Lawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach

Lawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach
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Lawmakers are expressing alarm and demanding answers over a recent data breach involving U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the latest in a series of incidents that is underlining the severity of cybersecurity threats to both agencies and businesses. 

The CBP incident involved a subcontractor of the agency, who had stored photos from a CBP database, being breached by a malicious actor. The breach resulted in the exposure of images of as many as 100,000 people entering and exiting the U.S. over the period of a month and a half.

CBP, which is not revealing the name of the subcontractor involved, told The Hill on Monday that it is working with Congress and with its own Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate the data breach.

The agency stressed that the subcontractor involved had transferred the photos to its own systems “in violation of CBP policies and without CBP’s authorization or knowledge.” And the agency said that no identifying information was included with the photos.

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But those assurances did little to assuage lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Lawmakers from both parties expressed dismay over the breach and committees in both the House and Senate with jurisdiction over the agency were considering further actions.

Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersDemocrats leery of Sanders plan to cancel student loan debt Senate panel advances bill to protect government devices against cyber threats Democrats make U-turn on calling border a 'manufactured crisis' MORE (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told The Hill that while he is interested in looking into the CBP breach, he wants to make sure he has “all the facts” before moving forward. 

“Right now it’s just about getting a better sense of exactly what happened, how it happened, and then we’ll figure out appropriate steps to take from that point forward,” Peters said. “We never like breaches, they should never happen, but it shows we have to harden our defenses.”

A spokesperson for Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators divided over approach to election security Democrats make U-turn on calling border a 'manufactured crisis' GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, declined to comment. But across the Capitol, lawmakers are looking more closely into the government's collection of data on travelers.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? Artificial intelligence can't solve online extremism issue, experts tell House panel Democrats make U-turn on calling border a 'manufactured crisis' MORE (D-Miss.) announced on Monday that his committee would hold hearings next month to examine the collection of biometric information by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes CBP.

Thompson also noted that he wants to ensure “we are not expanding the use of biometrics at the expense of the privacy of the American public.”

Homeland Security Committee ranking member Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersOvernight Defense: Latest on Iran after Trump halts planed strike | Dems call Trump's approach 'erratic' | Key Republican urges Trump to retaliate | Esper reportedly getting Defense secretary nomination GOP rep: Trump needs to retaliate against Iran to deter other hostile nations Huawei is national security issue, not trade football for our leaders MORE (R-Ala.), used the breach to criticize DHS’s handling of cybersecurity challenges, saying in a statement to The Hill that “the agency is ill-equipped to handle emerging cyberthreats.”

“The data breach resulted from a contractor acting improperly and against agency policy,” Rogers said. “We need to take steps to ensure this does not happen again.”

Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondDemocrats already jockeying for House leadership posts House hearing marks historic moment for slavery reparations debate Lawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach MORE (D-La.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on cybersecurity, also called for more answers about the breach, which he said would inform Congress's next steps.

Richmond told The Hill that “we have to get to the bottom of how, what, and when and make sure we have some cyber competence over there to protect the data.”

But despite the frustration over the latest breach and demands for more information, it is unclear if Congress is any closer to coalescing behind data breach legislation. Efforts to draft an even more comprehensive federal data privacy law in the current Congress have also made little headway.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats leery of Sanders plan to cancel student loan debt Pressure builds to secure health care data Hillicon Valley: Investigation finds federal agencies failed to address cyber vulnerabilities | Officials crack down on illegal robocallers | Warren offers plan to secure elections | Senators grill Google exec on 'persuasive technology' MORE (D-Va.), the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Hill that this incident showed the need for national data breach legislation, which has been a focus of both chambers in recent months.

“In my mind this is one more example of how in America 20 years ago we would have never gone this long without setting the standards, and I think that is really unfortunate,” Warner said.

The Senate Commerce Committee has been heavily involved in the conversation around crafting data security and privacy legislation this Congress. However, when asked what steps he would advocate taking in response to the CBP data breach, committee Chairman Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: Democratic state AGs sue to block T-Mobile-Sprint merger | House kicks off tech antitrust probe | Maine law shakes up privacy debate | Senators ask McConnell to bring net neutrality to a vote Lawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach Senators call on McConnell to bring net neutrality rules to a vote MORE (R-Miss.) told reporters “you tell me.”

Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzHillicon Valley: Investigation finds federal agencies failed to address cyber vulnerabilities | Officials crack down on illegal robocallers | Warren offers plan to secure elections | Senators grill Google exec on 'persuasive technology' Senators spar with Google exec over use of 'persuasive technology' Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Trump issues order to bring transparency to health care prices | Fight over billions in ObamaCare payments heads to Supreme Court MORE (D-Hawaii), the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet, said he thinks the breach merits an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General.

“Government, especially law enforcement agencies that have personally identifiable information and extremely sensitive information like facial images, have a special obligation for cybersecurity,” Schatz added.

The CBP breach came on the heels of a similar data breach involving a third-party organization that occurred in the health care industry last week. That breach involved the personal information of around 20 million customers of blood testing groups Quest Diagnostics, LabCorp and Opko Health being exposed when an unauthorized user gained access to the systems of billings collection group the American Medical Collection Agency.

Warner was among the senators who wrote to Quest Diagnostics, which had the largest share of the information exposed, last week asking for answers for how the company had secured its data and how it was responding to the breach. Warner gave Quest two weeks to respond.

Warner told The Hill his office has not heard back from the company.