New cyberthreat information sharing bill may be more friendly to privacy

The new bill still allows companies to share some unnecessary personal information with government agencies, a critic says

A new bill designed to encourage businesses and government agencies to share information about cyberthreats with each other may go farther toward protecting the privacy of Internet users than other recent legislation in the U.S. Congress.

The National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement NCPA Act, introduced Monday in the House of Representatives by two Texas Republicans, appears to do a "much better job" at protecting privacy than two bills that have passed through the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, said Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute.

The bill differs from the House Intelligence Committee's Protecting Cyber Networks Act [PCNA] and the Senate Intelligence Committee's Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act [CISA] in that it doesn't allow government agencies to share cyberthreat information they've received from private companies with law enforcement for purposes unrelated to cybersecurity, Greene said by email.

The new House bill "doesn't verge on cybersurveillance by letting law enforcement use information that it would receive in investigations and prosecutions that have nothing to do with cybersecurity," she added. "The government would only be allowed to use the information for cybersecurity purposes."

Still, the NCPA raises some concerns, Greene said. It would allow companies to share some "unnecessary" personal information with government agencies, and it authorizes companies to deploy defensive measures that could harm "innocent" network users who aren't cyberattackers, she said.

Privacy advocates have opposed several cyberthreat information sharing bills in recent years over fears that those bills would allow companies to share nearly unlimited information about their users with government agencies. Some of the bills allow agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security to pass that information on to law enforcement agencies such as the FBI for criminal investigations unrelated to cyberthreats.

The NCPA was introduced by Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Representative John Ratcliffe, chairman of the committee's cybersecurity subcommittee. Congress must take action to defend U.S. networks, they said in a joint statement.

"Cybercriminals, hacktivists and nation states will never stop targeting Americans' private information and American companies' and government networks to damage, disturb and steal intellectual property and U.S. Government secrets," they said.

Like other cyberthreat information sharing bills, it would shield companies that share information with the government from user lawsuits. Companies sharing information are required to take "reasonable efforts" to avoid disclosing personal information.

The bill's lawsuit protections don't apply when a company has engaged in "willful misconduct' while sharing information, according to the bill text.

The House Homeland Security Committee is scheduled to debate and vote on the bill on Tuesday, a quick time frame for committee action on a bill.

Republicans in Congress have fast-tracked their cyberthreat information sharing bills. The House Intelligence Committee voted in late March to approve the Protecting Cyber Networks Act, just two days after the bill was introduced.

Earlier in the month, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted in a closed-door session to approve the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags governmentsecurityprivacylegislationdata protectionNew America FoundationU.S. House of RepresentativesMichael McCaulRobyn GreeneJohn Ratcliffe

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Grant Gross

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