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  1. The Trump administration is urging Congress to reauthorize the National Security Agency's (NSA) authority to collect phone record information on millions of Americans, according to a letter obtained by The Hill. Dan Coats, the departing director of national intelligence (DNI), in a letter to senators dated Wednesday urged Congress to reauthorize all provisions in the USA Freedom Act, a controversial law that is set to expire later this year. Top Republicans on the key committees overseeing the reauthorization of the law are likely to follow DNI's lead. "I write to express the support of the Intelligence Community (IC) and Administration for the permanent reauthorization of the provisions of the USA Freedom Act of 2015 that are currently set to expire in December," Coats wrote in the letter, which was addressed to the top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee. "These provisions provide the [intelligence community] with key national security authorities, and we look forward to working with the Congress on their permanent reauthorization," Coats added. The administration's input comes as Congress braces for a battle over the reauthorization of the USA Freedom Act, which gives the government a broad range of surveillance authorities. In the letter, Coats confirmed that the NSA has shuttered the call records program, the most contested provision of the law. But he said the government should retain its authority to restart the program if needed. "The National Security Agency has suspended the call detail records program that uses this authority and deleted the call detail records acquired under this authority," Coats wrote. "This decision was made after balancing the program’s relative intelligence value, associated costs, and compliance and data integrity concerns caused by the unique complexities of using these company-generated business records for intelligence purposes." "However, as technology changes, our adversaries’ tradecraft and communications habits will continue to evolve and adapt," he added. "In light of this dynamic environment, the Administration supports reauthorization of this provision as well." The call detail records program allows the government to collect metadata — information like the length of calls, or when information is sent — on phone calls and text messages during terrorism investigations. Privacy activists have long maintained it is possible to glean highly sensitive information from those details. A coalition of top privacy and civil rights groups in a letter on Wednesday pushed to end the NSA's mass phone data collection program, arguing it poses insurmountable threats to the privacy and civil liberties of millions of people, and called for other "meaningful surveillance reforms" to the law. Coats is calling for Congress to reauthorize all of the provisions in the law, including those that allow the government to wiretap "lone wolf" terrorists and collect business records during a national security investigation. A spokesperson for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, confirmed they have received the letter and are reviewing it. While some lawmakers have already called for the sunset of Section 215 authorities, many of the key players in the congressional debate have not weighed in publicly yet. Source
  2. The latest chapter of a largely behind-the-scenes encryption fight unfolded on Wednesday when Trump administration officials held a National Security Council meeting focused on the challenges and benefits of encryption, according to a report in Politico. One of Politico’s sources said that the meeting was split into two camps: Decide, create and publicize the administration’s position on encryption or go so far as to ask Congress for legislation to ban end-to-end encryption. That would be a huge escalation in the encryption fight and, moreover, would probably be unsuccessful due to a lack of willpower in Congress. No decision was made by the Trump administration officials, Politico reported. The White House did not respond to a request for comment. Not too long ago, encryption was a front page issue. Apple and the FBI fought an open and loud battle over encryption in 2015 and, during a campaign speech, then-candidate Donald Trump proposed a boycott of Apple that never materialized. In the United States, the issue has become an important behind-closed-doors topic of discussion. FBI Director Chris Wray earlier this year described ongoing conversations between the federal government and technology giants about the issue of encryption. “It can’t be a sustainable end state for there to be an entirely unfettered space that’s utterly beyond law enforcement for criminals to hide,” Wray said. “We have to figure out a way to deal with this problem.” He continued by saying that he is “hearing increasingly that there are solutions” for strong encryption that opens the targeted data to law enforcement. However, he gave no specific examples of what that means. The fact that these discussions are ongoing both within the White House and with Silicon Valley shows that the issue is still very much alive within the corridors of power. Earlier this year, a court battle unfolded when the U.S. government tried to compel Facebook to decrypt Facebook Messenger’s encryption in a criminal investigation. The judge on the case, however, ruled that the details would be kept secret. Outside of the United States, a lot has happened since encryption was in the headlines two years ago. Most notably, Australia passed an encryption law in December 2018 requiring companies to give law enforcement and security agencies access to encrypted data like Facebook’s WhatsApp or Apple’s iMessage. It’s considered a landmark test being watched closely by governments and technology companies around the world. In Europe, Germany — a country famous for its world-leading privacy policies — is closely considering its own encryption policy at the moment. What exactly that ultimately means in Germany, Europe, and around the world, however, remains unclear. Source
  3. Key Points The move comes amid heightened trade tensions between the U.S. and China. The discussions include asking telecommunications companies whether they can develop and produce equipment outside of China. The Trump administration essentially banned Chinese 5G telecom giant Huawei Technologies last month. The U.S. is considering a requirement that next-generation 5G cellular technology for domestic use be made outside of China, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, citing sources. The shift could force telecom giants like Nokia and Ericsson to move production outside of China in order to continue providing equipment to the U.S., the world's largest market for telecom equipment and services, the Journal said. President Donald Trump on May 15 declared a national emergency over threats on U.S. technology and blocked transactions that involve technology that "poses an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States." The administration then essentially banned Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies from the U.S. amid concerns about that Huawei's equipment and phones can be used to spy over wireless networks, which the Chinese company has repeatedly denied. The move to require equipment be made outside of China would come at a time of heightened trade tensions between the two countries. Under the 150-day review of the supply chain called for in Trump's executive order, the U.S. government will ask telecom companies if they can develop hardware like routers and switches, and software outside of China, the Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter. The Journal said the conversations are in "early" and "informal" stages. The Wall Street Journal's story can be found here. Source
  4. The Department of Commerce on Tuesday asked for public input on a "proposed approach" to consumer data privacy rules. Why it matters: This could be the first step to an administration-backed privacy plan. The Trump Administration is beginning this conversation to solicit ideas on a path for adapting privacy to today’s data-driven world.” — National Telecommunications and Information Administration chief David Redl in a statement. The details: The agency will seek comment on a range of proposed outcomes for privacy rules, including — That organizations should be “transparent” about their use of personal information. That users should have a say over how their personal information is used. That organizations “should be accountable” for their use of personal data. What's next: Redl said on a call with reporters that the agency would "certainly consider" backing legislation as a path forward, if public comments supported that approach. The bottom line: New European privacy regulations and rules just approved in California have put pressure on the Trump administration to articulate its own vision of privacy policy in the age of Facebook and Google. Source
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