News in Brief

Airborne surveillance, IT interns and network defenses

Jon Tester

Montana's Jon Tester and 10 other senators say they are concerned that airborne surveillance of cell phones could be infringing on Americans' Fourth Amendment rights.

Tester, other senators want answers on airborne surveillance of cell phones

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is leading a group of 11 senators seeking more information from the attorney general and the Homeland Security secretary on the practice of using airborne surveillance devices to capture mobile phone user data and locate individuals via International Mobile Subscriber Identity information.

The Wall Street Journal first disclosed the practice of using airborne IMSI catchers to intercept user information in an article published in November about a program the U.S. Marshals Service has been running since 2007. The program has small aircraft based in far-flung airports, giving it access to most of the population.

Tester and his colleagues are concerned that the program is collecting information on people who are not law enforcement targets. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the senators wrote that "agencies that use these devices collect the information of thousands of Americans, potentially infringing on the Fourth Amendment and disrupting normal cell phone service."

According to the senators, the use of airborne IMSI catchers is not limited to the U.S. Marshals Service. Other Justice Department agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement at DHS are using the technology to identify suspects' cell phones and track users.

Tester and his colleagues want details on the use of the technology, any privacy assessments agencies conducted, what kind of authorization is required before information is collected, if efforts are being coordinated with the Federal Communications Commission as required under law, and to what extent state and local law enforcement agencies have been permitted to use the surveillance gear.

Additionally, the letter requests information on how data is being captured, how long it is retained, how it is stored and how information on individuals not being targeted by law enforcement is treated.

The other signees are all Democrats or independents who caucus with the party: Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), John Walsh (D-Mont.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).

Commerce CIO makes a pitch for interns

Under a plan to help underprivileged urban youth, the CIO of the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration is urging federal contractors to modify existing contracts with the government to include a labor category called "intern."

ITA CIO Joe Paiva said the goal is to give a pool of talented high school students an opportunity to prepare for post-high school education and training through after-school jobs.

Paiva said he's working with the District of Columbia school system on the Commercial Partners program, which would hire young people identified by the school system and put them to work on designated contracts, including those for IT. The contractor and the government agency would provide each intern with a mentor who would spend at least half an hour a week counseling the student.

In addition, the interns would be allowed to use their work computers to do homework in the office for a negotiated amount of time. The program would also allow each student to bill up to one-third of his or her hours to overhead while doing homework and studying.

FBI: Malware in Sony hack would breach 90% of defenses

The malware used in last month's massive hack of Sony Pictures would have penetrated about 90 percent of network defenses, a top FBI official told a Senate committee on Dec. 10.

"The level of sophistication is extremely high and...based on our investigative efforts to date, organized and certainly persistent," Joe Demarest, assistant director of the FBI's Cyber Division, told the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

Based on what Sony executives and others have told FBI investigators, Demarest concluded that the malware used in the hack would have "probably gotten past 90 percent of the [network] defenses that are out there today in private industry."

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