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Better solution needed; Proposed cyber security legislation raises concerns about privacy

U.S. intelligence agencies ought to be able to figure out how to protect the nation from security threats on the Internet without compromising freedom of information and privacy rights.

So far, both Republicans and the Obama administration have failed to put forth legislation that would protect this nation from cyber terrorism.

The House recently passed legislation that the president deemed too weak and threatened to veto.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act passed 248 to 168. Introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, the measure encourages the government and companies to voluntarily share data on cyber threats, and gives businesses legal immunity for such exchanges.

As innocuous as the bill may sound, civil liberties organizations and open-government advocates have raised legitimate concerns.

This bill increases the sharing of information within the government and between the private sector and government, but virtually cuts off public access once the information is received by the government.

The Obama administration strongly opposes the Rogers bill in its current form because it doesn't do enough to protect the nation's critical information systems from attack and would erode privacy safeguards for personal information. But legislation from Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent, that would put the Department of Homeland Security in charge of cyber security and the nation's vital systems, such as power grids and transportation networks, isn't much better.

Giving the government access to personal information about a company's employees or customers without strict limits on how that information can be shared is asking for trouble.

Transparency issues with cyber security bills involve the almost complete exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for almost all information collected by the government from private companies. The FOIA is the mechanism by which many government irregularities come to light. Hampering that law is simply wrong.

Respected journalism organizations, including the American Society of News Editors, point out that confidential trade secrets, information pertaining to ongoing law enforcement investigations and information that has been properly classified due to national security concerns are already exempt from FOIA. Extending those exemptions makes the government less transparent without making us safer.

Legislation that will help prevent electronic attacks from cyber criminals, foreign governments and terrorists is long overdue. It is worth taking a little more time to get it right.