Overnight Tech: Senators press Homeland Security on cell tracking

LEDE: It's been weeks since the Department of Justice announced that it was overhauling its rules for devices that simulate cell towers to prevent them from being used without a warrant. Now, congressional critics have a new target in their sights: the Department of Homeland Security.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators MORE (R-Iowa) and ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge House clears .1 billion Capitol security bill, sending to Biden Senate passes .1 billion Capitol security bill MORE (D-Vt.) sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson asking that new rules regarding the devices, called Stingrays, include a requirement that DHS agents get a warrant to use them.


"In light of reports that DHS also is working on a Department-wide policy to govern the use of cell-site simulators, we urge you to adopt a default warrant requirement, as DOJ did, but to avoid any ill-defined and potentially overbroad exceptions to that warrant requirement," they said.

"We also remain concerned about the use of cell-site simulators by state and local agencies, which previously have been required to sign non-disclosure agreements when purchasing this equipment," they said. They asked whether the department loans stingrays to local and state law enforcement agency -- and whether there are ways for the department to encourage those agencies to implement their own precautionary policies if they do.

The senators said that though they were pleased with the Department of Justice's announcement, they were worried about exceptions to the warrant rule.

SCIENCE COMMITTEE DIDN'T GET EARLY NASA TIP: The timing of the House Science Committee's hearing Tuesday that explored life beyond Earth -- coming a day after NASA unveiled the "strongest evidence yet" that liquid water sometimes flows on Mars -- was merely "good fortune," Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said. He said the committee wasn't tipped off about the news when it put the hearing on the schedule a few weeks back. 

"Just good fortune," he told The Hill. "The announcement by NASA yesterday was fortuitous, but it obviously heightened the interest in the general subject."

TERM LIMITS FOR THE LIBRARIAN OF CONGRESS?: A new bill from Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon passes on Senate campaign MORE (R-Mo.) would set a 10-year term for the Librarian of Congress. Currently, you can serve in the job for life. It comes as President Obama searches for a new librarian following the announcement that James Billington, the current librarian, would retire. He announced last week his intention to leave his post on Wednesday, much sooner than had been expected. There have been concerns that Billington hasn't kept the Library up to speed with technological developments.

APPLE BLOCKS DRONE STRIKE MAPPING APP: Gawker on Monday reported that an app that mapped all the publicly reported U.S. drone strikes was pulled from Apple's App store because of "excessively crude or objectionable content." The app had been in operation since 2012 but run into problems before. Josh Begley, The Intercept editor who runs the app, also hosts a Twitter account that logs the information. 

BIO RE-UPS AFTER PATENT SETBACK: The Patent and Trademark Office's (PTO) recent decision not to sanction hedge fund manager Kyle Bass for allegedly shorting drug stocks while simultaneously challenging the validity of those drug patents at the PTO is being used by the life sciences industry to push Congress to include a legislative fix during the patent litigation reform debate. 

"This cursory and erroneous ruling reinforces the immediate need for Congress and the PTO leadership to take clear and decisive action to prevent any further misuse and abuse of the Inter Partes Review process by hedge funds, extortionists and other questionable entities seeking to undermine it for their own financial benefit," the Biotechnology Industry Organization said in a statement Monday night.

AT&T URGES RESTRAINT ON SPECIAL ACCESS: The telecom is urging restraint from the FCC as it looks at special access rules. "Cable is offering new enterprise services and faster speeds, and competitors are deploying more fiber," wrote Caroline Van Wie, the company's assistant vice president for regulatory affairs. "All of this is evidence that the FCC's light touch regulatory regime has been an incredible success. Reverting to monopoly-era rate regulation now will only serve to stifle real competition by disincentivizing infrastructure investment by all – precisely the kind of regulation for regulation's sake that Chairman Wheeler has warned against."

GO LONG ON TWITTER: Re/code reported on Tuesday that Twitter is working on a tool to allow users to post messages longer than 140 characters. The report comes as the company tries to expand its relatively small user base, which has worried Wall Street, while conducting a high-profile CEO search. They are also reportedly working on a service where editors will curate tweets related to live events.

COSTS FOR DO NOT CALL LIST WON'T RISE: The Federal Trade Commission announced it would not increase the 2016 price telemarketers have to pay to purchase the registry of names they are barred from calling. Telemarketers must pay to download the Do-Not-Call list in their area, to know which people have asked not to be called. The price telemarketers pay can be anywhere from $60 for a single area code to a maximum of $16,482 for the entire United States. 


At noon, PPI will host a roundtable on "reviving private investment."


Scientists do not expect to find any signs of life in the flowing water on Mars that was recently discovered.

Apple debuted a new website on Tuesday aimed at informing customers on how the company uses their data.

Republican lawmakers on Tuesday proved wary of a regulatory crackdown on companies such as Uber and Airbnb.

The Small UAV Coalition, which is pressing for relaxed regulations for the use of commercial drones, hired its first outside lobbyist this week. 

NASA's chief scientist Ellen Stofan on Tuesday doubled down on her prediction that the agency could uncover life outside Earth in the next 10 to 20 years. 


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