By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation meant to help companies and the government share information on cyber threats, even though concerns linger about the amount of protection the bill offers for private information.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, H.R. 624, passed 288-127, receiving bipartisan support as 92 Democrats voted in favour. But the White House threatened this week to veto the legislation if further civil liberties and privacy protections are not added.
"We have a constitutional obligation to defend this nation," the bill's co-author and Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said on the House floor, arguing that cyber attacks and espionage, particularly from China, are now the top U.S. national security and economic threats.
"This is the answer to empower cyber information sharing to protect this nation, to allow those companies to protect themselves and move on to economic prosperity," Rogers said of the bill. "If you want to take a shot across China's bow, this is the answer."
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reflected the concerns shared by the White House and many civil liberties groups, arguing that the bill did not do enough to ensure that companies, in sharing cyber threat data, strip out any personal data of U.S. citizens.
"They can just ship the whole kit and caboodle and we're saying minimize what is relevant to our national security," the California Democrat said. "The rest is none of the government's business."
Trying to put some of the privacy concerns to rest, the House Intelligence Committee leaders endorsed an amendment that made the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice - agencies that are civil, not military - the clearinghouses of the digital data exchange.
Nonetheless, the future of cyber security legislation in the Senate remains unclear, given Obama's veto threat and a lack of action from Senate Democrats.
Several influential industry groups had come out in support of the bill, though, including the wireless group CTIA, the business lobby U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and TechNet, which represents large Internet and technology companies.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Ros Krasny and Philip Barbara)