Congress Digs into Digital Music Rights, Precision Farming and Confirms Tech Leaders

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Lawmakers also propose expanding Homeland Security's power to ban suspect tech from government networks.

Congress is on break this week, but tackled plenty of interesting cyber and tech bills. Here's what you may have missed: 

Meet the New Boss

The Senate confirmed Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone as the third chief of U.S. Cyber Command Tuesday. Nakasone, who replaces Adm. Michael Rogers, is likely to preside over a long-expected split of CYBERCOM from its intelligence community sister, the National Security Agency.

Advocates of the split say the intelligence community’s interest in preserving web vulnerabilities for spying on adversaries is fundamentally incompatible with the military’s interest in making sure the nation and its networks are fully secure. Some military brass and top lawmakers, however, warn the split can’t happen before CYBERCOM, which will reach full operational capability this year, is prepared to stand on its own.

Nakasone told lawmakers he has “no predisposition” on whether CYBERCOM is ready for the split.

Same as the Old Acting Boss

Chris Krebs, acting undersecretary leading the Homeland Security Department’s cyber and infrastructure protection division, faced lawmakers Wednesday in a bid to fill the post on a permanent basis.

Big news out of the hearing: 30 top state election officials have provisional security clearances now, while 15 are in progress and five others haven’t applied yet. The process is going a little slow because election officials get sued a lot in their official capacity, so there’s a lot for investigators to review, Krebs said. That said, Krebs is confident he can get any classified intel he needs to in front of a state official within hours using a special daylong waiver.

Homeland Security has scheduled election system cybersecurity assessments with 17 states and eight local jurisdictions so far. Nine of those are complete.

Krebs said he’d be glad to institute a Homeland Security bug bounty if legislation mandating it becomes law. He’d earlier wavered on the topic.

In what Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson called “a committee first,” Krebs also announced a new child arriving this year, surprising even his parents in the audience and earning praise and coos from most committee members. (It’s at the 23-minute mark here).

And FTC Fills Roster

The Senate Thursday confirmed Joseph Simons, Rohit Chopra, Noah Joshua Phillips, Christine S. Wilson and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, filling out the leadership ranks of the Federal Trade Commission for the first time in more than a year. Simons will serve as chairman designate.

“I am grateful to Acting Chairman [Maureen] Ohlhausen and Commissioner [Terrell] McSweeny for their leadership over the past year, and look forward to working with the new chairman and commissioners on challenging issues such as robocalling, privacy and data security as they step into their new roles,” Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., said in a statement.

Internet of Farm Things Bill Advances

Senate Commerce Wednesday passed the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act, which would task the Federal Communications Commission to create a task force to study what kinds of connectivity and tech modern farmers need to get data about their fields and animals in real time. Such data could help farmers manage resources and costs, but many places in rural America lack basic broadband.

DISA, We Hardly Knew Ye

A House Armed Services Panel approved legislation Thursday that would transfer most of the Defense Information Services Agency’s network protection duties to U.S. Cyber Command.

The move is part of a broader plan by Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, to trim defense agencies that don’t report to a particular service or military command and has broad support from the committee’s emerging threats panel.

The panel’s ranking member Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., expects the provision to pass easily as part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, he told Nextgov Thursday. Asked if DISA will still have a mission in the absence of those network defense duties, Langevin said: “That’s something we’ll have to look at.”

Langevin isn’t disappointed with DISA’s performance, he said, but believes transferring its responsibilities to CYBERCOM will improve the overall coordination of military cyber defense.

Giving DHS a Free Hand

A bill introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein Tuesday would give the Homeland Security Department a ban-that-sketchy-tech-free card. The Federal Network Protection Act states that Homeland Security needn’t give any notice to a tech vendor before issuing a binding directive that concerns it.

The Russian anti-virus company Kaspersky sued the government earlier this year after Homeland Security issued a directive banning it from federal networks. The directive arose from concerns the company was too closely tied to the Russian government and might be a conduit for Russian spying.

Cyber Diplomacy Delayed

The House Foreign Affairs Committee delayed marking up a State Department reauthorization bill Thursday that would have elevated and made permanent a cyber diplomacy office that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson first shuttered than restored in a reduced form.

Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., one of the bill’s sponsor, criticized the delay saying: “It’s very disappointing that a few members—in both parties—have decided to politicize and undermine a good, bipartisan bill that supports our diplomats and strengthens our embassy security.”

Royce didn’t describe which issues caused the delay. Separate legislation that would restore the cyber office passed the House in January.

House Advances Overhaul of Digital Music Licenses

The last time most non-music industry folks thought about music licenses and whether musicians are getting paid was probably when Napster was a thing. Not for the House, which on Wednesday passed the Music Modernization Act 415 to 0. Introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., ranking member Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and a group of bipartisan lawmakers from the Intellectual Property subcommittee, the bill brings music licenses into the digital age by improving licensing agreements, securing royalties for pre-1972 works, and setting standard rates for royalties. Much of the music industry support the bill, with Sirius XM and MusicChoice as the most prominent detractors, according to Variety.

No Disneyland for You, Comrade

Foreigners who interfere in U.S. elections would be barred from receiving visas to visit the U.S. under the Defending Elections against Trolls from Enemy Regimes, or DETER, Act, introduced Thursday by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

A separate DETER Act, the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines Act, was introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., in January. That bill prescribes specific sanctions against nations that interfere in U.S. elections.

Hold the Phone. No, Your Secure White House Phone

Two Democratic lawmakers want to know what steps White House security has taken to ensure the personal cellphone that President Donald Trump still reportedly uses for personal conversations has been secured against foreign hackers.

“Hostile foreign intelligence agencies routinely attempt to breach White House communications operations, and the president is effectively handing them the keys to the office,” the letter from Reps Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., states.

Among other concerns, the lawmakers ask about the possibility of foreign spies using fake cellphone towers, known as stingrays, to capture the president’s calls and text messages. The Homeland Security Department recently acknowledged that foreign spies are likely using Stingrays in Washington and other U.S. cities.

Here’s a Way to Get More Congressional Tech Smarts

Recently Congress has come under fire for its lack of tech expertise, but lawmakers think reviving a defunct research office could help them get with the times. Reps. Bill Foster, D-Ill., and Mark Takano, D-Calif., introduced a bill Thursday that would revive the Office of Technology Assessment, a nonpartisan advisory group that kept Capitol Hill up to speed on the latest issues with emerging tech from 1972 to 1995. The office, which would receive a $2.5 million budget under the proposal, would likely weigh in on issues like data privacy, cybersecurity and online election interference.

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