U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is urging Congress to pass legislation to bolster the country’s cyber defenses. The proposed bill—the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2014 (CISA)—may unleash a brute-force attack in the cyber war, but opposition based on privacy and civil liberties concerns could stop the bill dead in its tracks.

The CISA would enable companies to

  • share information with one another, including an antitrust exemption for the exchange or disclosure of a “cyber threat indicator,” which is broadly defined and includes information that indicates any attribute of a cybersecurity threat;
  • share information with the federal government, including the absence of any waiver of privilege or trade-secret protection and the retained ownership of the disclosed information;
  • launch countermeasures and monitor information systems under broad sets of circumstances, potentially expanding the information to be shared; and
  • monitor and share the information under an umbrella of protection from liability relating to the permitted activities, including a good-faith defense (absent gross negligence or willful misconduct) for activities not authorized by the CISA.

The CISA includes some protections for individuals. Namely, the U.S. Attorney General would develop governing guidelines to limit the law’s effect on privacy and civil liberties. Moreover, companies would be required to remove information that is known to be personal information (and not directly related to a cybersecurity threat) before sharing a cyber threat indicator.

In sum, companies could decide to share a wealth of information with one another and with the federal government if the CISA is passed, when sharing personal information depends on the reach of any future guidelines. If an extensive information-sharing program materializes, and there is at least a perception that sensitive personal information is being shared, companies could feel pressure from customers and advocacy groups to disclose their CISA activities and policies in their privacy statements. Companies should stay informed about developments in cybersecurity legislation, but the potential fallout regarding privacy could substantially weaken or postpone any new system. For every cybersecurity legislative effort, there will be bold countermeasures.