Controversial Cybersecurity Bill Wins Qualified Support From White House

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By Alexei Alexis

April 21 — The Obama administration said it supports passage of a controversial cybersecurity bill slated for House floor action on April 22, while calling for changes to the measure.

The bill (H.R. 1560), which was developed by the House Intelligence Committee, would provide liability protection to companies that voluntarily share cyberthreat information with other private entities or the government.

“Several improvements to the bill are needed to ensure that it appropriately encourages and facilitates information sharing while safeguarding individuals' privacy interests and civil liberties,” the administration said in an April 21 statement of policy.

The administration issued a similar statement on a version (H.R. 1731) from the House Homeland Security Committee. That bill is scheduled for an April 23 House vote.

Both measures, the administration said, include “sweeping” liability protections, as well as language that would authorize potentially “disruptive” defensive measures by the private sector in response to hacking incidents.

Public interest groups strongly urged House members to oppose the Intelligence bill, calling it a threat to Americans' privacy.

The legislation “would significantly increase the National Security Agency’s (NSA) access to personal information, and authorize the federal government to use that information for a myriad of purposes unrelated to cybersecurity,” said an April 20 letter signed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Center for National Security Studies, Electronic Frontier Foundation, New America’s Open Technology Institute, and the Government Accountability Project, among other groups. “The revelations of the past two years concerning the intelligence community’s abuses of surveillance authorities and the scope of its collection and use of individuals’ information demonstrates the potential for government overreach, particularly when statutory language is broad or ambiguous.”

A key difference between the proposals is that the Homeland Security measure would designate a Department of Homeland Security portal as the main hub for information sharing between private companies and the government, while the Intelligence bill would not designate any specific portal, an Intelligence Committee aide told Bloomberg BNA.

Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel for the ACLU, told Bloomberg BNA that the Homeland Security bill, with some tweaks, would be a significant improvement over the Intelligence version.

Liability Risks 

The bills address concerns that U.S. companies currently face liability risks, such as shareholder or customer lawsuits, when they choose to voluntarily disclose cybersecurity-related information.

“H.R. 1731 and H.R. 1560, as passed, could help foster a more robust cyber threat information sharing ecosystem,” a coalition of financial sector groups said in an April 21 letter to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Telecommunications industry groups said the bills would provide “critically important authorizations.”

“With President Obama having called on Congress to pass information sharing legislation this year, we are closer than ever to achieving enactment of a cybersecurity bill that can make an enormous difference in defending against cyber attacks that, at a minimum, cause real harm to individual consumers and, at their worst, threaten to cripple our nation’s economy,” the groups said in a letter.

Similar legislation died in the previous Congress after intense opposition from privacy advocates.

In a related development, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced April 21 that his agency is finalizing plans to open up a satellite office in Silicon Valley.

“We want to strengthen critical relationships in Silicon Valley and ensure that the government and the private sector benefit from each other’s research and development,” Johnson said at the 2015 RSA conference in San Francisco, according to prepared remarks.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexei Alexis in Washington at aalexis

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at

The administration's statement on H.R. 1560 is online at:

The administration's statement on H.R. 1731 is at:

The public interest groups' letter is online at:$File/New%20America.pdf.

The financial industry letter is available at:

The telecom industry letter is available at: