OVERNIGHT TECH: DOJ to push for civil carve-out at email privacy hearing

THE LEDE: The Justice Department's Elana Tyrangiel will argue that Congress should not require government agencies to obtain a warrant for email searches in civil investigations, according to a copy of her prepared remarks for Tuesday's House Judiciary Committee hearing. 

She will explain that officials can only obtain a warrant if they can show probable cause that a crime has occurred. But many critical areas, such as civil rights, environmental protection and antitrust enforcement, rely on civil litigation, and there would be no basis for a warrant. 

"As increasing amounts of information are stored electronically, the amount of information that would be unobtainable to government regulators and litigators will only increase," Tyrangiel, the acting assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Policy, will warn.

Tuesday’s hearing, which will be held by the subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, will be the first to examine whether Congress should expand the privacy protections of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). Under ECPA, which Congress passed in 1986, government officials only need a subpoena to read emails that have been opened or that are more than 180 days old. Privacy advocates argue the law is woefully out of date and that police should need a warrant to access emails and other online content.

Tyrangiel will agree that there is "no principled basis" to treat email differently based on how old it is or whether it has been opened. 

ADVERTISEMENT
“We need to reexamine our current laws on the books to determine if they need to be updated in the digital age to better protect individuals’ privacy while maintaining a workable framework for law enforcement officials to do their jobs," Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said in an emailed statement.

AT&T hacker gets 3 years in prison: A federal judge sentenced a self-described security researcher to 41 months in jail on Monday for obtaining email addresses from AT&T servers.

Andrew Auernheimer, 27, also known as "Weev," noticed a security hole in AT&T's website that allowed him to enter iPad ID numbers and obtain the account's email address. He created a program to enter thousands of IDs, collecting email addresses for elite iPad users including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Auernheimer gave the information about the security gap to Gawker. 

He argued that he was only trying to draw attention to the security gap so that AT&T could fix it, and not to profit from it.

“Andrew Auernheimer knew he was breaking the law when he and his partner hacked into AT&T’s servers and stole personal information from unsuspecting iPad users,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a statement. “When it became clear that he was in trouble, he concocted the fiction that he was trying to make the Internet more secure, and that all he did was walk in through an unlocked door. The jury didn’t buy it, and neither did the Court in imposing sentence upon him today.”

Advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation argue that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is written too vaguely and allows for draconian punishments for minor computer infractions. EFF has joined his case for the appeal. 

"Weev's case shows just how problematic the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is," EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury said. "We look forward to reversing the trial court's decision on appeal. In the meantime, Congress should amend the CFAA to make sure we don't have more Aaron Swartzs and Andrew Auernheimers in the future."

But Auernhemier might not be the best poster child for softening anti-hacking laws. In a comment posted on Reddit on Sunday night, he threatened to hack AT&T again.

“My regret is being nice enough to give AT&T a chance to patch before dropping the dataset to Gawker. I won’t nearly be as nice next time,” he wrote

Lira to NRSC: Social media guru Matt Lira, senior adviser to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), announced via Twitter on Monday that he is headed to the National Republican Senatorial Committee to serve as deputy executive director. This will be his last week in Cantor's office.

"The GOP will build a modern infrastructure on all fronts," Lira said on Twitter. 

 

ON TAP

Mandiant CEO Kevin Mandia will brief the Senate Armed Service Committee’s subpanel on Emerging Threats and Capabilities about cyber threats the computer security firm is observing. The subcommittee will then hold a closed briefing with Stephanie O’Sullivan, principal deputy director of national intelligence, and Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commander of U.S. Cyber Command.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

RNC looks to beef up digital operations: After suffering a tough loss in the 2012 presidential election, the Republican National Committee (RNC) says the party must close the digital divide between the GOP and Democrats if it wants to win the upcoming midterm elections and 2016 presidential race. 

As part of this effort, the RNC is looking to hire a chief technology and digital officer by May 1 who will be responsible for recruiting a team of savvy data scientists, tech and digital advocates who will build a new data and digital operation for the upcoming elections.

Blank to leave Commerce: Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank will leave the department this summer to serve as the new chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Blank expects to start her new position at the university in July, but said in a message to Commerce employees that she has no plans to leave the department in the near term. Blank expects to welcome a new Commerce secretary before her departure. 

New group for email privacy: Three nonprofit advocacy groups announced a new partnership on Monday to lobby Congress to expand privacy protections for emails and other private online content.

Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Democracy & Technology joined forces to launch "Digital 4th," which will lobby Congress to revise the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

 

Please send tips and comments to Brendan Sasso, bsasso@thehill.com, and Jennifer Martinez, jmartinez@thehill.com.

Follow Hillicon Valley on Twitter: @HilliconValley, @BrendanSasso, @JenMartinez

— This post was updated at 8:58 a.m. to correct the name of the principal deputy director of national intelligence.