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Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and AT&T Inc. (T) would be shielded from lawsuits when sharing cyber threat information with the government and businesses in a Republican- backed Senate measure introduced today.
The bill protects Internet-service providers and other companies from legal action to encourage them and the government to swap data on potential cyber attacks. The measure is an alternative to cybersecurity legislation backed by President Barack Obama, said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican.
“We have no government monitoring, no government takeover of the Internet and no government intrusions,” McCain said at a press conference today. “The goal is simple -- remove hurdles that prevent important information from being shared with the people who need it most.”
The competing Senate bills seek to strengthen computer defenses at banks, power grids and telecommunications companies to prevent a computer attack from inflicting widespread economic harm or causing loss of life.
Lawmakers and regulators are pushing for cybersecurity legislation following assaults last year on companies including New York-based Citigroup Inc. (C), the third-largest U.S. bank by assets, and Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT), the world’s largest defense company.
The McCain bill responds to a bipartisan measure backed by Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent, that would give the Homeland Security Department power to identify essential systems. The agency would set rules for operators of critical networks to improve security, and companies would have to prove their networks are secure or face penalties.
The Lieberman bill, which was introduced Feb. 14, may be brought to Senate floor for debate next week. McCain and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business-lobbying group, have said such regulations would create costs and burdens for companies.
McCain unveiled his measure today with fellow Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. Hutchison said in an interview after the press conference that she would be open to negotiating a compromise with Democrats in coming days to bring a measure to the Senate floor that can pass.
The bill offers incentives encouraging companies to voluntarily share and receive threat data through cybersecurity centers within the government, including the National Security Agency, and exchange information about hacking threats with each other, according to a summary distributed by the sponsors.
The incentives include protecting companies from lawsuits when they share information and exempting the data they exchange from public disclosure requirements. Companies contracted by the government for telecommunications or cybersecurity services would be required to report cyber attacks related to those services to agencies, according to the summary.
Other backers of the McCain bill include Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee; Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
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