Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) suggested that the political tug-of-war over the confirmation of Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel of the Federal Communications Commission could be smoothed over if FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler agrees to step down at the end of President Barack Obama’s term. “I suspect that nominees and unfinished legislation probably get freed up when we get past the election,” Chairman Thune said. “I think that would help, probably in a lot of ways, free up the Rosenworcel nomination,” said Chairman Thune, referring to a scenario in which Chairman Wheeler would promise to voluntarily leave the FCC when President Obama leaves the White House in January.
Chairman Wheeler’s term is set to expire in 2018. “As you know, I’ve asked that question in hearings, and he’s been very evasive in responding to it,” Chairman Thune said. The South Dakota Republican asked Chairman Wheeler at a March hearing if he would step down at the end of President Obama’s term. Leaders of the FCC have traditionally stepped down before their terms end to allow the new president to nominate a new agency head. “It’s a ways off,” Chairman Wheeler said at the March hearing. “I understand precedent. I understand expectations. I also understand that 10 or 11 months is a long time. So it’s probably not the wisest thing in the world to do to make some kind of ironclad commitment.” Chairman Wheeler is set to testify the week of Sept 12 at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing featuring all five FCC commissioners. He’s expected to face tough questions yet again about his post-election plans.
Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) scheduled a hearing for the week of Sept 12 to discuss the US government’s plan to transition its control of the Internet domain’s naming system to a private nonprofit organization. Sen Cruz, who’s helping lead GOP opposition to the scheduled Oct 1 handoff, will chair a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts hearing on Sept 14 to “investigate the possible dangers” of ceding control of the governing body, according to a release from his office.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency housed in the Commerce Department, has held a contract to run the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority for 18 years. NTIA said in August that it will move forward on its plan to hand over control of IANA to a private group of global stakeholders on Oct 1 “barring any significant impediment.” IANA governs the domain names used by Internet service providers to traffic data worldwide. The movement to transition IANA away from Commerce Department control has been two years in the making, with many experts in the Internet community saying it will promote transparency and prevent any one government from having excessive influence over the Internet. However, several GOP lawmakers have been vehemently against the transition. Sen Cruz has previously called the transition plan “an extraordinary threat to our freedom” that “will empower countries like Russia, like China, like Iran to censor speech on the Internet.”
A group of 32 telecommunications companies, phone manufacturers and tech firms will join AT&T in developing standards and procedures to fight robocalls, the automated calls and texts made to individuals to either sell products or commit scams.
AT&T Chairman and Chief Executive Randall Stephenson is heading the so-called Robocall Strike Force, which will include Apple, Google and Verizon. The task force will report back to the Federal Communications Commission by Oct. 19 with “concrete plans to accelerate the development and adoption of new tools and solutions” to combat the prevalence of robocalls, as well as suggestions for what the role of government should be in addressing the issue. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that while he was happy to see the industry tackle the problem of robocalls, the agency could step in if they don’t see the task force making significant progress. “This is an industry group,” Chairman Wheeler said at the opening of the task force’s first meeting at the FCC. “We believe in multistakeholder solutions. And when the whole ecosystem can come together, it can produce good results. But without results, we will be forced to look for other solutions, because this scourge must stop.”
Twenty-five advocacy groups want the Commerce Department to hold off on plans to cede its control over the body that governs internet domain names. But the United States shows no signs of halting plans to end its leadership of the body by the end of next month. The groups argue that riders on spending bills in Congress prohibit the internet naming transition from moving forward. If the Obama Administration moves forward with its plan to relinquish control, the groups say Congress should sue.
“We agree that internet governance should work from the bottom up, driven by the global community of private sector, civil society, and technical stakeholders,” said a letter, with signatures coming from groups like TechFreedom, Heritage Action for America and Taxpayers Protection Alliance. “Without robust safeguards, internet governance could fall under the sway of governments hostile to freedoms protected by the First Amendment.”
Russia could face punishment for hacks on Democratic Party organizations if proof emerges that the state is the culprit, President Barack Obama said. But he added that the hacking situation is unlikely to significantly impact the already difficult relations between Russia and the United States. Following speculation over the involvement of Russian intelligence agencies in hacks on the computer servers at the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the campaign for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, President Obama said the US could punish Russian for its role in the cyberattacks. But he said it requires a strong amount of proof to reach that point.
“We have provisions in place where if we see evidence of a malicious attack by a state actor, we can impose potentially certain proportional penalties,” President Obama said at a press conference with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. “But that requires us to really be able to pin down and know what we’re talking about. I don’t want to get ahead of the legal evidence and facts that we may have in order to make those kinds of decisions.” President Obama’s comments come accusations that the Russian government orchestrated a series of hacks on Democratic Party entities, potentially to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Privacy advocates in the technology space have a new ally in Arab American groups to help with their fight to keep US surveillance at bay. They are spurred on by anti-Muslim rhetoric from Republicans. Privacy and civil rights groups are joined by Arab American advocacy groups that call to be more publicly opposed to government surveillance.
In June, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee signed on to two letters to members of Congress, urging lawmakers to fight government surveillance. The letter was co-signed by some of the most notable tech and privacy groups. The first letter, dated June 6, urged members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject an amendment that would allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain personal information — an individual’s name, postal address, e-mail address, phone number, device serial number, login history and length of service with a provider — through a subpoena instead of a warrant. The supporters of that bill eventually pulled the measure from consideration because of a disagreement over the amendment. The ADC signed on to another letter the following week, pressing House leadership to adopt an amendment to a defense spending bill that would prohibit intelligence officials from conducting warrantless searches of data gathered through Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act. House lawmakers rejected the amendment.
The Republican Party’s policy platform has a lot in it to energize the tech community. It calls for expanding broadband deployment nationwide, providing more spectrum for wireless development, strengthening digital privacy, and modernizing aging government information technology. But the Republicans’ calls for harsher immigration policies, combined with a lack of engagement from Donald Trump, are overshadowing what appeared to be an extension of a GOP olive branch to the United States tech sector.
“I do think the tech industry would say the platform is nice, but the proof is in the pudding of what the candidate wants to do. That’s who’s running the country, not the party, per se,” said Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. “What we’ve seen really in the last six months is that Trump and the party are not the same.” That discord was echoed by Ed Black, president and chief executive of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which represents companies such as Amazon and Google. “For good or ill, the reality seems to be that there is little reason to believe that the Republican presidential candidate and the platform of the Republican party are mutually trustworthy as guides to what might actually unfold in a Republican controlled federal government,” Black said. “The contradictions expressed during the course of the campaign leave folks unsure as to what might really evolve as policy priorities and initiatives.”
A lobbying group representing companies like Facebook, Spotify and Uber released its 2016 policy platform, with a focus on copyright, consumer privacy and the sharing economy. “Our policy platform is drafted as a go-to blueprint for candidates and their campaigns, regardless of party affiliation,” said Michael Beckerman, president and chief executive of the Internet Association. “While candidates may disagree on any number of issues, support for the continued growth of the internet is good for America and cuts across party lines.”
The group’s policy preferences overlap with some tech components in the GOP’s platform, as well as the tech agenda released by presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But the Internet Association’s platform is misaligned with the Republican Party’s when it comes to the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 network neutrality rule and the upcoming transition of the Internet domain naming system away from US control. The GOP criticized the two issues, both of which are supported by the trade group. The Internet Association also called on candidates to keep existing safe harbors in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that provide legal protections to Internet companies when copyrighted content is posted by third-party users.
Health apps and wearable smart technology are a popular commodity in the United States. These apps can help individuals take care of their health by analyzing the amount they exercise, walk, and eat, as well as diagnosing illnesses. Apps can also facilitate face-to-face consultations between doctors and patients and help compare prices for treatments. These apps also take in a lot of consumer data. Lawmakers in the House Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade want to ensure there are safeguards in place for these apps as smart health technology grows in prevalence.
“We need the right regulatory framework in place,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the full committee, said at a hearing. “A framework that encourages innovation, removes barriers to investment, and advances new opportunities for patients and providers to engage in the health care system.” Chairman Upton added that privacy and security of data are “absolute musts,” and said it’s “one of the most important policies that industry must show leadership on.”
A growing global trend of data localization, also called data nationalization, is threatening firms’ ability to conduct business around the world. It could jeopardize the American economy more than other countries if it grows, tech experts warned the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade.
Data localization laws include things like a Chinese policy that bars companies from processing or storing Chinese citizens’ financial and credit data offshore, one that several panelists at a House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade pointed to as particularly egregious. There are also laws in Malaysia and South Korea requiring all data about citizens to stay on local servers. A key step for international tech openness, according to the witnesses, will be passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the massive trade deal signed by the United States and 11 other countries on Feb. 4. Members of Congress from both parties, as well as both presidential candidates, have expressed doubt to outright opposition to TPP because they say it puts the United States at an unfair disadvantage in many areas. GOP leaders say there is almost no chance that Congress will vote on TPP in 2016. But some in the tech community, including the Internet Association, have come out in support of the deal for acknowledging digital trade and including requirements for nations create safe harbors regarding intellectual property law. Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert (R-WA) called the “arbitrary blocking of cross-border internet traffic” a long-term problem for the US, especially since digital trade can be such a boon for small businesses.