House panel to reintroduce controversial cyber bill, setting up White House fight

The leaders of the House Intelligence Committee plan to re-introduce on Wednesday a controversial cybersecurity bill that has faced pushback from the White House.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said Friday that they plan to re-introduce the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) next week during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. The bill is aimed at improving information-sharing about cyber threats between government and industry so cyberattacks can be thwarted in real time.

The bill that Rogers and Ruppersberger plan to introduce next week will be identical to the version of CISPA that passed the House last spring.

The White House issued a veto threat against CISPA before it was taken up on the House floor last year, saying the president's top advisers would recommend that he veto the bill if it came to his desk. It's unclear whether the White House would issue a similar threat this time around due to its concern over a lack of privacy protections in the bill.

A spokeswoman for the White House did not respond to a request for comment on what action it planned to take.

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The bill would allow the government, namely the intelligence community, to share classified cyber threat information with the private sector so companies can protect their computer systems and networks from cyberattacks. It would also encourage companies to share anonymous cyber-threat information with one another, and provide liability protection for businesses so they don't get hit with legal action for sharing data about cyber threats.


House Intelligence Committee ranking member Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) and Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.)
From left to right: House Intelligence Committee 
ranking member Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger 
(D-Md.) and Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.). 
The two plan to reintroduce CISPA legislation 
during a speech next week 
 | File photos, Greg Nash/The Hill

In a statement, Rogers said the recent cyberattacks against U.S. banks and newspapers have highlighted the need for Congress to pass the information-sharing bill. 

“American businesses are under siege," Rogers said. "We need to provide American companies the information they need to better protect their networks from these dangerous cyber threats.  It is time to stop admiring this problem and deal with it immediately.”

The bill was "developed in close consultation with a broad range of private sector companies, trade groups, privacy and civil liberties advocates, and the executive branch," according to the House Intelligence Committee leaders.

Last year CISPA enjoyed support from a range of industry groups and companies, including Facebook, AT&T and Oracle. But civil-liberties groups and privacy advocates rallied hard against CISPA last year, arguing that the measure lacked sufficient privacy protections and would increase the pool of people's electronic communications flowing to the military and secretive National Security Agency. 

Despite the veto threat and pushback that CISPA received, the bill boasted 112 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle  and cleared the House. The bill went untouched in the Senate, largely because the upper chamber was working on its own comprehensive measure last year.

In a speech earlier this week, Rogers attempted to head off the privacy concerns raised about the bill last year.

"We're talking about exchanging packets of information, zeroes and ones, if you will, one hundred millions times a second," he said. "So some notion that this is a horrible invasion of content reading is wrong. It is not even close to that."

But privacy and civil-liberties advocates expect to revive their efforts to fight against the bill this year. Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel in the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington office, argued that CISPA opponents have the White House veto threat on their side. Privacy advocates also backed the information-sharing section of a cybersecurity bill in the Senate last year, which the House Intelligence Committee could use as a template for their legislation, she said.

"I think it's a different ballgame this time," Richardson said. "I feel emboldened after what happened in the Senate last fall and [with] the veto threat."

"I don't think this sort of broad and unaccountable approach to information sharing [legislation] is going to go anywhere," she added.