful debate and pass this bill as an amendment to the defense bill is the wrong answer.  That is not how the United States Senate should operate.” 

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee,
Regarding Cloture on the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act as an
Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015
June 11, 2015

 Earlier this year, the Senate Intelligence Committee reported the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act to the Senate floor.  This bill is intended to facilitate sharing of cyber threat information between the private sector and the government.  While this could be useful in protecting against cyberattacks, I am concerned that certain provisions in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s bill would severely undermine Americans’ privacy. 

Senator Burr’s bill would remove all existing legal restrictions to allow an unprecedented wave of information – including Americans’ personal communications – to flow from the private sector into government databases without any meaningful controls or limitations.  It would explicitly authorize the government to use this information to “prevent” crimes that have nothing to do with cybersecurity, such as firearms possession, arson, and robbery. 

These problems are compounded by the fact that this bill requires all information provided to the government through the information-sharing regime to be immediately disseminated, which does not allow time for removal of unnecessary private information, to a number of federal agencies – including the National Security Agency and others.  We do not know whether this information would also be shared with the Drug Enforcement Administration, or the Internal Revenue Service, for example.  We do know this would open a new flow of information to the Federal government, without appropriate restrictions on how these agencies can store, query, or mine this information.

Congress should enact cybersecurity legislation to protect American businesses and the American people.  But we need a cyber-security bill, not a cyber-surveillance bill.   

There are also provisions in this bill that add entirely new exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  These provisions are completely unnecessary, and have the potential to greatly weaken government transparency.

Senator Burr’s information sharing bill is major legislation that deserves full debate and a meaningful opportunity for Senators to offer amendments to improve the bill.  It has had neither. 

The bill was drafted behind closed doors.  It has not been the subject of any open hearings or public debate.  The text of the bill was only made public by the Intelligence Committee after it was reported to the Senate floor, and no other committee of jurisdiction – including the Judiciary Committee – was allowed to consider and improve the bill.  I shared with Chairman Grassley my concern that the Judiciary Committee should also consider this bill, and Chairman Grassley assured me that there would be a “robust and open amendment process” if this bill were considered on the Senate floor.  I expect that the Senate Homeland Security Committee received the same assurances.

Senator Burr’s attempt to offer the Intelligence Committee’s information sharing bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act runs directly counter to those assurances.  This is not a sincere effort to consider and pass this bill under regular order.  Instead, through a series of procedural maneuvers, Republican leadership is deliberately preventing any type of meaningful debate on this bill. 

I agree that we must do more to protect our cybersecurity, but we should not rush to pass legislation that has significant privacy implications for millions of Americans.  We must be thoughtful and responsible.  Attempting to stifle meaningful debate and pass this bill as an amendment to the NDAA is the wrong answer. That is not how the United States Senate should operate.  I urge Senators to vote no on cloture.

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