The Senate, unable to come up with a schedule for amendments, blocked the cybersecurity bill today in an outcome that, despite being a result of Republican obstruction, satisfied Internet activists who had been urging a no vote.
You can see from the roll call that this was generally a partisan vote. The backstory is that after the motion to proceed on the cybersecurity bill passed with 84 votes, Republicans and Democrats tried to set up a schedule for amendments. Harry Reid initially offered an open amendment process. But Republicans wanted to layer all sorts of non-germane amendments on the bill, including votes on abortion and to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This really flustered Reid, who let loose his frustration on the Senate floor. He decried the fact that meetings continued on amendments without a deal, and that the Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the legislation because they feel it still puts too many demands on business groups to maintain standards for resisting cyber attacks on public infrastructure, was driving the process. Lawmakers took out the mandatory standard prescriptions on businesses, but the Chamber of Commerce still finds the bill too stringent. “Republicans are running like scared cats” on the legislation, Reid said. “The Chamber of Commerce has now become the protector of our nation’s security.”
But if the Chamber is forcing Republicans to “run scared,” privacy groups and experts are running from the bill as well. Though they did get improvements from the truly awful CISPA bill that passed the House, most activist groups on the left paying attention to the bill still oppose it. The activist group Demand Progress generated 500,000 contacts to Congress opposing the bill, and the coalition Fight for the Future has been rallying against the bill as well. Two of the no votes were from Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who oppose the cybersecurity bill on privacy grounds. Max Baucus, Jon Tester and Mark Pryor voted no on cloture as well, and at least two of those are probably due to privacy concerns (Montana has a history of voting against these bills that threaten privacy, and Baucus is probably just backing up his Senate colleague, who’s in a tough re-election race).
So a few wayward Democrats and this amendment battle with Republicans were enough to take down the cybersecurity bill. That’s just a temporary condition; Harry Reid voted against cloture to give him the option to reconsider it at a later date. They could still get a deal on amendments. If that happens, the key would be to support Al Franken’s amendment that would remove the monitoring and countermeasures provisions. These measures would allow Internet service providers to monitor their customers’ online activities and take counter-measures against alleged cyber attacks with impunity. Franken said in a statement:
“Americans shouldn’t have to worry that their Internet service providers are snooping in their e-mail or accessing the files on their computer for the wrong reasons,” said Sen. Franken. “While the Cybersecurity Act does a lot to protect the privacy of American consumers, it also contains provisions that would hurt consumer privacy by allowing ISPs and other companies to monitor email and deploy countermeasures indiscriminately. What’s even worse is that these companies would be immune from any lawsuit if they misuse these new powers. That’s why I introduced this amendment, which would completely remove these troubling provisions and protect consumer privacy.”
The best hope for stopping these breaches of privacy for coming into being is to kill a cybersecurity bill that many experts have doubted is necessary, especially without the mandatory standards. Sometimes gridlock is a friend.