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House Passes Cable-Backed Cybersecurity Bill

4/30/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — The cable-backed Cyber Intelligence
Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA)
passed the House of Representatives 248-42
late last week, with various amendments to
make it more palatable to privacy groups and
Democrats.

However, the measure faces even more modifications
in the Senate, its Republican backers
conceded — and it will need them if it is to
avoid a veto threat issued by the White House
last week.

The Obama administration favors the Senate
version of a cybersecurity information-sharing
bill that requires the Department of Homeland
Security to oversee cybersecurity guidelines for
industry. That’s a non-starter with House Republicans,
cable operators and phone companies,
all of whom praised the measure’s passage
last week.

“We applaud the U.S. House for taking this
critical step to protect our nation’s communications infrastructure
from cyberattacks that threaten our national
security, harm American consumers and damage our
economy,” National Cable & Telecommunications Association
president Michael Powell, who had plenty of
experience dealing with cyberthreats as Federal Communications
Commission chairman, said.

CISPA allows the government to share information
on cyberthreats with industry, and vice versa, subject to
some restrictions, though not enough of those for privacy
groups. It focuses on industry self-regulation and would
allow the government to share classified cyberthreat information
with cable operators and others in the interests
of forewarning to forearm.

Among the sweetener amendments agreed to overwhelmingly
by Republicans and Democrats is one that
sunsets the bill’s provisions in five years, which means
it would be subject to review prior to renewal. There
were also amendments to narrow the definitions in the
bill, restrict how government could share information
and to make it clear that the information being shared
between industry and government was subject to the
federal Freedom of Information Act, with the usual exemptions.

But bill opponents, including privacy groups and many
Democrats, are still concerned about the bill’s liability
protections for companies. They said those encourage
companies to dump data, including personal data, on the
government; fail to limit the extent to which the government
can use that information; and argue that the rubric of “national
security” could cover a multitude of perceived sins.

Companies are encouraged, but not required, to delete
personal-information identifiers from any shared information.

Bill critics talked about the legislation sweeping away
privacy protections and empowering government spying,
charges that appeared to frustrate Republican bill backers
who maintained it was a narrow bill and that it was time to
take a first step, suggesting there would be opportunity for
more refinements and narrowing in the Senate.

By late last week, the criticisms of the bipartisan bill,
which had passed 17-1 from the House Intelligence Committee,
started sounding like the pushback on another bipartisan
online bill that gave government more power and
industry more liability protections, the Stop Online Piracy
Act (SOPA). That legislation was eventually killed.

In fact, several legislators went out of their way to say
this was not a repeat of SOPA, pointing out that nothing in
the bill allows the government to block websites or movie
downloads. “This is not SOPA,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger
(D-Md.), co-sponsor of the bill.

The CISPA debate avoided the scorched-earth rhetoric
of the SOPA debate, and was even backed by Facebook, an
opponent of the piracy bill, bolstering hope for some kind
of compromise bill given that both sides see cyberthreats
as a clear and present danger.

The bill does not include an preventing an employer
from asking for a Facebook or Twitter password as a condition
of employment. It was not directly related to the bill,
but it has been in the news and on some legislators’ minds
for weeks now, and was pushed by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (DColo.).

Bill co-sponsor Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) expressed frustration
that the amendment was offered, saying it was
another one of the “kitchen-sink” items opponents had
thrown at a bill he was attempting to keep as narrow as
possible.

September