Intelligence lawmakers to amend cybersecurity bill behind closed doors

Members of the media and the public will not be able to watch the House Intelligence Committee's markup next week of a controversial cybersecurity bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).

Lawmakers will be allowed to discuss what happened in the meeting afterward, and the committee plans to release information about what amendments were offered and how lawmakers voted. But the public will not be allowed in the room, and the meeting will not be streamed online. 

Susan Phalen, a spokeswoman for the committee, explained that the Intelligence Committee often restricts access to hearings and that it is possible that lawmakers will need to discuss classified information.

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"Sometimes they'll need to bounce into classified information and go closed for a period of time to talk," she said. "In order to keep the flow of the mark-up continuing forward, you can't stop in the middle of an open hearing, move everyone to another location for a portion of it, and then move back."

She noted that the committee used the same procedure when it marked up CISPA last year. 

The committee has yet to formally schedule the markup, but it is expected to happen next Wednesday. 

The legislation removes legal barriers that prevent companies and the government from sharing information about cyber threats. The bill's sponsors, including Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), argue it is critical for combating the growing number of hackers attacking private and government computer networks. 


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But privacy advocates are rallying against the bill, warning that it would encourage companies to share their customers' sensitive personal information with spy agencies like the National Security Agency.

Greg Nojeim, a counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, argued during a briefing for reporters on Wednesday that CISPA could be used as a "back-door wiretap" to access private information without a warrant. 

Privacy groups are urging the Intelligence Committee to adopt amendments to restrict the scope and use of information collected under CISPA before moving it to the floor.

The Center for Democracy and Technology, along with dozens of other privacy advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Constitution Project, sent a letter to the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, urging the lawmakers to hold an open markup of CISPA.

"The public has a right to know how Congress is conducting the people’s business, particularly when such important wide-ranging policies are at stake," the groups wrote.