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Senior Democratic and Republican staffers on the House Intelligence Committee expressed disappointment with the White House Tuesday afternoon after it threatened to veto a comprehensive cyber security bill that has been under consideration for weeks.
“The bottom line is we’re disappointed,” a Republican staffer on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) said after the White House threatened to veto the bill, known as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). “We were hoping not to get a veto threat.”
A Democratic HPSCI staffer also expressed frustration, saying the committee had “been working with them all long” to prevent this precise outcome.
Both staffers agreed to speak about the legislation only on background.
CISPA, which was passed by HPSCI last week following a closed-door debate, would permit government agencies to share cyber attack information with private companies while also allowing private companies to share some of their customers' personal information in order to help prevent and deter such attacks.
The White House argued the bill does not do enough to protect citizens from having their personal details disclosed to the government.
The Obama administration said Tuesday evening it “remains concerned that the bill does not require private entities to take reasonable steps to remove irrelevant personal information when sending cybersecurity data to the government or other private sector entities,” according to a statement released via the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). “Citizens have a right to know that corporations will be held accountable—and not granted immunity—for failing to safeguard personal information adequately.”
“The administration still seeks additional improvements, and if the bill, as currently crafted, were presented to the president, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill,” the statement said.
HPSCI staffers on both sides of the aisle said while the administration’s announcement is unhelpful—and could even damage the bill’s prospects for full passage in Congress—they remain confident it can successfully pass the House later this week.
“From a Democratic perspective, if you’re in the minority you want everything, but you have to deal with the political realities and you push and it’s a trade,” explained the Democratic aide. “This bill is a good compromise and the sign of a good compromise is that everyone is still a bit grumpy.”
However, the Democratic aide said “the White House has decided to leave the table. … It is ironic because they still think cyber security is a threat and they want to do something.”
“Threatening to veto [the] House bill in some ways reduces the odds of it getting out of the House,” noted the Republican staffer. It’s “not a very productive strategy in achieving that goal we all think is important.”
Both staffers expressed confidence CISPA would successfully pass the House when it comes to a vote on Thursday.
The “odds are very good,” said the Republican staffer. “It’s going to be a lot of work from now until Thursday, but the odds are very good.”
House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R., Mich.) and the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.) have championed CISPA.
However, many other Democrats have expressed fierce opposition to the bill and say it does not go far enough to protect the civil rights of Americans.
Privacy advocates and Democratic operatives have argued against the bill in recent weeks and successfully exerted pressure on the White House to threaten a veto.
“CISPA’s sweeping, vague language creates exemptions to all privacy laws and would immunize corporations that choose to monitor domestic communications and share Americans’ data freely with federal agencies without securing individual consent,” Chris Finan, Truman National Security Project fellow, wrote Tuesday in the Hill.
CISPA’s proponents, including those on HPSCI, point out that lawmakers offered at least five amendments to the bill that clarified the current language and instituted safeguards against civil liberties infringements.
These amendments were meant to improve the legislation, tighten safeguards, and make it more attractive to the White House.
“We addressed many of the White House’s concerns in the bill on the floor now,” noted the Republican intelligence committee staffer.
Ruppersberger’s office also issued a five-page CISPA “fact sheet” that seeks to dispel “myths” perpetuated by the legislation’s opponents.
Rather than try to kill the House bill, the White House should seek to address its concerns in conference committee after the Senate passes a bill and both chambers come together to finalize the language.
The Senate has yet to even offer a companion bill to CISPA.
“The picture hasn’t clarified over in the Senate yet,” said the House aide, noting Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) has only circulated draft legislation at this point. “We’re eager for something to come out but unsure” what the specifics will look like.
Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union are seeking to scare the public and fundraise off of their opposition to CISPA, said the intelligence committee staffers.
While some groups have worked with Congress to improve the legislation, “there’re other groups I think are not so interested in approving our bill but campaigning against it and fundraising on the bill, and some of those groups have moved the goal posts on us several times,” said the Republican staffer.
“What’s not helpful is folks who’ve not read the legislation scaring people” in order to raise money, added the Democrat.
The House Rules Committee met Tuesday evening to decide which amendments will be voted on the floor of the House.