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Senator balks at House hearing on FTC data-breach case against LabMD


Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D.-W.Va., is accusing Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., of “impropriety” and “using heavy-handed bullying tactics” in allegedly interfering with Federal Trade Commission action against medical testing laboratory LabMD Inc., which has been accused of failing to protect consumers’ personal data.

Sen. Rockefeller objects to actions regarding the case being taken by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Rep. Issa chairs, while the FTC investigation is ongoing.

The FTC first filed a complaint against Atlanta-based LabMd in August 2013, charging that the company had failed to reasonably protect the security of consumers’ personal data, including medical information. The complaint < href="/article/20140620/NEWS07/140629974" target="_new">charged that in two separate incidents, LabMD, which went out of business in January, collectively exposed the personal information of about 10,000 consumers.

In a letter to FTC acting Inspector General Kelly Tshibaka in June, Rep. Issa said the House Oversight Committee is investigating the activities of Pittsburgh-based intelligence and security firm Tiversa Inc.

According to that letter, Tiversa “allegedly discovered a document containing the personal information on thousands of patients on a peer-to-peer network” and then contacted LabMD, offering its “remediation” services through a professional services agreement, and that when LabMd did not accept this offer, Tiversa later provided the FTC with a document it created that included information about LabMD, among other companies.

Sen. Rockefeller, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said in his letter Wednesday to Rep. Issa that he was “troubled by the impropriety of your ongoing interference with an administrative trial” regarding the allegations against LabMD, which he said is “apparently going to be the subject of an upcoming hearing” on Thursday by the House Oversight Committee.

The letter states, in an apparent reference to Tiversa, that “you propose to be concerned about allegations that a third-party company provided untruthful testimony to the FTC with regard to the LabMd breach,” but this allegation “would be more properly raised by LabMD’s defense counsel to the administrative law judge presiding over this trial. The trial process provides defense counsel with ample opportunity to impugn the veracity or integrity of a witness or evidence,” says Sen. Rockefeller’s letter.

”It is not the job of Congress to serve as an advocate for one particular side and attempt to sway a judge who makes determinations of fact based on evidence formally presented under well-established rules and procedures,” says the letter.

The letter accuses Rep. Issa also of “using heavy-handed bullying tactics to undermine due process.” It charges that while Congress “obviously has an important role in government oversight, I believe you have overstepped your bounds in this instance. It is not appropriate for Congress to intervene in the midst of a trial and to adversely affect its proceedings as you have done,” said Sen. Rockefeller.

The letter states also that the FTC is the primary federal entity protecting American consumers from harmful data breaches and “rather than continuing to pursue your current course of interference, I would urge you to instead work to pass meaningful data-security legislation.”

A spokesman for Rep. Issa could not immediately be reached for comment.

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