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Wyden Rips Plan to Attach 'Surveillance' Cybersecurity Bill to Defense Bill (Video)

Wyden says the cybersecurity bill is really about surveillance. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The move to attach bipartisan cybersecurity legislation to an annual defense bill has prompted another debate over surveillance.  

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who was the only vote against the bipartisan cybersecurity information sharing overhaul at the Intelligence Committee level, wants changes to protect privacy.  

"A number of senators have already talked with me, and they are interested in significant privacy-oriented amendments," the Oregon senator said. "If you have a cyber bill without real privacy protections, it's not really a cybersecurity bill, it's a surveillance bill."  

"There's a double standard here. You know, the companies get protection ... and you know, individuals don't," Wyden told reporters. "I think there will be a fair number of supporters for significant privacy amendments. I don't want to front-run my colleagues and announce it right now."  

Wyden declined to say if he would be working once again with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., as he did to oppose the bulk collection of telephone records by the National Security Agency, but it would seem likely Paul would have privacy concerns.  

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Paul's home-state colleague, announced at a media availability Tuesday afternoon the plan to put the cybersecurity measure into the defense bill, rather than move standalone legislation later in the June work period, as had been expected.  

"I think that [what] Congress can do, as I suggested earlier, is offer the bipartisan cybersecurity bill that came out of the Intelligence Committee 14 to 1 on the defense authorization act. It might or might not deal with every aspect of what apparently happened a few days ago, but Congress is going to act on cybersecurity on this bill in the very near future," McConnell said.

McConnell Plans to Package Cybersecurity Bill with NDAA

The scheduling news came in the aftermath of the revelation of a significant breach of federal employee data held by the Office of Personnel Management, but Wyden encouraged people not to connect the two issues.  

"I think that moving the cybersecurity bill now is a bad excuse for a bad piece of legislation," Wyden said of the Intelligence Committee bill. "It really doesn't have anything to do with, you know, OPM."  

"What the auditors have said is that there was a case where they were having difficulty managing the data that they had. Now we're talking about sort of exponentially ... more data," Wyden said.  

President Barack Obama has urged Congress to act on cybersecurity in the wake of the OPM breach.  

After the Intelligence Committee advanced the legislation, Judiciary ranking member Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., led colleagues in seeking a sequential referral to that panel for an open markup, but the move Tuesday by Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., and McConnell means it will go directly to floor debate.  

"I am deeply concerned that the Republican Leader now wants the Senate to pass this information-sharing bill without any opportunity for the kind of public debate it needs. This is not the transparent and meaningful committee process the Republican Leader promised just months ago. I agree that we must do more to protect our cybersecurity, but this information-sharing bill should not be considered as a last-minute amendment to yet another bill that was negotiated and considered behind closed doors. The privacy of millions of Americans is at stake," Leahy said in a statement. "The American people deserve an open debate about legislation that would dramatically expand the amount of information about them that companies can share with agencies throughout the federal government."  

Putting the cybersecurity measure on the defense bill, which already faces a veto threat, could put additional pressure on Democrats in the Senate and the White House to accept the overall package, despite a variety of concerns, including over Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the broader fight over the budget.  

Burr was fully behind the effort to attach the cybersecurity legislation from his committee to the defense policy measure.  

"We need to get cyber done, period," Burr told CQ Roll Call shortly after leaving the floor, saying he had just filed the amendment. Burr actually offered the bill as a second-degree amendment to another amendment, meaning it could not be blocked from getting into the queue.  

In addition, the cybersecurity amendment itself is not open to amendment under the rules, although other related amendments could still be offered to the defense bill, which is being considered under an open amendment process.

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