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Privacy groups urge open mark-up of House cyber security legislation

A group of privacy advocates is pushing the House intelligence committee to mark up controversial cyber security legislation in public, instead of behind closed doors.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is moving to add amendments and make changes to the controversial cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) bill the week of April 8. CISPA, which would ease restrictions on the sharing of cyber threat information between public companies and government agencies. The measure passed the House last April, but failed in the Senate.

It was reintroduced in the current session of Congress, however.

Privacy groups are concerned--among a list of complaints--that the bill would allow broad immunity to companies turning over computer users’ information to the government and allow the companies to disclose data directly to the National Security Agency.

An April 3 letter from almost two dozen privacy and civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Electronic Privacy Information Center, to the House Intelligence Committee called for an open mark-up of the bill.

House intelligence committee spokespeople have told reporters the meeting is being held behind closed doors in secure facilities because sensitive intelligence matters may come up. They added that the committee has been discussing concerns with privacy groups for months and many of those concerns have been addressed in the bill’s language.

Privacy groups maintained there wasn’t a reason to shield the hearing. “We write to urge you to open the markup of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), HR 624, scheduled for the week of April 8th,” said the group’s letter.

“The public has a right to know how Congress is conducting the people’s business, particularly when such important wide-ranging policies are at stake. There have been many public calls by Members of Congress and administration officials about the importance of adopting cybersecurity legislation,” it said.

“It’s time to bring this process into the light of day,” said the letter, which urged not only opening the hearing to the public, but to Web cast the proceedings, as is common with many legislative mark-ups.