Privacy Groups, Reddit Are Urging Obama to Pledge to Veto the Cybersecurity Bill

A bill making its way through the Senate would hand over too much personal data to intelligence agencies in the name of cybersecurity, a coalition warns the president.

National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
July 15, 2014, 6:33 a.m.

It hasn’t passed Con­gress yet, but pri­vacy groups are already ask­ing Pres­id­ent Obama to pledge to veto a con­tro­ver­sial cy­ber­se­cur­ity bill they fear would bol­ster the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s spy­ing powers.

In a let­ter sent to Obama on Tues­day, Ac­cess, the Elec­tron­ic Fron­ti­er Found­a­tion, Red­dit, and dozens of oth­er pri­vacy and In­ter­net free­dom groups urged the pres­id­ent to pub­licly op­pose the Cy­ber­se­cur­ity In­form­a­tion Shar­ing Act, which would make it easi­er for com­pan­ies and the gov­ern­ment to share sens­it­ive data with one an­oth­er about cy­ber­at­tacks.

“Le­gis­la­tion that fo­cuses ex­clus­ively on fa­cil­it­a­tion of in­form­a­tion shar­ing “¦ jeop­ard­izes the found­a­tion of cy­ber­se­cur­ity by im­prop­erly pit­ting hu­man rights against se­cur­ity,” the let­ter reads. “We urge you to pledge to veto CISA and all fu­ture le­gis­la­tion that takes a sim­il­ar ap­proach.”

The let­ter comes just a week after the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee cleared the le­gis­la­tion 12-3 dur­ing a closed-door vote. Sen. Di­anne Fein­stein, the pan­el’s chair­wo­man, said the meas­ure will help re­tail­ers and oth­ers pro­tect the per­son­al in­form­a­tion of cus­tom­ers and help thwart hack­ing at­tempts by for­eign gov­ern­ments.

CISA would make it pos­sible for busi­nesses and gov­ern­ment agen­cies to swap data about po­ten­tial hack­ers and se­cur­ity flaws in or­der to learn best prac­tices for de­fend­ing against such ma­li­cious activ­ity.

But a fa­mil­i­ar chor­us of pri­vacy and In­ter­net free­dom groups have ris­en up in op­pos­i­tion to the bill, which they say is too sim­il­ar to the Cy­ber In­tel­li­gence Shar­ing and Pro­tec­tion Act that the House passed last year. That pas­sage came des­pite Obama say­ing he would veto the meas­ure for lack­ing ap­pro­pri­ate safe­guards on pri­vacy and con­fid­en­ti­al­ity.

Some of the Sen­ate bill’s lan­guage seeks to pro­tect pri­vacy by re­quir­ing com­pan­ies that share in­form­a­tion to first re­move per­son­ally iden­ti­fi­able data (e.g. names or So­cial Se­cur­ity num­bers) of Amer­ic­ans.

Those of­fer­ings have not as­suaged con­cerns of pri­vacy ad­voc­ates, however, who ar­gue the le­gis­la­tion would make it easi­er for a com­pany like Face­book to turn over vast quant­it­ies of private on­line data to the gov­ern­ment. Skep­tics say in­form­a­tion giv­en to the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment would be also de­livered to the NSA and oth­er in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.

In ad­di­tion, the let­ter main­tains that im­munity pro­tec­tions for com­pan­ies lim­it their in­terest in pro­tect­ing cus­tom­er data and do not re­quire per­son­al in­form­a­tion to be stripped out be­fore data is shared with the gov­ern­ment un­less there is veri­fi­able know­ledge that such in­form­a­tion is present.

“While amend­ments at­tached to CISA dur­ing the com­mit­tee markup al­le­vi­ate con­cerns about the bill’s dis­pro­por­tion­ate im­pact on non-U.S. per­sons, the re­vised bill fails to cor­rect many of the bill’s most ba­sic prob­lems,” the let­ter states. “In fact, while amend­ments os­tens­ibly re­quire ad­di­tion­al lim­ited data use and re­ten­tion lim­it­a­tions, those pro­vi­sions are left wide open to secret gov­ern­ment in­ter­pret­a­tion.”

Crit­ics of gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance have long ar­gued that in­tel­li­gence agen­cies op­er­ate un­der loose in­ter­pret­a­tions of vague stat­utes to col­lect far more data on Amer­ic­ans than Con­gress in­ten­ded to al­low.

It is un­clear when the full Sen­ate may con­sider CISA, but some aides have said its back­ers may at­tempt a vote be­fore the Au­gust re­cess.

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