WASHINGTON – House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday defended a cybersecurity bill as a common-sense approach to stopping electronic attacks on critical infrastructure and companies, rejecting White House criticism that the measure could lead to invasion of Americans' privacy.
"The White House believes the government ought to control the Internet, government ought to set standards, and government ought to take care of everything that's needed for cybersecurity," Boehner told reporters at his weekly news conference. "They're in a camp all by themselves."
The Obama administration has threatened to veto the bill, which the House began considering on Thursday. The bipartisan bill would encourage corporations and the government to share information collected through the Internet to thwart attacks from foreign governments, terrorists and cybercriminals. The information sharing would be voluntary.
The administration argues that the bill falls short of preserving Americans' privacy by failing to set security standards and broadly allowing liability protection for companies that share information. The administration wants the Homeland Security Department to have the primary role in overseeing domestic cybersecurity.
"Cybersecurity and privacy are not mutually exclusive," the White House said.
Boehner argued that the bill is an appropriate first step that will allow communication while moving to prevent cyberterrorism.
The House was weighing 16 amendments to the bill, with a final vote expected on Friday. At the start of debate, Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., complained that the measure would allow companies to share information with the government, including the National Security Agency.
The bill, Polis said, would create a "false choice between security and liberty."
Yet White House opposition is not expected to derail the House bill, which has bipartisan support, Republicans and Democrats said Wednesday.
"It certainly will have an impact, I think, on the margin of the vote, but the bill is still likely to pass," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who had hoped to amend the bill by limiting the government's ability to collect information, such as birthdays, that could be used to identify individuals. His measure reflected the concerns of the White House, but Republicans refused to allow its consideration.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asked if she would support the bill, did not respond directly. "It's very difficult," she told reporters, adding that several other Democrats had concerns.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has worked closely with Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger of Maryland, the panel's top Democrat, on the overall legislation as well as on several amendments to clarify parts of the measure. Republicans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and companies such as Facebook and Google are receptive to the legislation because it does not impose new regulations that require business to share information, making that step voluntary.
"The basis for the administration's view is mostly based on the lack of critical infrastructure regulation, something outside of our jurisdiction," Rogers and Ruppersberger said in a joint statement late Wednesday after the administration veto threat. "We would also draw the White House's attention to the substantial package of privacy and civil liberties improvement announced yesterday, which will be added to the bill on the floor."
The committee had approved the bill on a 17-1 vote.
The administration backs a Senate bill sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, giving Homeland Security the authority to establish security standards.
"The government applies safety standards for cars, food, building structures and toys, to name a few," Lieberman, Collins and Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement. "Why not do the same for the infrastructure that powers our economy and provides us with the highest standard of living in the world?"
However, that legislation remains stalled, facing opposition from senior Senate Republicans.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said during a hearing last month that the Homeland Security Department is "probably the most inefficient bureaucracy that I have ever encountered" and is ill-equipped to determine how best to secure the nation's essential infrastructure. McCain has introduced a competing bill.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.