House lawmakers took a stab Wednesday at encouraging companies to share the information they have on possible cybersecurity threats with each other and with the government, a move that privacy advocates worry might give the government access to personal information.
The House passed the Protecting Cyber Networks Act in an easy 307-116 vote — most of the "no" votes came from Democrats, and only 37 Republicans voted against it.
The idea behind the bill is to protect companies from possible lawsuits if they share information showing a threat of a cyberattack, or showing that they're victims of such an attack. To get that protection, companies would first have to ensure all personal information is removed from the information they share.
Supporters of the bill, like sponsor Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), say the trade off is worth it because it will encourage companies to share information that others might use to guard against similar attacks.
"Because of legal ambiguities, many companies are afraid to share information about cyber threats with each other, or with the government," he said during today's debate. "If a company sees some threat or attack, this bill will allow the company to quickly report information about the problem without fearing a lawsuit, so that other companies can take measures to protect themselves."
The vote was praised by House GOP leaders like Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), who said sharing information about these attacks is critical to fighting them.
"As cyber attacks from hackers and criminals grow more numerous and more costly to both citizens and businesses, the ability to share information about threats is more crucial than ever before," he said. "This bill will allow voluntary collaboration between the private sector and the federal government, and establish strong protections for civil liberties and privacy when it comes to Americans' personal information."
Republicans have noted that similar bills that passed in the last Congress went no where in the Democratic-controlled Senate, which passed very few bills over the last four years, even if they had bipartisan support.
On Thursday, the House is expected to pass a related bill dealing with sharing information with the Department of Homeland Security. Once both have passed, the House will combine the two and send it to the Senate.