Morning Security Brief: NSA Defunding Bill Fails, U.K. Forensics Program Criticized, Colleges Hacked, and More

By Lilly Chapa

► A bill that would curb the National Security Agency’s authority to collect phone records and metadata in the United States was narrowly defeated in the House Wednesday, POLITICO reported. The 217-205 vote was indicative of the controversial nature of the issue, which arose when Edward Snowden leaked NSA documents revealing that the agency has been tracking and storing U.S. citizens’ phone records for years. Some representatives argued that the NSA should continue surveillance in accordance with the Patriot Act, while others said a line needed to be drawn. “The time has come to stop and the way we do that is to approve this amendment,” former House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said. Also yesterday, Snowden’s attempt to leave a Russian airport was quashed because Russian officials are still considering his asylum request, according to The Guardian.

► Serious crimes, including rapes and murders, may be going unsolved in the United Kingdom because the country’s forensic science program has been mishandled, according to a parliamentary inquiry. The House of Commons science and technology select committee released a report today detailing the program’s failures, including poor archiving of investigation materials and sub-par police laboratories. The inquiry also harshly criticized Jeremy Browne, the minister of state for crime prevention. “[Browne] responded to most of our questions with inexact analogies, rhetorical questions and politically divisive or vague comments,” the report said. Also mentioned is the wider issue of funding for forensic research. The Forensic Science Service was closed in 2010 due to lack of funding, and forensic work has been conducted by private companies since, according to

► Also in the news, Stanford University asked students and faculty to change their passwords after the university’s information technology infrastructure was breached, according to TechCrunch. The hack is the latest in a string of IT breaches, and hacker communities speculate that the same person is behind all of the attacks. Within the past few months, Harvard, MIT, Rutgers, NASA, and other large corporations’ websites have been hacked, but no sensitive information has been published. ♦ The Brookings Institution released a report earlier this week profiling Anwar Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was targeted and killed by a drone strike ordered by President Obama. The report discusses how Awlaki and other American terrorists joined the jihadist cause from abroad, and examines several approaches the U.S. government can use to confront the threat of U.S. citizen terrorists, ranging from tolerating the suspects to targeting them with drone strikes. The report emphasizes the unique policy problems involved with handling American jihadists in foreign countries. “The U.S. approach leaves considerable gaps, particularly regarding Americans involved in pro-Al Qaeda propaganda and recruitment,” the report states. ♦ And Scientific Reports has a piece on how a bioterrorist attack could spread a virus more quickly than might be anticipated.


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