Feds are OK with cyberthreat info sharing, say it's not an antitrust violation

A policy statement from the DOJ and FTC is aimed at giving companies assurance about sharing with each other

U.S. businesses can share most cyberthreat information with competitors without facing antitrust enforcement action, two U.S. enforcement agencies said Thursday.

Properly shared cyberthreat information isn't likely to raise antitrust concerns from either the U.S. Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission, the agencies said in a joint policy statement.

"This is an antitrust no-brainer: Companies who engage in properly designed cyberthreat information sharing will not run afoul of the antitrust laws," said Bill Baer, the assistant attorney general in charge of the DOJ's Antitrust Division. "This means that as long as companies don't discuss competitive information such as pricing and output when sharing cybersecurity information, they're OK."

With cyberthreats increasing in number and sophistication, information sharing is a way companies can help protect themselves, Baer said during a briefing. "This kind of information sharing is good public policy," he said.

While some U.S. companies have long shared information about cyberthreats with each other, other companies have questioned whether exchanging that type of information would lead to antitrust scrutiny. The Information Technology Industry Council, a trade group, mentioned antitrust concerns as an impediment to cyberthreat sharing in a January 2012 position paper focused on cybersecurity legislation debated in Congress at that time. Sharing the information could open companies up to lawsuits alleging "that information shared is an effort to harm competition," the trade group wrote.

But Thursday's policy statement is an effort to reduce those concerns, representatives of the agencies said.

"Some companies have told us that concerns about antitrust liability have been a barrier to being able to openly share cyberthreat information with each other," Deputy Attorney General James Cole said at the DOJ briefing. "We have heard you. This guidance responds to those concerns, lets everyone know that antitrust concerns should not get in the way of sharing cybersecurity information, and signals our continued commitment to expanding the sharing of cybersecurity information."

The U.S. government wants companies to share threat information with each other and with government agencies focused on cybersecurity, added Michael Daniel, cybersecurity coordinator at the White House.

"In today's networked world, a cyberthreat to one is really a cyberthreat to all," he wrote in a blog post. "This is why steps such as today's announcement ... that can encourage more information sharing are key to building up our collective cybersecurity."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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