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White House Indicates Support for Cybersecurity Bill That Includes CISPA-Like Language

May 4, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

After indicating that they may veto the House’s cybersecurity bill (CISPA) over privacy concerns, the Obama Administration is reaffirming its support for a competing cybersecurity bill in the Senate, the Lieberman-Collins “Cybersecurity Act of 2012.” Problem is, the Lieberman-Collins bill is nearly as bad on privacy as CISPA.

During a taping for C-SPAN this morning, White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt indicated that while he would still recommend that President Obama veto CISPA, the Administration is now pushing for passage in the Senate of the Lieberman-Collins bill, mainly because of a package of regulations it contains for critical infrastructure, like the electrical grid and transportation systems, that is not in CISPA.

While the Lieberman-Collins bill is a much bigger bill than CISPA, one thing they have in common is a provision that would give internet service providers and web companies preemptive legal immunity for sharing information about their users with the government without a warrant. Title VII of Lieberman-Collins purports to establish “affirmative authority” for any private entity to monitor their users and share information regarding broadly-defined “cybersecurity threats” with the government. The bill explicitly states that the judicial due diligence and privacy safeguards of existing surveillance laws (Notwithstanding chapter 119, 121, or 206 of title 18, United States Code, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.), and the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 151 et seq.), any private entity may…).

While the goal of cybersecurity may be different, the Lieberman-Collins bill, like SOPA and PIPA (and CISPA), is part of a broad movement by a bipartisan group in Congress and some corporations to advance legislation creating special carve-outs to the rule of law as it applies to the internet. The Obama Administration’s position on these bills is a little conflicted, but I think it’s safe to say that they’re main concern right now, with election season in full swing, is optics, and they seem to want to look tough on cybersecurity.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] is eager to pass a cybersecurity bill. In a recent floor speech, Reid named cybersecurity legislation as something they would be taking up in the next work session (i.e. the one beginning when they come back from recess on May 7th), and he has previously stated that the Lieberman-Collins bill is the one he will be bringing up. The bill has bipartisan co-sponsorship and, unless the internet gets active, looks likely to pass.

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