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House passes CISPA bill

The US House of Representatives voted to approve CISPA, the much criticized legislation that aims to protect businesses from cyber attacks.

By Associated Press / April 18, 2013

In this Oct. 8, 2012 file photo, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., left, and the committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, D-Md., participate in a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. The House passed the CISPA Thursday.

J. Scott Applewhite

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Pro-business legislation aimed at helping companies fend off sophisticated foreign hackers sailed through the House on Thursday despite a White House veto threat and an outcry from privacy advocates and civil liberties groups that say it leaves Americans vulnerable to spying by the military.

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The House vote, 288-127, puts the spotlight on the Senate, which hasn't taken up the issue and is consumed with other high-profile issues such as gun control and immigration. The lack of enthusiasm in the Senate and objections by the White House mean that the legislation is in limbo despite an aggressive push by lobbyists representing nearly every corner of industry.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, is widely backed by industry groups that say businesses are struggling to defend themselves against aggressive and sophisticated attacks from hackers in China, Russia and Eastern Europe.

Hackers haven't been able to deliver crippling blows to the U.S. economy or infrastructure, but they have been able to wreak havoc on some key commercial systems. Most recently several news outlets including the New York Times acknowledged that their systems had been penetrated, while banks are said to be quietly fighting daily intrusions. North Korea was recently held responsible for a cyberattack that shut down tens of thousands of computers and servers at South Korean broadcasters and banks.

The bill, said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., strikes "that right balance between our privacy, civil liberties and stopping bad guys in their tracks from ruining what is one-sixth of the U.S. economy."

Under the legislation, businesses and the federal government would be able to share technical data without worrying about anti-trust or classification laws. The bill also would grant businesses legal immunity if hacked so long as they acted in good faith to protect their networks. The bill is sponsored by Rogers and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., the panel's top Democrat.

But privacy advocates and civil liberties groups say the bill would open up Americans' most private online records to the federal government. The bill doesn't include a requirement that companies scrub data of sensitive information like health or credit records before sharing it with the government.

In its veto threat issued Tuesday, the White House echoed that concern.

"Citizens have a right to know that corporations will be held accountable — and not granted immunity — for failing to safeguard personal information adequately," the White House stated.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., had tried to amend the bill to require companies to strip any data of personally identifiable information before sharing it with the government. But Republicans blocked his proposal from being debated on the floor because they said tough mandates might deter companies from participating.

Business groups say the privacy concern is overblown.

"When it comes to sharing, there are practical, business reasons why companies carefully protect" sensitive information, Tim Molino with the Business Software Alliance recently wrote in an online post urging lawmakers to pass the bill.

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