Encrypted Messaging Apps Vex Lawmakers

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Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Democrats want an in-person briefing from the White House counsel on the staff’s use of encrypted apps and personal and professional Twitter accounts.

The uptick in secure, encrypted messaging apps used in Washington has Congress concerned that people are breaking transparency and records-keeping rules.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Democrats want an in-person briefing from the White House counsel on the staff’s use of encrypted apps and personal and professional Twitter accounts. The House oversight committee members asked White House counsel and 55 agencies about who’s using Confide, Signal and WhatsApp, what agency policies are and how they plan to comply with existing rules. Members said they may updating some of these rules to keep up with current technology.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., reintroduced the Electronic Message Preservation Act to allow the national archivist to come up with rules for saving messages in an easily searchable manner. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., introduced the Federal Records Modernization Act, aimed at punishing federal employees who purposefully tamper or destroy records.

House oversight will hold a hearing focused on transparency Wednesday, March 15.

And the Nominees Are… Waiting

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday approved former Sen. Dan Coats’ nomination to be the next director of national intelligence. He must still be confirmed by the full Senate.

Elaine Duke, nominee for Homeland Security Department deputy secretary, testified Wednesday to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the department would perform cost-benefit analysis and careful testing on the president’s proposed border wall, leaving the door open for technological rather than physical parts. Duke is a former undersecretary for management at DHS. The committee will consider Duke’s nomination during a business meeting March 15.

Coming Up

The House Intelligence Committee plans to kick off its first public hearing on Russian meddling in the 2016 election March 20, Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said. Possible witnesses include FBI Director James Comey, National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers and former CIA Director John Brennan.

The chair of the House Homeland Security Committee’s cyber panel, Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, plans to discuss the Wassanaar Arrangement during a panel at South by Southwest on Monday, he said. Critics say changes in the latest round of the international exporting agreement could harm legitimate cybersecurity firms and security researchers by banning exports of useful products.

The Quick, Quick Version of the FCC Privacy Rule Repeal

Last October, the Federal Communications Commission approved a privacy order requiring internet service providers—like Comcast, Verizon Wireless and AT&T—get customer permission before using or selling customer data such as web browsing data, app usage and location information. On March 2, Chairman Ajit Pai stayed the order. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., this week introduced companion resolutions using the Congressional Review Act to repeal the rule, which they—and a growing list of Republican co-sponsors—say is anti-consumer and an example of agency overreach. In short, ISPs applaud the move, privacy groups do not.

Bye-bye, ‘Blacklist’

In a close 49-48 vote, the Senate overturned the previous administration's Fair Pay, Safe Workplaces order, which required federal contractors to disclose violations of federal or state labor laws, like unsafe conditions or wage theft. Some contractors complained the rule would create a “blacklist” and cost too much to comply with each year.

Mission to Mars

After more than six years without an authorization bill, the House on Tuesday passed the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, S. 442. The bill allows for $19.5 billion in spending and prioritizes human space exploration and a journey to Mars. At the same time, the bill directs the NASA administrator to shift the agency’s role in the International Space Station from primary sponsor to being one of many station customers. What’s missing? Specifics on Earth science programs.

The bill also calls for a strategic plan to get the agency’s IT and information security in order. Lawmakers also want to ensure the agency chief information officer has oversight into IT programs and purchases, and see a plan to remediate vulnerabilities in NASA web applications in a timely manner.

EPA Bill Fight

With votes along party lines, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee passed a pair of controversial bills proposed by Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., promising transparency for Environmental Protection Agency. Committee Democrats, including ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, charge the bills will slow down regulations and add more industry officials than scientists to the agency’s advisory board.

Smith’s Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act would prevent the agency from proposing regulations based on science “that is not transparent or reproducible” and requires posting all data—minus personally identifiable information, trade secrets or confidential info—so others can analyze the results. Lucas’ EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act would open the agency’s science advisory board to new members and change disclosure requirements.

Attention, Cyber Scholars

Legislation introduced Thursday by Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., would expand an existing Pentagon scholarship program to authorize $10 million in funding for cyber-focused scholarships. The DOD Cyber Scholarship Program Act would also make those scholarships available to students pursuing relevant associate’s degrees at some community colleges.

Cyber Bills to Watch 

Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, reintroduced a bill Thursday that would require publicly traded companies to disclose whether a cybersecurity expert sits on their boards. If they lack an expert, the boards would have to explain why seating one is not necessary because of other cyber protections.

DHS would have more latitude to partner with local nonprofits to promote cybersecurity training under legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, and in the Senate by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Letter-Writing Isn’t a Lost Art

Does the Justice Department think WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange a criminal and is pursuing him? That’s the gist of a letter from Senate Judiciary Chairman Ben Sasse, R-Neb., to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Frankly, it is amazing that I even have to ask this question,” Sasse wrote, pointing to the intelligence community’s designation of WikiLeaks as foreign propaganda.

After the current president accused the former president of wiretapping him, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D. R.I., asked FBI Director James Comey and Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente for copies of any warrant applications or court orders for wiretaps on President Donald Trump, his campaign or Trump Tower.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wants to know how many Americans have had their communications collected without a warrant under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—a number he’s been asking for since 2011. Director of National Intelligence nominee Dan Coats recently stated 702’s reauthorization was a top priority for him.

Spiral Toys, the maker of the internet-connected teddy bears that allegedly leaked the info of 800,000 customers, received a letter from Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. Nelson sent a laundry list of questions about the company’s security and privacy policies.

Heather Kuldell and Joseph Marks contributed to this report.