By Brendan Sasso
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that he is "very close" to introducing legislation that would encourage companies and the government to share information about cyberattacks.
The bill, which Chambliss is working on with Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), would be the Senate's version of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which passed the House in April.
Chambliss said he and Feinstein have been working closely with their House counterparts, CISPA authors Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.). He predicted that if the Senate passes the information-sharing bill, it could be merged with CISPA.
Chambliss said the leaks by Edward Snowden earlier this year about National Security Agency surveillance delayed the Senate's work on cybersecurity legislation.
"If we had not been interrupted by the NSA revelations by Mr. Snowden and the need for [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] reform, I think we probably would have been there because that was next on our plate," Chambliss said at an event at the Newseum hosted by Politico.
The cybersecurity bill would remove legal barriers that prevent companies from sharing information with each other and the government about cyberattacks. It would also allow the government to share more information with the private sector.
Chambliss emphasized the importance of granting liability protection to companies that share data with the government.
Privacy advocates fear that CISPA would encourage Internet companies to hand over their users' private information to the NSA and other spy agencies.
The White House has urged Congress to pass cyber information-sharing legislation but has threatened to veto CISPA, saying it lacks adequate privacy safeguards.
Chambliss said the Senate's bill would create a government "portal" to handle the information coming from the private sector, and the portal would likely be part of the Homeland Security Department. Privacy advocates have urged Congress to have a civilian agency like Homeland Security take the lead on information sharing.
But Chambliss emphasized that the NSA should also have access to the private sector data.
"You can't have protection from a cybersecurity standpoint without the NSA being integrally involved," he said. "I mean, they're the experts."
Chambliss acknowledged that the Snowden leaks have undermined trust in the NSA.
"We've got to restore that trust somehow," he said.