Kate Tummarello

Sen Schumer to FCC: Pay attention to public comments on net neutrality

Sen Charles Schumer (D-NY) wants to make sure the tens of thousands of people voicing concerns about a new net neutrality proposal get heard. “While they may not be the businesses from whom you are accustomed to hearing, the fact that ordinary citizens would take time out of their days to weigh in on a complicated regulatory issue is a clear indicator of its significance,” Sen Schumer said. Sen Schumer sent a letter to Chairman Wheeler encouraging the FCC leader to take into account the tens of thousands of public comments the FCC has received since its vote in May. Chairman Wheeler should “give significant weight to the public input,” he said. Sen Schumer pointed to the “nearly 50,000 comments from concerned citizens who share my belief that it is the Commission’s responsibility to protect and preserve an open Internet.” He compared the public interest in the net neutrality process to less highly watched proceedings at the agency. "While the Commission is accustomed to hearing from businesses who are concerned with proposed changes to telecommunications law, I cannot recall a time when ordinary Americans have been so engaged in a regulatory issue," he said.

Senators voice concerns over telephone tech switch

Senators are concerned that an ongoing switch from traditional phone lines to Internet-based phone technology could leave some in the US without reliable phone service.

During a hearing held by the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, multiple Democratic senators expressed concerns that the new technologies would be less reliable than the traditional technologies, especially during emergencies.

“If there’s one thing that every person is worried about … its public safety,” Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said. “We need to make sure that these new technologies are functional,” especially when callers are trying to reach emergency services, she continued.

Sen Cory Booker (D-NJ) pointed to 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, which wiped out communications networks in parts of New York and New Jersey that had moved off of the traditional technology.

The so-called IP -- or Internet Protocol -- transition to Internet-based phone technology is being overseen by the Federal Communications Commission, which voted earlier to allow telephone companies to propose transition trials for areas where they intend to remove the traditional technology.

NSA won't abandon phone records program without Congress

The Obama Administration has ruled out using internal administrative policy to reform controversial federal surveillance programs, a top Justice Department official said.

Officials have not tried to persuade the country’s surveillance court to change its understanding of the law, Deputy Attorney General James Cole told lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and do not plan to replace a National Security Agency (NSA) program with other ways to collect data about Americans.

“We think that our choices at this point really come down to what has been approved by the courts over a number of years, new legislation or else not having the tools at all,” he said.

Attorney General Cole’s statement came in response to a question from Sen Mark Udall (D-CO), a critic of the NSA's surveillance, who claimed that the administration “has the tools it needs” through other methods to protect national security while also not violating their privacy. Opponents of the NSA’s program to collect records about people’s phone calls say that the federal government could abandon the program and use other means, such as national security letters, to collect the data.

“The current law gives the government broad authority right now -- right now-- to obtain records quickly,” Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR), another critic of the government surveillance, told Attorney General Cole. “The fact that this dragnet surveillance is taking place right now is unacceptable to me.”

Privacy groups push Senate for stronger NSA reforms

A coalition of privacy groups is pushing the Senate to pass a stronger surveillance reform bill than the USA Freedom House that recently sailed through the House.

“The result we seek is legislation that will protect constitutional and human rights and assure necessary oversight of the intelligence community’s collection of individuals’ personal information,” 30 groups said in a letter to leadership.

Signatories include the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Demand Progress and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is slated to take up the House bill, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has said he will turn his attention to NSA reform later this summer with an eye on strengthening privacy provisions in the House-passed bill.

In their letter to Senate leadership and the leadership of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees, the privacy groups pointed to eleventh-hour changes to the USA Freedom Act in the House before the final vote on the bill.

Snowden calls for stronger online security

Ahead of the one-year anniversary of his first leaks about the National Security Agency, former contractor Edward Snowden is calling for Internet users and companies take up the reins on their own.

"One year ago, we learned that the Internet is under surveillance, and our activities are being monitored to create permanent records of our private lives -- no matter how innocent or ordinary those lives might be,” he said. “Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the US Congress fails to do the same.”

Snowden is throwing his support behind an online effort that Web companies and advocacy organizations are calling Reset the Net.

Google, Mozilla, reddit and other leading websites are teaming up with advocacy organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee for the push, which is aimed at increasing users’ privacy protections online. The campaign is looking for popular websites and online services to offer more online security in the absence of and in addition to any legislation from Congress.

DOJ to review decades-old music licensing rules

The Department of Justice has kicked off a process to review its decades-old consent decrees with the music industry’s largest licensing organizations. The move was applauded by the two organizations -- Broadcast Music (BMI) and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) -- who have protested the decrees, saying that the Justice Department’s rules to protect competition in the music licensing market have not kept up with changing technologies.

“The Department understands that ASCAP, BMI and some other firms in the music industry believe that the Consent Decrees need to be modified to account for changes in how music is delivered to and experienced by listeners,” the Justice Department wrote in its announcement of the review. The Department directed commenters to file via the agency’s website or mail by Aug 6.

The agency’s rules for BMI and ASCAP date back to the US government’s concerns in the 1940s that the music industry’s two largest licensing organizations -- which sell blanket copyright licenses to those looking to play the music publicly, such as television stations and restaurants -- were acting in anticompetitive ways.

But BMI and ASCAP -- whose consent decrees were last updated in 1994 and 2001, respectively -- say the rules haven’t kept pace with changing technology, including the proliferation of Internet radio services like Pandora, depriving songwriters and publishers of fair compensation.

Sen Chambliss: Senate must get cyber bill done this year

The Senate needs to get a cybersecurity bill done, and the Senate Intelligence Committee is “close” to a bipartisan bill, according to Sen Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), the committee’s top Republican.

“We’re down now to just a couple of provisions that we’re still talking about that we’ve got to resolve before we bring it before the committee,” Sen Chambliss said.

Sen Chambliss said he has been working with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) for months and has solved some of the differences between their approaches, including over real-time sharing of information about cyber threats across relevant entities in the public and private sectors.

They’re still working to solve issues of liability protections, he continued, adding that he’s “confident we’ll figure something out.” Sen Chambliss said he is hopeful the bill will come to the Senate floor once the committee considers it. “It’s a bipartisan bill,” he said. “That rings a bell in [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid’s mind as to what ought to come to the floor.”

Sen Chambliss: House NSA reforms go ‘a little bit too far’

Sen Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said the surveillance reform bill that passed the House in May goes too far in ending some of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) sweeping surveillance programs.

“I actually think they went a little bit too far on the bulk collection side of it,” Chambliss -- the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee -- said.

Sen Chambliss said he thinks the House bill is actually too aggressive, but said he is open to discussing some changes to the surveillance programs, including increased transparency measures and shorter retention periods for data. “It’s not going to be easy” to bring together the senators on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to surveillance reform, he said, adding that he welcomes the debate.

Rep Lofgren staffer joins tech industry group

Rep Zoe Lofgren’s (D-CA) Communications Director is joining the Information Technology Industry Council, the tech trade group announced.

Duncan Neasham -- who worked for the House Small Business Committee before joining Rep Lofgren’s office in 2011 -- will start at the ITI, overseeing its “media strategy and messaging through its traditional and multi-media platforms,” the group said.

ITI represents giants in the tech industry, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo Qualcomm and Oracle.

Rep Lofgren -- who represents part of Silicon Valley and is a member of the House Judiciary Committee -- works on issues critical to the tech industry, including surveillance reform and copyright and hacking laws.

Lawmakers lay out goals for FCC program to fund Internet in schools

A bipartisan group of lawmakers laid out recommendations for the Federal Communications Commission to modernize its E-Rate program to fund technology in classrooms.

“The funding priorities must reflect the changing nature of the Internet, so that our classrooms and students have access to today’s technology,” a group of 46 lawmakers told the FCC. “America’s school and libraries are in need of a technological update to accelerate next-generation education reforms, support teachers and enhance student learning through universal access to high-speed broadband.”

The lawmakers laid out a list of recommendations for updating the 18-year-old E-Rate program, including focuses on Internet services and Wi-Fi, making sure pricing for Internet access is competitive, increasing transparency and streamlining the application process.