Civil-liberties groups urge rejection of White House-supported cyber bill

A coalition of civil-liberties groups urged the Senate on Thursday to reject the White House's preferred cybersecurity bill, which is sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others warned that the Lieberman-Collins Cybersecurity Act would allow military spy agencies to gain access to people's personal information. 

The coalition also included free-market groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Conservative Union and Americans for Limited Government.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Lieberman-Collins bill would remove legal barriers that prevent companies from sharing information with each other and with the government. It would also set minimum cybersecurity standards for critical infrastructure, such as electrical grids or gas pipelines. 

The measure is widely considered to have stronger privacy protections than the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which the House approved last month despite a veto threat from the White House.

The White House, which has endorsed the Lieberman-Collins measure, said the House bill lacked adequate protections for people's personal information and would fail to protect critical infrastructure. 

The civil-liberties groups lobbied aggressively against CISPA, but in their letter to the Senate on Thursday, they said the Lieberman-Collins bill also falls short.

They argued that the bill's provision allowing companies to share sensitive information "notwithstanding any law" is overly broad.

The groups criticized the measure for allowing companies to hand over information directly to spy agencies, such as the National Security Agency. They argued that only a civilian agency, such as the Homeland Security Department, should have direct access to the information.

Unlike CISPA, the Lieberman-Collins bill gives the Homeland Security Department a central role in overseeing the flow of information, but the bill would still allow the Homeland Security Department to authorize spy agencies to collect civilian data. 

The groups criticized the bill for allowing the government to use the information for criminal investigations unrelated to cybersecurity. They also said the bill's immunity provisions are overly broad.

"Therefore, we urge you to oppose S. 2105 in its current form and to support amendments to address each of these fundamental civil liberties issues," the groups wrote.

Leslie Phillips, a spokeswoman for Lieberman, said the senator is working to address the privacy concerns. 

"Senator Lieberman and his colleagues have been discussing possible revisions with many of those very same groups to strengthen privacy and civil liberty provisions in the Cybersecurity Act of 2012," she said.

The Senate could vote on the Lieberman-Collins bill as soon as next week.

— Updated at 3:35 p.m. with a statement from Lieberman's office.