Obama to sign cybersecurity bill as privacy advocates fume

December 18, 2015

Tal Kopan

President Barack Obama is set to sign the most substantial piece of cybersecurity legislation in years, after an intense sprint of 24/7 negotiations managed to get the bill ready in time to be attached to the government spending measure the House and Senate approved Friday.

But privacy advocates say those midnight, closed-door negotiations have walked back hard-won protections.

Known by the buzzword of "information sharing," the bill is designed to give companies legal cover to share data about cyberattacks with each other and with the government. The legislation would protect those companies from being sued for sharing that information, for example from antitrust claims.

The premise for the bill, which has been heavily lobbied for by the Chamber of Commerce and financial services sector, is that cyber attackers use the same techniques and tactics repeatedly on a wide range of targets. Allowing those organizations to communicate what they see and how they block it with each other, then, would give companies defending their computer networks an upper hand against hacks.

But while companies claim that they are unable to share information now for fear of lawsuits, the bill has been staunchly opposed by privacy and civil liberties groups who say it is merely an expansion of surveillance and curtailing of consumers' privacy rights.

And those groups say the blame lies at the White House for letting the measure go forward.

"I think they completely bent over, they went a 180 on their previous positions, and it's really disappointing," said Robyn Greene, policy counsel at New America's Open Technology Institute. "I think after Sony [was hacked by the North Koreans] they got to a point that they were sick of trying and decided they would rather get something done rather than do something right."

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