Senate Dumps Real ID Act, But Legislation is Far From Dead

Update 4/28/05: Proving that Congress can move quickly when it needs to, is reporting (sub. req.) that conferees on the supplemental appropriations bill are close to a deal. Earlier in the week Senator Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was quoted as saying that immigration provisions in the supplemental were likely to be included in the final bill, meaning the democrats weren’t going to fall on their sword to remove the Real ID Act from the bill.

Orginial Post 4/21/05: Today the Senate passed the supplemental appropriations bill to fund military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and tsunami relief. As we have been reporting, the Senate stripped the Real ID Act — which the House included in the supplemental funding bill in February — early in its process. The bill now moves to conference between the House and Senate where debate on whether to include all, some, or an amended version of the Real ID Act is assured.
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EAC Seeks Advice On Voting Databases, ACM Provides Expert Testimony

ACM recently formed a committee of experts (names and affiliations below) to provide states with guidance on implementing statewide voter-registration databases. Today the Committee outlined its efforts before the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which is seeking input on its proposed guidance to the states regarding these databases.
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High-Performance Computing Legislation Passes House

Today the House of Representatives passed the High-Performance Computing Revitalization Act. USACM and the Computing Research Association (CRA) praised the House’s action.

USACM Chair Gene Spafford commented:

“IT R&D — and especially investment in basic research and infrastructure — is an investment that pays enormous dividends. It fuels innovation that will help the U.S. retain world leadership in business, develop new jobs and industries, enhance public safety and national defense, and provide means to support research to live longer, healthier lives.”

The High-Performance Computing Program (also known as the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program – NITRD) sets up a collaborative multi-agency research, development, and deployment program focused on high-performance computing systems, software, and applications (among other things). The underlying law also established the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC), on which USACM has sitting members.

The legislation has three primary areas. The first rewrites the overarching goals of the program. The second makes minor changes to reporting requirements and PITAC. The third updates many participating agencies’ duties to reflect each agency’s mission. USACM sent a letter in February to House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) commenting on the legislation.

The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Alleged ID theft at DC Blockbuster

From an article in this morning’s Washington Post:

A former employee of the Blockbuster video store in [Washington’s] Dupont Circle [neighborhood] has been indicted on charges of stealing customers’ identities, then using them to buy more than $117,000 in trips, electronics and other goods, including a Mercedes-Benz.

A grand jury charged that Miles N. Holloman stole credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and other private financial information from the application files of 65 customers of the Blockbuster store in 2003, then used some of that data to open retail store and credit card accounts […]

It’s interesting how the United States has existing federal law for protecting information about customers’ video rental selections and preferences, yet has scant federal law regulating how numerous commercial entities (ranging from the neighborhood video rental store to nationwide data brokers) handle critical personal information like Social Security numbers — well, for now, anyway.

Soaries resigning from Election Assistance Commission

Current Election Assistance Commission (EAC) member and former EAC chairman DeForest B. Soaries Jr. recently announced his resignation from the EAC, citing, among other things, dissatisfaction with the level of support the EAC has received from the federal government:

“All four of us had to work without staff, without offices, without resources,” Mr. Soaries said. “I don’t think our sense of personal obligation has been matched by a corresponding sense of commitment to real reform from the federal government.” [NYT]

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E-Voting Issues Heat Up In DC This Week

Washington D.C. hosts two major voting-policy events this week. First, the Carter/Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform kicked-off its first hearing yesterday, part of a six month effort to study the 2004 elections and make recommendations to policymakers. The Commission is led by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker and is similar to a commission President Carter and President Gerald Ford formed in 2000.

The hearing focused on a number of subjects, with one panel specifically on voting technology and election administration. USACM member David Dill testified on this panel. He argued that transparency is the most important factor for ensuring our elections are fair and widely accepted by the public, and that the growing use of paperless electronic voting systems is undermining this goal. He specifically advocated ACM’s position noting it was one of those rare cases where a vast majority of computer scientists could find common ground. (ACM’s polled its members and found 95 percent supported its statement on voting). Continue reading “E-Voting Issues Heat Up In DC This Week”

Data brokers continue to face intense scrutiny from lawmakers

Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) presided over a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday looking further into recent breaches of personal information at data brokers like ChoicePoint, LexisNexis, and Acxiom. The hearing served to deepen the sense in Washington that Congressional action to regulate data brokers and the commercial use of personal information is inevitable at this point. Indeed, Specter himself went so far as to comment that he believes that “there will be some very firm federal regulation coming out of this issue.”
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Questions (and suggestions) about DHS CPO

Declan McCullagh’s most recent article provides some interesting insight into the power and effectiveness of the Department of Homeland Security’s Chief Privacy Officer (CPO), Nuala O’Connor Kelly. The article seems to reinforce the notion that privacy concerns aren’t always taken as seriously within DHS as they are within other organizations that have CPOs:

Nuala O’Connor Kelly, who got the [DHS CPO] post in April 2003, seems to be honestly trying to report on the sprawling bureaucracy’s privacy performance […]

But internal DHS documents show that Kelly does not have the authority that any true privacy officer needs […]”

McCullagh goes on to describe the trouble O’Connor Kelly had in trying to get information from DHS’s Transportation Security Administration regarding its involvement with passenger data from JetBlue, and he suggests some changes to address the situation.