CISPA: Why is the House Intelligence Committee Deliberating Behind Closed Doors?

Members of the media and the public will not be able to watch the markup of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) by the House of Intelligence Committee next week.

The public will not be allowed in the room, and the meeting will not be streamed online. Details about what amendments were discussed, how members voted, etc. will be released to the public only after the end of the meeting. Susan Phalen, a spokeswoman for the committee, explained that classified information is discussed at these hearings, hence restricting media and public access is a necessity.

"Sometimes they'll need to bounce into classified information and go closed for a period of time to talk," she said. "In order to keep the flow of the mark-up continuing forward, you can't stop in the middle of an open hearing, move everyone to another location for a portion of it, and then move back."

She also noted that committee used the same procedure when it marked CISPA last year.This time, however, the problem arises from the controversial nature of the bill. According to the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), the bill would allow hacking.

CISPA would remove legal barriers that prevent companies and the government from sharing information in the event of a cyber attack. Companies that choose to hand over over information would get immunity from any issues that might emerge from releasing that data.

Opponents, however, claim that CISPA would remove barriers that protect users' private information.

"What the bill does not say is that in looking for cyber-threat information, you can examine only your own network. If you think the threat is on somebody else's computer, you have the authority ... to go get it," said Greg Nojeim, the CDT's senior counsel.

The bill's sponsors, including Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), argue this legislation is critical for combating the growing number of hackers, top threats coming from countries like Iran and China, that have been attacking private and government computer networks. A spokeswoman for the chairman said that Rogers and the Committee have been working on addressing concerns about CISPA.

"For 18 months the Committee has been in regular discussions with privacy groups listening to their concerns and getting their ideas," she said. "During last year's committee markup and open House floor process we incorporated several of their suggestions to tightening up the bill to further cement already robust privacy protections. As we move through this year's committee and House floor process, Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Ruppersberger are fully committed to continuing that ongoing dialogue and incorporating language into the bill which further puts to rest any misunderstandings about the bill's intent."

The Committee is expected to formally schedule the markup of CISPA next Wednesday.