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Federal Website Security Bill Moves Forward in House

Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich.

Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich. // Paul Sancya/AP File Photo

Legislation approved by the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday would require agency chief information officers to vouch to Congress for the security of any new government websites that gather citizens' personal information.

Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich., introduced the legislation in December in the wake of reports that HealthCare.gov, the Obama administration’s troubled online federal health insurance marketplace could have exposed insurance seekers’ personal information to hackers. During committee discussion on Wednesday, members focused on private sector data breaches at Target and other retailers.

There have been no successful hacks against HealthCare.gov and that the system adheres to government standards for information security, the Health and Human Services Department has said.

“We have a duty to protect our constituents, especially if they are being directed by our offices to use federal websites that require their personal information,” Bentivolio said. “If Americans cannot trust federal websites they will be wary of going on these websites and finding the information and services they need.”

The Safe and Secure Federal Websites Act would require agency CIOs to submit certification to Congress that each new government website that collects citizens’ personal information is secure and functional before it can go live. It would also give agency CIOs 90 days to certify the security of existing websites launched since October 2012 if and when the bill becomes law.

The bill includes an exception for websites or portions of websites in a beta testing stage provided citizens complete an agreement acknowledging the risks involved before entering any personal information.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., added an amendment during discussion that would put the power of legislation behind existing Office of Management and Budget guidance that requires agencies to notify citizens whose personal information has been compromised by a federal website to be notified within three days. 

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