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The USA Freedom Act, blocked by the Senate, would have curbed powers granted under the Patriot Act, including bulk collection of Americans' phone records.
Lawmakers' efforts to overhaul some of the National Security Agency's controversial surveillance programs were dealt a setback Tuesday when a reform bill failed to garner enough votes to proceed in the Senate.
The USA Freedom Act would have curbed powers granted to the NSA under the Patriot Act -- including the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone records. It was defeated in a procedural vote of 58 to 46, two votes short of the requirement to proceed. The House version of the bill passed in May, but many technology companies and privacy advocates pulled their support of the bill after several provisions were watered down.
The bill had the support of the White House, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, and a host of tech companies but was opposed by all but a handful of Republicans, some of whom were divided over the reason for their opposition.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who earlier this year filed a lawsuit over NSA phone surveillance, urged defeat of the bill, arguing that it didn't go far enough to restrict the NSA's surveillance powers.
"One common misconception is that the Patriot Act applies only to foreigners -- when in reality, the Patriot Act was instituted precisely to widen the surveillance laws to include US citizens," Rand said in a statement after the vote. "Today's vote to oppose further consideration of the Patriot Act extension proves that we are one step closer to restoring civil liberties in America."
Others such as Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) argued that the legislation would diminish US defenses in the face of a growing terrorist threat.
"As the rise of ISIL has demonstrated, the world is as dangerous as ever, and extremists are being cultivated and recruited right here at home," Rubio said in a statement. "This legislation would significantly weaken and, in some cases, entirely do away with some of the most important counter-terrorism capabilities at our disposal, which is why I will not support it."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which had championed the bill, said it was disappointed in the vote but expressed optimism for its future.
"The Senate still has the remainder of the current legislative session to pass the USA Freedom Act," the EFF said in a statement. "We continue to urge the Senate to do so and only support amendments that will make it stronger."
A coalition of major technology companies -- including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, AOL, and Dropbox -- urged the Senate earlier last month to muster up a stronger version of the USA Freedom Act.
The defeat comes amid Americans' growing concern about government access to their data. A Pew Research study released last week found that 80 percent of adult Americans believed there was valid reason to be concerned about the government's monitoring of phone calls and Internet communications.
Concerns over government surveillance have heightened after Edward Snowden leaked National Security Agency documents in 2013 that showed a much wider federal spying apparatus than previously believed. The documents leaked by Snowden indicate that the US government has been collecting a record of most calls made within the US, including the initiating and receiving phone numbers, and the length of the call; emails, Facebook posts and instant messages of an unspecified number of people; and the vast majority of unencrypted Internet traffic including searches and social media posts.
Many tech companies became embroiled in the controversy after Snowden alleged that they provided the NSA with "direct access" to their servers through a so-called PRISM program. The companies have denied that allegation and have been pushing for greater transparency from the US government. They have also been urging the government to allow them to publish detailed information on the number of national security-related government requests for user data they have received.
In an effort to reclaim public trust in the wake of the Snowden leaks, tech companies have taken the initiative to encrypt user data to protect it. Facebook has used its leverage to help convince tech companies to implement tougher webmail encryption standards, while Google and Yahoo are seeking to push the envelope of how encryption can safeguard webmail.
Safer, chip-enabled credit cards are coming to the US before the end of 2015, but it will be years before tougher, PIN-based security will be used nationwide.
New credit card technology is coming that will increase security and decrease the likelihood of theft. But you're still going to be asked to sign a receipt every once in a while.
By October 1, 2015, credit card transactions in the United States are going to require technology that has been in use elsewhere for years: a chip built into the card, promising better security against fraud. The old way, swiping a card with a magnetic stripe through a machine, will be phased out. And it will probably happen quickly; after October, retailers using the old swipe terminals will be liable for fraudulent purchases.
US credit card companies say it's about time, even though they've been among the most reluctant to adopt it.
"The chip by itself will dramatically reduce counterfeit fraud, which is the most predominant fraud type today," said Oliver Manahan, MasterCard's vice president of emerging payments.
It's been a long slog to get here, and the US is the last of the G20 countries to adopt the chip-equipped cards.
There are many reasons why. Credit card companies have been reluctant to adopt them because the cards are more expensive to produce, retailers have been reluctant because payment terminals are costly to upgrade, and the US credit card system is complex. In addition to retailers who want easy transactions and financial institutions that want secure transactions, Visa and MasterCard sit between banks and retailers as the nation's major credit card processors.
As the US has lagged behind in adoption of chipped cards, fraud has risen. Magnetic stripe cards, which have been in use throughout the US since the 1970s, are far easier to clone than chipped cards. In all, $6 billion was lost to credit card fraud in the US in 2013, up from around $4.5 billion in 2011, according to a report from industry research firm Aite Group.
The type of fraud that the financial industry is most concerned about is counterfeit card fraud, said Kim Lawrence, a senior vice president at Visa who specializes in the adoption of chipped cards. She blamed major hacks like those at Target and other retailers in which personal data including credit card numbers of tens of millions and sometimes hundreds of millions of customers have been stolen.The new system is far safer. The most commonly used type of chipped credit card is called EMV for the finance firms Europay, MasterCard and Visa, which developed the technology. These cards could cut some types of credit card fraud in half, industry experts say. Aite Group said in the United Kingdom counterfeit credit card fraud plummeted to $67 million in 2013 from $151 million in 2004, after it was an early adopter of chipped cards. Overall, fraud from lost and stolen credit cards there fell by a third during the same period.
The chipped cards can be used in two ways. One requires buyers to enter a passcode personal identification number, or PIN, after the chip has been read, effectively protecting them against both counterfeit cards and the use of lost and stolen cards. The other type of transaction reads the chip, but then asks for a signature, much like the outdated system of today but without the magnetic stripe. Square, which revealed plans last week for its chipped-card readers for mobile devices, will be supporting the so-called "chip-and-signature" cards.
That's the system much of the US will switch to first, instead of the more secure passcode PIN.
Banking and independent analysts say that's good enough for now. Lawrence said the credit card companies don't want to change too many things at once, even if they admit it would be safer.
These new cards won't solve everything. The Internet makes it easy for criminals to use stolen credit card numbers without the physical card, rendering the chipped-card system no more secure than an old-fashioned swipe card. "We've seen criminals adjust tactics rapidly" in countries that use chipped cards, said Julie Conroy, the analyst at Aite Group who wrote the report.
So when can you expect to use a PIN instead of a signature to authorize your credit card transactions in the US? Conroy predicts it won't happen until 2018. Then, she said chip readers will be nearly ubiquitous and people should be more comfortable with the technology.
Repairs and security upgrades are being made during planned outage after "activity of concern" was detected, officials tell the Associated Press.
The US State Department has shut down its unclassified email system as it evaluates potential damage caused by a possible hacker attack.
The department's email system was shut down in a planned outage Friday to make repairs and security upgrades after "activity of concern" was detected recently on the system, according to the Associated Press. None of the department's classified email system was affected by the suspected breach, according to a senior department official who spoke to the news agency on condition of anonymity.
"The department recently detected activity of concern in portions of its unclassified e-mail system," a senior State department official told CNET. "There was no compromise of any of the Department's classified systems."
The State Department said it expects to have email access restored soon. The department is expected to address the outage Monday or Tuesday, according to the AP.
It was not immediately clear who might be behind the department's suspected hack, the fourth incident in recent months in which a government agency has been targeted by an apparent hack attack. After a security breach of an unclassified network used by White House advisers was revealed last month, suspicion immediately fell on hackers thought to be working for the Russian government.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Weather Service, revealed last week that four of its websites were compromised in recent weeks by an "Internet-sourced attack." Chinese government hackers were suspected in that attack, as well as one on the US Postal Service, in which data for more than 800,000 employees was compromised.
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Mr. Adams is the Director of Center for Public Computing & Workforce Development.
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