Julian Hattem

Telecom comments flood lawmakers’ inboxes

Trade groups and associations have been rolling out policy prescriptions in recent days as part of the House Commerce Committee’s review of the nation’s telecommunications law.

The deadline for filing comments about telecommunications competition policy was June 13 and multiple organizations managed to slip in under the wire to get their voices heard.

New technologies “directly challenge each other in the marketplace in a manner not fully contemplated” when current law was written back in 1996, argued the Telecommunications Industry Association in its filing. Innovations that seem to cross previous boundaries are complicating the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) picture, it added, and new policies should be sure not to meddle with the different advancements.

“A legislative focus on specific, well-defined public interest objectives will ultimately prove more durable in achieving those objectives as technology evolves, rather than an approach which micro-manages how content providers, network operators, and customers should relate to each other,” it said.

Lawmakers prodded over email privacy

House lawmakers are being asked to support a bill to place new privacy protections on people’s emails. Americans for Tax Reform head Grover Norquist and Katie McAuliffe, executive director of the organization’s Digital Liberty project, want members of Congress to back the Email Privacy Act as support gains momentum.

“The Email Privacy Act will overcome the 218 member threshold this week,” they wrote in a letter. “We encourage you to join fellow Representatives in co-sponsorship, if you have not done so already. Further, we encourage leadership to bring this bill to the floor for a recorded vote."

“Our Representatives should be on record and accountable to their constituencies, regarding support for the Fourth Amendment to the American Constitution," they added.

The bill, from Reps Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Jared Polis (D-CO) would update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which allows law enforcement officials to obtain emails and other communications without a warrant as long as they have been online for at least 180 days.

Lawmakers push to ban taxes on Internet service

Legislation to permanently bar states and cities from placing a tax on the Internet is moving forward in the House.

The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act, the panel announced. State and local governments are currently prohibited from enacted taxes on Internet access, but the 1998 law banning them is set to expire in 2014.

Unless new legislation goes forward, state legislatures and city councils could start eyeing Web surcharges in order to fill dwindling coffers. The Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act would extend that ban indefinitely.

The bill currently has 214 cosponsors in the House, just four short of a majority. A companion bill in the Senate from Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen John Thune (R-SD) has 50 cosponsors, spelling an easy path forward in both chambers.

FTC head warns about ‘massive profiles’ of info

Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez warned about the potential perils of companies that collect billions of bits of information about how people shop, eat, work and live.

The companies generate “massive profiles” about people, Ramirez said on PBS’s "NewsHour,” which include details about their income, political affiliation, health and religion, among many other areas.

“The question that causes us some deep concern is what are the implications of being categorized in that way?” she asked. “There is a potential for these categories to be used in ways that could ultimately be discriminatory or could raise other sensitive concerns.”

Sen Rubio warns of cellphone ‘crunch’

Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL) is setting his sights on the nation’s airwaves. The Florida Republican is launching a new effort to turn government-run chunks of spectrum into a tool for powering people’s cellphones and tablets.

He just introduced the first of three bills that he said were part of a multi-year effort to take advantage of the resource, which is suddenly in high demand.

“We know the crunch is coming, and there’s going to have to be a steady stream of availability to keep up with the pace of demand,” he said. “The reality is that as everything is going increasingly mobile -- every sector of our lives and of the economy is moving to mobile platforms -- the increase in demand on the system is going to exponentially grow,” he said.

Rep McCarthy’s rise in House GOP leadership could be boon for tech

Silicon Valley would be one of the winners if Rep Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) becomes the next House majority leader.

The GOP whip has been a frequent guest at major tech companies’ headquarters and has had their back on nearly every issue in recent years, industry insiders say.

“I think every time we’ve had something up or we’ve wanted to see progress on an issue, he’s been there for us,” said Andy Halataei, senior vice president of government relations at the Information Technology Industry Council. The trade group, which includes giants like AOL, Facebook and Microsoft, named McCarthy its legislator of the year in 2012, praising his understanding of “the critical importance of technology and innovation to create jobs in California and across the country.”

From his home in Bakersfield (CA), Rep McCarthy has been a regular traveler to Silicon Valley to meet with company executives. Former aides and associates now work in the K Street shops of major tech firms like Facebook and Uber.

Lawmakers eye Facebook’s new ad practices

Privacy-minded lawmakers are pledging to monitor Facebook’s new advertising system, which will involve tracking users across other websites and apps to better target advertising.

Facebook announced that it would begin targeting advertisements to users based on the websites they visit and apps that they use. In a blog post, the company explained that users can opt out of the web browser-based tracking through an online ad industry program and can also opt out of the app-based tracking through their smartphones’ privacy controls.

“Facebook’s announcement today to track users as young as 13 outside its website in order to gather information for targeted advertising raises a major privacy red flag,” Sen Ed Markey (D-MA) said, touting his own bill to prevent online tracking of teenagers. “It doesn’t matter where teen users are online, Facebook will create detailed digital dossiers without their permission based on what they click,” he said. “Now more than ever, we need to put rules on the books to ensure teens are protected from being tracked.”

House Intel chief ‘extremely optimistic’ on cyber bill's chances

The head of the House Intelligence Committee thinks the odds are good that the Senate will pass a long-delayed cybersecurity bill.

After a meeting with leaders of the Senate Intelligence panel, Rep Mike Rogers (R-MI) said his hopes for action soon have returned.

“That was one of the most productive meetings I thought we had this year on this issue, and I am back to being extremely optimistic that we are going to get a cyber sharing bill this year,” Rogers said. ”I am very, very encouraged by this meeting yesterday.”

Senate to consider AT&T-DirecTV merger

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the proposed $49 billion merger of AT&T and DirecTV in late June, the panel announced. The Antitrust subcommittee’s session will be held on the same day that the House Judiciary Committee holds its hearing, on June 24.

The House panel will go first with a hearing, followed hours later by lawmakers in the Senate. The twin hearings will likely feature some skepticism from lawmakers worried that the trend of mergers among major media companies will lead to higher prices and worse service for their constituents.

Poll: Many want email privacy overhaul

A poll sponsored by civil liberties organizations shows that many people in the country want to update the law that allows the government to search emails without a warrant.

According to the survey from Vox Populi Polling, more than 80 percent of people in six states and the greater Los Angeles area wanted to overhaul the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which allows warrantless searches of emails that are older than 180 days. Additionally, between 64 and 72 percent of people in those areas thought that online privacy is becoming increasingly important. And in four states, more than 70 percent of voters said they would be more likely to support a candidate looking to update the law.

“There is a rare, overwhelming and incredibly diverse consensus among voters that ECPA needs to be updated,” Brent Seaborn, a Vox Populi Polling partner, said. “These levels of support are nearly unheard of in politics today... All candidates should note that this issue carries power whether they are involved in general election races or primary campaigns.”