The U.S. Senate on Thursday quietly blocked Republicans from adding the controversial anti-hacking measure known as the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015 (CISA) to the defense bill currently under consideration by Congress.
CISA's fate is now unclear. The bill, which would grant intelligence agencies additional access to consumers' private data, was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but fell four votes short of the necessary 60 to move forward in that way.
As introduced, CISA would not have allowed any changes to the language of the legislation, which some senators cited as a reason they voted against it.
"There is no good reason for doing it this way," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the floor ahead of the vote. If CISA could be discussed as its own separate measure, rather than as an add-on to another bill, senators could propose and discuss making changes to the language, Reid added.
"It's a false promise, it's a facade," he said.
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Civil liberties organizations opposed the bill as a measure that would open up yet more avenues for intelligence agencies and private companies to violate privacy rights of users. They also noted that attaching it to the NDAA and preventing any changes to the language would have quashed much-needed deliberation over the bill's many civil liberties issues.
As the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) wrote in a blog post on June 9, "This move would almost certainly stifle necessary debate on the privacy and civil liberties problems in the bill and thwart amendments that Senators have been crafting to address those problems."
According to a letter written to senators by a coalition of civil society organizations, security experts, and academics—including CDT, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, the Sunlight Foundation, and Free Press, among others—the problems with the bill include:
- Automatic NSA access to personal information shared with a governmental entity;
- Inadequate protections prior to sharing;
- Dangerous authorization for countermeasures; and
- Overbroad authorization for law enforcement use.
Three Republican lawmakers crossed party lines to vote against CISA, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, and Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada. As The Hill notes, those who pushed for CISA to pass admitted on Thursday that they have no fallback plans for the bill.
"We have a plan A and a plan B," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said ahead of the vote. "Our plan B is plan A."