Julian Hattem

Sen Cruz looking to blunt FCC authority

Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) is looking to strip the Federal Communications Commission of its ability to write new network neutrality rules. The senator is currently circulating draft legislation that would undercut the commission’s legal authority to write new regulations governing the way that Internet service providers treat different streams of traffic online.

Sen Cruz “has serious concerns about the course the FCC is pursuing on net neutrality and on the questionable authority on which it’s relying,” spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said. “He is exploring legislative options to preserve the freedom of the Internet to remain an engine for jobs, growth and opportunity, and we have been in touch with other offices to that end.”

Sen Franken fears phone fingerprint technology

Sen Al Franken (D-MN) is worried that new technology allowing smart phones to recognize a user based on their fingerprint could allow people’s identities to be stolen.

In a letter to the heads of Samsung, the senator wrote that the feature in the company’s Galaxy S5 phone “may not be as secure as it may seem” and could lead to “broader security problems” with the device.

“Fingerprints are the opposite of secret,” he wrote. “You leave them on countless objects that you touch throughout the day: your car door, a glass of water, even the screen of your smartphone... If hackers get hold of a digital copy of your fingerprint, they could use it to impersonate you for the rest of your life, particularly as more and more technologies start relying on fingerprint authentication.”

MoveOn pressures FCC to drop Web ‘fast lanes’

Liberal group MoveOn.org is running a TV advertisement in Washington opposing a move to allow companies to create different Internet speeds for various websites.

The new ad comes ahead of the Federal Communications Commission’s meeting, where commissioners are scheduled to vote to move forward with the controversial "fast lanes" proposal from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. The ad begins with a quote from President Obama, who in 2010 said he was a “big believer in net neutrality,” the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. “Now the FCC might change the rules and let Verizon and Comcast pick winners and losers online,” a narrator says. “Tell the FCC to listen to President Obama.”

The ad is showing in Washington, via by a five-figure buy. The FCC’s contested potential rule would require that Internet service providers maintain a baseline level of service for all websites, but would allow companies to enter into deals to boost speeds for some users. That would make it possible for a company like Google to pay Comcast so that subscribers get quicker access to its sites, for example.

NSA reform bill heads to House floor

The House Intelligence Committee approved legislation to make a number of reforms to the National Security Agency, sending the bill to the House floor. The Intelligence Committee’s approval of the USA Freedom Act by voice vote came just a day after the same bill sailed through the Judiciary Committee on a 32-0 vote and adds to the momentum for reining in the NSA nearly a year after leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden shocked the world with details of the agency’s operations.

“Enhancing privacy and civil liberties while protecting the operational capability of a critical counterterrorism tool, not pride of authorship, has always been our first and last priority,” Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) said in a joint statement after the closed-door vote. “We are pleased the House Judiciary Committee reached a compromise that garnered strong, bipartisan support. We look forward to working with the Judiciary Committee, House and Senate leadership, and the White House to address outstanding operational concerns and enact the USA Freedom Act into law this year.”

After Google win, NARAL targets Yahoo ads

Abortion rights advocates are asking Yahoo to take down “crisis pregnancy center” ads that they say discourage women from having abortions.

The petition from NARAL Pro-Choice America and the women’s rights group UltraViolet comes fresh off of a victory with Google, which NARAL said took down similarly “deceptive” ads in April.

“We hope that Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer will follow Google's example and remove deceptive crisis pregnancy center ads so that women can continue to trust Yahoo to provide the accurate resources we are seeking when we use their platform,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said. “No search engine should allow themselves to be complicit in such a manipulative campaign to lure women into ideologically driven facilities by masquerading as actual abortion service providers.”

Abortion rights advocates say that the pregnancy center ads violate search engines’ advertising policies by targeting people searching for abortions while, in fact, discouraging those services. “These ads use the search term ‘abortion clinic’ when they don't provide those services,” NARAL said in the online petition.

Tech industry cheers new immigration regulations

Leaders of top technology companies applauded the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for announcing new regulations that would allow the husbands and wives of foreign workers to get jobs in the United States.

The draft regulations would help the families of people who are working in the country on high-skilled visas, tech leaders said, and keep top talent in the US.

“By sensibly improving these rules, we can help ensure that the most talented foreign innovators conduct their break-through research right here at home,” said Bruce Mehlman, head of the Technology CEO Council, which represents leaders of Intel, IBM and other tech companies.

Currently, foreign scientists, engineers or computer programmers can come and work in the US on an H-1B visa. Their husbands and wives, however, are stuck with an H-4 visa, which allows them to stay in the US but prevents them from working.

“These factors cause America to lose valuable talent when a green card candidate -- many of whom were educated at American universities -- to abandon their quest for citizenship and seek employment in countries that compete with the United States,” said Linda Moore, president of the TechNet trade group, which counts Apple, Microsoft and AT&T among its members.

Rep Issa: Don’t sell off airwaves for short-term gains

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) said he is tired of selling off public airwaves only to fund a pork-barrel project or make a tiny dent in the deficit.

Selling off chunks of the spectrum to make a little short-term cash, he said, would be like selling off pieces of the Mississippi River or the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

“Public assets for the public good have never been before sold in the way that we deal with spectrum,” he said at a conference pushing for more unlicensed spectrum, which allows Wi-Fi systems and devices like garage door openers to operate.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission is planning to buy back chunks of the airwaves currently owned by broadcasters and resell them to wireless companies, which need the spectrum to offer high-speed Web access for consumers’ phones and tablets. Most of the airwaves will be allocated for specific companies, but the FCC will reserve some for unlicensed use to support Wi-Fi and other services. Just how much of the spectrum is unlicensed depends on how much broadcasters sell back to the government.

FTC commissioner ‘somewhat optimistic’ about data breach bill

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen thinks Congress can get together and pass legislation to protect consumers when hackers steal their data online, she said.

She also said she was “somewhat optimistic” about the prospect of a bill, after a series of headline-grabbing data breaches in recent months.

“I think there has been continuing interest in Congress and I think some of these big data breaches have kept the energy up behind it,” she said. “It’s very difficult,” she added. “Congress, obviously, has a lot on its plate...[but] I have found on a bipartisan basis there has been an interest in better data security guidance and having legislation in that regard.”

Opposing tech groups settle lawsuit

Two competing technology industry trade groups have resolved a lawsuit over lobbyists who moved from one organization to another.

Details about the deal were not disclosed, but executives expressed hope that the resolution between TechAmerica and the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) would settle a fracture that had erupted in the tech lobbying world. Both trade groups pledged to put the matter behind them and refocus on the needs of their members.

"ITI is committed to focusing on the vibrancy of the technology sector and the dynamic future that [information and communications technology] innovation brings to consumers around the world,” CEO Dean Garfield said in a statement.

His firm represents tech giants like Apple, Google and Microsoft. “To ensure continued success in achieving this vision, ITI and TechAmerica have agreed to the resolution of pending litigation between them and have entered into a confidential agreement to resolve all claims, without any admission of wrongdoing,” Garfield added. TechAmerica head Shawn Osborne added that the deal “is in the best interests of our members.”

Spy court hears first anti-NSA argument

For the first time, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court heard a formal argument that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of people’s phone records is illegal.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed early in April and just declassified, the Center for National Security Studies said that the surveillance program is not authorized under current law.

“Congress has never authorized the telephone metadata program,” the think tank told court. “When the government acts in an area of questionable constitutionality, Congress cannot be deemed to have authorized that action by mere implication or acquiescence,” it added, “Rather, Congress must explicitly indicate that it intends to alter the rights and limitations normally afforded by the law.”

Yet with regards to the controversial NSA operation, Congress never “made such an explicit statement.” According to Kate Martin, the director of the Center for National Security Studies, the brief is the first formal argument the FISA Court has heard outlining how the bulk data collection does not comply with the law. “The court hasn’t heard the opposing view on that before issuing these orders, on that question,” she said.