CISPA sponsors support amendments addressing privacy concerns

A proposed amendment would limit what U.S. agencies can do with shared information

The sponsors of a controversial cyberthreat information-sharing bill will offer new amendments to address privacy concerns, with changes focused on limiting how government agencies can use information shared by private companies, as the bill comes to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives this week.

Sponsors of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, said Tuesday they will support amendments to the legislation, including one that would narrow the way U.S. agencies can use the shared information.

The bill now allows agencies to use the information for a broad range of purposes, but the proposed amendment would limit agencies to acting on cybersecurity issues, on investigations involving potential deaths or serious injury, on investigations involving child pornography and on issues related to U.S. national security. Civil liberties groups had criticized the bill for allowing agencies to use data shared from Internet service providers and other businesses for multiple purposes.

The amendments, which are to be offered by lawmakers when the bill comes to the House floor Thursday, are the result of extensive negotiations with civil liberties groups such as the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and the Constitution Project, said Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chief sponsor of the bill. Facebook has also worked with sponsors to protect its users, Rogers said.

The amendments should address most of the civil liberties and privacy concerns voiced in recent weeks, Rogers said in a press briefing. Rogers is "very, very happy" with the bill with the proposed amendments, he said.

CISPA would allow private companies to share customer communications related to cyberthreats with a wide range of government agencies. The bill exempts private companies that share cyberthreat information in "good faith" from lawsuits from customers.

CDT, a major critic of past versions of the bill, said "good progress has been made" with the proposed amendments. However, the bill still falls short because it would still allow companies to share information with intelligence agencies such as the U.S. National Security Agency, and it would allow government agencies to use shared information for purposes unrelated to cybersecurity, the group said in a statement.

CDT will not oppose the bill in the House "in deference to the good faith efforts" made by its sponsors to address privacy concerns, the group said. The group will push for amendments in the House and in the Senate, which would next consider the bill if it passes the House.

Rogers predicted the bill will pass in the House when it's scheduled for a vote Friday. "What we're trying to do now is make sure there's a comfort level, a transparency about what we're trying to accomplish," he said.

In addition to the limits on agency use of the shared information, a new amendment would require the federal government to notify a private company if it shared information not related to cyberthreats, either deliberately or accidentally. Another amendment defines the type of information that can be shared, with a focus on network vulnerabilities and disruptions, Rogers said.

Rogers noted that several tech groups and vendors support the bill. "There's a reason every corner of the private sector loves this bill," he said. "They need the help, and they need it now. They're absolutely under siege."

The information sharing allowed by the bill is "all voluntary," Rogers added. "There's no new regulatory scheme, and there's no new standards that [businesses] have to go out and figure out how to meet."

The bill sponsors are working to educate other lawmakers and the public about the need for better tools to allow private companies to share cyberthreat information with each other and with the government, said co-sponsor Representative C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat.

"The threat is real," Ruppersberger said. "This is one of the biggest threats our nation faces."

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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