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Gerry Smith
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CISPA: Cybersecurity Bill Authors Defend Legislation Against 'Privacy Disaster' Claims

Posted: 04/10/2012 3:55 pm Updated: 04/10/2012 11:39 pm

Authors of a cybersecurity bill sought to rebut criticisms on Tuesday from civil liberties groups who say the legislation does not protect consumers from having their private data shared with the government.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, sponsored by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), seeks to give businesses and the federal government legal protection to share cyber threats with each other in an effort to thwart hackers.

Currently, they do not share that data because the information is classified and companies fear violating anti-trust law.

But privacy and civil liberties groups say the bill's definition of the consumer data that can be shared with the government is overly broad, and once the data is shared, the government could use that information for other purposes -- such as investigating or prosecuting crimes -- without needing to obtain a warrant. They also criticize the legislation for not requiring companies to make customer information anonymous before sharing it with the government.

Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, called the bill "a privacy disaster" and "a new backdoor around the Fourth Amendment."

"This is a whole new surveillance program," she told The Huffington Post.

The bill's authors say the legislation bars the government from using the information for other purposes "unless a significant cybersecurity or national security purpose exists." But they said the government should not be restricted in how it uses the data in case it includes evidence of a terrorist plot or child pornography.

They added that the bill includes adequate measures to protect privacy and civil liberties, such as calling for an inspector general to conduct annual audits on how the data is being used.

Rogers described his bill as "non-invasive" and "very limiting."

"This is just about sharing bad information and malicious software and code to allow the private sector to better protect themselves," Rogers told reporters in a conference call Tuesday morning.

The Obama administration declined to comment about the bill. But in a statement, Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said "we would encourage the Congress to craft information sharing legislation carefully with robust protections to safeguard civil liberties and privacy."

Despite concerns, Rogers' bill has widespread bipartisan support, with more than 100 co-sponsors in the House and letters of support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several major technology companies, including Facebook and Microsoft.

In December, the bill sailed through the House Intelligence Committee by a vote of 17 to 1 -- just one day after it was introduced.

The House is expected to vote on the bill the week of April 23.

Thus far, more than 40 cybersecurity bills have been unveiled on Capitol Hill, emerging from a wide range of committees, including Commerce, Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Homeland Security. But the fate of the bills remains uncertain.

In the Senate, competing bills have been introduced amid differences over whether the Department of Homeland Security should be given power to enforce cybersecurity standards at private companies, which own and operate 85 percent of critical infrastructure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he plans to bring the legislation to the Senate floor for a vote in coming weeks.

Rogers and Ruppersberger also sought to refute what they said were false allegations spreading online that the bill is similar to SOPA, a controversial anti-piracy bill that was scuttled earlier this year after widespread Internet protests arguing the bill would censor the web.

Over the weekend, the hacker group Anonymous claimed credit for cyberattacks that briefly crashed the websites of the USTelecom and TechAmerica in retaliation for the trade groups' support of Rogers' cybersecurity legislation.

The hacker group said in a video that despite the defeat of SOPA earlier this year, Rogers' bill was "a new threat" and those who support it have become "sworn enemies of Anonymous."

Rogers said his bill has nothing in common with SOPA.

"They're comparing apples and oranges," Rogers said of Anonymous. The two bills "are so completely different there is absolutely no comparison."

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