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DATA-SWAP SHOCK: A YES to bill that lets big biz, govt share user info

Intelligence collective clears CISA for full Senate vote

The US Senate Intelligence Committee has approved the controversial cybersecurity bill that will allow for the government and corporate worlds to share data on attacks.

The committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and vice chair Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga) announced that the group had voted 12-3 to approve the legislation.

“Cyber attacks present the greatest threat to our national and economic security today, and the magnitude of the threat is growing,” Senator Feinstein said.

“Every week we hear about the theft of personal information from retailers and trade secrets from innovative businesses, as well as ongoing efforts by foreign nations to hack government networks.

“To strengthen our networks, the government and private sector need to share information about attacks they are facing and how best to defend against them. This bill provides for that sharing through a purely voluntary process and with significant measures to protect private information.”

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2014 (CISA) was born out of the proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) introduced nearly three years ago that was met with so much concern that nearly 400 websites around the world shut down in protest against it.

The worry for privacy groups and web firms with both legislations is that while the laws are ostensibly there so everyone can fight those nasty cybercrims together, they’re also allowing the government to gather user information from businesses so it can identify new attacks. CISPA made it through the US House of Representatives, but was stopped at the Senate, which proposed CISA instead.

The new bill, rewritten with the help of NSA-friendly Feinstein, hasn’t managed to soothe many people’s concerns however. More than 30 groups wrote an open letter to the Committee claiming that the bill “sacrifices crucial civil liberties and privacy safeguards” in its quest to combat cyber threats.

Although the bill has provisions for companies to strip out the personally identifiable info before handing the data over, but they'll only have to do that if they're sure the user is a US citizen and isn't involved in a cybersecurity threat, which leaves a lot of wriggle room.

The government is also allowed access to information on terms of service violations, identity theft, prosecutions under the Espionage Act and even to help find whistleblowers, giving it even more scope to hoover up citizen data.

In today’s announcement, the committee said that new amendments had been added “to further strengthen privacy protections… clarify authorisation language and make technical changes”. There was also an amendment added to require the attorney general to determine a specific limit on how long cyber threat info could be kept.

But these amendments weren’t enough to convince all the committee members. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Or) and Mark Udall (D-Co) said in a statement that they’d voted against the bill because it didn’t do enough to protect the privacy of Americans.

“We agree there is a need for information-sharing between the federal government and private companies about cybersecurity threats and how to defend against them,” they said.

“However, we have seen how the federal government has exploited loopholes to collect Americans' private information in the name of security. The only way to make cybersecurity information-sharing effective and acceptable is to ensure that there are strong protections for Americans’ constitutional privacy rights. Without these protections in place, private companies will rightly see participation as bad for business.”

Approval by the intelligence committee isn’t the end of the line for the bill, it still needs the approval of the full Senate and to be tied up with the CISPA bill that already got through the House of Representatives.

The Republican chair and top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rodgers (R-Mi) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md), have already issued a statement backing CISA and urging the full Senate to hurry up and pass the bill already.

“We urge the full Senate to move quickly to pass this important legislation,” they said. “This bill, like the House version, allows American companies to better protect their networks from the daily onslaught of damaging cyber attacks.

“These attacks cost our country billions of dollars through the loss of jobs and intellectual property. We are confident that the House and the Senate will quickly come together to address this urgent threat and craft a final bill that secures our networks and protects privacy and civil liberties.” ®

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