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Privacy vs. Cybersecurity: The Debate Heats Up

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Does improved protection against hackers need to come at the cost of privacy? That's the big question facing Congress. On Wednesday, the House Intelligence Committee held closed door meetings about the controversial cybersecurity bill that is scheduled to hit the House floor next week.

The bill aims to make it easier for companies to share information with the government about cyberthreats, without violating consumer privacy laws. The idea is to exchange information about hackers to build better defense.

"We need to provide American companies the information they need to better protect their networks from these dangerous cyber threats," said one of the bill's co-authors, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

(Read More: Obama Warns Hacking Against US 'Ramping Up')

Co-author Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., said, "The bill does just that by permitting the voluntary sharing of critical threat intelligence while preserving important civil liberties."

However, many privacy advocates argue that the bill falls short when it comes to protecting civil liberties. The ACLU opposes the bill, despite various tweaks to the language.

"It still permits companies to share sensitive and personal customer information with the government and allows the military to collect the internet records of everyday Americans ... We urge the members to vote 'no,'" the organization said.

(Read More: US Sharing Classified Information to Prevent Hack Attacks)

A petition to the White House drew more than 100,000 signatures, the number necessary to draw a response.

The petition reads: "CISPA is about information sharing. It creates broad legal exemptions that allow the government to share 'cyber threat intelligence' with private companies, and companies to share 'cyber threat information' with the government, for the purposes of enhancing cybersecurity. The problems arise from the definitions of these terms, especially when it comes to companies sharing data with the feds."

The White House hasn't yet responded.

(Read More: Cybersecurity: Are You Protected From Your Own Employees?)

And while Microsoft and Facebook won't go as far as to say that they've pulled their support of the bill, the two companies, which both control a massive amount of personal information, are cautiously critical in their language.

Microsoft's corporate vice president of 'trustrworthy computing' said that the legislation "reflects important changes resulting from an active, constructive dialog, and that dialogue must continue."

Facebook, whose success lies in the ongoing confidence of its users, is very cautious about anything that could force it to hand over personal information.

"Protecting the private information people share on Facebook is the foundation of our service, and we support efforts to improve our ability to protect that information from cyber attack," the company said in a statement.

(Read More: Spearphishing: The Dirty Email Trick Favored by the Nastiest Hackers)

Facebook said it's encouraged by the work of the bill's co-chairs to "find a legislative balance that promotes government sharing of cyber threat information with the private sector while also ensuring the privacy of our users."

Next up, amendments will be made to the bill following Wednesday's mark-up. Then the debate will carry on in earnest next week for what Congress is calling "cyber week" as four cybersecurity bills are scheduled for a vote.

—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin; Follow her on Twitter: @JBoorstin

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.