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Balancing cybersecurity and privacy

From the assembly lines of Detroit to the steel mills of Pittsburgh to the oil fields of Houston, our country has been built by an entrepreneurial spirit and thirst for innovation. And despite our recent economic challenges, that spirit is alive and well. Here in Maryland, for example, our growing life sciences sector has generated one-third of all job gains over the last 10 years. It's now supporting more than $9.6 billion in salaries for Maryland families and contributes nearly $500 million to incomes and sales tax revenues each year.

The 500 bioscience companies in Maryland are developing ground-breaking therapies for diseases like muscular dystrophy, inventing state-of-the-art medical devices and testing cutting-edge vaccines. These innovations are valuable and worth protecting. Indeed, just as with designer handbags or secret family recipes, many want to imitate — and even duplicate — such successes.

For decades, countries like China have been using every means possible to steal the ideas of American corporations. Today, thousands of highly trained Chinese, Russian and Iranian hackers are pilfering our trade secrets by breaking into the computer networks of U.S. corporations. And we're leaving the door unlocked for them.

Currently, the U.S government can identify malicious computer code that could be an incoming cyber attack on a government or corporate network. But the law won't allow us to share this information with private companies so that they can protect themselves.

That's why House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, and I have crafted the Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Protection Act (H.R. 3523), which the House overwhelmingly passed this month in a bipartisan vote. This common-sense bill will simply allow the federal government and American companies to share suspicious computer code. Despite recent media reports, the bill does not authorize the government to monitor your computer use or read your email, Tweets or Facebook posts. Nor does it authorize the government to shut down websites or require companies to turn over personal information.

I fought for strong privacy protections throughout the legislative process. We made significant progress in this area through an amendment package that passed the House and was supported by civil liberties advocates and the administration. Privacy protections will only be strengthened as the bill moves to the Senate. I am confident that the House and Senate can work together to pass a bill that will serve our national security while also protecting privacy so the president can sign it into law.

As we work to improve the bill, it's important to keep in mind the significant threat that cyber attacks pose to our safety in addition to our economy. We know terrorist groups such as al-Qaidawould like to hack into the lifesaving systems that protect our water supply, power the electric grid and operate the air traffic control system. Our intelligence leaders — including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FBI Director Robert Mueller and National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander — all agree that we are exposed to a potentially catastrophic attack.

Of course, we also need cybersecurity to protect our economic interests, such as the ones under way at the labs of the Johns Hopkins University or University of Maryland and companies like Rockville-based Aeras, which is working on a tuberculosis vaccine. It has taken decades for industries such as Maryland's booming life sciences sector to become a national — and global — force. It wouldn't take years for China to steal it all from us. It could happen in mere keystrokes — unless we take steps, like this bill, to prevent that from happening.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat and the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has represented Maryland's 2nd District since 2003. He can be reached at

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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