White House backs House cybersecurity bills

The White House on Tuesday publicly supported two major cybersecurity bills set to be voted on by the House later this week.

The measures would increase the exchange of hacking data between the government and private sector. Companies would receive liability protections when sharing data with civilian federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or Treasury Department.

In two Statements of Administration Policy, the White House offered support for the bills even as it expressed some reservations.

Its chief concern is liability protections for companies that it warned might go too far.

“Appropriate liability protections should incentivize good cybersecurity practices and should not grant immunity to a private company for failing to act on information it receives about the security of its networks,” the White House said. 

The administration said overly broad liability protections in both bills could "remove incentives for companies to protect their customers' personal information and may weaken cybersecurity writ large."

Both cybersecurity bills are expected to be approved by the House with more than 300 votes, but the White House support could help efforts in the Senate. 

The White House insisted it believes the two chambers can work together on "a reasonable solution that strikes an appropriate balance."

In January, the White House offered its own legislative cyber info-sharing proposal that would funnel all cyber info-sharing through the Departmen of Homeland Security (DHS).

Such an approach is more palatable to privacy advocates, who believe the DHS is better suited to scrub personal information from the cyber data before it goes to the rest of the government.  

“This approach will help protect privacy, provide for appropriate transparency, and be more effective operationally,” the White House said.

Privacy advocates — who oppose both bills — maintain the House measures would allow the federal government to freely share sensitive data on Americans between agencies, and use it for a broad range of criminal investigations and surveillance efforts.

“This sharing must be governed by certain narrow use limitations — an essential part of overlapping privacy and civil liberties protections that also rely on transparent oversight,” the White House said.

Backers of the bills point to language limiting the the data to cybersecurity uses. The White House would like to see that language strengthened.

“The administration would seek to clarify that information shared with the federal government can be used for investigating, prosecuting, disrupting, or otherwise responding to appropriate crimes," it said.