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House Intelligence Committee Restructures Cybersecurity Bill 'CISPA:' Drops Language On Intellectual Property

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Friday, April 13 2012

The House Intelligence Committee moved to address some of the concerns voiced by civil liberties advocates and a group representing Silicon Valley startups this week and dropped some of the language that the groups had said would have impacts that would go beyond the goal of protecting both private and public sector networks from hackers and malicious code.

The House Permanent Committee on Intelligence circulated a new discussion draft of the legislation at the end of the week that dropped language that defined "cyber threat intelligence" as information protecting networks from having intellectual property stolen from them.

The draft currently online also adds utilities to the kinds of groups that should be sharing information, and adds language that attempts to restrict the sharing of threat information to bodies within the government that have been previously authorized to receive such information.

New language has also been included that clarifies that the main department in charge of the information submitted to the government will be the Homeland Security Department, and that the threat information gathered from both the private and public sectors should not be shared with any departments not previously authorized to have access to the information. There's also language that says that the legislation doesn't give the Department of Defense, or the National Security Agency any new authorities.

There's also more detail on what "Cyber Threat Information," constitutes, and it focuses on information about government and private network vulnerabilities, and "efforts to gain unauthorized access to a system or network, including efforts to gain such unauthorized access to steal or misappropriate private or government information." There's no mention of intellectual property as there had been in the previous draft of the legislation.

Many in the activist and policy community, and in particular the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology, had sent out alerts that the language of the previous draft of the legislation had been too broad. Other activist groups then added their voices.

The lawyers at the EFF were still examining the language of the latest draft of this legislation at the time of this blog post, and the CDT still had to get back to us.

But Engine Advocacy, one of the groups representing technology entrepreneurs on the West Coast, dropped its opposition on Friday as a result of these changes.

"The new version has a lot more heft to it, and really locks down a number of things, and they wholesale took out provisions that in all honesty I think they didn’t think would raise the kind of fire that it did from across the Internet community," said Mike McGeary, a founder and director of the new advocacy group for tech entrepreneurs and investors in San Francisco called Engine Advocacy.

After the alerts sent out by the EFF and CDT, many other groups, organizations, and individuals that had been involved in the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) had started hatching plans to launch wide-scale protests against the legislation starting next week. Engine Advocacy had been one of those opposed.

"I think that they came to a much more sensible alternative to restrict the focus of the bill to focus only on attacks on systems and networks, which was the originally-stated purpose of the committee when they first drafted the bill," McGeary said.

“I think this was definitely a learning process for them in terms of learning how to navigate advocacy from the tech community in a post-SOPA world. In our interactions, I found them to be really forthcoming with new ideas, and really receptive to ours, willing to make changes where it became apparent that they needed to be made, in order to find the best bill for the community that it would directly affect,” he added.

Nevertheless, McGeary said that this is still just a draft, and he's keeping his eyes peeled for any other substantive changes, deletions or additions as the legislation wends its way through Congress. The legislation is scheduled to hit the House floor on April 23rd.