Five Ways Congress Got Tough on Cyber Last Week

From newly approved cybersecurity measures to privacy rights and credit cards, Congress was busy last week making moves and tinkering with budgets.

From newly approved cybersecurity measures to privacy rights and credit cards, Congress was busy last week making moves and tinkering with budgets.

1.  Four Cyber Measures. The House approved four cybersecurity measures last week. The moves, if enacted into law, would allow information sharing about breaches by defense contractors; require an assessment of the Open Trusted Technology Provider Standard, and allow DoD and DHS to pay for training and certification exams for IT and cybersecurity workers.  The measures were all approved as amendments to the 2016 defense authorization bill, H.R. 1735, and were advanced by Reps. Mark Walker (R-NC) and Will Hurd (R-TX), both of whom sit on the Oversight and Government Reform and Homeland Security Committees.

2.  PIN it On. The House Committee on Financial Services tackled privacy rights and credit cards. “American consumers rightfully expect their personal information to be protected by their financial institutions, retailers, card networks, payment processors and, yes, by their federal government,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the committee chairman. “Consumers shouldn’t be left to simply hope and pray their personal information will be safe every time they swipe their debit or credit card or enter their information online.  They deserve protection.”

At issue was a debate over personal identification numbers, with opponents arguing the “limits of PIN in stopping fraud, the massive lack of PIN pads at retailers, and technological developments such as biometric that will replace the need for PINs,” reports Politico, while proponents insisted the retail community is “taking new and significant steps to enhance cybersecurity throughout the industry.”  Among the steps: forming the Retail Cyber Intelligence Sharing Center (R-CISC) and, according to thetestimony of Brian Dodge of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, opening a “steady flow of information sharing between retailers, law enforcement and other relevant stakeholders.” ¹

3.  Some lose, some gain. The House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations subcommittee got tough and moved to slash the NIST budget, approving a 22 percent budget cut for 2016.  Meanwhile, the same panel approved increased investment in the FBI for cybercrime, espionage, and terrorism. FBI would get a 1 percent boost over 2015 if the bill becomes law, gaining $111 million. Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson told Politico that the FBI is “one of our most important responsibilities.”

4.  Foreign cyber affairs. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee added cybersecurity to its portfolio, and its Subcommittee on East Asia, The Pacific, And International Cybersecurity Policy held its first hearing in an attempt to “get serious” about cyber warfare. But, exactly how serious is a matter of debate. Only two senators showed up for the hearing, according to National Journal.

5.  The sound of freedom. The House overwhelming passed the USA Freedom Act, 338-88, which would reform the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program and effectively shut down portions of the NSA’s controversial domestic spying program. Reported Wired magazine:  “The bill instead calls for records to be retained by telecoms and forces the NSA to obtain court orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to gain access to them. It also requires the agency to use specific search terms to narrow its access to only relevant records.”

What’s next? The Senate may well go along. On Friday, the Hill reported that the White House is now urging the Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act, but Senate Republicans are instead pushing for a clean extension of the Patriot Act without any changes to the NSA’s phone records program.  “If Senators do not take up the NSA reform measure, they will be weakening our nation’s security,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. Congress must act to reauthorize the Patriot Act before June 1, 2015, or the act will expire.

“My prediction is, we’re not going to be able to pass a reauthorization,” Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said in a Politico article on Sunday. Senator Johnson said he prefers the straight extension proposed by Senators McConnell and Burr, but “I think the House has already spoken. That’s probably about as good as we’re gonna have. I think that is unfortunate.”
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