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Senator Al Franken backs Cybersecurity Act, proposes stricter guidelines for surveillance

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Senator Al Franken has urged the Senate to pass the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which he says provides more civil protection than other bills, but proposes changes that will remove possible immunity for companies that monitor user communications without good cause.

Senator Al Franken
Senator Al Franken

Noted privacy and net neutrality advocate Senator Al Franken has urged the Senate to debate a revised version of the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which he and others are discussing as an alternative to the controversial House bill CISPA or the similar SECURE IT Act in the Senate. In a speech, Franken outlined his plan to allow companies to share security information with each other and with law enforcement while sidestepping the potential excesses of similar proposals, calling the bill "the only game in town." The bill was recently reintroduced after being first seen in February.

Like CISPA, the Cybersecurity Act would allow companies to give sensitive information to law enforcement only to stop cyber crimes or prevent "serious imminent harm to adults or serious harm to minors." Franken says, however, that his amended Cybersecurity Act would give companies less immunity if something goes wrong or they make a mistake in sharing the information. He also hopes the act will require creating a set of rules on when the government can be held liable for mistakes, something that's not nearly as clear in CISPA or the SECURE IT Act.

Among other changes, however, Franken will propose an amendment that would remove what he calls "broad" and duplicative permissions for ISPs and other companies to monitor user communications. In his speech, he raised the same concerns others have with CISPA, saying the Cybersecurity Act's language could mean that "if a company uses that power negligently to snoop in on your email or damage your computer, they will be immune from any lawsuit." Franken says he does not consider the Cybersecurity Act perfect, but it doesn't raise some of the red flags that similar bills have. Obama, meanwhile, has backed the Act and urged the Senate to pass it; by contrast, he previously threatened to veto CISPA.

Updated: We've received a few corrections from Senator Franken's office, primarily his urging of debate on the bill rather than passage and the level of immunity that would be given to companies. These are now included in the piece.

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