Congress investigates companies’ use of data to impact consumers

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Legislators held a hearing Wednesday to investigate how algorithms affect the type of data acquired by companies and, in turn, how that information impacts consumers in their use of the internet.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’ subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection convened the meeting to gain a greater understanding of “how companies’ decisions about data and content impact consumers.” Black Friday weekend through Cyber Monday saw an increase of 16.8 percent in online sales from last year, according to Adobe Insights.

Subcommittee Chairman Robert Latta, R- Ohio, said it was the Equifax data breach that raised greater concerns about how consumer data is handled. Those concerns are compounded by Uber’s hack last month which left 57 million users/ personal data exposed.

“Rather than alert authorities and make the breach known to their users and drivers, Uber kept the hack secret for over a year,” Latta said. “Disregard of law and disregard of consumers’ and drivers’ trust all require close scrutiny.”

He then called on lawmakers to ensure that their constituents understand the risks of a digital environment.

“It is our obligation to ask the tough questions and make sure consumers understand how their information is being used in our digitally driven economy,” Latta said. “That is why we explore today how personal information about consumers is collected online and importantly how companies use that information to make decisions about content consumers see.”

The Subcommittee Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky, D- Illinois, highlighted that some of what users see, content companies pay to put in front of those people.

“Algorithms determine what appears in web ads, search results, and your customized news feed,” Schakowsky said. “Some of the content you are presented may be based on personal information such as your gender race and location. It may also depend on how much companies have paid to get content in front of you.”

One witness, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law Frank Pasquale, said that privacy erosion has led to the classification of users.

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Lawmakers step off Capitol Hill to explore solutions to opioid crisis

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee met at Johns Hopkins Hospital Tuesday for an “in the field” hearing on the growing opioid crisis in America.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in March 2017 establishing a President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, with Governor Chris Christie, R–N.J., as chairman. The purpose of the commission was to study ways to combat the ongoing crisis while working in conjunction with the White House Office of American Innovation, led by Senior Adviser to the President Jared Kushner.

“This is an epidemic that knows no boundaries and shows no mercy, and we will show great compassion and resolve as we work together on this important issue,” Trump said.

In October, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency.

“This epidemic is a national health emergency, unlike many of us we’ve seen and what we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Nobody has seen anything like what’s going on now,” Trump said.

More than 90 Americans die every day from related opioid overdoses, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. At least 40 of those deaths are from prescription opioids.

The Centers for Disease Control estimated 64,000 people could die from drug overdose in 2016.

Breaking with tradition, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, D-M.D., gave his opening remarks first as the committee was meeting in his home state. He commented on the number of lawmakers who turned out for the hearing off Capitol grounds.

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Coast Guard stresses need for more funding: ‘We need to be made whole’

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – The Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard made an appeal to lawmakers Wednesday for a much-needed increase in funding to sustain the strain placed on their resources created by the 2017 hurricane season.

The Senate Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard held a hearing Wednesday with the purpose of examining the role of the Coast Guard in preparing for these natural disasters.

Chairman of the Subcommittee Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, opened the meeting by addressing the work of the Coast Guard during Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

“The recent hurricanes that have made landfall this year, have significantly stretched the coast guards service capabilities,” Sullivan said. “In these three disasters alone, the Coast Guard has rescued 11,000 Americans utilizing 95 aircraft, 55 cutters, 129 rescue craft, and mobilized at least 3,000 additional personnel.”

Ranking Member Sen. Gary Peters, D- Mich., cautioned the 2017 hurricane season is just one season and that “winter is coming,” borrowing the phrase from HBO hit show “Game of Thrones.”

“I want to emphasize that the coast guard’s missions will not stop because the weather is getting colder,” Peters said. “If we do not ensure that service members have the right equipment. If we do not ensure that they are being taken care of in terms of retirement and medical benefits then we are not doing our job.”

During the testimony of U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft, he explained that the recent extreme weather response was truly an “all-hands-on-deck” campaign that cost them in terms of readiness, opportunity and monetarily.

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Lawmakers review president’s authority to fire a nuclear weapon

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Senators on Capitol Hill held a hearing Tuesday, to re-evaluate the administrative procedures for firing a nuclear weapon.

The Atomic Energy Act of 1946, signed by President Harry S. Truman, established an Atomic Energy Commission to utilize “atomic energy for peaceful purposes to the maximum extent consistent with the common defense and security and with the health and safety of the public.” The act placed the sole discretion of firing a nuclear weapon under political control, not military control. Only the president has the authority to order the use of a nuclear weapon.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s hearing was the first time the topic had been broached by the committee in 41 years, according to the Congressional Research Service. The purpose of the hearing was to determine if the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons and the realities of the current system that is in place.

Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Coker, R- Tenn, pressed upon the importance of reviewing this policy.

“Making the decision to go to war of any sort is a heavy responsibility for our nation’s elected leaders. And the decision to use nuclear weapons is the most consequential of all,” Corker said. “Whether we are responding to a nuclear attack or not, once that order is given and verified there is no way to revoke it.”

Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin, D – Md, said he saw an increase of questions at local town halls pertaining to the possibility of a nuclear conflict with North Korea. The ranking member blamed President Donald Trump’s August remarks to North Korea; specifically, when the president stated if Pyongyang’s threats continue, they will “face fire and fury like the world has ever seen.”

And as the chairman pointed out base on my understanding of the nuclear command and control protocols there are no checks no checks on the president authority,” Cardin said. “The system as it set up today provides the president with the ultimate and sole authority to use nuclear weapons.”

He along with the committee’s chairman stated that the protocols the nation has in place today were primarily established as a result of the Cold War and the potential threat from the nuclear Soviet Union. Cardin then stated that the United States faces a different set of challenges, and as a result must evaluate its policy regarding a procedure for firing those weapons.

He even suggested requiring the president seek the permission of Congress before making his decision.

“Given today’s challenges, we need to revisit this question on whether a single individual should have this sole and unchecked authority to launch a nuclear attack under all circumstances including the right to use it as a first strike,” Cardin said.

The former Commander of the United States Strategic Command, Gen. General C. Robert Kehler, USAF (Ret.), was an expert witness during Tuesday’s hearing. He reassured the committee that while the power to fire a nuclear weapon is a given, there are processes in place.

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Extreme weather derailed NASA’s launched dates for new spacecraft

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group)- Members of Congress held a hearing with NASA on Capitol Hill Thursday to discuss the future of human spaceflight and space exploration.

President Donald Trump signed the NASA Transition Authorization Act in March 2017. The act approves the proposed funding levels for Fiscal Year 2017 set at $19.5 billion.

According to the House Science, Space and TechnologyCommittee website the bill maintains “support for the James Webb Space Telescope, the Space Launch System, the Orion crew vehicle, the International Space Station, and the commercial crew and cargo programs.”

Thursday’s hearing held by the Subcommittee on Spaces focused primarily on the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion crew vehicle, and improvements to ground infrastructure for these projects. Recent extreme weather like the tornadoes and hurricanes that affected Texas and Florida have led to some setbacks to NASA’s schedule for these programs.

NASA’s Space Launch System is a new advanced heavy lift rocket intended to become the next primary vehicle for space exploration and use in deep space. NASA’s website calls the rocket “the world’s most powerful rocket.”

“Offering the highest-ever payload mass and volume capability and energy to speed missions through space, SLS is designed to be flexible and evolvable, to meet a variety of crew and cargo mission needs,” according to NASA.

Engineers have already begun production on this rocket and NASA intends on making its first launch before 2020. The rocket will launch astronauts in the new Orion spacecraft. Orion was built with the similar expectation to transport astronauts into deep space and return them to earth.

NASA has two projected missions for Orion in the near future called exploration missions one and two. The first mission will last about 25 days, and no crew will ride in the crew capsule.

“Orion will make a large orbit around the moon. The spacecraft will go farther into space than people have traveled before. After Orion is tested on this mission, it will soon be time for the spacecraft to transport humans,” NASA states.

The second mission, also known as exploration mission two, will carry a crew and follow the same path as the first mission.

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Lawmakers call for improved TSA security by utilizing CT scan technology for carry-on bags

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Recently confirmed Transportation Security Administrator David Pekoske appeared before the House Homeland Security Committee Tuesday to discuss the agency’s efforts to keep the nation’s transportation systems safe.

The TSA is responsible for more than 60,000 employees and approximately 440 airports nationwide, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Of those employees, nearly 44,000 act as transportation security officers for aviation and surface transportation services.

Before the start of the hearing, lawmakers serving on the committee met for a closed-door confidential briefing with the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. While the details of that briefing were not discussed during the hearing, Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, did admit that specific vulnerabilities pertaining to the nation’s aviation security were mentioned. He called the information he received about that threat “disturbing.” His colleagues on both sides of the aisle agreed.

Lawmakers urged Pekoske, who has only been in office three months, to accelerate plans to implement new baggage screening technology, improve employee morale, reduce employee attrition rates, strengthen leadership and increase screening for cargo planes as well as ground transportation.

“If we are going to be successful in keeping our homeland safe, we must make sure TSA has the tools and resources it needs to carry out its mission,” McCaul said.

Ranking Member Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., called on President Donald Trump’s Administration to invest more in security innovation rather than the border wall.

“To address these threats the Trump administration must invest innovation security to strengthen TSA effectiveness,” Thompson said. “Instead the administration seems hell-bent on squandering billions on a boondoggle border wall that would do nothing to make the nation more secure.”

Thompson also suggested that the agency should travel to other airports successfully using computed tomography, also known as CT scans, for both checked and carry-on luggage. He advised that drawing inspiration from other successful programs could help expedite the implementation of this technology within the United States. Currently, The TSA scans roughly 4.9 million carry-on bags per day, but CT scans are principally used for checked baggage.

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