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US Senate approves controversial cyber security bill

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The US Senate in Congress has approved a controversial cyber security bill encouraging private firms to share their data with the government despite criticism by civil liberties advocates.

The bill, aimed at bolstering the country’s cyber defenses, cleared the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 74-21 with strong bipartisan support.

The measure must be reconciled with two similar information-sharing measures that passed the US House of Representatives earlier this year.

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, or CISA, would expand liability protections to companies that choose to voluntarily share cyber threat data with the US government.

CISA was introduced by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein in 2014 following high-profile cyber attacks on US corporations.

However, the proposal languished in the Senate for more than a year partly because of privacy groups’ concerns that it would transfer more personal information into the hands of government spies, including the National Security Agency (NSA).

Skeptics of the bill have said it would do little to prevent costly cyber attacks like the kind that crippled Sony Pictures last year. Even some of the bill’s supporters have admitted it is a small first step to strengthen the country’s cyber defenses.

The bill’s passage through the Senate was a defeat for civil liberties advocates after a round of amendments intended to strengthen some of the bill’s privacy protections failed.

Privacy activists had celebrated the passage of a law in June that effectively ended the NSA’s bulk collection of US call metadata.

That spying program was curtailed after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified intelligence documents showing massive collections of phone records of Americans and foreign nationals as well as political leaders around the world.

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