House passes second cyberthreat information-sharing bill

The new bill will be combined with another one that privacy groups have questioned

For the second time in two days, the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to pass a bill that would give legal protections to companies that share cyberattack information.

The House on Thursday voted 355 to 63 to pass the National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement Act (NCPA), which would protect companies from customer lawsuits after they voluntarily share cyberthreat information with each other and with government agencies.

The NCPA is similar in several ways to the Protecting Cyber Networks Act (PCNA), which passed the chamber on Wednesday, despite concerns from some lawmakers that it would allow some customer information to wind up in the hands of surveillance agency the U.S. National Security Agency.

Few lawmakers spoke out against the NCPA during debate Thursday. With a series of high-profile cyberattacks in recent months, it's time for Congress to take action, several argued.

Proponents of cyberthreat information-sharing bills, including many tech companies, have advocated for years for Congress to pass legislation. Companies want to share the information but need assurances they won't be sued later down the road for doing so, backers say.

"Inaction today would be nothing short of reckless," said Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and chief sponsor of the NCPA.

Some lawmakers warned that information sharing may help U.S. companies respond to cyberattacks, but it's not the silver bullet some backers are making it out to be.

Privacy groups have fewer concerns with the NCPA, but haven't wholeheartedly supported the bill. The House plans to combine the two bills before sending cyberthreat information sharing legislation to the Senate, and it's unclear if provisions that raise the most concerns among privacy advocates will be included.

The bill passed Thursday differs from the PCNA 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, Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, said earlier this month.

Still, the NCPA 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.

President Barack Obama's administration called for the House to pass both bills, but also asked lawmakers to make significant changes to both.

The NCPA has "sweeping liability protections" that protect companies that fail to act on information they receive about security of their networks, the White House Office of Management and Budget said this week.

OMB also raised concerns about the defensive measures authorized in the bill, saying they may prevent law enforcement agencies from bringing cyberhacking cases against some attackers. "The use of defensive measures without appropriate safeguards raises significant legal, policy, and diplomatic concerns and can have a direct deleterious impact on information systems and undermine cybersecurity," OMB said in a statement.

Several business and trade groups applauded the House passage of the two information-sharing bills. The legal protections in the bill will allow companies and government agencies to better warn each other of pending cyberattacks, said the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA).

"Early detection and notification is critical to preventing and mitigating attacks, but businesses are often hamstrung in their ability to share essential information," Mark MacCarthy, SIIA's vice president of public policy, said in a statement.

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 New America FoundationsecurityU.S. House of RepresentativesRobyn GreeneU.S. National Security AgencyMichael McCaulMark MacCarthylegislationgovernmentSoftware and Information Industry AssociationWhite House Office of Management and Budget

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