The House voted to approve cybersecurity legislation late on Thursday, defying a civil-liberties backlash and a White House veto threat.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, widely known by its acronym CISPA, would help businesses and government to share cyberthreat information with each other.
The vote sets the stage for a showdown in the Senate, where Democrats are trying to round up support for a different, wide-ranging bill that is backed by the White House but opposed by Republicans because it includes measures to increase government oversight of some private networks.
House backers of CISPA dismissed privacy concerns and focused on proposals that would give companies access to classified cyberthreat information.
The bill would free government agencies to share secret intelligence with businesses to help them protect their networks.
“There is no government surveillance, none, not any in this bill,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., one of CISPA’s main sponsors, said in a floor speech. “It just says if we know we have this [malicious] source code, shouldn’t we be obligated to give it so it doesn’t do something bad to the companies and individuals in America. That is all this bill does.”
That measure has earned the support of companies and industry groups, but it’s a provision that sends information from businesses to government that continued to dominate the debate.
Through incentives like liability protection, CISPA would encourage businesses to share cyberthreat information with government. Once provided to the government, the information could be used by intelligence, defense, or law-enforcement agencies for things considered to be a cybersecurity or national-security issue.
Civil-liberties groups, as well as many Democrats and the White House, argue this undermines many basic privacy rights. “I know it’s 2012 but it sure feels like 1984 in the House today,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.
On Thursday, 23 civil-liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Democracy and Technology, urged lawmakers to oppose CISPA; on Wednesday, White House officials said they would recommend that President Obama veto the bill as it was written then.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, shot back at the White House veto threat at a press conference on Thursday, characterizing the administration’s position as out of touch.
“The bills we're moving this week are common-sense steps that would allow people to communicate with each other, to work together, to build the walls that are necessary in order to prevent cyberterrorism from occurring,” he said.
The House Rules Committee shot down most amendments offered by Democrats who sought to strengthen privacy language, as well as expand the bill to mirror proposals backed by the White House and Senate leaders.
On Thursday the House defeated an amendment, among others, by members of the Homeland Security Committee to extend the information-sharing provisions to institutions such as airports, utilities, and public transit systems, which may not be entirely privately owned.
The House voted to approve more than half a dozen amendments that would specifically define how information can be used; and allow the government to make personal information anonymous; among other changes.
Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., who has worked on data breach legislation, dismissed privacy fears. “Frankly, the privacy concerns are exaggerated,” she said. “There is no bogeyman hiding in the closet. And big brother isn’t tapped into your hard drive.”
Despite the White House opposition, the fight over CISPA breaks down only loosely along party lines.
House Intelligence ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., is a top sponsor, and other Democratic supporters include Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who cochairs the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus.
Fewer Republicans defected, but Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, joined is fellow Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus cochair Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., in opposing CISPA.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where key lawmakers have voiced opposition. Senate Democrats are trying to shore up support for a sweeping cybersecurity bill that aims to address information sharing as well as to give Homeland Security officials more authority to oversee certain private networks.