The US House of Representatives has passed a security threat information sharing bill that could prevent the devastating hacks suffered by the likes of Home Depot and Target.
But the move is not without its critics as it could put consumer data in the hands of government agencies.
The Protecting Cyber Networks Act was passed in the House on Wednesday by 307 votes to 116. The legislation concerns "enhanced" information sharing on cyber security threats, and offers clarity to companies concerned about what happens when they become a victim.
Congressman Devin Nunes introduced the passing of the bill in a statement to the House, claiming that it provides for information sharing on three fronts and preserves the interests of the individual.
"The bill, which is 100 percent voluntary, encourages three kinds of sharing: private-to-private, government-to-private and private-to-government. In that third scenario, the bill will allow companies to share cyber threat information with a variety of government agencies," he said.
It is the suggestion of corporations sharing consumer information with the government that generated criticism in the run up to the vote.
Nunes explained that no "new surveillance authorities" are being created, and that the provisions of the bill have no impact on information sharing rules with government bodies including the National Security Agency (NSA).
"The government agency that receives the information must scrub it [twice] to ensure that all personal information has been removed," he added. "Only then can it forward the information to other federal agencies."
However, these kinds of assurance are unlikely to silence critics like the Open Technology Institute, which said that the bill will dramatically increase surveillance at a time when US citizens are demanding surveillance reform.
The organisation described the passing of the bill as "bad for privacy and bad for information security".
"It is disappointing that, instead of acting to rein in the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' records, the House has approved a bill that would dangerously expand NSA access to our information," said Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the Open Technology Institute.
"Saying that this legislation isn't about surveillance doesn't make it so. The proof is in the bill text. This bill not only does a dismal job of protecting Americans' personal information, it would also allow the NSA and the FBI to use any of the information it receives to investigate a myriad of crimes that have nothing to do with cyber security.
"This bill is a wolf in sheep's clothing, doing at least as much to enable cyber surveillance as to enhance cyber security-related information sharing."
US representative Christopher Van Hollen voted against the bill, and expressed his hope that a number of concerns would be addressed before the legislation progresses any further.
"The unintended effect of these murky liability provisions is that companies would not have the same incentive to report security threats and protect their consumers' privacy," he said before the vote.
"Our country faces cyber network attacks each day which threaten our national security and our economy. I strongly believe that we must take steps to protect against these cyber threats while not sacrificing our privacy and civil liberties.
"Should this bill pass the House, I hope that many of the loopholes can be resolved with the Senate. But as it stands today I cannot support it."
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