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IRS stingrays, DHS tech advisors and online visa scams

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Senators: What is the IRS doing with stingrays?

Curious about the IRS' purchase of cellphone data-snatching devices, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sent Treasury Secretary Jack Lew a demand for answers.

In their Oct. 29 letter, the senators expressed "surprise" to have learned from a Guardian report that the IRS spent $70,000 in 2012 on cell-site simulators -- known colloquially as "stingrays" -- and voiced privacy concerns.

They also noted federal, state and local governments have "inconsistent practices and policies" regarding the use of the devices, which pull information from targets' cell phones and can "indiscriminately gather information about the cell phones of innocent people who are simply in the vicinity of the device."

The senators asked that Lew reply by Nov. 30.

DHS adds to tech advisory board

The Department of Homeland Security's technology advisory board has more than two dozen new members to draw on for advice about how to expand new technologies across the agency's components.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the appointment of 28 new members the Homeland Security Science and Technology Advisory Committee (HSSTAC) on Oct. 30. HSSTAC advises Johnson and senior department officials on how to leverage technology across DHS' enterprise.

New members with expertise in cybersecurity include Vint Cerf, vice president and chief internet evangelist for Google. While working at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the 1970s, Cerf helped develop the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), the Internet's common language.

Vincent W. S. Chan, a noted professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also joins the committee, as does James Brigham, Jr., corporate director of simMachines, Inc., a technology company developing an analytics engine that helps spot patterns in huge amounts of data for cybersecurity and corporate intelligence.

The new HSSTAC members, according to DHS, were chosen from a range of expertise including organizational strategy and management; first responders; cybersecurity/risk; and chemical and biological defense. The new members join the six current members on the committee, with all members serving two-year terms.

State warns on diversity visa scams

The State Department issued a warning Oct. 30 on its Share America website about the danger of online diversity visa scams.

Registration for the 2017 Diversity Visa Program, through which up to 55,000 visas are issued every year, closes at noon EST on Nov. 3, the bulletin noted. The program uses a lottery system to extend visas to migrants from countries that haven't produced many American immigrants in the past, but diversity visa scam emails are a growing threat, the agency cautioned. For would-be immigrants, State advised trusting only emails that end in .gov, and never wiring money for visa applications.

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