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Lawmakers Show Love to Blockchain, 'Star Wars,' But Question FBI FOIA Changes


The technology behind bitcoin has new crusaders in Congress.

Reps. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and David Schweikert, R-Ariz., Feb. 9 officially introduced the Congressional Blockchain Caucus to brief other members about blockchain technology and digital currencies, and creating public policy for them.

Considered secure by design, a blockchain is distributed database that creates a list of linked records that can’t be changed retroactively. Bitcoin, for example, relies on blockchain technology to track transactions and prevent multiple parties from spending the same digital currency. Blockchain technology has potential uses in traditional financial institutions, health care, titling and cybersecurity.

“Open blockchain networks and distributed ledger technologies are still new, but it’s critical for members of Congress to begin comprehending both their current applications and future use cases,” Schweikert said in a statement.

Schweikert replaces former co-chair and likely Office of Management and Budget director, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.

Too Irresistible, YODA Jokes Are

Reps. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, and Jared Polis, D-Colo., went all in on the "Stars Wars" jokes when they reintroduced the You Own Device Act, or YODA. “Allowing essential software to travel with physical devices, like computers, YODA will do. By modernizing copyright law in this way, a consumer can sell, lease, or give away a computer, as well as the licenses for essential software that allows the computer to operate, it will,” they said in a press release.

Wyden Frets About FBI FOIA Portal

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wants answers about reported limitations in an online Freedom of Information Act request portal the FBI plans to launch next month and the bureau’s decision to stop accepting emailed requests once the portal is online, according to a letter sent Friday.

Wyden’s concerns include a 3,000-character limit for online FOIA requests, language suggesting the portal may not allow requests for internal memos and other documents, forcing journalists and other requesters to use fax or snail mail and a requirement that requesters disclose whether they’re U.S. citizens.

Wyden also asks why the FBI is building its own portal rather than relying on the FOIAonline system used by the Justice Department and other agencies.

Commerce Committee Hounds Yahoo for Data Breach Answers

Yahoo hasn’t been very cooperative about sharing information about its 2013 and 2014 data breaches, which collectively compromised more than 500 million user accounts, Senate Commerce Committee leaders said in a letter Friday to CEO Marissa Mayer.

Yahoo hasn’t provided committee staff with basic information about the breaches, the second of which was the largest single digital compromise in U.S. history, Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., and consumer protection panel Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kan., say in the letter. Yahoo also abruptly canceled a Jan. 28 briefing on the second breach, the letter states.

The senators want answers to a series of questions by Feb. 23 about the scope of the breaches, what Yahoo has done to notify customers and steps the company has taken to restore its systems’ integrity. 

Tracking Changes on

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., reintroduced the Establishing Digital Interactive Transparency, or EDIT, Act, which tasks the Library of Congress to create a system that lets citizens use one document on to see the changes made to bills and track them as they move through the process.

The government wouldn’t be the first to tackle such a system. For example, is an independent project that allows users to track bills and actions.

Not so Fast on Relaxing Those Sanctions, Mr. President

President Donald Trump would have to get a sign-off from Congress before relaxing sanctions against Russia under legislation introduced Wednesday by a bipartisan group of senators, including Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and Intelligence ranking member Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

The legislation would require the president to provide Congress with a description of the proposed sanction relief and proof the Russian government has ceased all offensive or destabilizing actions in Ukraine and stopped launching cyberattacks against the U.S. government or its citizens. Congress will then have 120 days to pass legislation disapproving the sanctions relief before it goes into effect.

Republicans Noodge Trump on Russia Stance

Eight Republican senators Thursday wrote to Trump urging him to take a tough stance against Russian aggression in cyberspace and other areas.

“We must recognize and counter the active cyber and information warfare Russia is conducting against the United States and western democracies, including attempted interference in our democratic elections process,” states the letter from Sen. Mike Rounds, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s new cyber panel, and other Republicans.

The letter urges seeking common ground with Russia, but not abandoning fundamental U.S. interests. It also focuses on Russian aggression in Crimea and possible U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria. 

Lawmakers ask Trump Team to Take Another Crack at Wassenaar

House Homeland Security leaders urged the Trump administration Friday to press for updates to controversial export controls that may hinder cross-border work in cybersecurity.

Tech groups and security researchers failed last year in a bid to update the international Wassenaar Arrangement to ensure limits on the export of “intrusion software” don’t halt companies from selling basic cyber tools across national borders. In a Friday letter, Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus Co-Chair Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and other lawmakers asked National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to take another crack at it.

Wassenaar is a voluntary agreement among 41 nations. The letter was also signed by House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, ranking member Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and House oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz R-Utah, among others. BSA, an industry group that represents companies including Microsoft, IBM and Symantec, quickly applauded the statement. 

Taking Stock of Reserve Cyber Talent

Legislation introduced Monday would require the Pentagon to improve its tracking of cyber capabilities within the National Guard and Reserves, so the military can better rely on Guard and Reserves troops who work in cybersecurity during their day jobs.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee’s emerging threats panel, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., ranking member on the committee’s personnel panel, Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., chair of the committee’s strategic forces panel, and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.

Heather Kuldell and Joseph Marks contributed to this report.

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