OVERNIGHT TECH: Obama signs cyber bills

THE LEDE: President Obama on Thursday signed five cybersecurity bills into law, after an unexpected spate of legislative activity on the issue.

The five bills won’t satisfy the strongest backers of tough cyber protections, but they should help many government officials beef up their networks and were cheered by supporters when they rushed through Congress in the final days of its 2014 session.

ADVERTISEMENT
The bills largely direct various arms of government to deal in a more forceful way with cyber issues, but should also clarify current operations. The Cybersecurity Enhancement Act, for instance, allows the Commerce Department to write voluntary standards to protect critical infrastructure and tells the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a federal cyber research plan.

Most of the bills are aimed at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The National Cybersecurity Protection Act establishes in law the department’s national cybersecurity center, while the Federal Information Security Modernization Act updates 12-year-old federal information security laws. The Cybersecurity Workforce Assessment Act directs the DHS to build out a new strategy to recruit and hang onto the best and brightest workers in the field, and the Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act allows the department to exempt some cyber staffers from normal government hiring rules.  

Who’s Will Hurd?: GOP Rep.-elect Will Hurd (Texas), a former CIA officer, was picked Thursday to lead the new House Oversight subcommittee on Information Technology. Hurd is the only freshman to lead one of the six subpanels on the committee. He defeated Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego in one of Texas's most competitive districts this year to take over the seat.

Hurd worked for the cybersecurity firm Fusion X for the past four years, focusing on issues related to manufactures, financial institutions, retailers and infrastructure. He previously worked as a partner for the firm Crumpton Group LLC, where he focused on managing risk for clients’ intellectual and physical property.

'You don't negotiate with bad guys': During a live interview with The Texas Tribune on Thursday, Hurd said there are not enough people in Congress with a background on these issues, noting his degree is in computer science. He disagreed with Sony's decision to pull the movie "The Interview" after a cyber attack against the company and physical threats against theaters planning to show the film. He said the government had not yet outlined how to respond to purely digital attacks.

"You don't negotiate with bad guys, you don't negotiate with terrorists," he said. "And to me in this case, the North Koreans -- in my opinion, when it comes to their technical sophistication -- they are in kind of the tier two. And look, we shouldn't capitulate to these guys."

Google blasts attempt to revive SOPA: Google is "deeply concerned" about news that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has been working to revive controversial intellectual property laws through the states. Documents leaked in the massive hack at Sony Pictures indicated that the Hollywood trade group has attempted to bring back the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which major Web companies claim would lead to censorship of the Internet. In a blog post on Thursday, Google general counsel Kent Walker accused the MPAA of "trying to secretly censor the Internet." 

FCC commissioners in 'untenable position'?: The head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association reiterated his disappointment with President Obama over his call last month for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate broadband Internet as a utility. Michael Powell, a former Republican FCC chairman, said the independent agency could choose a different path, but it would be difficult. 

"I have never in my career seen a president suggest so expressly the desire and outcome that he wants," Powell said on CNBC. "That puts the leadership of the commission in an untenable position in my judgment. And I think certainly they are free to make a different choice than the wishes of the president, but that comes with enormous political baggage, and I think it is quite unfortunate that the process has been politicized to such a dramatic degree."

How big of a deal are online TV rules?: The FCC is close to approving proposed rules that would allow online television services equal ability to negotiate and buy access to cable and broadcast channels, similar to cable and satellite TV companies. But research analyst Craig Moffett said the move might not be as important as others have made out.

"Truth be told, it is not a huge issue," he said in an interview for C-SPAN's "The Communicators" series set to air Saturday. "People have talked about it as if it might be some kind of a lifeline for companies like Aereo because it gives them at least a step in the direction of being able to license retransmission consent content from broadcasters. But it doesn't really give them all that much negotiating leverage there. All it says is they have to be negotiated with in good faith. That doesn't suggest that those companies have to license content to them. And I don't think that that reclassification is really going to change the world."

Adidas, L’Oréal, Lyft join CEA: The Consumer Electronics Association is adding a number of new members. Adidas, Lyft, New Balance, L’Oréal and Time are among the companies joining the more than 2,000 members of the tech trade group. In a statement, CEO Gary Shapiro said that the companies' focus on "the sharing economy" and the "Internet of things" make them natural members. "The world of consumer technologies continues to change and expand, reaching into new markets, transforming old business models and providing benefits across all aspects of consumers' lives," he said.

Microsoft sues tech support scammers: Microsoft filed a lawsuit Thursday against tech support operators it claims are scamming people. The tech giant says it has received more than 65,000 complaints about fake tech support scams since May. 

Patent doc streaming online: A new industry-backed documentary pushing for targeted reforms to the nation's patent laws is now streaming online. "Inventing to Nowhere" is being pushed by the Innovation Alliance, an advocacy group, and features interviews with members of Congress and others.

Bitcoin ATM in DC: The Washington Post highlighted the arrival of the city's first bitcoin ATM, which was installed last month at a restaurant in Adams Morgan. The Post described it as one of a handful in the country, and noted only 10 transactions have taken place on its since it was installed the week of Thanksgiving. Users can purchase the virtual currency from the machine in denominations between $6 and $1,000.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday ruled the name "Redskins" is not profane or obscene.

A group of 36 Democrats are increasing their calls for the FCC to reclassify broadband Internet as a public utility.

Theaters across the country are canceling showings of "Team America: World Police," previously scheduled to replace "The Interview" after Sony pulled the film due to security concerns.

The incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee on Thursday announced the creation of a new information technology subpanel.

The two Republicans on the FCC are accusing the agency's chairman of refusing to let them have their say.

 

Please send tips and comments to Julian Hattem, jhattem@thehill.com and Mario Trujillo, mtrujillo@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @HilliconValley@jmhattem

 

Updated at 8:14 p.m. to correct the characterization of Innovation Alliance