House cyber bills may hit floor separately

The two House bills to increase public-private cybersecurity information sharing may hit the floor separately next week after all, despite weeks of speculation the pair would be combined.

The House Intelligence and Homeland Security committees have worked since January to develop two complementary bills.

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Together, the measures would grant companies liability protection when sharing cyber threat data with civilian government agencies.

Committee leaders had hoped to merge their efforts before a floor vote to simplify the path to passage. But according to notifications from the House Rules Committee, the two bills will get individual floor votes.

Repeated breaches at top retailers and banks over the last year have exposed hundreds of millions of Americans’ personal data and shed a light on pervasive weak cybersecurity practices.

Those backing the bills — including many lawmakers, government officials and most industry groups — argue the government and private sector need to exchange more cyber data to better understand hackers and bolster the nation’s cyber defenses.

Privacy advocates remain concerned the potential law could create another outlet for the National Security Agency to collect Americans’ sensitive data.

Those same advocates had also worried about how the House might marry its two bills.

The Homeland bill, which would only give companies liability protections when sharing data with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was seen as stronger on privacy.

The language was more restrictive on what the government could do with the data it collected. The DHS is also seen as having strong technical capabilities for scrubbing personal data.

They had worried some of that verbage might be dropped when combining the bills.

The Intelligence bill would grant liability protections when companies are giving data to any civilian agency, such as the Treasury or Commerce Departments.

Now privacy-focused lawmakers could get a chance on the House floor to show which measure they prefer.