Lynch vows to 'expand and enhance' DOJ’s cyber work

Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee for attorney general, pledged on Wednesday to bolster the Justice Department’s cybersecurity work if she is confirmed by the Senate.

“All of us are struck by the prevalence of cyber issues in every type of case we prosecute now,” Lynch said during her confirmation hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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During her opening statement, Lynch vowed “to expand and enhance our capabilities in order to effectively prevent ever-evolving attacks in cyberspace, to expose the wrongdoers and bring those perpetrators to justice, as well.”

Lynch, who is expected to be confirmed to replace Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderOregon legislature on the brink as Democrats push gerrymandered maps Christie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group Democrats look to state courts as redistricting battle heats up MORE, has been a federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York since 2010. She highlighted the work her division has done on cyber crime in that time.

“In my current position, I’m proud to lead an office that has significant experience prosecuting complex international cyber crime, including high-tech intrusions at key financial and public sector institutions,” Lynch said.

In 2013, Lynch’s office took down eight New York-based members of an international cyber crime ring that hacked bank accounts, raised their withdrawal limits and then withdrew roughly $45 million from ATMs worldwide.

New York was hit with $2.8 million in fraudulent withdrawals in a matter of hours.

Judiciary ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPhotos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' MORE (D-Vt.) referenced the case leading up to the hearing in seeking to build support for Lynch’s nomination. During his opening statement Wednesday, Leahy listed Lynch’s work on cyber crime as one of her top accomplishments.

“Ms. Lynch has brought terrorists and cyber criminals to justice, obtained convictions against corrupt public officials from both political parties, and fought tirelessly against violent crime and financial fraud,” Leahy said.

Speaking more generally, Leahy said the the Justice Department (DOJ) needs a tech-savvy leader.

“We must stay ahead of the curve to prevent and fight threats to cybersecurity and data privacy,” he said.

The DOJ has been stepping up its cyber focus, recently creating a dedicated cybersecurity unit within its criminal division.

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats draw red lines in spending fight What Republicans should demand in exchange for raising the debt ceiling Climate hawks pressure Biden to replace Fed chair MORE (D-R.I.) expressed concern about “the structure within the department for handling cybersecurity.”

Cyber investigations are spread across several divisions within the DOJ, he said. Whitehouse told Lynch he wants to work on “what the deployment of resources and structure should look like against the cybersecurity threat in the future.”

“You’ve outlined an important issue,” Lynch said.

Leahy said the DOJ will also be thrust into the upcoming debate over the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance authority, which has become intertwined with the government’s work investigating cyber crime.

“The growing threat of cyber crime is very real but so is the specter of unchecked government intrusion into our private lives — particularly dragnet surveillance programs directed at American citizens,” Leahy said.

The inability of Congress to pass a bill to curb the NSA’s spy programs has stalled efforts to pass cybersecurity legislation. By June 1, Congress must reauthorize or reform the portions of the Patriot Act that authorize several of the NSA’s controversial surveillance programs.

Leahy said Lynch will be central to these upcoming debates.

“The next attorney general will play an essential role in protecting all Americans on these issues and many others,” he said.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam Republicans caught in California's recall trap F-35 fighter jets may fall behind adversaries, House committee warns MORE (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, pressed Lynch for more details on her surveillance authority stance. In particular, Feinstein asked for Lynch’s opinion on Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which authorizes an NSA program to collect data on Americans’ phone records.

Congress nearly passed a bill late last year that would have ended the program.

Lynch called oversight provisions in the section “an effective check and certainly a necessary check.”

But she added: “As I have always said, I’m open to discussions about how they can be best modified if we need to modify them consistent with the goals of protecting the American people. And I commit to you and all of this committee that I will always listen to all those concerns.”