Republicans proceed with cybersecurity bill despite White House opposition over privacy issues

WASHINGTON – House Republicans are pushing ahead with legislation to protect America’s critical infrastructure and corporations from electronic attacks despite Obama administration objections that the legislation fails to protect Americans’ civil liberties.

The House of Representatives begins work Thursday on the bill designed to address the cybersecurity threat by getting the private sector and government to share information to thwart attacks from foreign governments, terrorists and cybercriminals.

Although the information sharing is voluntary, civil liberty groups fear that the measure could lead to government spying on Americans.

The administration objections run deeper.

“The sharing of information must be conducted in a manner that preserves Americans’ privacy, data confidentiality and civil liberties and recognizes the civilian nature of cyberspace,” the administration said in a statement Wednesday. “Cybersecurity and privacy are not mutually exclusive.”

The administration also complained that the bill’s liability protection for companies that share information is too broad and argued that the Homeland Security Department should have a primary role in domestic cybersecurity. In its current form, the administration said, the president’s advisers would recommend a veto.

Yet, the White House opposition is not expected to derail the House bill that has bipartisan support, Republicans and Democrats said Wednesday.

“It certainly will have an impact I think on the margin of the vote, but the bill is still likely to pass,” said Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who had hoped to amend the bill by limiting the government’s ability to collect information that could be used to identify individuals, such as birthdays. His measure reflected the concerns of the White House, but Republicans refused to allow its consideration.

A final vote on the overall bill is expected Friday.

Republicans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and companies such as Facebook and Google are receptive to the legislation because it does not impose new regulations on businesses to share information, making that step voluntary.

One significant foe also has signalled that it won’t work to defeat the bill. The Center for Democracy and Technology, a leading organization on Internet freedom, said this week that the Intelligence Committee had made “important privacy improvements” in the bill. The organization still raised concerns about the flow of Internet data to the National Security Agency.

“We will not oppose the process moving forward in the House,” the group said in a statement. “We will focus on the amendments and subsequently on the Senate.”

The administration backs a Senate bill sponsored by Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman and Republican Sen. Susan Collins that would give Homeland Security the authority to establish security standards.

However, that legislation remains stalled, facing opposition from senior Senate Republicans.

House Republicans are determined to secure passage of their bill, a step they hope will force the Senate to act.