Eager to make it easier for enterprises to hand the government private communications that run over corporate networks, Congress is poised to begin tweaking long-pending legislation that would exempt such communications from public scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act.
A House bill that gives enterprise data of a cyber-security nature a FOIA carve-out was first introduced in 2000 and resuscitated last July – well before the era of terror — but it has been stalled by the chambers judiciary panel over a provision that would protect companies from anti-trust liability when sharing private information among themselves. To get around the logjam, the bills sponsors, Reps. Tom Davis, R-Va. and Jim Moran, D-Va., plan to delete the anti-trust liability protection, which would remove the bill from the judiciary committees purview and leave it in the hands of a government reform panel, where it would have a better chance of gaining approval, an aide to Davis said.
Enterprises, including Microsoft Corp. and mortgage giant Fannie Mae, lobbied hard to include the anti-trust liability safeguard in the FOIA exemption initiative, but it may have to be sacrificed to get the FOIA carve-out passed, the aide said. “We cant let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he said.
Theres no need for enterprises to rush to begin turning over private data, however, because the measure is not at the forefront of the Senates agenda even if it does pass the House this summer, as sponsors expect. A Senate counterpart, sponsored by Sens. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., faces considerably steeper opposition, staffers said.
Most technology-related measures wending their way through Congress this session have been given some “homeland security” facet, which is not surprising in that security initiatives account for the largest increase in expenditures in the federal budget. “We are going to be spending more money than any times since the 80s defense boom,” Davis said upon unveiling a new proposal last week to spur faster and more thorough IT innovation to promote more secure networks and infrastructure. The draft bill attempts to speed up the traditionally ponderous and unwieldy process that technology firms typically endure in efforts to contract with the government.
“Since the tragic events of [Sept. 11], the government, in general, and the Office of Homeland Security, in particular, have been overwhelmed by a flood of industry proposals offering various solutions to our homeland security challenges,” Davis.said. “Because of a lack of staffing expertise, many of these proposals have been sitting unevaluated, perhaps denying the government the breakthrough technology it needs.”