US Senate passes Bill to push sharing of info on hackers

Washington, October 28

The US Senate passed a Bill on Tuesday aimed at improving cybersecurity by encouraging companies and the government to share information about threats. It took six years to win approval.

Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act passed by a 74 to 21 vote. It overcame concerns about privacy and transparency from some senators and technology firms, such as Apple and Yelp.

The Senate rejected amendments, including one addressing concerns that companies could give the government personal information about their customers. Another failed amendment would have eliminated part of the Bill that would keep secret information about which companies participate and what they share with the government.

The Bill’s co-sponsors, Senators Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, and Richard Burr, a Republican, said the measure was needed to limit high-profile cyberattacks, like the one on Sony Pictures last year.

“From the beginning we committed to make this Bill voluntary, meaning that any company in America, if they, their systems are breached, could choose voluntarily to create the partnership with the federal government. Nobody’s mandated to do it,” Burr said.

Companies would receive legal protections from antitrust and consumer privacy liabilities for participating in the voluntary programme.

The House passed its version of the Bill earlier this year with strong bipartisan support. The two versions of the Bill will need to be reconciled before being sent to the White House for the president’s signature.

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, who opposed the Bill, offered an amendment addressing privacy concerns, but it failed to pass. It would have required companies to make ‘reasonable efforts’ to remove unrelated personal information about their customers before providing the data to the government.

“You just can’t hand it over,” Wyden said. “You’ve got to take affirmative steps, reasonable, affirmative steps, before you share personal information.”

Senators also rejected an amendment Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, had offered that would have removed a provision to keep secret more information about materials that companies provide to the government. Leahy criticised the Bill’s new exemption from the US Freedom of Information Act as overly broad because it pre-empts state and local public information requests, and it was added without public debate.

The Sunshine in Government Initiative, a Washington organisation that promotes open government policies, urged the Senate last week to support Leahy’s amendment. The AP is one of at least nine journalism groups that are members of the organisation.

Despite the lengthy road to pass the Senate Bill, it’s unclear whether it would improve internet security.