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November 30, 2015

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Reid: NSA phone-tracking shouldn’t stand in the way of cyber security legislation

Recent revelations that the government has been closely monitoring the Internet and phone traffic of U.S. citizens may have touched off a national debate about privacy vs. security, but that discussion isn’t deterring congressional leaders from their plans to push cyber security legislation.

“I don’t think the two things are really connected,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday in an interview with the Sun. “It’s an issue that we need to deal with.”

Congress has been struggling for years, at this point, to pass cyber security legislation, which the government maintains is crucial for the government’s ability to avoid the sort of cyber-attacks and international cyber-espionage that could bring down entire systems and databases.

The bill has hit all manner of political roadblocks, including a dispute between Republicans and Democrats over mandatory security standards that scuttled a 2012 attempt to pass a bill.

But the longest-standing and loudest objections to cyber security legislation have been from privacy advocates, who say the government has enough access to information without creating pathways for business to share more information about customers and subscribers with federal security agencies.

In April, the House of Representatives passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, the legislation that has most galvanized the opposition of privacy advocates.

After President Barack Obama threatened to veto it, it stalled before the Senate. But the Senate has pledged to continue to keep working on its own version, calling cyber security the No. 1 threat to national security.

And even with a broader debate raging over how much access the government ought to have to citizens’ information, Reid has no plans to put on the brakes.

“I’ve had some meetings this week on cyber security, and we continue to work on it…and see how we can move forward with this,” Reid said, repeating that a cyber security bill and the government’s phone and internet tracking are “two different issues.”

The cyber security bill is aimed at getting businesses to share information with the government about potential cyber threats, as well as share best system security practices with each other. The president described the National Security Agency’s internet-tracking procedures, known as PRISM, and its practice of recording the duration and direction of telephone calls, as a tactic of avoiding terrorist attacks.

On Thursday, Reid said he thought the country should “just calm down” over the revelations about the government’s records collection, first reported by the Guardian.

On Friday, Obama answered criticism about the program just prior to a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in California, with whom he planned to discuss, among other things, cyber security.

“You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” he said. “We’re going to have to make some choices as a society. “

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