This Week in Tech: Senate ramps up NSA scrutiny

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its first oversight hearing on the National Security Agency following the introduction of committee Chairman Patrick Leahy's (D-Vt.) bill to curb the agency's power.

The hearing, scheduled for Thursday morning, will feature testimony from NSA Deputy Director John Inglis; Deputy Attorney General James Cole; and Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The committee held hearings in July and October following leaks about the scope of the NSA's surveillance programs.

Leahy and Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), the original author of the Patriot Act, introduced the USA Freedom Act earlier this month to rein in NSA spying.

The bill would end the agency's controversial program collecting records on all U.S. phone calls, tighten oversight and require more disclosure about the NSA's surveillance activities.

“The intelligence community faces a trust deficit, and I am particularly concerned that the NSA has strayed and overreached beyond its core missions,” Leahy said in a statement.

“One important step toward rebuilding that trust would be for the NSA to spend less of its time collecting data on innocent Americans, and more on keeping our nation’s secrets safe and holding its own accountable.”

Leahy is moving toward a showdown with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Her panel has already approved her bill that would enhance oversight of the NSA but codify its sweeping phone record collection.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security will discuss virtual currencies, such as bitcoin, at a hearing on Monday. The hearing will include officials from the Treasury, Homeland Security and Justice departments, as well as representatives from digital currency groups The Bitcoin Foundation and Circle Internet Financial.

The hearing will focus on “potential risks, threats and promises of virtual currencies.” Last month, the FBI shut down online black market Silk Road and arrested its operator.

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a Thursday morning hearing on FirstNet, the planned nationwide wireless network for first responders. Congress authorized funding for the network as part of tax cut legislation last year. Republicans have expressed concern over whether states have enough say in the construction of the network.

The House Judiciary Committee will continue its examination of copyright law Tuesday, with a hearing about “content delivery methods in the digital age.” This will be the fourth copyright hearing this year. Last week, the committee announced it would hold more hearings on the subject into 2014.

Also on Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission will hold a public workshop to examine privacy and security concerns surrounding connected devices, or the “Internet of Things.”

FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez and Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen are scheduled to speak, and the keynote will be given by Google Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist Vincent Cerf.

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