Protecting Internet freedom is a priority

From checking the morning news online to checking our bank balance during the day to uploading pictures of our children to social media in the evening, the Internet has become an essential part of everyday life in America.

Unfortunately, the freedom and openness of the Internet is under assault by Chinese, Russian and other foreign hackers seeking to disrupt our networks and steal anything they can get their hands on, including Americans’ personal information. According to U.S. Cyber Command, $400 billion of U.S. trade secrets are stolen each year.

Early in our careers, we both took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. For Rep. Mike Rogers, it was as a young FBI agent; for Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, it was as a young state’s attorney in Maryland. 

The privacy and civil liberties rights enshrined in the Constitution that we swore to protect are threatened daily as foreign hackers steal unfathomable amounts of information from our computer networks. These networks contain our most important personal information, including our banking, medical and family records. Secure computer networks are vital to ensuring that the Internet remains a key and open forum for individual expression — America simply cannot turn a blind eye to this threat any longer. 

We believe that legislation is needed to protect the personal information contained on these networks. That is why we have re-introduced the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). CISPA will help protect Internet freedom and Americans’ private information by giving the country the tools it needs to defend key infrastructure from its enemies.

Most associate cybersecurity with the protection of government, utility, transportation and financial systems. But cybersecurity is not limited to military information and energy grids. National news organizations including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post recently all reported that they were subject to cyberattacks. The recent cyberattacks on media outlets were an attempt to intimidate and harass newspapers that dared publish information critical of the Chinese government. Cyberattackers have hacked into American think tanks that have published papers critical of the Chinese government, in an attempt to squash any dissent. The Chinese are very good at squashing internal political dissent, and they are now attempting to bring those threats across the ocean to our shores. 

These attackers have stolen Americans’ most personal information, including banking and health records, which can be used for identity theft or blackmail purposes. Using sophisticated distributed denial of service attacks, foreign cyberattackers are also shutting down websites critical to Americans’ everyday lives, such as banking websites — compromising not only your bank account, but also the freedom of the Internet.

CISPA was drafted to protect individuals’ privacy and civil liberties while still enabling effective cyber threat information-sharing. At the suggestion of several privacy and civil liberties groups, we made numerous changes to the act to further narrow its scope and purpose to ensure protection of these liberties. CISPA does not allow the federal government to read your email or your Facebook posts or monitor your Internet activity. 

The definitions in the bill were narrowed on the House floor to better ensure the bill’s authorities could not be misinterpreted or misused for broader purposes. CISPA was also amended to restrict how the government can use the threat information shared by industry to four narrow categories: cybersecurity; investigation and prosecution of cybersecurity crimes; protection of individuals from the danger of death or physical injury; and protection of minors from physical or psychological harm such as child pornography. 

Contrary to some assertions, CISPA does not provide any new authorities for the government to monitor private networks. Moreover, a private company can restrict the information it shares, to minimize or anonymize any personal information before sharing the cyber threat information. CISPA is also designed to prevent companies from sharing information about an individual customer or subscriber. Finally, the bill also requires an annual report from the intelligence community’s inspector general to ensure that none of the information provided to government is mishandled or misused.

Making the Internet more secure will itself protect Americans’ privacy, civil liberties and Internet freedoms, which are presently being whittled away with each successful foreign cyberattack. 

Few of us can imagine life without the Internet. We believe this bill is necessary to protect the very freedom and openness that created the immeasurable benefits the Internet has provided to the world.

Rogers and Ruppersberger are, respectively, the chairman and ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.