House Votes to Approve Disputed Hacking Bill

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WASHINGTON -- Defying a veto threat from President Obama, the House on Thursday passed a bill that encourages intelligence agencies and businesses to share information about threats to computer systems, including attacks on American Web sites by hackers in China and other countries.

The vote was 248 to 168, as 42 Democrats joined 206 Republicans in backing the bill. The "no" votes were cast by 140 Democrats and 28 Republicans, including a number who described the measure as a potential threat to privacy and civil liberties.

Under the bill, the federal government can share classified information with private companies to help them protect their computer networks. Companies, in turn, could voluntarily share information about cyberthreats with the government and would generally be protected against lawsuits for doing so if they acted in good faith.

The White House opposed the bill, saying it could "undermine the public's trust in the government as well as in the Internet by undermining fundamental privacy, confidentiality, civil liberties and consumer protections."

In addition, the White House said the government should set "minimum cybersecurity performance standards" for the private sector -- an approach resisted by House Republican leaders.

"The White House believes the government ought to control the Internet, government ought to set standards and government ought to take care of everything that's needed for cybersecurity," said Speaker John A. Boehner. "They're in a camp all by themselves."

"We can't have the government in charge of our Internet," Mr. Boehner added.

The Senate is working on a more comprehensive bipartisan bill that directs the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to issue regulations to protect "critical infrastructure," including the electric power grid, water and sewer systems, transportation hubs and financial service networks.

In confidential briefings on Capitol Hill, administration officials have expressed alarm about the damage that could be done by malicious attacks on computer systems and networks that have become an indispensable part of everyday life. Supporters of the bill said China was stealing jobs by pilfering proprietary information and valuable trade secrets stored in American computers.

The House bill was written by Representatives Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the House intelligence committee, and C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the panel.

They accepted many amendments to protect privacy, but not enough to satisfy advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union or the Center for Democracy and Technology. The civil liberties union criticized the bill as "a privacy disaster."

However, Mr. Rogers said the sharing of information with the government was "all voluntary," and he added, "There is no government surveillance, none, not any in this bill."

The bill says that "cyber threat information" shared with the federal government by the private sector can be used for five purposes: to protect computer systems; to investigate cybersecurity crimes; to protect people from "serious bodily harm"; to protect "the national security of the United States"; and to prevent the sexual exploitation or kidnapping of children.

Some members of both parties said they worried that the bill could lead to violations of privacy.

"We do have a real cyberthreat in this country, and this bill is an honest attempt to deal with it," said Representative Joe L. Barton, Republican of Texas, who voted against the legislation.

"But the absence of explicit privacy protections for individuals is, to me, a greater threat to democracy and liberty than the cyberthreats that face America."

The House Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, said, "The threat of cyberattack is a real one, but the response must balance freedom and security."

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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