The U.S. Passes a New Cybersecurity Bill

The Bill makes it faster and easier for companies and enterprises to share information about cyber-security threats with each other and the government without the fear of lawsuits or prosecution.

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to approve legislation that would encourage companies to share cyberattack information amongst themselves, despite ongoing concerns that it would put new consumer information in the hands of surveillance agencies. The protests of a few dozen privacy and civil liberties organizations hasn’t stopped them from voting in favor of the bill.

Protecting Cyber Networks Act

On Wednesday, April 22, the House of Representatives voted 307-116 to pass the Protecting Cyber Networks Act. This is a bill designed to allow more fluid sharing of cyber-security threat data between corporations and government agencies. This new system of information-sharing, is designed to act as a real-time immune system against hacker attacks, allowing companies to warn each other via government intermediaries (who listen in) about the tools and techniques of advanced hackers.

The proponents

Critics of the bill say that this new system will threaten to result in a new means of surveillance of American citizens. However, Congressman Adam Schiff, who led the advocacy for the bill on the House floor contested in a statement to reports that PCNA in fact supports privacy by protecting Americans from future hacker breaches.

“We do this while recognizing the huge and growing threat cyber hacking and cyber espionage poses to our privacy, as well as to our financial well-being and our jobs,” he writes.

“In the process of drafting this bill, protecting privacy was at the forefront throughout, and we consulted extensively with privacy and civil liberties groups, incorporating their suggestions in many cases. This is a strong bill that protects privacy, and one that I expect will get even better as the process goes forward—we expect to see large bipartisan support on the Floor.”

“Every day we delay, more privacy is stolen, more jobs are lost and more economic harm is done,” he added. “Let’s stop sitting by and watching all this happen. Let’s do something.”

The opponents

Opponents argue that the PCNA allows too much information to be passed to the NSA even after revelations in recent years of huge surveillance programs being undertaken there.

“Congress is asking the American people for a blank check,” Colorado Democrat Representative Jared Polis said. “Congress is asking the American people to trust the president” even after lawmakers and President Barack Obama have done little to rein in the NSA.

A letter, signed earlier this week by 55 liberties groups and security experts that includes the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Human Rights watch and many others, reads: “PCNA would significantly increase the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) access to personal information, and authorize the federal government to use that information for a myriad of purposes unrelated to cyber-security.”

“The revelations of the past two years concerning the intelligence community’s abuses of surveillance authorities and the scope of its collection and use of individuals’ information demonstrates the potential for government overreach, particularly when statutory language is broad or ambiguous,” the letter continues. “[PCNA] fails to provide strong privacy protections or adequate clarity about what actions can be taken, what information can be shared, and how that information may be used by the government.”

The Obama administration voiced support for House passage of the bill but called on lawmakers to make significant changes to improve privacy and limit liability protections.