ACM Washington Update, Vol. 11.4 (May 8, 2007)

CONTENTS

[1] Newsletter Highlights
[2] ACM Educates Policymakers About the Threats from Botnets
[3] House of Representatives Honors Turing Award Recipient
[4] USACM Joins Broad Coalition in Urging More Basic Research Funding
[5] Competitiveness Legislation Advances in Congress
[6] House Administration Committee Looks Into Sarasota Undervote
[7] Data Mining and Data Breach Notification Bills Approved in Committee
[8] About USACM

[An archive of all previous editions of Washington Update is available at
http://www.acm.org/usacm/update/]


[1] NEWSLETTER HIGHLIGHTS

Below are highlights of the top stories from April. After two years of discussion, Congress finally started moving forward “competitiveness” legislation intended to bolster research agencies and math and science education. We also saw progress on other tech-policy issues with e-voting and data mining legislation and new rules to implement national ID cards. There is more detail on each item below, as well as on our weblog at http://www.acm.org/usacm/weblog:

* ACM and Microsoft cosponsored a tech-policy education briefing on “botnets” with Princeton professor – and USACM-EC member – Ed Felten highlighting the growing threat from these networks.

* The House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring the life and work of 2006 A.M. Turing Award recipient Dr. Frances Allen.

* USACM signed on to two letters to Congress supporting funding for three key research agencies — The National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Energy Office of Science — in the Fiscal Year 2008 Appropriations bills.

* Comprehensive competitiveness legislation intended to increase research funding and create new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education programs passed the Senate. Similar, but more focused bills, passed the House. Now the bodies will seek to reconcile the measures.

* A Congressional task force agreed to turn an investigation of the Florida 13th District race, where significant undervotes in Sarasota leave unanswered questions about e-voting machines, to a federal investigative agency.

* Legislation on data breach notification and data mining practices passed a key Senate Committee and now head to the full Senate for consideration.


[2] ACM EDUCATES POLICYMAKERS ABOUT THE THREATS FROM BOTNETS

ACM and Microsoft cosponsored a Capitol Hill briefing about the growing threat of botnets – malicious software installed on unsuspecting computers, which are then under the control of “botmasters” and often used to facilitate internet fraud and abuse. Senators Pryor (D-OK) and Bennett (R-UT) made opening remarks about how the Internet is increasingly integrated into society and how computer security is an ever-increasing arms race with new exploits being found, followed by security upgrades, followed by more exploits, etc. Senator Bennett made the remark that computer security experts clearly had permanent job security.

The event featured three experts. Ed Felten, Princeton University and USACM member, described how botnets form, how they are used and gave few ideas for combating them. Phil Reitinger, Director of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing Department, described how the industry must constantly deal with short-term patches to address the latest threats and consumer education about the while looking toward longer-term breakthroughs that might come from basic research into computer security. Scott O’Neal from the FBI’s Computer Intrusion unit described how the agency combats these networks. Much of their work is reactive in responding to someone that has been hit with a denial-of-service attack, fraud, etc., but he talked about their growing proactive measures including trying to infiltrate botmaster networks.

The discussion centered on a few themes: consumer education, resources, and law enforcement. On the consumer education front, industry or perhaps a government agency like the Federal Trade Commission can start an awareness campaign to make computer owners understand the threat of malicious software and the need to have firewalls and install patches. Speakers also urged more funding for research and law enforcement efforts. Finally, there was some discussion whether existing law needs to be amended to allow prosecution of botmasters based on the number of computers they compromise instead of the monetary damages they create.

Thanks to the Senate Science and Technology Caucus for hosting the event, Microsoft for helping pull it together and the Senate Commerce Committee staff asking us to work on this event.


[3] HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES HONORS TURING AWARD RECIPIENT

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution (H Con Res 95) honoring Dr. Fran Allen for winning this year’s A.M. Turing award from ACM. Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) introduced the resolution to bring attention to both Dr. Allen’s accomplishments and that she is the first woman to receive this award. Rep. Woolsey noted the problems that the information technology field has had in recruiting women and the inspiration that Dr. Allen has provided for this underrepresented group.

Three stark statistics tell this story: Women, who earn more than half of all undergraduate degrees in this country and make up more than half of the professional workforce, represent only 25 percent of all information technology workers. The percentage of women graduating with Computer Science bachelors degrees has fallen from 37 percent of total graduates in 1985 to just 15 percent in 2005. In addition, 15 percent of the AP Computer Science test-takers in 2005 were girls, while 56 percent of the overall AP test-takers were girls.

Congratulations again to Dr. Allen for receiving this award and thanks to Representative Woolsey for raising these issues before Congress.


[4] USACM JOINS BROAD COALTION IN URGING MORE BASIC RESEARCH FUNDING

With bipartisan momentum building for the Administration’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) — which seeks to double funding for NSF, NIST and DoE Office of Science over the next ten years — USACM joined with other scientific societies, technology companies and universities in urging Congress to fully fund the President’s Fiscal Year 2008 Budget request. The President has proposed $6.43 billion for NSF, $504 million for NIST’s labs, and $4.4 billion for the Office of Science. These figures are all increases over last year and are consistent with the goal of doubling the funding for these agencies over a 10 year period starting last year.


[5] COMPETITIVENESS LEGISLATION ADVANCES IN CONGRESS

Three bills intended to strenghten America’s innovation ecosystem took an important step toward becoming law in April – they passed one of the houses of Congress.

The House passed HR 362, the 10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds Math and Scholarship Act, as well as HR 363, the Sowing the Seeds Through Science and Engineering Research Act. Both bills are very similar to legislation introduced in the previous Congress that failed to reach the House floor. HR 362 authorizes scholarships for educating future math and science teachers, while HR 363 authorizes appropriations for basic research activities at NSF, NIST, the Department of Energy, NASA and the Department of Defense. HR 363 also authorizes early career research grants at both the NSF and the Department of Energy. Both bills passed by wide margins.

The Senate passed S 761, the COMPETE Act. The provisions of the Senate legislation are similar to the bills passed by the House, with budget increases for the federal agencies supporting research in the physical sciences, grants and scholarships for training of science and mathematics teachers, and national studies on innovation and service science.

In other legislative action, the House passed reauthorization bills for both the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

All of this legislation will have to be reconciled between the two bodies of Congress before becoming law. It is unclear how they will proceed, but the Democratic leadership in both bodies has said these bills are a top priority and the legislation has received broad biparistan support. The sticking points should be minimal as they will likely be procedural instead of substantive. Expect to see a “competitiveness” package on the President’s desk sometime this year.


[6] HOUSE ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE LOOKS INTO SARASOTA UNDERVOTE

A Task Force of the Committee on House Administration held a meeting on May 1 regarding the voting irregularities in Sarasota County’s election for the 13th District seat. During the meeting the group voted to proceed with an investigation, but declined a request to compel disclosure of the source code for review by both parties. Instead the GAO will investigate the audits conducted by the State of Florida and initiate its own investigation if they deem it necessary.

Formed in late March, the Task Force is headed by Democratic Representative Charles Gonzalez of Texas, the other members are Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). This meeting follows a meeting in late April where the Task Force heard from representatives of both sides regarding the progress of the case.

We also note the passing of the Committee’s Chair, Representative Juanita Millender-McDonald, on April 22nd from cancer. She had just started a formal leave from Congress when she passed, and is the second Representative to pass this year (Rep. Norwood of Georgia also passed from cancer in February). Rep. Brady of Pennsylvania is the interim chair of the committee. Speaker Pelosi is expected to name a new chair within the next few weeks. Rep. Brady is currently running for mayor of Philadelphia, so he may not be chosen, depending on the results of the primary election later this month. Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama has joined the committee to fill the empty chair. With action expected soon on e-voting, having a permanent chair would help in making progress on this issue.


[7] DATA MINING AND DATA BREACH NOTIFICATION BILLS APPROVED IN COMMITTEE

The Senate Judiciary Committee sent S236, the Federal Agency Data Mining Reporting Act of 2007 to the Senate floor by a voice vote. The bill would require the federal government to report annually on the development and use of technologies that would mine data for patterns of criminal or terrorist activity. Any classified, sensitive or proprietary information on data mining would be placed in an annex not available to the public. The main debate in the committee’s deliberations was over penalties for leaking material in the annex. The debate focused not on having penalties, but whether or not existing laws covered such leaks.

This bill specifically focuses on the federal government and technologies that it develops for data mining. No legislation currently covers any commercially developed or implemented technologies, though they would be covered under the bill if the federal government made use of them.

The Committee also approved two data privacy bills. S239, sponsored by Senator Feinstein, requires companies to notify consumers in the event of security breaches that expose consumer data. S495 focuses on data broker firms such as ChoicePoint, requiring similar notification in the event of a breach and for those firms to let individuals know what sensitive information they have stored in their records, and allow them to correct any inaccuracies.

Finally, The Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee recently approved S1178, an Identity theft prevention bill sponsored by Senator Inouye. It would have businesses develop a written procedure for notifying consumers if their information is exposed. It would also allow consumers to freeze their credit reports for a small fee. There is some concern with the bill, as it would pre-empt stronger state laws.

All of these bills have simply made it out of committee. They still need to be approved by the Senate and go through the same procedure in the House.


[8] ABOUT USACM

USACM is the U.S. Public Policy Committee of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). ACM is an educational and scientific society uniting the world’s computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field’s challenges. ACM
strengthens the profession’s collective voice through strong leadership, promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence. ACM supports the professional growth of its members by providing opportunities for life-long learning, career development, and professional
networking.

For more information about USACM and ACM, see:

http://www.acm.org/usacm/about.html


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