Panel vets DHS nominee on cybersecurity today

President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Homeland Security Department will face questions about her cybersecurity views before the Senate Homeland Security panel this morning, although perhaps fewer than other nominees might given her extensive background in the subject and other pressing DHS concerns.

Kirstjen Nielsen, most recently the deputy White House chief of staff and before that the DHS chief of staff, gained a reputation as a cyber expert from her work at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, among other posts. Sen. Steve Daines’ office, for instance, told MC he plans to ask Nielsen about her views on encryption and the balance between security and privacy, especially in light of the news that the FBI says it hasn’t been able to unlock the phone of the suspected Sutherland, Texas, shooter. Daines has co-sponsored legislation in the past to create a commission examining encryption.

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Sen. Maggie Hassan has cyber questions, too. Hassan’s press secretary Ricki Eshman told MC the topic is one of the New Hampshire Democrat’s “top priorities on the Senate Homeland Security Committee,” pointing to a bill the lawmaker introduced with Sen. Rob Portman, the Hack DHS Act (S. 1281), which would create a bug bounty program at the department.

“One of the areas she is best-versed is with respect to cybersecurity,” Sen. Tom Carper, formerly the panel’s top Democrat, told MC. “I think the concern a lot of us have about the nominee is not her familiarity with cybersecurity, but her ability to lead the department with 240,000 people spread all over the world whose issues concern a whole lot more than cybersecurity,” Carper said. A spokesman for Sen. Claire McCaskill, the panel’s current top Democrat, said the Missouri lawmaker wants to hear “the nominee discuss her background and policy positions on a variety of issues given how important a role DHS plays in everything from counterterrorism to disaster response.” A committee staff questionnaire has already revealed some of Nielsen’s views on cybersecurity at DHS.

Before the hearing has even taken place, though, there are signs of Democratic dismay at the panel’s plans for a scheduled Thursday vote on Nielsen, much quicker than the usual time between a nomination hearing and vote. “Why the rush? Why the rush?” Carper asked. “I don’t think there’s the need for that kind of speed.” Committee Chairman Ron Johnson predicted smooth confirmation for Nielsen, however. He also plans to address cybersecurity in his opening remarks. “As the use of the internet increases, so do the threats posed by social media inspired acts of terrorism, hacking and cyberattacks,” Johnson’s prepared opening remarks read. Nielsen’s hearing is one of three major cyber events on the Hill today. Read on for the rest.

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