OVERNIGHT TECH: Data breach talks back in Congress

THE LEDE:  Data security will be back in the spotlight on Wednesday, when a House Financial Services subcommittee hears from top law enforcement, consumer advocacy and industry experts.

The hearing will be the fifth Congress has held since Target revealed late last year that a hacker had stolen millions of users’ information during the holiday shopping season. Similar breaches at Neiman Marcus, other retailers and institutions like the University of Maryland have triggered concern around the country and calls from Congress for action.

Wednesday morning’s event in the Financial Services subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit plans to explore how data breaches occur, what types of security can help prevent them and whether or not new technologies can help fight off hackers.

“As payment systems increasingly rely on electronic transmissions of personal financial data, Americans have a right and an expectation to know how that data is protected, where it is stored, the extent to which government has access to it, and the protocols that are or ought to be in place when private or public sector entities mishandle, improperly disclose, or otherwise fail to ensure the security of personal financial information,” the panel said when it announced the hearing last week.

Officials from the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security, among others, are scheduled to testify.

In addition to Wednesday’s hearing, another session is scheduled for Thursday in the House Science Committee. Data privacy advocates and executives hope that the events give lawmakers a sense of the issues involved in data security.

"We believe that what has come out of the hearings to date has been a greater understanding about the complex issues that surround data security today,” said Bob Russo, general manager of the PCI Security Standards Council, which sets industry standards. He is testifying at Thursday’s event; a colleague, Troy Leach, is scheduled to appear at Wednesday’s.

The events probably won’t be the last that Congress holds on the issue. Russo added that he “expects to be in D.C. regularly” in coming months.

White House budget boosts school broadband: President Obama made good on his plans to provide broadband Internet to 99 percent of the country’s students in his budget proposal on Tuesday.

The budget included $200 million to jumpstart the ConnectEDucators program at the Department of Education, which would help states and school districts to connect kids to high-speed online access. As planned, the program would help supplement the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-Rate program, also known as ConnectED, which provides discounted broadband to schools and libraries. The ConnectEDucators program would make sure that teachers and school leaders are able to take advantage of the opportunities that come with the new access.

Obama’s budget also proposed $300 million to give 100,000 teachers the professional development training they need to take advantage of the new broadband connections.

Feds look to focus on cybersecurity: The Obama administration wants to beef up spending on cybersecurity in fiscal 2015. The administration’s proposed budget released on Tuesday would spend $1.25 billion for cybersecurity activities at the Department of Homeland Security and $722 million at the Justice Department, including an additional $7.5 million to fight criminals online and give out new grants.

“Cybercrimes are becoming more common, more sophisticated, and more dangerous,” the Justice Department said in a summary of its budget request.

“The Department has a unique and critical role in cyber security that emphasizes domestic mitigation of threat actors and involves countering the threat by investigating and prosecuting intrusion cases, gathering intelligence in support of nation state attribution, and providing legal and policy support to other departments.”

Recent high-profile data breaches have raised concerns about protections for people’s personal and financial data online. Lawmakers in Congress have called for new legislation to protect consumers and also urged for better funding for law enforcement to go after cyber thieves.

Hoyer breaks with Pelosi for Commerce slot: Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the House’s No. 2 Democrat, is breaking with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over the race to succeed Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.) as top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Democratic whip did not explicitly endorse Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), who is facing off against Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) for the post, but he suggested that the seniority system should dictate the outcome. Pallone is the third-ranking Democrat on the committee, while Eshoo is fifth. 

Hoyer's comments came a few days after Pelosi surprised Capitol Hill by publicly endorsing Eshoo for the spot.

Comcast extends Internet program for the poor: Comcast on Tuesday announced that it will continue offering its “Internet Essentials” program, which provides broadband Internet service to low-income families for $9.95 a month, for the foreseeable future. The program was created after the cable provider’s merger with NBC in 2011, and was originally set to expire after three years.

Comcast’s announcement comes as the company is looking for regulators to approve a merger with Time Warner Cable. In recent weeks the company has claimed that it more than met the terms of the 2011 merger, which should convince federal agencies to approve the new proposal. Critics have denied that the cable giant has lived up to its full commitments.

Rosenworcel pushes Wi-Fi: FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wants to make sure that Wi-Fi isn’t left behind in the race to grab up chunks of the country's airwaves. Unlike wireless phone service, Wi-Fi signals operate on unlicensed bands of the spectrum, but the space is becoming increasingly crowded, she wrote in an op-ed for re/code. 

Rosenworcel, a Democrat, pushed for the FCC to change its rules and expand unlicensed service in one band of the spectrum and guard portions of other bands. By doing so, she wrote, “we can seriously expand Wi-Fi opportunities.”

“Given the multiplying number of wireless devices in our lives and the growing demands on our airwaves — licensed and unlicensed — now is not a moment too soon.”



Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) will attend a breakfast briefing on patent reform, hosted by Politico.

Two of President Obama’s nominees for top positions at the Department of Homeland Security are testifying in the Senate at 9:30 a.m. L. Reginald Brothers Jr. was nominated to be the department’s undersecretary for science and technology, and Francis Taylor was nominated to be the undersecretary for intelligence and analysis.

At 10:00, a House Financial Services subcommittee will discuss data security.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is hosting an event on virtual currencies at 2:00 p.m.

Also at 2:00, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) will receive the “Champion of Internet Innovation” award as part of an Internet Infrastructure Coalition event on Capitol Hill. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) will also accept the award via video message.



The Obama administration is suing Sprint on the grounds that the company overcharged the government for wiretaps. 

The National Security Agency's slow response to Edward Snowden's security leaks exacerbated an already devastating national security problem, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) charged Tuesday. 

Congress needs to overhaul a pair of privacy laws to allow the government to communicate with private companies and foreign nations, according to NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander. 

Snowden will speak at the music festival South by Southwest on Monday via webcast.  

President Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal 2015 would enact a fee for using the country’s airwaves and sell off licenses for satellite communications, things the administration has been trying to enact for years. 


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