Privacy advocates are growing alarmed with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s plan to mark up a bill next week that would reauthorize powerful spying tools. Committee Chairman Richard Burr told POLITICO on Tuesday that the committee intends to soon mark up its legislation to renew the spying programs allowed under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, while signaling that the measure might not contain revisions to the controversial efforts and could resemble a “clean” renewal, without tweaks.
“The insistence of members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on moving forward with a bill to cleanly and permanently reauthorize one of the most invasive spying authorities in the United States is in clear contravention of political will and economic reality,” said Amie Stepanovich, U.S. policy manager at digital rights group Access Now, in response to Burr’s remarks. “At this point, only two months away from sunset, we should be having an honest conversation about necessary reforms, not fielding legislative temper tantrums.”
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Specifically, Burr shot down several revisions contained in a bipartisan draft proposal the House Judiciary Committee unveiled earlier this month, (H.R. 3989) (115), including: whether the FBI should need a warrant to search the 702 database; whether Congress should codify the end of “about” collection; and whether to inject more aggressive oversight of the “unmasking” process — which allows the government to expose the identity of Americans included in intelligence reports. Burr said he’s against a warrant requirement for the FBI but was unsure how, or if, his committee would tackle “about” collection — the hoovering up of digital communications that only mention foreign surveillance targets. As for unmasking, the North Carolina Republican said: “We think we’ve got the right requirements for unmasking currently.”
Besides the bill led by Burr, Sens. Ron Wyden and Rand Paul are expected to introduce a revision-heavy reauthorization bill soon. If the Senate Intelligence Committee moves ahead, it would leapfrog the House Judiciary panel, which has yet to schedule a markup of its bipartisan bill. Both chambers have just seven legislative weeks left in 2017 and lawmakers have to address a long list of pressing concerns, including passing a bill to fund the government.
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CYBER EO UPDATE — The Office of Management and Budget submitted a key cybersecurity report to President Donald Trump last week, according to a senior White House official involved in implementing the president’s cyber executive order. The report presented a high-level picture of the federal government’s cybersecurity posture and how agencies were managing their electronic risks. Trump’s executive order, issued in May, required the report to include a plan to “adequately protect” federal systems and “address immediate unmet budgetary needs” for managing cyber risks. Agencies had 90 days to submit individual risk management reports to OMB, which then had 60 days to analyze them and submit a broader report to Trump. That document was due last week, and the senior White House official said it was submitted “ahead of schedule.”
OMB is now focused on a second report ordered in the EO that will focus on IT modernization. The American Technology Council, the newly created White House team tasked with updating the government’s networks, published a draft of that report at the end of August and asked the public to comment on it. OMB cyber staffers are “incorporating feedback from the open public comment period,” the senior White House official told MC, and they hope it will be “final and submitted to POTUS early next month.” OMB spokespeople did not respond to emails asking to confirm the status of the two reports.
CYBER SERVICE — The Secret Service is on top of cybersecurity at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and the president’s other properties, the agency told a Democratic lawmaker in August, but it won’t publicly explain how, exactly, it protects Trump. Rep. Ted Lieu had asked the Department of Homeland Security about concerns raised in a Gizmodo article about cyber vulnerabilities at Trump’s properties, including public Wi-Fi networks that could expose the president’s smartphone to hackers. In a previously unpublicized response letter obtained by POLITICO, the Secret Service, answering on behalf of DHS, said its Critical Systems Protection program “assesses and mitigates the risk of a cyberattack to critical systems and infrastructure that could affect the safety of agency protectees.”