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CISPA cybersecurity bill 'not being rushed through,' aide says

Expecting a vote in the House next week, House Intelligence Committee attorney says at event hosted by CNET that the controversial cybersecurity bill wasn't rushed through and there is no secret agenda.

At CNET headquarters this evening, from left: EFF's Dan Auerbach, CNET's Declan McCullagh, CDT's Jim Dempsey, and Engine Advocacy's Josh Mendelsohn.
At CNET headquarters this evening, from left: EFF's Dan Auerbach, CNET's Declan McCullagh, CDT's Jim Dempsey, and Engine Advocacy's Josh Mendelsohn.
Dara Kerr

SAN FRANCISCO--A senior U.S. House of Representatives aide said at an event held this evening at CNET's headquarters that he was astonished by the recent groundswell of opposition to a cybersecurity bill expected to be voted on next week.

"I'm really astounded to keep hearing this drumbeat that it's vague," Jamil Jaffer, senior counsel to the House Intelligence Committee, said during a roundtable on the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA (PDF), moderated by CNET chief political correspondent Declan McCullagh and organized by Hackers and Founders.

Jaffer said that CISPA's critics -- who have gathered nearly 700,000 signatures on a petition opposing it -- are ignoring its broad bipartisan support, including a 17 to 1 committee vote last December in favor of the bill along with 112 co-sponsors.

CISPA opponents, which include the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU, say the measure is being "rushed through," said Jaffer, who appeared from Washington through a Google Hangout. "I can't disagree with that more."

CNET's San Francisco headquarters.
CNET's San Francisco headquarters. James Martin/CNET

"There's no secret agenda here. It's only 19 pages," Jaffer said. "You don't need to be a lawyer to read this bill."

What sparked the recent privacy concerns is the section of CISPA that says "notwithstanding any other provision of law," companies may share information "with any other entity, including the federal government." While it doesn't require them to do so, that language is so broad it trumps all other federal and state privacy laws, including ones dealing with wiretaps, medical privacy, educational records, census records, and so on.

Dan Auerbach, a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has criticized CISPA, said, "I don't really know what's in this bill and no one really knows because the language is incredibly unclear. It talks about cybersecurity systems, those are so vaguely defined."

Other panelists included Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology; Dean Garfield, president of the Information Technology Industry Council; and Josh Mendelsohn from Engine Advocacy, which withdrew its opposition to CISPA last weekend.

The House Rules Committee has set a deadline of next Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. PT for amendments to be proposed to CISPA before a floor vote expected later next week.