The U.S. House of Representatives moved closer Wednesday toward the passage of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), despite concerns that the cyber threat information-sharing bill will allow Web-based companies to share a wide amount of customer information with government agencies.
The House on Wednesday debated several amendments to the bill, some of them minor changes related to what groups government agencies can share cyber threat information with. The House, in a 227-192 vote Wednesday, rejected efforts by some Democrats to allow additional amendments to overhaul privacy protections in the bill.
The House is scheduled to continue debate on amendments and vote on CISPA Thursday. The bill is likely to pass in the House, even though President Barack Obama has threatened a veto over privacy concerns.
The bill is a backdoor attack on the U.S. Constitution's fourth amendment prohibiting unreasonable searches, said Representative Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat. "This is the biggest government takeover of personal information that I've seen during my time here in Congress," he said.
CISPA would allow government intelligence agencies to share cyber threat information with private companies and would allow private companies to share the same information with each other and with government agencies. The bill protects companies that share cyber threat information from lawsuits by customers.
The bill is needed because U.S. intelligence agencies are now prohibited from sharing classified information with private companies under current U.S. law, supporters said. Several lawmakers said the bill is an important step forward in the fight against pervasive cyber attacks.
The bill allows, but does not require, private companies to share information with government agencies, and the bill limits government agencies to using the shared information for cyber security and a handful of other purposes, said Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chief sponsor of CISPA.
In addition, the bill requires intelligence agencies to issue an annual report on the privacy implications of CISPA, he said. The House Intelligence Committee made 19 changes to the bill this year in response to privacy concerns, he said.
CISPA only allows companies to share "ones and zeros" with government agencies in "machine-to-machine" transfers of information about cyber threats, Rogers said.
Without CISPA, Internet users may lose confidence in the safety of their information, he said. "People were stealing their identities, their accounts, their intellectual property, and subsequent to that, their jobs," he said. "[Web users] began to question the value of getting on Internet and using [it] for commercial purposes. Their trust in the free and open Internet ... was at risk."
But several House Democrats argued the bill does not contain enough privacy protections.
The language in CISPA leaves it "wide open" for abuse, Polis argued on the House floor. The bill allows companies to share information with government agencies for a handful of reasons unrelated to cyber security, including the prevention of bodily harm, he noted. Bodily harm, as defined in U.S. statute, could mean minor cuts or dog bites, he said.
The bill does not require companies to scrub personal data from the information they share with government agencies, instead requiring the agencies to minimize the personal information after they receive the data. But if companies share cyber threat information with each other, there are no protections for personal data, said Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat.
The bill gives private companies "broad immunity without any responsibility" to protect personal information, he said. Although sponsors pointed to support from a number of tech companies and trade groups, that "doesn't mean it's good policy," he added.
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 email address is email@example.com.