BOISE, Idaho (AP) — House lawmakers on Monday approved exempting certain government cybersecurity records from public disclosure in a measure that backers say is necessary to thwart terrorist attacks.
The House voted 48 to 20 to approve the bill that would exempt disclosure of the nature, location and function of cybersecurity devices, systems or programs used by a government entity to thwart terrorist attacks.
Republican Rep. Dustin Manwaring, sponsor of the bill, said legislation exempting such records from Idaho’s public records law is needed because other nations are targeting government systems in the United States and that they could use public records to aid in these attacks.
“It’s usually not just basement-type hackers,” Manwaring said during a House debate. “It is now nation-state actors attacking our government systems.”
Only Republican lawmakers opposed the bill, with some citing their concerns. Individuals could fall under federal government surveillance if they are deemed domestic terrorists and not be able to learn about surveillance.
Republican Rep. Heather Scott said that could include people the federal government plans to spread false information about the 2020 presidential election.
“Right now we might think we’re not a target, but you’re getting on the wrong side of the feds, and you may very well be surveilled without justification,” she said.
Democratic Rep. Chris Mathias, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, said those fears were unfounded.
“I don’t care where terrorism comes from or originates from,” he said. “I don’t care if it comes from abroad or on the street at home. If the government has the tools and means available to do what is necessary to keep us safe, I want to make sure we have them. »
Manwaring said a common item that would be prevented from disclosure would be details of software designed to protect against malware attacks by terrorists.
Republican Rep. Vito Barbieri expressed concern that the bill’s language on what constitutes a terrorist attack may be broadly defined to give the government wide leeway in using cybersecurity methods without oversight.
“What is considered a terrorist attack? ” he said. “It is a concern and I will vote against it.”
Republican Rep. Julianne Young, who ultimately voted to pass the bill, asked Manwaring for clarification on the bill’s limitations, specifically asking if it could lead to government agencies withholding information about the investigation of a citizen.
Manwaring confirmed that the bill was only intended to withhold information about cybersecurity devices that protect other systems, not to enable unrestricted, covert spying on citizens.
The bill is now before the Senate for consideration.