WASHINGTON Leaders of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee introduced legislation on Tuesday to make it easier for companies to share information about cybersecurity threats with the government, without the fear of being sued.
Prompted in part by high-profile cyber attacks on corporations, the Protecting Cyber Networks Act has significant bipartisan support. Although privacy activists worry that it could lead to more surveillance, proponents say the measure has strong backing from the business community and a good chance of being passed by Congress.
"This is a growing concern and getting worse," Republican. Representative Devin Nunes, the intelligence panel's chairman, told reporters.
The intelligence panel is due to vote on the legislation on Thursday. If passed by the committee as expected, aides said they expect the full House to vote in late April. Similar legislation is also making its way through the Senate, after being passed 14-1 by that chamber's intelligence panel.
The measure offers corporations liability protection if they share information through a civilian portal, most likely to be run by the Department of Homeland Security. Data handed over also would be "scrubbed" twice to remove personal information.
If passed, the separate bills would have to be reconciled before being sent to the White House for President Barack Obama to veto or sign into law.
The House has passed legislation before to help companies share information on cyber threats, but it fizzled in the Senate after Obama threatened a veto over privacy concerns, particularly from his fellow Democrats.
Surveillance has come under scrutiny since 2013 disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about the bulk collection of Americans' telephone records.
Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, said he believed the new bill addressed Democratic privacy concerns that stalled the last bill.
Republicans now control both the House and Senate, after election victories in November.
Nunes said it was up to the Obama administration to support the legislation. If not, he said it would have to wait until there is a new president in 2017.
"If they issue a veto threat or say anything negative about this legislation, it's dead," Nunes said.
White House officials declined to say whether they would back the bill.
Private industry is also alarmed by the frequency of attacks on corporate networks, such as recent assaults on Sony Pictures Entertainment and Home Depot.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Bill Trott and Andrew Hay)