News in Brief

DHS audit, S&T website and smartphone encryption

audit paperwork

DHS gets clean audit

For the second year in a row, the Department of Homeland Security has been given a clean financial bill of health by auditors.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a Nov. 18 statement that the agency's audit firm KPMG, in conjunction with DHS' Office of Inspector General, issued an unqualified audit opinion for the agency.

Johnson said the designation is "essentially a reasonable assurance from our outside auditors and the department's inspector general that our financial statements are accurate." He called the opinion "a remarkable achievement" for the agency.

DHS has had a rocky financial history since its inception 11 years ago. The Government Accountability Office has repeatedly placed DHS on its high-risk list, citing financial disarray as one of the reasons.

However, the news that auditors see an increasingly stable financial situation at the agency drew praise from Congress.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) commended the agency in a Nov. 17 statement, calling the audit results "welcome news."

In 2012, Carper sponsored the DHS Audit Requirement Target Act, which requires DHS to pass full audits for its financial statements.

Science and Technology Directorate launches new website

The Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate formally unveiled its new Web presence on Nov. 18.

The website includes information on the directorate's programs and research areas; a statement of its vision and direction; information on how it conducts research, development, test and evaluation projects; and directions on how to do business with the agency.

The website explains, however, that S&T is not responsible for acquisition at DHS but invests in research leading to the development of new technologies.

"I am excited about this new avenue to communicate with our stakeholders," DHS Undersecretary Reginald Brothers said in a statement. "Envisioned as a one-stop [shop] for everything S&T, this new site will be an important tool to provide access and transparency for all of you, our partners and stakeholders."

Smartphone encryption debate rages

Since Google and Apple unveiled unlockable smartphone encryption, law enforcement officials have slammed the practice as potentially enabling criminals while privacy advocates have begged to differ.

Debate continued Nov. 17 at the New America Foundation, where two seasoned lawyers took stands on opposing sides of the issue.

Andrew Weissmann, who was general counsel at the FBI before retiring last year, argued for a more detailed, data-driven debate on the issue in Congress. Law enforcement agencies should do a better job of articulating the alleged impact of encryption on their ability to fight crime, he added.

Peter Swire, who served as chief counselor for privacy at the Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton, countered that law enforcement agencies are enjoying a "golden age of surveillance," fed by ubiquitous tracking devices and metadata.

Watch the full debate here.

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