House Passes Cybersecurity Bill

CISPA, the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act, passed the House Thursday by a vote of 288 to 127.

That is a pick-up of 40 votes from its House passage in 2012, when it was 288 to 168. The Democrats were almost evenly split this time around, thanks largely to changes to the bill that addressed some of their concerns.

CISPA allows industry to share cyber threat information with the government, allows industries to share that information with each other and provides liability protections for such sharing.

Democrats opposing the bill say it provides too broad immunity for industry, and does not sufficiently protect privacy and civil liberties.

The White House threatened to veto the bill before a raft of changes were made that bill backers say address the key White House concerns.

But the bill must still pass the Senate, where CISPA stalled last time around. If the White House does not echo the veto threat over the final version, it could signal a better chance for passage in that body.

Republicans and Democrats agree that cyber threats are real and growing, and that the government needs to boost coordination of industry and government defenses.

For his part, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D- W. Va.), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, pledged to work toward bipartisan legislation in the Senate, though he signaled there would have to be changes and/or additions, which would then require another House vote or a vote on a new bill.

"Today's action in the House is important, even if CISPA's privacy protections are insufficient," he said in a statement. "We need action on all the elements that will strengthen our cybersecurity, not just one, and that's what the Senate will achieve.

"I plan to work with Senator [John] Thune [ranking Commerce Committee member], as well as the Chairmen and Ranking Members on other Committees of jurisdiction, to go through regular order. I believe we can gain bipartisan agreement on bills that we can report out of our Committees and allow Leader Reid to bring them to the Senate floor as early as possible. There is too much at stake - our economic and national security - for Congress to fail to act."

CISPA was backed by the cable industry and various other constituencies, though opposed by some Internet activist groups. Both sides were quick to weigh in after passage Thursday.

"Approval of H.R. 624, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, is an important step in allowing private companies and the government to share critical information on evolving cyber threats," National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell said in a statement. "We appreciate the efforts of House Intelligence Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Ruppersberger to move legislation that balances national security, privacy and civil liberties concerns. Every day, Internet service providers see and respond to a growing number of cyber threats that could cause significant economic damage and personal privacy breaches. H.R. 624 enables private companies and the government to share information that will enhance protection of our Internet infrastructure, consumers and America's economy."

Matt Wood, director of the Free Press Action Fund Policy, said, "We are disappointed that the bill's sponsors once again ignored the overwhelming opposition to this dangerous bill by the public, civil liberties advocates and even the White House. CISPA would still obliterate our privacy laws and chill free expression online. The few amendments made to the legislation do not address all the concerns highlighted by the White House and by the representatives who stood up against CISPA this week. We need to make sure companies remove irrelevant personal information when they share our data, and that companies can be held accountable for ignoring and abusing Internet users' civil liberties."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.