The National Security Agency has pushed repeatedly over the past year to expand its role in protecting private-sector computer networks from cyberattacks but has been rebuffed by the White House, largely because of privacy concerns, according to administration officials and internal documents.
The most contentious issue was a legislative proposal last year that would have required hundreds of companies that provide such critical services as electricity generation to allow their Internet traffic to be continuously scanned using computer threat data provided by the spy agency. The companies would have been expected to turn over evidence of potential cyberattacks to the government.
NSA officials portrayed such measures as unobtrusive ways to protect the nation’s vital infrastructure from what they said are increasingly dire threats of devastating cyberattacks.
But the White House and Justice Department argued that the proposal would permit unprecedented government monitoring of routine civilian Internet activity, according to documents and officials familiar with the debate. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe administration deliberations. Internal documents reviewed by The Washington Post backed these descriptions.