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Senate Intelligence Committee approves cybersecurity sharing bill

The bill includes liability protections for individuals and companies that voluntarily choose to share cyberthreat information with the federal government.

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee quietly approved a new cybersecurity bill late in the day on Tuesday in a 12-3 vote.

Labeled as the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, the legislation was written to encourage and open up more types of information that can be shared between government agencies and the private sector.

Proponents of the bill argue the proposal shores up national security -- especially in the wake of more and more attacks on retail and commercial computer systems, jeopardizing sensitive personal data on millions of people.

The bill includes liability protections for individuals and companies that voluntarily choose to share cyberthreat information with the federal government, which in turn is said to be limited in how it can then use that data for its own purposes.

As the bill covers both classified and unclassified cyberthreat information, federal agencies affected by the proposed measures will need to routinely report how they use the shared information to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and respective inspectors general.

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act was co-authored by the committee's chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and vice chairman, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).

In a statement on Tuesday, Feinstein asserted, "Cyber attacks present the greatest threat to our national and economic security today, and the magnitude of the threat is growing."

Chambliss concurred, positing that the legislation is "a strong, bipartisan bill that encourages the private sector and the government to share information voluntarily about these threats, without fear of frivolous lawsuits and without unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles."

Chambliss added he hopes the Senate will pass the bill before the summer recess in August.

The committee's updated version of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act will be introduced later this week after amendments are incorporated.

Those edits include further liability protections for minors, limitations on how long obtained intel can be saved, a mandatory report from the director of national intelligence, and a provision to allow the Department of Defense to share cyber threat information it receives from defense contractors.

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