Justice reassures ISPs on information-sharing

Privacy and Information-sharing

The Department of Justice has moved to reassure Internet service providers and private industry about what it believes "information sharing" in federal communications law means in the fight against cyberattack and intrusion.

As the number and severity of cybercrimes and attacks against private and public institutions grow, ISPs and private industry have become increasingly concerned about their legal obligations and protections in providing threat information to the federal government.

In a seven-page white paper released May 9, DOJ spelled out its views on whether the Stored Communications Act restricts Internet service providers and other private network operators from voluntarily sharing aggregated data with the government.

The 1986 law bars ISPs from voluntarily giving customer information to federal agencies. But the white paper's bottom line is that the act does not preclude companies from providing aggregate data to the government if those records do not contain specific, detailed information on customers.

"We understand that the private sector would benefit from a better understanding of whether the electronic communications statutes that the Department of Justice routinely interprets and enforces prohibit them from voluntarily sharing useful cybersecurity information with the government," said the paper.

The report said that companies have expressed a desire to share information with the government, "but have had questions about exactly what information may lawfully be shared" and what is restricted.

Taking too broad a view of those restrictions is bad for everybody, according to the DOJ.

"Overly expansive views of what information is prohibited from voluntary disclosure could unnecessarily prevent the sharing of important information that would be used to enhance cybersecurity, thereby thwarting opportunities to address a substantial challenge facing our modern society," the white paper said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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