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Who's Going to Blink First on Cyber — Obama, or the House?

White House

The Obama administration will now have to weigh in sooner rather than later on a highly contentious cybersecurity bill moving through the House.

With two days to go, a public plea for Obama to stop the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, has crossed the 100,000-signature threshold required for an official response. Critics of the bill -- which is meant to facilitate the sharing of cyber information between the public and private sectors -- believe its definitions are far too broad. Vast amounts of user information could fall into the category of “cyber threat information” and wind up in the wrong hands, the legislation’s opponents have argued.

Companies and some policymakers have insisted that businesses have to be able to share information with each other and with the government for cyberspace to be defended effectively. Such a system would raise the bar for hackers so that only “a very persistent nation-state actor” could break into U.S. networks, said former CIA director Michael Hayden.

In a previous showdown over CISPA last year, the White House sided with the protesters by issuing a veto threat on the bill. The House reintroduced CISPA this year with no changes in the language, so the White House likely still has objections to it. That puts the House on a collision course with Obama. Either he will have to give up the veto threat, or the bill will have to be modified somehow before it reaches his desk.

Here’s the silver lining for Obama: Even if CISPA passes the House this spring, as it did last year, it would still have to be reconciled with whatever the Senate comes up with on cyber legislation. There’s no bill to look at yet in that chamber -- and there’s no expected timeline for one, as Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a member of the homeland security committee, told reporters recently.

But that doesn’t really help Obama right now. The anti-CISPA petition awaits.

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