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New cybersecurity bill: Privacy threat or crucial band-aid?

The cybersecurity bill was a flash point for privacy advocates a year ago. Now, changes have been made to the bill, which was the focus of a closed hearing Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee.

By Staff writer / April 10, 2013

In this Oct. photo, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich. (l.) and the committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, D-Md., participate in a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File

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Cyberthreat information sharing between private industry and government is getting a fresh look in Congress, even as civil-liberties groups cry foul over what they say are onerous provisions in a bill that runs roughshod over citizen privacy.

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If that seems like déjà vu all over again, it’s because it is: The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was a flash point for privacy advocates a year ago, and now, it’s the focus of a closed hearing Wednesday by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The idea of cybersecurity legislation winning fresh attention isn’t too surprising given the drumbeat of cyber-insecurity in past months – reports of Chinese cyberspying on US companies, bank websites under attack, news organizations’ computers infiltrated. Key government officials have even declared the United States vulnerable to a Pearl Harbor-type cyberattack.

In response, the White House has ramped up cyberdiscussions with Russia and China, challenged China on cyberspying, and issued an executive order to boost the network protection for critical infrastructure.

Congress, meanwhile, has done – well, not too much really.

Feeling the heat, Reps. Mike Rogers (R) of Michigan and C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D) of Maryland, the chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, this month outlined changes to CISPA – reportedly including up to five amendments intended to address privacy concerns and help its chances of winning Senate and White House approval.

The earlier version of CISPA, which did not include those amendments, passed the House last spring, but was opposed by the White House and did not advance in the Senate.

“This is clearly not a theoretical threat – the recent spike in advanced cyber attacks against the banks and newspapers makes that crystal clear,” Representative Rogers said in a statement. “American businesses are under siege. We need to provide American companies the information they need to better protect their networks from these dangerous cyber threats. It is time to stop admiring this problem and deal with it immediately.”

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