News in Brief help desk, FTC tech office and credit card theft

call center launches help desk

The federal government is adopting a more customer-focused approach to its repositories of open data. The website is now hosting a help desk, which allows users to ask questions, request new datasets, and report problems with existing data. has invited comment and suggestions from developers via GitHub, but according to a blog post, officials in charge of federal open data policy have been seeking a way to route requests to government agencies.

The help desk is built on the Open311 platform, which is used by cities and towns including Washington, D.C., to connect citizen requests for services with the appropriate agencies.

FTC adds tech office

The Federal Trade Commission is expanding its capacity for probing technology-based consumer fraud with a new Office of Technology Research and Investigation housed in the agency's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

OTRI is replacing the FTC's Mobile Technology Unit, which was created to probe consumer protection challenges created by mobile advertising, marketing, and data collection. The new unit will be charged with looking at the kind of fraud, false claims and other violations that occur in the emerging, connected technological marketplace that includes the Internet of Things, big data, connected vehicles, payment technology and other areas.

The FTC is currently seeking technologists and researchers to staff the new office, per an agency blog post.

Proposal targets credit card theft

White House proposals for securing cyberspace include language that would change current law to make it easier to pursue data thieves across international borders.

In a March 20 post on the Justice Department's web site, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Leslie Caldwell said current laws covering credit card number theft peter out at U.S. borders. The U.S. can prosecute offenders located outside the country only if the credit card number involved was issued by a U.S. company and meets a set of additional requirements. In the digitized world of cybercriminals who sell such information internationally, that's a problem.

"The government has to prove either that an 'article' used in committing the offense moved though the U.S., or that the criminal is holding his illicit profits in an American bank," explained Caldwell. "But when you steal only digital data, it's not clear what 'article' could be involved. And of course, foreign criminals generally move their money back to their home country."

The provision included in President Barack Obama's Jan. 12 cyberspace proposal would allow the U.S. to prosecute anyone possessing or trafficking in credit card numbers with intent to defraud if the credit cards were issued by a U.S. financial institution, regardless of where the possession or trafficking takes place.

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