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Business group launches DC ad blitz backing cyber bills

Capitol Hill staffers heading to work on the Metro this week will be surrounded by billboards calling on Congress to “Stop Cyber Threats.”

It’s part of an advertising campaign launched Monday by the Financial Services Roundtable (FSR), a top lobbying group representing banks, insurers, credit card companies and investment firms.

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The House is set to vote Wednesday and Thursday on two major cybersecurity bills that would grant companies liability protections when sharing cyber threat data with civilian government agencies.

Most agree that the public and private sector must exchange more cybersecurity information to better understand hacking tactics and bolster cyber defenses. But companies say they could be subject to regulatory action or shareholder lawsuits without liability protections from Congress.

“Cyber threat information-sharing legislation is long overdue and Congress must continue to work together to get it over the finish line,” said FSR head Tim Pawlenty in a statement.

FSR’s members include banks like Bank of America and Wells Fargo; insurers, such as Allstate and Nationwide; and credit card companies like MasterCard and Visa.

Many industry groups made the legislation a top priority in 2015, and Congress responded. A large bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, government officials and possibly the initially skeptical White House are backing the bills scheduled for votes during the House's "cyber week."

As the measures inched toward a vote, lobbyists ramped up their efforts, peppering congressional leaders with letters urging passage.

Along with its physical ads in the Metro, the FSR is also buying digital ads and created a website to make its case.

“Under current law, companies can state they are the victim of an attack, but can’t describe the attacker or the ‘getaway car’ without facing potential civil and, for some sectors, criminal liability,” the FSR says under a “Facts” portion of the site. “That is the status quo and it is not acceptable.”

Privacy advocates and a coalition of cybersecurity professionals maintain that these fears are overrated.

The government and private sector can already exchange data without fear of legal ramification, security engineers argued in a letter to Congress Friday.

Privacy groups also insist the bills will shuttle more sensitive data to the National Security Agency, further empowering the intelligence community.

Other big-name trade groups like the Chamber of Commerce and National Retail Federation side with the FSR and have been aggressively lobbying for cyber threat-sharing legislation.