The night before Congress passed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, a broad expansion of surveillance power in America, legislators attended a party with the chief lobbyists for the bill.
Last Thursday, Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., along with a number of other lawmakers, went to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s famously lavish Christmas party.
The next morning, on December 18, the senators voted to pass the omnibus spending bill that included a version of CISA that guts privacy protections and creates new channels for both government agencies and private businesses to share information with the National Security Agency and law enforcement.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents dozens of Fortune 500 companies and serves as the biggest lobby group in Washington, acted as the chief private sector advocate for CISA. Congressional records show the group’s lobbyists testified in both the House and Senate on behalf of the bill, and helped corral a number of other trade associations to build support for its passage.
Big business interests support CISA because the bill provided liability protection for corporations that share information with the government, an exchange that business interests hope will shift some of the burden for cybersecurity issues.
The risks for privacy run deep, however. The latest version of CISA that passed Congress strips privacy protections and allows information unrelated to cybersecurity risks to be shared with government agencies. Yet the chamber has been less concerned with privacy and more interested in developing a close relationship with intelligence agencies.
At a summit to help pass CISA last year, Ann Beauchesne, the chamber’s lead CISA lobbyist, got up and asked NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers how the Chamber of Commerce could “be helpful to you?” She pledged a renewed lobbying effort even — as The Intercept previously noted — suggesting a viral marketing campaign to build public support akin to the “ALS ice bucket challenge.”