Julian Hattem

Senators take on cyber spying

A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation to crack down on people and businesses that steal valuable economic secrets from American companies.

They say that the Deter Cyber Theft Act is necessary to protect US firms from foreign hackers who try to break in, steal their valuable secrets and strategies and then ship that information abroad.

The bill comes days after the Obama Administration filed landmark charges against a team of Chinese hackers for stealing trade secrets from American companies.

“It is time to fight back to protect American businesses and American innovation,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), in a statement. “Battling the wave of computer espionage targeting the American economy requires law enforcement actions such as the indictment, and it requires action by Congress to hit those who profit from these crimes where they’ll feel it: in the wallet.”

Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sens John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) joined Sen Levin to introduce the bill. The Deter Cyber Theft Act would allow the Treasury Department to impose sanctions and freeze monetary assets of people behind the cyber snooping. Additionally, it would require the director of national intelligence to publish an annual report naming which countries target US company information through computer espionage, as well as a watch list of egregious offenders, how stolen information is being used and what the federal government is doing about it.

Cops: Don’t ban online gambling

The national police officers union is telling Congress not to impose a nationwide ban on online gambling. “We cannot ban our way out of this problem as this would simply drive online gaming further and further underground and put more and more people at risk,” Fraternal Order of Police National President Chuck Canterbury wrote to heads of the House Judiciary Committee.

“Not only does the black market for Internet gaming include no consumer protections, it also operates entirely offshore with unlicensed operators, drastically increasing the threat of identity theft, fraud or other criminal acts.” The police union is pushing back against measures like a bill from Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) that would ban most forms of online gambling across the country.

House reformers claim victory over NSA

Lawmakers worried about protecting civil liberties said they had scored a win with the passage of the USA Freedom Act.

The bill had to overcome opposition from members on both sides of the aisle who worried it was too weak to curb the National Security Agency (NSA), but its passage nonetheless amounted to a step forward, they said.

“As result of the Freedom Act passing the House, the NSA might still be watching us, but now we can watch them,” said Rep James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the bill’s author.

“This is a win for civil liberties today,” added Rep John Conyers (D-MI) on the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill ends the NSA’s collection of Americans’ phone records and adds new transparency provisions that Rep Sensenbrenner, who also wrote the Patriot Act, said would prevent abuses from ever happening again. Under the bill, the NSA would have to tell Congress about any new policy changes within a day, and then would have to inform the public within 45 days.

“That way, if the NSA goes too far, Congress will be able to stop it and the American public will be able to know what is happening,” Rep Sensenbrenner said.

White House ‘strongly supports’ NSA bill

The White House is putting its support behind legislation to end some of the country’s most controversial surveillance programs. Ahead of the House vote on the USA Freedom Act, the White House said that it “strongly supports” the bill, which would “provide the public greater confidence in our programs and the checks and balances in the system.”

“The bill ensures our intelligence and law enforcement professionals have the authorities they need to protect the nation, while further ensuring that individuals’ privacy is appropriately protected when these authorities are employed,” the White House added.

The legislation, written by Patriot Act author Rep Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), would effectively end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection and storage of records about Americans’ phone calls. Instead, private phone companies would keep that data and hand it over to government agents who had obtained a court order.

FCC marks automated train safety progress

The Federal Communications Commission moved forward with two actions to help automatically control trains and avoid accidents. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the twin moves, which will help manage the rollout of the safety technology and preserve historic sites, was an important step forward for the effort.

“This agreement is an acknowledgement by the freight rail industry of the importance of environmental protection and historic preservation,” he said. The Positive Train Control system, he added, “is a transformative technology that has the power to save lives, prevent injuries, and avoid extensive property damage.”

The commission announced that it had signed a deal to allow seven freight rail companies to start testing almost 11,000 poles for the automated safety technology. In exchange, those seven railroads put together a $10 million fund to help states and tribal governments preserve cultural and historic areas.

Round 2 in Rep Amash's offensive on NSA

Rep Justin Amash (R-MI) wants to stop the government’s snooping on people’s phone calls any way he can.

The libertarian stalwart filed two amendments to the annual defense spending bill that would effectively prevent the National Security Agency (NSA) from collecting and storing bulk records about domestic phone calls. The strategy is reminiscent of a nearly successful move that came within seven votes of passage shortly after revelations about the NSA emerged from documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

The new measures are meant as a “backstop” in case a more comprehensive NSA reform bill does not get to the House floor, according to Amash's chief of staff, Will Adams. The legislation could be slated for a floor vote, but so far no session has been scheduled.

Tech groups dissatisfied with NSA reform bill

A slew of tech companies and advocacy groups ranging from Facebook to FreedomWorks are hoping to change a sweeping overhaul of the National Security Agency before the bill hits the House floor.

In a letter to House leaders, dozens of organizations pushing for reform of the embattled spy agency asked for “several technical corrections and clarifications” and “substantive improvements” to ensure that the bill “is not misinterpreted and its stated goal of ending bulk collection is met.”

“Passing the USA Freedom Act would be an historic event in favor of privacy, but the bill certainly does not address all the significant human rights issues raised by over-broad national security surveillance,” wrote Harley Geiger, senior counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology, in a blog post.

Along with other privacy groups and top Web companies, the organization listed five minor language edits it wanted made to clarify the USA Freedom Act’s intent and ensure that agents at the NSA cannot get the content of people’s communications, among other measures.

The letter was signed by major Web companies like Facebook, Google and Apple, which have banded together under the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, as well as privacy and civil rights advocates like the Center for Democracy and Technology, the American Civil Liberties Union and FreedomWork

White House pledges scrutiny of net neutrality plan

The White House promised to “carefully review” the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) new plans for allowing Internet service companies to create faster speeds for some users.

President Barack Obama has long been a vocal advocate of net neutrality, the notion that Web traffic should be treated equally, and he "is looking at every way to protect a free and open Internet, and will consider any option that might make sense," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

Secretary Carney said that the White House is “pleased to see that [the FCC chairman] is keeping all options on the table.” Among the options that the FCC is accepting comments on is the notion of reclassifying the Internet from an “information service,” as it has previously been regulated, to a “communications service” like telephone lines, which would come with greater regulatory powers.

Liberals and other defenders of net neutrality have said that step, which would surely inflame passions from the right, is the best way to ensure all people can equally access content online.

Senators want rules to protect consumers from ‘malvertising’

Leaders of a Senate subcommittee called for new rules to protect people from malicious software disguised as Internet advertising. The “malvertising” can infect thousands of computers without users’ knowledge, even if people are being smart online, members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on Investigations said.

“As things currently stand, the consumer is the one party involved in online advertising who is simultaneously both least capable of taking effective security precautions and forced to pay the bulk majority of the cost when such security fails,” said Sen John McCain (R-AZ), who led the subcommittee's effort. “For the future, such a result is not tenable,” he added. “The value that online advertising has to the Internet should not come at the expense of the consumer.”

Sen McCain said that he was eyeing the chance to “reinvigorate” that bill or a similar measure to protect Web users.

House GOP warns FCC could 'derail' Internet

Top House Republicans are telling the Federal Communications Commission to tread lightly with new rules governing the way Internet companies treat customers.

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) warned FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that issuing expansive rules would “needlessly inhibit the creation of American private sector jobs, limit economic freedom and innovation, and threaten to derail one of our economy’s most vibrant sectors.”

“The Commission should be focused on unleashing the full job-creating potential of the private sector, including the Internet, rather than stifling such growth through expansions of federal power,” the four wrote in a letter.