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White House responds to petition against CISPA, calls for new bill that 'protects privacy'

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White House at night Flickr public domain
White House at night Flickr public domain

The White House has finally responded to a petition on its website signed by over 100,000 web users protesting the controversial cybersecurity bill CISPA, which was passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month. In its response to the petition, the White House comes out more forcefully against the bill, saying "This legislation still doesn't adequately address our fundamental concerns" about privacy, and pointing back to the veto threat issued by President Obama's office two weeks ago. However, the White House says that it still wants to see a new cybersecurity bill passed soon that allows companies and the government to share information about suspected "cyber threats." As the response issued today says, "Moving forward, the Obama Administration will continue to advocate vocally for cybersecurity legislation," that contains three major privacy protections.

"this legislation still doesn't adequately address our fundamental concerns."

One of the privacy protections the White House wants in a new bill is some way of "minimizing information that can be used to identify specific individuals," stripping web user information of identifying characteristics. The response also says that a civilian agency should be in charge of the information sharing, not military or intelligence agencies such as the NSA or CIA. Finally, the White House says a new cybersecurity bill should "not provide broad immunity for businesses and organizations" that share user information outside of what the bill allows, in other words, that users should still be able to sue those organizations that share their data illegally or improperly.

The news comes just days after a spokesperson for a Senate committee said that the chamber was unlikely to even consider the version of CISPA that passed the House, effectively halting it from advancing any further. If a bill makes it through both houses of Congress, it still needs the president's signature to become law, so the petition response is more than just a PR move — it reveals just what kind of a bill the president is willing to accept. Now it's up to Congress to respond.