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Privacy trumps cybersecurity, poll shows


Proposals to increase cybersecurity by allowing businesses and government to share information may enjoy bipartisan support in Washington, but Americans aren’t sold on the idea, the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll finds.

Almost two-thirds of respondents—63 percent—said government and businesses should not be allowed to share information because it would hurt privacy and civil liberties. But 29 percent of those surveyed said information-sharing should be allowed to better protect computer networks.

The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,004 adults from July 5-8. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

The poll’s results strike at the heart of bipartisan proposals that would encourage businesses to share information by providing liability protections and revising some privacy laws. Those measures also would allow government agencies to share classified threat information with some businesses.

The specifics of the proposals differ slightly, but the White House and executive-agency officials, as well as Democrats and Republicans in Congress, are pushing for information-sharing measures.

In April, the House passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, known by its acronym CISPA, defying a civil-liberties backlash and a White House veto threat.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had characterized his chamber’s information-sharing proposals as “common-sense steps that would allow people to communicate with each other, to work together, to build the walls that are necessary in order to prevent cyberterrorism from occurring.”

The White House, backed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and the U.S. Cyber Command chief, Gen. Keith Alexander, is pushing for more real-time communication between business and government.

Information-sharing has been a relative bright spot of agreement not only among Democrats and Republicans, but with businesses. However, the survey’s findings indicate lawmakers have made little headway in assuaging privacy concerns outside the Beltway. People surveyed in the latest poll sided against the White House and Senate Democrats on another key issue: whether government officials should be able to set cybersecurity standards for private businesses.

In the Congressional Connection Poll, 55 percent of respondents said that businesses should be allowed to set their own standards. On the other hand, 36 percent said the government should be allowed to require businesses to meet specific security standards.

Leaders of the Senate’s Homeland Security, Commerce, and Intelligence committees have been pushing the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which would allow the Homeland Security Department to help set mandatory standards for certain critical networks, such as electric grids or water systems.

The bill is based on proposals offered by the White House, which insists: “Voluntary measures alone are insufficient responses to the growing danger of cyberthreats.”

The Cybersecurity Act could come to the Senate floor this month, after having been delayed for months by Republican objections to the government standards. Its sponsors argue that the act’s standards are minimal and would not apply to the vast majority of private businesses that run networks. Still, that hasn’t stopped Republicans and business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, from complaining about regulatory overreach. “Policymakers should not complicate or duplicate existing security-related industry standards with government-specific standards and bureaucracies,” the chamber and two dozen other industry groups wrote in a recent letter to Congress. “Regulations would divert businesses’ focus from security to compliance.”

The privacy flap is déjà vu for Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and the Cybersecurity Act’s other cosponsors, who are meeting with civil-liberties groups opposing the bill. A year ago, Lieberman and his allies revised another proposal in response to critics who said it could give the president the power to shut down the Internet.

The poll’s results largely mirrored the party-line rift, but Democrats and those respondents leaning Democratic were split, 46 percent in favor of government standards to 46 percent against. Fully two-thirds (67 percent) of those surveyed who identified themselves as Republicans or Republican-leaning opposed government standards. Meanwhile, 57 percent of respondents who said they are independents or members of other parties also opposed mandatory standards.

One area where Americans do back their lawmakers is concern about cyberthreats: A combined 67 percent of those surveyed said they were either very or somewhat worried about threats to the country’s computer networks. Another 19 percent said they are not too worried about such threats, while 13 percent said they are not worried at all.

Broken down by education, 66 percent of those with a college degree and 71 percent who attended some college said they were worried about cyberthreats, versus 61 percent of people with a high school education or less.

By a significant margin, women were more concerned about cyberthreats: 72 percent of women said they were worried compared to 62 percent of men. Only 9 percent of women said they were not worried at all, compared to 16 percent of men.

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