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White House threatens veto of CISPA surveillance bill

Obama lowers the boom on snoop law

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The White House has said that the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), currently before the US House of Representatives, lacks enough privacy protections in its current form and will probably be vetoed if passed.

A statement from the White House Office of Management and Budget said that, while the importance of protecting the national infrastructure from online attacks is paramount, it "strongly opposes" the bill because it lacks proper oversight, could seriously damage individuals' privacy and hands over responsibility for domestic cybersecurity to the NSA, rather than to a civilian body.

"Legislation should address core critical infrastructure vulnerabilities without sacrificing the fundamental values of privacy and civil liberties for our citizens, especially at a time our Nation is facing challenges to our economic well-being and national security," the statement reads.

"The Administration looks forward to continuing to engage with the Congress in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion to enact cybersecurity legislation to address these critical issues. However, for the reasons stated herein, if H.R. 3523 were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."

The bill as it stands sets up a mechanism for government cybersecurity agencies to share threat data with commercial companies, and sets up a mechanism whereby companies can share user information with the government on a voluntary basis. It includes full legal immunity for those companies that participate from any legal action brought by consumers who would like their data to remain private.

This legal shield is a major sticking point with the White House. The statement points out that CISPA would allow companies to dodge any legal action from consumers over data protection, if it could be shown that cybersecurity was involved.

CISPA was introduced in November by introduced by representatives Mike Rogers (R-MI) and "Dutch" Ruppersberger (D-MD) and has 112 co-sponsors, indicating strong support. The White House has obliquely warned against the legislation but now appears to have taken the gloves off and is actively trying to discourage it.

The bill has a lot of cheerleaders from the technology industry, with IBM, Intel, Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, EMC and others sending in letters of support for the legislation, although none of them would comment when El Reg called. Facebook did issue a general statement that is supported the bill because any information sharing would be voluntary, and so would allow Facebook not to participate.

The bill's sponsors have been meeting with privacy groups to try and hammer out a compromise, and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) announced significant progress has been made in tightening up privacy controls.

"The House Intelligence Committee has agreed to support certain amendments that will improve CISPA in terms of privacy and civil liberties," blogged CDT senior counsel Greg Nojeim. "However, the Committee-supported amendments leave two key issues unresolved - the flow of information to the super-secret National Security Agency and the broad purposes for which that information can be used." ®

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