US House to vote on CISPA cyber threat bill this week

Controversial information-sharing bill is scheduled for a Thursday vote

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), a controversial cyber threat information-sharing bill, will be debated on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives this week, despite continued opposition from some privacy and digital rights advocates.

The House will begin debate on the bill Wednesday at about 10 a.m. Debate will continue into Thursday, when a vote on the legislation is expected, according to the House Intelligence Committee. The committee voted 18-2 last Wednesday to approve the amended bill and send it to the House floor.

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CISPA would allow private companies, including Internet service providers, banks, and e-commerce sites, to share a wide range of customer information they believe is related to cyberthreats with U.S. agencies like the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

The bill would give those businesses protections from lawsuits for sharing customer information, but it does not require companies to make reasonable efforts to remove unrelated private information from the cyber threat information they share.

Privacy and digital liberties groups have objected to the provisions in CISPA that would allow companies to share customer information with the NSA. The committee rejected efforts to keep cyber security authority in civilian agency hands, Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said in an email.

"CISPA ... would overturn 20 years of civilian control of the government's cybersecurity efforts for the .com sector and house them in a secretive military intelligence agency," Nojeim added.

The committee did adopt an amendment last week that limited the shared information from being used for national security purposes unrelated to cyber security, and Nojeim praised that decision. But "the failure to ensure continued civilian control of cybersecurity ensures continued opposition of the civil liberties community to CISPA," he added.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also maintained its opposition to the bill after last Wednesday's committee vote. "The changes to the bill don't address the major privacy problems we have been raising about CISPA for almost a year and a half," Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel at the ACLU's Washington legislative office, said by email. "CISPA still permits companies to share sensitive and personal customer information with the government and allows the National Security Agency to collect the internet records of everyday Americans."

The sharing of personal information with the NSA will "not protect critical infrastructure from intrusion and attack," she added.

The committee took several steps to protect privacy during votes on amendments, supporters said. The committee accepted an amendment that prohibits companies from counterattacking, or hacking back, cyber attackers after digital rights groups raised concerns that the bill's language could allow such activity.

Another amendment would limit the private sector's use of any cyber security information received to only cyber security uses.

Several tech trade groups praised the legislation. "There is a pressing need to bolster America's ability to prevent cyber attacks," said Robert Holleyman, president and CEO of the BSA, a software trade group, said.

Several amendments made to the bill will protect privacy, Holleyman said in a statement. "BSA firmly believes that increased cyber security does not have to come at the expense of privacy or civil liberties," he added. "On the contrary, increased security can enhance citizens' privacy by preventing private information from ending up in the hands of cyber criminals."

A version of CISPA passed the House by a vote of 248-168 a year ago, but the bill failed to advance through the Senate. President Barack Obama, citing privacy concerns, threatened a veto of that version, and the White House National Security Council has raised concerns about this year's version of the bill.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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