White House threatens to veto new CISPA Bill ahead of vote

The Obama administration has issued another stark warning to the US House currently preparing to vote on a regurgitated cybersecurity Bill. If it passes the president's desk, he's not going to sign it.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

Ahead of a vote scheduled for either April 17 or April 18 in the US House of Representatives on the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), the White House today issued a statement threatening to veto the Bill altogether.

The US House will vote on the CISPA Bill this week.
Image: CNET

It repeats a similar sentiment by the Obama administration last year, when CISPA reached as far as passing the House but failed in the upper Senate chamber.

Citing above all else the need to "carefully safeguard privacy and civil liberties", the White House doesn't believe the intelligence sharing Bill, otherwise known as H.R. 624, goes far enough to protect the ordinary rights of citizens.

The key takeaway from the letter states:

The administration recognizes and appreciates that the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) adopted several amendments to H.R. 624 in an effort to incorporate the administration's important substantive concerns.

However, the administration still seeks additional improvements, and if the Bill, as currently crafted, were presented to the president, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the Bill.

The controversial Bill cleared the House Intelligence Committee last week, and is expected to go before a wider vote in the coming days. While there were efforts made to amend the Bill with features that would ultimately add safeguards and additional privacy measures, many did not garner enough votes from the committee.

CISPA will allow private sector firms to search personal and sensitive user data of ordinary US residents to identify this so-called "threat information", and to then share that information with each other and the US government — without the need for a court-ordered warrant.

By citing "cybersecurity", private sector firms — including those in the web and technology industry — can hand over private user data, while circumventing existing privacy laws. This means CISPA can be used to permit non-governmental entities to share your data, such as emails, text messages, and cloud-stored documents and files, with the US government and its law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

The Bill, if passed into law, will also give these firms legal protection when handing over data.

In April last year, the White House said that President Obama would not sign the Bill — even though it had only just passed the lower house hurdle in Congress — as the Bill "fails to provide authorities to ensure that the nation’s core critical infrastructure is protected while repealing important provisions."

Obama, earlier this year in February, signed a cybersecurity executive order in a bid to create a "framework" between agencies that preserves the privacy and civil liberties of US residents.

The "framework" will effectively allow intelligence to be gathered on cyberattacks and cyberthreats to privately owned critical national infrastructure — such as the private defense sector, utility networks, and the banking industry — so they can better protect themselves, as well as the general US population, the economy, and other nations that are reliant on US support.

The full text of the letter, issued on Tuesday, can be read below.

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