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GAO to review Trump’s Mar-a-Lago visits at request of Whitehouse, others

Katherine Gregg Journal Political Writer kathyprojo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Government Accounting Office has agreed to “review” the security procedures and taxpayer-funded travel costs of President Trump’s frequent visits to his Mar-a-Lago resort in response to a request by U.S. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Last month, Whitehouse and Warren were among the members of Congress raising concerns after a reported incident in which “the President [and] his staff … discussed national security matters on full view to diners’ and reviewed potentially sensitive national security material in apparent violation of security protocols.”

In a letter to the GAO, they also raised concerns about how much Trump’s trips to his Florida resort were costing taxpayers, and they asked the GAO to provide “recommendations necessary to ensure that the President and his staff avoid violating national security protocols in the future, and ensure that taxpayer funds are used appropriately when the president travels to his private club.”

According to a statement issued by Warren’s office, the government-watchdog agency has agreed to review how the President’s communications and classified information are secured while traveling, including whether a secure space for classified communications has been established at Mar-a-Lago, as well as what, if any, security measures are employed by the Secret Service to screen staff and guests at the resort. In addition, the GAO will review what measures, if any, “the Secret Service and the Department of Defense have in place to ensure charges for travel-related expenses in connection with providing protection for presidential trips to Mar-a-Lago are fair and reasonable,” and “whether the U.S. Treasury has received payments resulting from profits at the President’s hotels.”

The letter to the GAO was co-signed by Sens. Warren, Whitehouse, Tom Udall, D-NM, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md, the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Self-driving car crash comes amid debate about regulations

A crash that caused an Uber self-driving SUV to flip onto its side in a Phoenix suburb serves as a stark reminder of the challenges surrounding autonomous vehicles in Arizona, a state that has gone all-in to entice the company by promising minimal government regulation. Friday night’s crash was blamed on the driver of an oncoming SUV that turned left in front of the Uber vehicle carrying two test drivers and no passengers. There were no serious injuries and the driver of the other car was cited for a moving violation. But images of Uber’s Volvo SUV rolled onto its side reverberated heavily on social media. Uber responded by briefly suspending its self-driving cars in its three testing locations Arizona, San Francisco and Pittsburgh as it investigated the accident.

Uber’s self-driving car program is rolling out amid questions about how much government regulation it should endure on issues such as accidents, insurance and reporting instances in which the person behind the wheel in test cars needs to take control of the vehicle. The San Francisco-based startup endured a shaky December rollout in California including running red lights that culminated in a standoff between Uber and state regulators who wanted more transparency and reporting. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey seized the opportunity and used lax regulations to entice Uber, which decided to ship more than a dozen SUVs to metro Phoenix.

“California may not want you, but Arizona does,” said Ducey, who took the first ride as a passenger in Uber’s self-driving cars last month.

Uber spokeswoman Taylor Patterson said the company is operating more than a dozen of the 21 vehicles it has registered in Arizona. Some pick up passengers. In Arizona, companies such as Uber only need to carry minimum liability insurance policies to operate self-driving cars. They are not required to track crashes like the one that occurred in Tempe on Friday or report any information to the state. That means that self-driving test cars are essentially treated like all other cars on the road.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said in a March 3 interview that the cars are safe and there is sufficient oversight under existing automobile rules.

“There’s a driver in the car,” he said. “The state oversight is: There are not cars without drivers in them.”

John Simpson of the California-based advocacy group Consumer Watchdog said Ducey has abandoned his responsibility to protect the public by buying into the hype surrounding Uber.

“It’s a fundamental responsibility of a governor of a state to make sure that when companies are using the state’s public highways as their own private laboratories, that there is some obligation to protect public safety,” Simpson said. “There are no rules in Arizona.”

In March, Uber obtained permits for two of its Volvo SUVS to again hit the streets in San Francisco. California’s rules for autonomous vehicles require a $5 million insurance policy, and the companies must reports accidents to the state within 10 days and release an annual tally documenting how many times test drivers had to take over. Also, unlike in Arizona and Pennsylvania, passengers are not allowed to ride in autonomous vehicles in California.

Ducey doesn’t believe self-driving car testing needs extra regulations because drivers can take over if something goes wrong, but his office said Monday after the accident that “public safety remains our top priority and we will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

Kevin Biesty, deputy director for policy for the Arizona Department of Transportation, said the state could set up a system to monitor local police accident reports involving self-driving cars but chose not to do so.

“At this point we don’t see an issue if the vehicles are being operated safely they’ll be responsible for whatever issues arise, just like any driver,” Biesty said. Uber’s SUVs have been tooling around Phoenix and Tempe for more than three months, and police in both cities said they knew of no accidents before Friday. Other companies testing self-driving cars in Arizona include Waymo, a Google spinoff company, and General Motors. Intel has a fleet of self-driving cars that are being tested, although they are not used in autonomous mode on city streets, company spokeswoman Danielle Mann said.

There’s no Arizona state data showing how many accidents the cars may have been involved in or caused. Police in suburban Chandler said the Google cars have been in at least four wrecks over the past three years. None of the GM cars have been involved in accidents, said Kevin Kelly, the company’s spokesman for advanced technology projects. Uber’s recent crash comes amid a series of public-relations woes at the company, including an upheaval of its executive ranks and allegations that it routinely ignores sexual harassment.

The New York Times also revealed the company’s use of the “Greyball” program that helped Uber identify law enforcement agents who may be trying to catch it operating illegally in some places. The company’s chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, subsequently promised Uber would no longer use the program.

Lawsuit claims hackers stole customer data at 1000 Arby’s stores

ATLANTA Georgia-based Arby s restaurant chain failed to prevent hackers from stealing customer information at hundreds of its stores, a Connecticut couple said in a new federal lawsuit. Since early February, eight credit unions and banks from Indiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Montana have filed seven other federal lawsuits. All make similar allegations about what the credit unions describe as a massive data breach. Arby s said in a statement Monday that it s not commenting on the pending litigation, but we believe the claims are without merit and intend to vigorously defend against them.

From late October through Jan. 19, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of credit and debit cards issued by financial institutions, including Plaintiff, were compromised due to Arby s severely inadequate security practices, North Alabama Educators Credit Union states in its lawsuit filed last month.

Arby s actions and omissions left highly sensitive Payment Card Data of the Plaintiff s customers exposed and accessible for hackers to steal for nearly three months, the Alabama credit union maintains. In the latest lawsuit, Jacqueline and Joseph Weiss of Glastonbury, Conn., say computer hackers used data-looting malware to penetrate systems at about 1,000 Arby s restaurants during the breach. In December 2016, the couple discovered thousands of dollars in unauthorized charges on the Visa card they d used at an Arby s in Connecticut, they say in their lawsuit filed last week.

The Weiesses lawsuit asserts that a credit union organization alerted its members that at least 355,000 credit and debit cards were compromised by the Arby s breach. By installing malware at the Point Of Sale or cash register, hackers were able to steal payment card data from remote locations as a card was swiped for payment, Indiana-based Midwest America Federal Credit Union claimed in a February lawsuit. Arby s knew the danger of not safeguarding its POS network as various high profile data breaches have occurred in the same way, including data breaches of Target, Home Depot and, most recently, Wendy s, the Indiana credit union maintains in its lawsuit.

Lawyers for the Weisse s say the threat isn t over.

There is a strong probability that entire batches of stolen information have yet to be dumped on the black market, they state, meaning Arby s customers could be at risk of fraud and identity theft for years into the future.

It s not clear whether a criminal investigation has been opened in the Arby s breach. The FBI s policy is not to confirm or deny whether a matter is being investigated, FBI Special Agent Stephen Emmett said Monday.

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References

  1. ^ Business (registerguard.com)