Hill, The

Sen Chambliss: House NSA reforms go ‘a little bit too far’

Sen Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said the surveillance reform bill that passed the House in May goes too far in ending some of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) sweeping surveillance programs.

“I actually think they went a little bit too far on the bulk collection side of it,” Chambliss -- the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee -- said.

Sen Chambliss said he thinks the House bill is actually too aggressive, but said he is open to discussing some changes to the surveillance programs, including increased transparency measures and shorter retention periods for data. “It’s not going to be easy” to bring together the senators on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to surveillance reform, he said, adding that he welcomes the debate.

Rep Lofgren staffer joins tech industry group

Rep Zoe Lofgren’s (D-CA) Communications Director is joining the Information Technology Industry Council, the tech trade group announced.

Duncan Neasham -- who worked for the House Small Business Committee before joining Rep Lofgren’s office in 2011 -- will start at the ITI, overseeing its “media strategy and messaging through its traditional and multi-media platforms,” the group said.

ITI represents giants in the tech industry, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo Qualcomm and Oracle.

Rep Lofgren -- who represents part of Silicon Valley and is a member of the House Judiciary Committee -- works on issues critical to the tech industry, including surveillance reform and copyright and hacking laws.

GOP questions health software regulator’s authority

Top Republicans are questioning whether an office within the Health and Human Services Department has the authority to regulate software applications used in the health industry and impose user fees.

In a letter to Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for health information technology (IT) at HHS, GOP leaders questioned whether the Office of National Coordinator (ONC) has the statutory authority to regulate health IT products based on a new report and whether it has the authority to receive user fees under its budget request.

“It is not clear to us under what statutory authority ONC is now pursuing these enhanced regulatory activities, including the levying of new user fees, on Health IT,” said the lawmakers on the House Commerce Committee. They included Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Vice Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Health Subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts (R-PA) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR).

NSA chief: Being anonymous an anachronism

The concept of total anonymity may be something of an anachronism, the head of the National Security Agency suggested. Adm Michael Rogers said anonymity is being sacrificed for technology, and his agency is caught in the tensions surrouding that shift.

“In the world we’re living in, increasingly by choice and by chance, we are forfeiting privacy at levels that as individuals I don't think we truly understand,” Adm Rogers said. “I’m the first to admit, the idea that you can be totally anonymous in the digital age is increasingly difficult to executive.”

The ability to completely disappear from the crowd may be a thing of the past, he said, given the ability of companies and governments to obtain vast amounts of information about people.

Adm Rogers's comments follow a series of reports detailing the insights companies and government agencies are gaining by watching people’s habits on the Internet and offline.

Lawmakers lay out goals for FCC program to fund Internet in schools

A bipartisan group of lawmakers laid out recommendations for the Federal Communications Commission to modernize its E-Rate program to fund technology in classrooms.

“The funding priorities must reflect the changing nature of the Internet, so that our classrooms and students have access to today’s technology,” a group of 46 lawmakers told the FCC. “America’s school and libraries are in need of a technological update to accelerate next-generation education reforms, support teachers and enhance student learning through universal access to high-speed broadband.”

The lawmakers laid out a list of recommendations for updating the 18-year-old E-Rate program, including focuses on Internet services and Wi-Fi, making sure pricing for Internet access is competitive, increasing transparency and streamlining the application process.

Feds go after hackers who demand ransom

The Department of Justice is cracking down on hackers in Russia and Ukraine who, officials say, are making millions of dollars by stealing bank information and holding computer files for ransom.

The agency announced efforts to disrupt two cyber crime programs -- “Cryptolocker” and “Gameover Zeus” -- allegedly developed and run by a “tightly knit gang of cyber criminals based in Russia and Ukraine” led by Russian Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev.

Cryptolocker is a “ransomware” tool that encrypts a computer’s files until the owner pays a ransom. According to the agency, the ransomware has infected more than 234,000 computers, half of which are in the US. The release cites one estimate “that more than $27 million in ransom payments were made in just the first two months since Cryptolocker emerged” and said that the FBI seized the servers being used as “control hubs” for the ransomware.

The “Gameover Zeus” botnet is a malware network used to steal millions of dollars by capturing banking credentials. The botnet also was a common distribution tool for the Cryptolocker software, according to the agency. According to the release, between 500,000 and 1 million computers world wide are infected with Gameover Zeus, and 25 percent of those infected computers are in the US.

In addition to bringing charges against Bogachev for his alleged role as administrator of Gameover Zeus and Cryptolocker, the US government obtained civil and criminal court orders authorizing agencies to take steps to mitigate damage caused by these programs, including obtaining the IP addresses of affected computers.

Google wants users to call for ‘real’ NSA reform

Google is asking its users to “demand real surveillance reform” after the recent House vote on a compromise bill to curb US spying.

The company subsequently took to Twitter asking followers to “join us in asking the Senate to fix the USA Freedom Act,” which just passed the House. “It’s time for #RealSurveillanceReform,” the tweet said, directing followers to its advocacy website.

The USA Freedom Act passed unanimously through the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees -- earning the support of pro-reform lawmakers and tech companies -- but critics say that last minute changes watered the bill down too much. The Reform Government Surveillance coalition -- made up of tech industry giants including Google -- ultimately pulled its support for the bill as it headed to the House floor.

“For example, as the bill stands today it could still permit the collection of email records from everyone who uses a particular email service,” Google said. The company’s advocacy page encourages users to add their names to the list of people calling for “real surveillance reform” as the bill heads to the Senate.

Time to forget the "right to be forgotten"

[Commentary] It is unfortunate that privacy laws have degenerated from upholding the "right to be left alone" to an overbearing attempt at obscuring reality. And where will this end?

If individuals have the right to erase public data about themselves, why stop with search engines? Did someone say something true about you on Facebook or Twitter? Time to file a complaint. Did you write something you regret in an email? Just require the email provider to track down and delete all copies of your message. You will never again need to worry about learning from your mistakes since you can just forget them.

The European Union is in the midst of updating its privacy laws, so this ruling will certainly not be the last word on the subject. But as policymakers both in the United States and abroad continue to refine privacy laws and regulations in the coming years, they should consider who exactly it is they are trying to protect.

In this case, it is hard to see how rules designed to protect people like Donald Sterling, Anthony Weiner and Mel Gibson serve the common good. Since privacy laws almost always involve a trade-off between different values, policymakers should be aware what they are giving up when they make these decisions and strive to find a more balanced approach.

[Castro is a senior policy analyst with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation]

House authorizes intelligence programs through 2015

The House passed legislation to authorize intelligence activities through fiscal 2015.

Funding levels in the measure, passed 345-59, are classified. It would authorize spending for the CIA, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency (DNI).

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI), who is retiring, said that the controversies over NSA spying had mischaracterized American intelligence activities. "We have somehow decided over the last year that our intelligence services are the problem," Chairman Rogers said. "They are part of the solution."

"For the sake of vigorous oversight and accountability over all US intelligence agencies, I urge my colleagues to support this bill," said Rep Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) of the Intelligence Committee. Due to the classified nature of many of its provisions, the intelligence authorization is marked up in committee behind closed doors. But Chairman Rogers maintained that members of the committee had engaged in rigorous debate on overseeing the nation's intelligence programs.

"There is no love fest when those doors close," Chairman Rogers said.

Democrats protest intelligence funding bill over NSA

The intelligence funding bill the House overwhelmingly passed would make no major reforms to some of the most controversial spying programs, which angered some Democrats.

Rep John Conyers Jr (D-MI), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, voted against the measure because it made no effort to reform the National Security Agency and other programs. The funding bill “excludes even modest efforts to address cybersecurity, whistleblower protections, increased transparency, and drone warfare,” he said. “Because the bill falls far short on each of these matters -- and because the members introducing these reforms were not provided even the courtesy of open debate -- I did not support this bill.”

“While I recognize the necessity of guarding some of the intelligence community’s clandestine activities, matters that impact the civil liberties and safety of all Americans cannot be conducted in a manner that shuts out Congress and leaves the public in the dark," he added.