Bill aims to discourage nations from sponsoring cyberattacks

The new legislation would deny US visas to cyberattackers sponsored by foreign governments

Three U.S. lawmakers have introduced legislation that would allow President Barack Obama's administration to deny U.S. travel visas to cyberattackers sponsored by foreign governments and to freeze their U.S.-based assets.

The Cyber Economic Espionage Accountability Act, introduced Thursday in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, is a "small step" toward holding the Chinese, Russian and other governments accountable for cyberespionage they sponsor, said Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and lead sponsor of the bill.

The legislation would allow the U.S. Department of State to deny visas to cyber hackers sponsored by foreign governments and to expel them from the U.S. and freeze their assets if they are residing inside the country. The bill also calls on the U.S. Department of Justice to bring more economic espionage cases against foreign cyberattackers.

"The sheer volume of intellectual property, the blueprints of American innovation and ingenuity, that have been stolen, repurposed and are competing artificially against U.S. companies is staggering," Rogers said during a press conference. "This is as serious as it gets."

Sponsors of the bill pointed at China as a major sponsor of cyberespionage. "We've talked about trying to get them to do the right thing and be good global citizens," Rogers said. "The problem is, the financial gain without consequences is so great."

The bill is a "measured step" in an effort to get China and other countries to stop cyberespionage, said Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican and sponsor of the Senate version of the bill. If this bill doesn't curb state-sponsored cyberattacks, lawmakers will consider other options, including trade sanctions, he said.

While U.S. leaders have called on China to stop its cyberattacks on the U.S., "talk alone is not going to get China to behave properly," Johnson said.

Lawmakers aren't sure what impact the bill will have, Rogers said. He called the bill the "first step to at least spread the word that the free lunch is over."

Chinese officials have denied sponsoring cyberespionage. A representative of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., didn't return an email seeking comment on the legislation.

The sponsors of the bill introduced it a day before Obama is scheduled to begin meetings with China's new president, Xi Jinping, in California. Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, expects cyberespionage to be a topic of discussion there, he said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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