News in Brief

Hiring astronauts on USAJobs, undersea cable worries and more

Astronauts apply through USAJobs, too

Job applications for would-be space travelers are (boldly) going online.

NASA announced it will be accepting applications for the next generation of astronauts via USAJobs.gov from Dec. 14 through mid-February, with selections announced in mid-2017. The move comes as NASA prepares to once again send Americans on space missions in advance of planned expedition to Mars.

Prospective astronauts must have a bachelor's degree in math, engineering or science, though advanced degrees are preferable. Candidates also need a minimum of three years' related experience or 1,000 hours in a jet cockpit, and they must be able to pass NASA's spaceflight physical.

Senators seek answers on undersea cable risks

A group of senators wants to know how vulnerable fiber-optic undersea cables are to attack in the wake of reports that Russian submarines and spy ships are conducting patrols near the cables.

Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) are asking key Cabinet officials what steps the departments of State, Homeland Security, and Defense are taking to protect the security of the underwater communication cables and what more needs to be done.

The cables are crucial to the flow of global business because they facilitate the transfer of trillions of dollars and enable instantaneous communication around the world.

"Due to increased Russian aggression and their presence in waters these cables rest in, we are increasingly concerned with what a targeted attack on the cables the U.S. depends on could result in," the senators wrote.

Intelligence officials are monitoring an uptick in Russian activity along the cable routes. Although details are classified, officials told the New York Times that the Pentagon is paying close attention.

OSTP adds cyber specialist

Greg Shannon, a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and a cybersecurity expert at Carnegie Mellon University, has joined the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as assistant director for cybersecurity strategy in the office's National Security and International Affairs division.

Shannon, whose stint at OSTP is part of a Carnegie Mellon cybersecurity fellowship, will push for accelerated cybersecurity research and development, and look into cybersecurity policy and cyber workforce areas.

Digital 'gag orders' could soon get the boot

Lawmakers are evaluating whether the government should take an interest in disputes between users of online review sites like Yelp and companies that try to protect their online reputations by burying non-disparagement clauses in their terms of service.

Companies use such clauses to threaten consumers with fines for posting negative reviews online. Adam Medros, senior vice president for global product at the travel site TripAdvisor, said during a Nov. 4 hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee that the clauses can even extend to reviews that are factual.

Medros and other witnesses said such gag orders harm consumers and businesses alike.

One such consumer was witness Jen Palmer, who wound up in a protracted legal battle after posting a negative review of a company that she said never delivered the $20 knickknack her husband ordered.

Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) touted his proposed legislation, the Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2015, which would nullify most non-disparagement clauses. All the witnesses backed the bill, with minor tweaks. The bill is currently pending in committee, but a spokesman for Thune's office said the senator hopes to get the bill through markup by the end of the month.

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