Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee moved on Tuesday to head off civil-liberties concerns over proposed cybersecurity legislation.
Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., are pushing their Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011, known as CISPA, which would encourage businesses and government agencies to share information with each other.
“We didn’t want this to be anything other than an ability for the government to share information with the private sector so they can protect their networks,” Rogers told reporters on Tuesday.
Civil-liberties groups have raised concerns that overly broad language in the bill could effectively allow widespread government surveillance of private communications. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Center for Democracy and Technology have launched a higher-profile effort to highlight their concerns.
“Rogers makes no effort to list the specific categories of cyberthreat indicators that may be shared, instead offering a very broad, almost unlimited definition of the information that can be shared with government agencies,” CDT President Leslie Harris wrote in an op-ed for ABCnews.com on Tuesday. “It allows companies to share any information ‘pertaining to the protection of’ a system or network.”
She warned of an “epic” loss of civil liberties if changes aren’t made to the proposals.
But Rogers and Ruppersberger argued that critics are overstating the potential impact and misrepresenting the content of the 13-page bill.
Any suggestions the legislation could lead to government surveillance are “absolutely inaccurate,” Rogers said. He added that the information-sharing measures are completely voluntary and businesses won’t be required to give up any information. In addition, safeguards will be placed to ensure the information is limited and made anonymous, Rogers said.
Companies can only provide information related to cyberthreats, but the bill’s sponsors admitted that once government officials have the information, it may be used to confront other national-security threats.
The House is expected to take up CISPA as well as other cybersecurity legislation during the week of April 23. The Senate is also considering proposals that could, among other things, give Homeland Security officials more oversight of private networks.