Cybersecurity Bill Faces Tough Odds

Posted April 10, 2012 at 5:26pm

After last year’s intense debate of an anti-piracy bill, any legislation dealing with Internet security faces an uphill climb.

That point was made clear today by House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, who was careful to point out differences between his bipartisan cybersecurity legislation and last year’s failed online piracy bill that was crushed after an all-out lobbying campaign from Internet companies and users.

“Apples and oranges,” the Michigan Republican told reporters in a conference call today when asked whether his legislation, which encourages private companies and the federal government to share information related to cybersecurity threats, might face a similarly grim fate as the Stop Online Piracy Act that was killed last year.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the ranking member on the Intelligence panel, also made an economic case for the bill.

“When these hackers steal intellectual property, they take new high-paying jobs along with all the other damages that we do have,” the Maryland Democrat told reporters.

Rogers and Ruppersberger were careful to focus on the security and economic aspects of the bill and highlighted the coalition of supporters they have built through dozens of meetings held last year. Rogers repeated during today’s call that his bill, which was approved 17-1 in committee last year, is only 13 pages long and was the result of dozens of meetings with private companies, industry groups, Members and staff. He noted that the bill limits the information that may be shared and is solely focused on fighting terrorism in cyberspace.

“We spent those hundreds of meetings trying to come to a place where we could all agree that our civil liberties are protected and we allow sharing of information with the people who get up every day in the private sector,” Rogers said.

Rogers’ focus on building up a network of support may have also come from last year’s contentious debate over the annual defense authorization bill. The typically bipartisan measure met staunch opposition from both conservatives and liberals over detainee provisions, and Rogers was among the key Republicans to calm Member concerns and help pass the bill.

But after the SOPA mess, one telecom lobbyist said: “There’s a fear about any Internet bills now. Barring the worst with a real cyber threat, I don’t see how it can move.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) was the lone Member to vote against the Rogers measure in committee last year, and so far Democratic leaders have not weighed in.

Sources say that Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee are largely opposed. Ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement that “while promoting information sharing on cyber threats is urgently needed, I am concerned about the approach taken in the Rogers bill, as approved by the Intelligence Committee, and its potential implications on Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.”

Civil liberty groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, are preparing their own counteroffensive next week after Members return from the two-week recess.

“We think it unjustifiably turns the government loose to collect Americans’ Internet use data and it absolutely will violate Americans’ privacy, and there are a lot of common-sense limitations that could still be built into the bill if the sponsors so choose,” Michelle Richardson of the ACLU said.

She added that any legislation on cybersecurity needs to specify what kind of information may be shared and that civilian government employees, rather than military officials, should be the ones monitoring such information.

“Rogers’ bill says something that can be seen as a threat can be shared; that’s very broad,” she said.

Stakeholders from the telecom industry including AT&T and Verizon support Rogers’ bill, which does not impose new requirements on them. A host of other cyber measures, including one from Rep. Dan Lungren that would create a central agency in charge of monitoring online threats, are circulating. The California Republican’s bill will likely be considered by the full Homeland Security Committee next week.