Key lawmakers are suggesting that the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) will soon die in the U.S. Senate -- just like last year.
CISPA backers say it's designed to make it easier for organizations to share cyberthreat information with each other and with government agencies such as the Department of Homeland security, without fear of antitrust or liability issues.
The U.S. House of Representatives last week approved CISPA amid a flurry of strident opposition from rights groups and privacy advocates who fear it would allow government agencies to monitor the activities of ordinary Internet users under the pretext of cybersecurity.
Similar concerns derailed a CISPA bill in the Senate last year.
Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee is drafting its own version of an information-sharing bill, said an aide to the committee. The committee has no plans to consider the House-passed CISPA bill, the aide added.
"We are currently drafting a bipartisan information sharing bill and will proceed as soon as we come to an agreement," said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee said in a statement to Computerworld.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D, W-V) chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, told the Huffington Post that his committee also has no plans to debate the House bill. Instead, he said, the committee will also propose alternative legislation.
Rockefeller's office did not respond to a Computerworld request for comment on the plan.
In a statement to Computerworld, Sen. Tom Carper, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, made clear that he is also looking for alternative proposals, though he stopped short of saying the CISPA is dead.
"My colleagues in the House have worked to address some of the concerns raised regarding CISPA -- and I recognize and appreciate that effort -- but there are still a number of issues that remain, particularly regarding privacy, as well as broader concerns about how to comprehensively address the cyber threat we face," Carper said.
"While information-sharing is an important piece in our effort to modernize our outdated cybersecurity laws, it is only one of many elements needed to properly bolster our cyber defenses," he added.
Carper said that he would attempt to work with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to craft legislation that complements measures recently put in place via a Presidential Executive Order in February.
"Given the growing cyberthreats that America faces, it is critical that Congress works with the Administration and stakeholders to enhance our cybersecurity efforts to protect our nation," Carper said.
The comments by the chairs of three powerful Senate committees make it clear that CISPA won't be formally debated in the Senate this year. Even if it had passed the Senate, the White House has hinted it would veto the bill if it lands on the President's desk in its present form.
The developments are sure to be welcomed by interest groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and numerous others that describe CISPA as dangerous.
Security practitioners have argued that being able to share information about new vulnerabilities, malware threats and attack signatures is vital to their ability to detect and respond to malicious attacks. Almost every major technology company and industry group supports the legislation that passed the House.
But the EFF, ACLU and others maintain that the law, as worded, is extraordinarily ambiguous and will allow the government to monitor and gather broad swathes of private information on ordinary Internet users under the pretext of cybersecurity.
CISPA proponents insist that all threat data that is gathered and shared under the provisions of the bill would be completely anonymized and stripped of personal identity data. Nonetheless, advocacy groups say it would permit communications service providers to share stored emails, text messages and files with the government.
Mark Jaycox, a staff attorney at the EFF today said the statements by Senate lawmakers are encouraging.
"Time and time again privacy advocates have pointed to problematic flaws in CISPA," Jaycox said. "Though the authors are unwilling to listen, it's reassuring to see a veto threat from the President and confirmation from the Senate that the bill will not move."
Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.