The U.S. House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday voted 18-2 in favor of a controversial information-sharing bill that was reintroduced in Congress this February after failing last year amid widespread protests from rights group and a White House veto threat.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) next goes to the full House for a vote, possibly as soon as next week.
Wednesday's vote came after a closed meeting of the House committee and is almost guaranteed to spark the same kinds of protests that it evoked the last time. Many have already blasted the Committee's decision to close today's meeting off to the public.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) accused the bill's sponsors of hiding behind closed doors to push the controversial legislation.
"Public accountability is paramount with cybersecurity," said Jeramie Scott, national security fellow at EPIC before the vote was taken. "The House Intelligence Committee is trying to avoid public scrutiny. EPIC would like to see the process opened up to the public, robust privacy protections added, and Presidential Decision Directives on cybersecurity released to the public," Scott said.
CISPA is designed to bolster national cybersecurity by enabling companies and federal agencies to share threat information with others more freely and without fear of legal or liability issues. Supporters of the measure, which include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, nearly every major Internet service provider, and scores of technology companies, say that such threat-information sharing is vital to improving security.
Bill opponents, such as EPIC, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others, including notably Facebook and Reddit, say the bill is too vaguely worded and would give the government broad access to private information on Internet users.
The bill passed the House last year but failed to gain traction in the Senate after strong opposition from privacy groups and President Obama, who threatened to veto it.
When Obama issued a cybersecurity executive order earlier this year containing some of the same information-sharing provisions that CISPA did, some had hoped the bill would die a quiet death. But in February, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) and ranking member C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD.) reintroduced CISPA with many of the same provisions that scuttled it the last time.
In the weeks following the bills introduction both sides have been girding for battle. CISPAs sponsors have actively tried to ally some of the concerns pertaining to the bill and have pointed to various amendments that have been made in response to some of the previous criticisms.
They have rejected claims by critics that CISPA creates a wide-ranging surveillance program, and have insisted that the bill only provided narrow authority for companies to share anonymous cyber threat information between each other and the government. They have noted that the bill creates no new authority for the government to monitor private networks, and permits surveillance only for law enforcement and national security purposes.