WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday defended a cybersecurity bill as a common-sense approach to stopping electronic attacks on critical infrastructure and companies. He rejected the Obama administration's criticism that the measure could lead to invasion of Americans' privacy.
"The White House believes the government ought to control the Internet, government ought to set standards and government ought to take care of everything that's needed for cybersecurity," Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters at his weekly news conference. "They're in a camp all by themselves."
The administration has threatened to veto the bill, which the House began considering Thursday. The bipartisan bill would encourage corporations and the government to share information collected through the Internet to thwart attacks from foreign governments, terrorists and criminals. The information sharing would be voluntary.
The administration says the bill falls short of preserving individual privacy by failing to set security standards and broadly allowing liability protection for companies that share information. The administration wants the Homeland Security Department to have the primary role in overseeing domestic cybersecurity.
"Cybersecurity and privacy are not mutually exclusive," the White House said.
The House was considering 16 amendments to the bill; a final vote was expected Friday.
At the start of debate, Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., complained that the measure would allow companies to share information with the government, including the National Security Agency. The legislation, Polis said, would create a "false choice between security and liberty."
Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the bill was necessary to stop the potential threat of computer attacks from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. He disputed claims that the measure would lead to spying on Americans.
"There is no government surveillance, none, not any in this bill," said Rogers, R-Mich.
Rogers and the committee's top Democrat, Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger of Maryland, planned to add an amendment that would limit the government's use of threat information to five specific purposes: cybersecurity; investigation and prosecution of cybersecurity crimes; protection of individuals from death or serious bodily harm; protection of minors from child pornography; and the protection of national security.
Still, some liberals and conservatives adamantly opposed the measure.
"Until we protect the privacy rights of our citizens, the solution is worse than the problem," said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas.
A coalition of groups and individuals, including the American Civil Liberties Union and former Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., expressed concern that the legislation would allow companies that hold personal information about an employee to share it with the government. The information could come from Internet use or emails and be relayed to defense and intelligence agencies, such as the NSA.
"Once in government hands, this information can be used for undefined 'national security' purposes unrelated to cybersecurity," the groups wrote lawmakers.
White House and outside groups' opposition is not expected to derail the House bill, which has bipartisan support.
The administration backs a Senate bill sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, giving Homeland Security the authority to establish security standards.
But that legislation is stalled and faces opposition from senior Senate Republicans.
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