WASHINGTON — Congress is once again pushing forward on a controversial bill to bolster the nation’s cybersecurity, which could end up changing how law firms and their clients respond to online threats.
The House passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, known as CISPA, on Thursday, sending the legislation to the Senate. The bill would allow "cybersecurity entities" — an intentionally broad term that includes law firms and business that they represent — to share cyberthreat information with the intelligence community.
In return, the bill addresses some key concerns of law firms about turning over information about attacks to the government, said Jerry Ferguson, a co-chairman of Baker & Hostetler’s national privacy and data-protection practice.
For instance, the bill would protect the information from being disclosed in public records requests under the Freedom of Information Act, and provides some liability protection from civil or criminal cause of actions for those sharing cyberthreat information in good faith.
Larger law firms and smaller sophisticated firms are significant repositories of clients’ important information and are targets of cyberattacks, Ferguson said. "It’s already started, the hackers are now looking for soft targets," Ferguson said. "They’re looking at companies that do business with the Fortune 50 and seeing if the information can be obtained there."
Senate Democrats and the White House have already objected to the bill, while privacy groups have warned that it would erode privacy by allowing companies to turn over personal information to the government.
"This bill undermines the privacy of millions of Internet users," Rainey Reitman, Electronic Frontier Foundation’s activism director, said in a written statement. "Hundreds of thousands of Internet users opposed this bill, joining the White House and Internet security experts in voicing concerns about the civil liberties ramifications of CISPA."
Because of that, the bill will probably be debated for several months, and law firms will be watching closely for the effect on clients, Ferguson said. He doesn’t see the legislation becoming law in current form, but that it could if the Senate insists on greater civil liberties protections.
"I think it’s going to go through a lot of negotiation before it lands on the president’s desk, if it gets that far," Ferguson said.
The bill is now pending before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Todd Ruger is a reporter with The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate.