The U.S. Senate will consider a measure passed in a bipartisan vote by the House of Representatives to allow the government and private interests to share information in order to bolster the nation's so-called "cybersecurity."
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act carries some controversial provisions, and will no doubt be the source of considerable political jostling. But, to the extent it will add to the arsenal that protects us against potentially devastating electronic assaults, Congress is on the right track.
In recent days, we have seen first-hand the vulnerability of our cyber infrastructure. The Salt Lake City Police Department's website was hobbled for weeks after an assault by one or more hackers. On the heels of that incursion, the state's database on Medicaid services was compromised, allowing a huge volume of private data to fall into potentially malevolent hands.
A full-scale attack against the electronic systems that, for example, connect our financial institutions or control the operations of our public utilities, could certainly be of cataclysmic effect.
The bill working its way through Congress would allow for an exchange of information that might alert authorities to a pending attack, or help private corporations protect against cyber aggression. Because the bill would create a mechanism for the government to access the daily avalanche of information passed over the Internet, there are legitimate privacy concerns.
Such apprehension led to a bipartisan amendment that would limit the use of such information to five specific ends, including the protection of individuals against death or injury and the protection of minors against child pornography, as well as for purposes of national security.
Another amendment excludes specific personal information, including medical and educational records, gun sales records and tax returns.
The inclusion of such safeguards helped move the bill from the Republican-controlled House to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where it will meet with resistance. The Obama Administration has threatened to veto the bill in favor of an approach that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to set standards and impose potential regulations on the sharing of data.
Allowing government greater access to private information by one means or another is never a comfortable proposition. Again, dueling vulnerabilities have placed us on a fulcrum of fear — afraid on one hand of the specter of cyber terrorism, afraid on the other of the advent of Big Brother.
It is therefore appropriate that Congress continues to give high regard to the fact that much private information is contained in the cyber world, as it works to protect us against those who would turn that world upside down.