Julian Hattem

Wi-Fi push grows in House

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers wants to make more space for Wi-Fi. Four legislators are introducing a companion bill to a Senate effort that would call for the Federal Communications Commission to study how certain bands of the nation’s airwaves can be set aside for wireless machines like tablets and laptops as well as garage door openers and other devices.

Together, lawmakers say they want to clear the way for future technologies. Rep Darrell Issa (R-CA) said, “The Wi-Fi Innovation Act will make available the spectrum necessary to support the best new inventions and the jobs and prosperity these new discoveries will foster.” Rep Issa was joined on the bill by Reps Anna Eshoo (D-CA) Bob Latta (R-OH) and Doris Matsui (D-CA).

Treasury Secretary Lew backs new cyber law

Lawmakers in Congress need to step up to the plate and protect US cyber networks, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said.

New legislation allowing companies to share information with each other and the government while still providing “important liability protection” is needed to ensure that banks and other major networks stay safe from hackers, Secretary Lew said. “Our cyber defenses are not yet where they need to be,” he said. “Cybersecurity must be ongoing, and by working together -- all of us -- we will meet this test.”

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) would allow people’s personal information to be shuttled to agencies like the National Security Agency, critics fear. In the past, President Obama has threatened to veto similar bills that did not do enough to protect people’s information.

Copyright Office ponders Aereo fallout

The US Copyright Office is asking the public to weigh in on what the Supreme Court’s ruling on streaming TV service Aereo means for the future of copyright law.

The office “is interested in commenters’ views regarding the Supreme Court’s opinion in Aereo and how that opinion may affect the scope of the rights of making available and communication to the public in the United States,” it said. Specifically, the office asked how June’s 6-3 decision affects “unauthorized filesharing,” the right to make content available and other aspects of copyright law.

The Copyright Office will be accepting comments from the public for 30 days.

Lawmakers want more e-signatures

A bipartisan trio of lawmakers wants to know why people can’t sign more federal government forms electronically. Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep Anna Eshoo (D-CA) wrote to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker asking for an update on what the government is doing to get rid of wasteful and redundant paper signatures.

“The acceptance of electronic documents has become a cornerstone of Internet commerce and is vital to our country’s economy,” they wrote. “We are concerned about the extent of the adoption of electronic signatures within the federal government.”

Privacy fight returns for cyber bill

Privacy advocates are dusting off a months-old campaign to block cybersecurity legislation that they warn would send too much personal information into government hands.

After failing to prevent a similar bill from passing through the House in 2013, advocates now want to make sure that the Senate can’t finish the job and send the bill to the president’s desk.

House panel moves ‘clean’ satellite TV bill

The House Judiciary Committee easily passed a critical satellite television law on a unanimous voice vote. The panel avoided making any controversial changes to the existing marketplace for retransmitting broadcast programs on cable and satellite with the “clean” extension of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), which came as a victory for broadcasters.

“I realize that current licenses are not perfect for everyone, but on balance I would say that they do a good job,” intellectual property subcommittee Chairman Howard Coble (R-NC) said. “Not unlike many other bills, this legislation will not satisfy all stakeholders, but it should satisfy enough and most importantly, it serves the interests of our satellite-viewing constituents.”

The bill ensures that more than 1 million people living in rural areas who would not otherwise be able to pick up broadcast signals with a roof antenna can have channels beamed to them through satellite TV service. The existing law is set to run out at the end of 2014 but would be renewed until 2019 under the committee’s bill. “This helps ensure that consumers in rural areas like my congressional district have the same access to news and entertainment that consumers in urban areas enjoy,” Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said.

Sen Franken: Net neutrality is ‘First Amendment issue of our time’

Making sure all surfers on the Web enjoy the same speed no matter which website they visit is a fundamental free speech issue, Sen Al Franken (D-MN) said. “It is absolutely the First Amendment issue of our time,” Sen Franken said.

“Do we want deep-pocketed corporations controlling what information you get at what speed?” he added.

Sen Franken, who has been a critical supporter of the concept of net neutrality, said that other members of Congress simply don’t understand the way the Internet works.

“This has been the architecture of the Internet from the beginning, and everyone should understand that,” he said. “Some of my colleagues in the Congress don’t understand that. ... You just want to go ‘Oh, come on,’ ” Sen Franken said. “ 'Really, don’t get up and talk unless you know something.' ”

Crunch time for NSA reform

It’s crunch time for reining in the National Security Agency. If lawmakers are going to finalize the USA Freedom Act to reform government surveillance in 2014, privacy advocates warn they need to pick up the pace.

“I think there’s a lot of pressure on the Judiciary Committee to act on USA Freedom before the August recess,” said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “Everyone knows that bills that aren’t yet out of committee by the end of July are really hard to get done because appropriations occupy so much time and attention,” he added. “I wouldn’t want to be a Judiciary Committee staffer responsible for this issue and have Fourth of July vacation plans.”

The Senate will return after the July Fourth holiday weekend for four straight weeks of work in Washington before the month-long August recess. After that, government funding and the November elections are likely to take center stage, clouding the outlook for any controversial measures on Capitol Hill.

Rep Eshoo wants to put cork in .wine websites

Rep Anna Eshoo (D-CA) doesn't think websites should be paired with .wine. In a letter to the head of the international group deciding new website endings, such as .com or .net, the top Democrat on the House’s Technology subcommittee said she was "deeply concerned" about certain generic top-level domain names (gLTDs).

“Specifically, it’s my understanding that the .wine and .vin gLTDs have been met with fierce opposition from the wine industry, both here in the US and around the world,” Rep Eshoo added. “Given those concerns ... I urge you to advocate for the .wine and .vin gTLDs to be permanently withdrawn from consideration.”

The nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which manages online domain names, is in the process of creating hundreds of new extensions to expand the confines of the Web. As well as adding new letters after the "dot," extensions are also being rolled out in other characters like Chinese and Arabic, and industries are trying to capitalize on the move. Nike and McDonald’s have looked to get on board, as has the Republican Party.

Rep Grayson ‘disturbed’ by weak phone networks

Rep Alan Grayson (D-FL) wants the head of the Federal Communications Commission to do something to protect people’s phone calls. Rep Grayson said he was "disturbed" about devices that can cost as little as $1,800 and secretly pick up calls and text messages.

“Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their communications, and in information about where they go and with whom they communicate,” he wrote to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “It is extremely troubling to learn that cellular communications are so poorly secured, and that it is so easy to intercept calls and track people’s phones.”

The relatively simple technology known as ISMI catchers operate like a cellphone tower to pick up unique signals from people’s phones to listen in on their conversations and text message chats and nab any emails or contact data on the phones.

Aside from criminals and snooping neighbors, spies or terrorists could also use the devices, critics have worried. Even worse, Rep Grayson said, the FCC may have long been aware of how the devices pick up personal cellphone data.