Julian Hattem

Groups push feds on email privacy

Privacy and civil liberties advocates are pushing regulators and the Obama Administration to support an end to warrantless searches of people’s emails.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Heritage Action for America, Americans for Tax Reform and the Center for Democracy and Technology called out the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for making “contradictory or misleading statements” about its work to oppose an overhaul of current law. The SEC has been one of the most vocal opponents of an update to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which allows law enforcement officials to get emails and other documents without a warrant once they have been stored online for more than 180 days.

Legislation to overhaul the law has gained momentum in both chambers of Congress, but the SEC has feared that an update would interfere with the way it conducts investigations. In a letter to the commission, the groups said the agency was trying to confuse people about its investigation processes. They also agreed to a proposed amendment meant to satisfy SEC concerns, developed with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). That measure, they said, would make sure that "ECPA cannot be used to shield data in the cloud from ordinary discovery techniques" by allowing the SEC and other regulators to use a subpoena to obtain information held by third-party service providers during the course of an investigation.

Senator fears merger could gag the right

Sen Mike Lee (R-UT) said he is worried that the proposed $45 billion merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable could lead to a clampdown on conservative media.

The deal would put one massive cable and Internet provider in 27 of the top 30 markets in the country. But perhaps more importantly, that resulting cable giant would also own NBC Universal and its slew of subsidiary channels, which Comcast has owned since 2011. That could lead to unfair treatment of some content, Sen Lee warned, including shows appealing to the conservative right.

“I’ve heard some concerns expressed that the emerging Comcast, the post-merger Comcast, might have the incentive or even the predilection but certainly an enhanced capacity, due to its larger size, to discriminate against certain types of content, including political content,” he said at a hearing with Comcast and Time Warner Cable executives.

Attorney General Holder: ‘We’re not done’ on NSA reform

The Obama Administration is promising to come back to Congress with additional reforms of government spying operations.

Attorney General Eric Holder told lawmakers in the House Judiciary Committee that the White House’s recent legislative proposal to end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of phone records would not be its last word on the surveillance. Additional reforms, he said, would be on their way to Congress once he and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper decide how to move forward, as President Barack Obama directed in a January speech.

“We have begun the process that the president gave us in that regard. We are not finished with the work that we are doing,” Attorney General Holder said.

Critics of the NSA’s surveillance have said that the White House’s plans to end the phone records program, unveiled in March, seemed too limited. “They focus on one program used to access one database collected under one legal authority,” said Rep John Conyers (D-MI), the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel. “To me the problem is far more complicated than that narrow lens implies.”

The prime subject under review before the administration is Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which allows the NSA to collect information about “non-US persons” who are “reasonably believed” to be outside American borders.

Chairman Leahy hopeful for patent markup

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said that he is hopeful his committee will consider his patent reform bill.

“As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I am committed to ensuring we move forward with meaningful legislation to support businesses and combat abuses in the patent system,” he said, adding that he “hopes” to begin consideration of a compromise patent reform bill. Negotiations continued, and no manager’s amendment was published by the close of business day.

“Weekend negotiations on this complex issue were positive, and I am confident we are closer to solidifying a bipartisan agreement that incorporates the ideas of many members,” Chairman Leahy said. He added that he scheduled the upcoming markup so that “all members [will] have the opportunity to debate this legislation.”

Architect of telecom law regrets FCC powers

A former lawmaker involved in the sweeping rewrite of communications laws in 1996 says he regrets giving too much discretion to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Former Rep Jack Fields (R-TX), who served as chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance back when the 1996 Telecommunications Act was passed, said that Congress should have been more prescriptive.

“We gave the Federal Communications Commission too much latitude and too much flexibility,” he said at a Capitol Hill event sponsored by the Internet Innovation Alliance, a group that advocates for universal broadband networks. “I think we should’ve been much more prescriptive in terms of legislative intent.”

Tech group hires House cyber guru

TechAmerica is bringing on a former House Homeland Security Committee staffer as its director of cybersecurity policy. Michael Spierto, who worked on the Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies subcommittee, will help the organization as lawmakers continue to push for legislation to protect the country’s computer networks.

“Cybersecurity is a worldwide challenge that spans across every industry and government sector,” Spierto said in a statement. “TechAmerica is on the forefront of this debate and I aim to build upon the organization's proven record of success to development of new thresholds of achievement.”

TechAmerica has urged Congress not to enact an overly broad cybersecurity bill that could end up doing more harm than good by imposing extra mandates or requirements on companies. Instead, it has pushed for a way to allow companies and the government to better share information as well as a nationwide set of rules for alerting people after their information may have been compromised in a data breach.

Google pays $1.4 million over privacy concerns

Google has paid a fine of 1 million euros for violating Italian privacy rules with its Street View service.

Italy’s data protection watchdog said the Web giant’s cars “roamed the streets without being perfectly recognizable,” which prevented people from being about “to decide whether or not to avoid being photographed. The government agency received a slew of complaints, it said, from people who did not want to be captured by Google’s cameras but were not able to make the choice. One million euros is the equivalent of about $1.4 million.

The Italian watchdog claimed that Google’s cars were not easily identifiable. It required the company to publicize upcoming routes ahead of time online, on the radio and in at least two local newspapers. Google had “promptly adopted” those measures, it added.

Veteran Washington trade groups seek new blood in Silicon Valley

Old-school Washington trade associations and think tanks are taking their membership pitches straight to Silicon Valley’s doorstep.

Seeking to tap into the success of the sector, veteran influence groups are updating their rosters and opening offices to try and make inroads with the new wave of corporate giants.

“We’re seeing the elevation of tech as a significant driver of both economic and political events,” said Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, a lobbyist at Monument Policy Group who represents Microsoft and the tech-based Reform Government Surveillance coalition. “It’s a natural progression, and you want to capture that community, and it’s not a business community that plays by traditional rules,” she said. “You have to go to them as opposed to waiting for them to come to you.”

Chavern said the new Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation, which is still hiring staff and looking for a West Coast office, is likely to expand the Chamber’s focus on issues like immigration, tax reform, trade and infrastructure, which are important to the tech sector.

FCC’s Wheeler defends broadcaster crackdown

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is defending a controversial move to limit broadcast companies’ ability to cooperate as merely an attempt to defend the laws on the book.

At a summit put on the by the American Cable Association, Chairman Wheeler accused broadcasters of carrying on a “charade” to skirt the rules. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out,” he told the supportive cable industry crowd.

“This concept of competition and diversity and localism was being undone by legal legerdemain,” he said. “It makes no sense to create a situation where you own a broadcast license, I want to get control of that license but I can’t because I own another station in town, and I’ll tell you what, I’m going to buy 90 percent of all of your assets... and you keep the license because that makes you the owner.”

Chairman Wheeler added: “What we were trying to do was say: ‘Look, this is harmful to competition. It is harmful to the marketplace of broadcast transactions. There is a set of rules, a set of concepts, that have been hallowed in communications law. We’re trying to stick to those concepts and say how do those apply in this world?”

Rep Eshoo calls for ‘rebalancing’ video law

Rep Anna Eshoo (D-CA), the top Democrat on the House Communications Subcommittee, wants to shift the balance of power between broadcasters and paid television companies like cable and satellite firms.

Rep Eshoo pushed for a “rebalancing” of the federal video laws to prevent broadcast companies like ABC, NBC and CBS from being able to black out local stations during disputes with cable and satellite companies, which pay to retransmit the channels.

“I think that there needs to be, obviously, a rebalancing of the law,” she said. “Much of the law was written to produce localism, but you see so many trends moving against that today.”

Consumers, she added, are getting “screwed and tattooed” in the arrangements allowed under current law, which can add up to billions of dollars but are “a racket.”