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NSA surveillance and an HHS nomination

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Lynch seeks legislative fix in wake of surveillance ruling

In her first congressional hearing since confirmation as attorney general, Loretta Lynch told a panel of Senate appropriators that the Justice Department was reviewing a just-issued decision by a federal appeals court that the bulk collection of telephone metadata and other records was not authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Lynch said Section 215 has been "a vital tool in our national security arsenal," and the administration is looking at options for reauthorizing the measure "in a way that does preserve its efficacy and preserve privacy."

The Section 215 provisions expire June 1, and there is a battle in Congress between supporters and opponents of bulk collection about whether to reauthorize. The court ruling raises the stakes because a simple reauthorization of the existing language won't support bulk collection of records by the National Security Agency and others if the Supreme Court upholds the Second Circuit Court of Appeals' decision.

The court's unanimous ruling asserts that "if Congress chooses to authorize such a far‐reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously."

"The interpretation that the government asks us to adopt defies any limiting principle," Judge Gerard Lynch wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel. "The same rationale that it proffers for the 'relevance' of telephone metadata cannot be cabined to such data and applies equally well to other sets of records."

The May 7 hearing of the Appropriations Committee's Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee focused largely on criminal justice issues, but Lynch covered a lot of ground on cyber and IT modernization in her written testimony. The Justice Department is seeking $775 million to fight cyber crime and defend critical networks. The request includes a $27 million increase in cyber programs at the FBI, Justice's National Security Division, Office of the U.S. Attorneys and Criminal Division.

Lynch also pointed to a $15 million request for the Justice Department to continue data center consolidation. "With every passing year, a healthy IT infrastructure becomes more critical to ensuring that DOJ operations remain effective," she said.

The department is also seeking $32 million to replace the "antiquated" IT system at the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, which is charged with responding to extradition and evidentiary requests from international law enforcement partners under mutual legal assistance treaties. Department officials want to clean up a backlog of 11,500 pending cases.

DeSalvo nominated for assistant secretary for health at HHS

Dr. Karen DeSalvo, who leads the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT at the Department of Health and Human Services, has been nominated by President Barack Obama for the post of assistant secretary for health at HHS.

DeSalvo has been serving in the position on an acting basis since October 2014, when she was tapped by Secretary Sylvia Burwell to serve as the point person on the administration's Ebola response.

In an email to HHS staff, Burwell said DeSalvo "has promoted and expanded the utilization of electronic health records." She has continued to lead ONC while serving as acting assistant secretary but will step down if she is confirmed by the Senate for the new role.

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