Obama resurrects cyberthreat sharing proposal despite privacy concerns

The president calls on Congress to pass cybersecurity legislation he first proposed in 2011

The centerpiece of U.S. President Barack Obama's new cybersecurity proposal is a controversial plan that would allow companies to share more cyberthreat information with government agencies, something that worries some privacy advocates.

The Obama administration on Tuesday resurrected its May 2011 proposal to give private organizations immunity from lawsuits when they share information about cyberattacks with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other agencies. Congress failed to pass the 2011 proposal in part because digital rights groups raised concerns that it would intrude on the privacy of U.S. residents.

Obama's new proposal, which he will outline further in his State of the Union speech next Tuesday, would encourage private companies to share cyberthreat information with DHS, which would then disseminate the information to other federal agencies and private industry groups.

Data breaches at major retailers and a recent attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment "highlight the growing threat that we face in cyberspace," a senior Obama administration official said during a press briefing Tuesday. "In 2015, we need to make a major push to raise the level of cybersecurity across our country and to improve our ability to disrupt and respond to ... cyberincidents when they occur."

The cyberthreat information that Obama would allow to be shared is "primarily technical data" such as IP addresses, the administration official said. Companies would be protected from lawsuits if they take reasonable steps to remove personally identifiable information, he said. Officials will develop guidelines for the use and retention of the data shared, he added.

Obama's proposal has some similarities to controversial cybersecurity legislation the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act [CISPA], reintroduced in Congress this month. But Obama has opposed a previous version of that bill, saying it didn't have enough privacy protections.

Obama's new proposal also includes a call for Congress to pass a national data breach notification bill requiring breached companies to notify affected customers within 30 days. Obama announced that proposal on Monday.

The cybersecurity proposal will also include new laws allowing for the prosecution of the sale of botnets and the overseas sale of stolen credit card and bank account numbers. The proposal would give courts new authority to order the shuttering of botnets used for distributed denial-of-service attacks, the Obama administration said.

While some digital rights groups may raise questions about new cyberthreat-sharing proposals, trade group the Telecommunications Industry Association [TIA], representing manufacturers and suppliers of communications networks, offered initial praise for the proposal, while saying parts of it needed further analysis.

"We are strongly in favor of cybersecurity legislation that will give businesses more access to government information on threats, open channels for greater information sharing between companies, and enhance private sector liability protection," TIA CEO Scott Belcher said in a statement.

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 grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags governmentsecurityregulationlegislationBarack ObamaU.S. White HouseTelecommunications Industry AssociationScott Belcher

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
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