White House Says CISPA Needs Privacy Safeguards

The White House today threatened to veto the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Privacy Act, unless the measure is amended to give people more privacy protections.

The bill, known as CISPA, would allow Web companies to turn over users' personal information to the government -- without a warrant. CISPA also would make tech companies immune from lawsuits for wrongly handing over data to the government.

Digital rights groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Center for Democracy & Technology have been rallying opposition to the measure -- which is slated for a vote in the House on Thursday. “CISPA creates an exception to all privacy laws to permit companies to share our information with each other and with the government in the name of cybersecurity. Although a carefully-crafted information sharing program that strictly limits the information to be shared and includes robust privacy safeguards could be an effective approach to cybersecurity, CISPA lacks such protections for individual rights,” the EFF, CDT and other groups said Monday in a letter opposing the law.

The bill was recently amended to include some privacy protections, but advocates said those amendments didn't go far enough. On Tuesday, the White House said it agreed. “The Administration recognizes and appreciates that the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence ... 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 administration said in a statement.

This isn't the only time the White House has stepped in and sided with digital rights advocates. Last April, the administration condemned an earlier version of CISPA.  Several months before that, the Obama administration weighed in against the Stop Online Piracy Act -- anti-piracy legislation that seemed poised for passage.

That measure -- which died after the White House got involved -- would have provided for court orders banning search engines from returning links to “rogue” sites and also empowered courts to prohibit credit card companies and ad networks from doing business with such sites. Opponents said the bills could have had a big impact on sites that hosted user-generated content, because the definition of "rogue" sites was extremely broad.

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