Hill, The

Senators unveil bill to address 'massive and growing' threat

Private companies would have an easier time sharing information about cyber threats under a new bill from Senate Intelligence Committee leaders that is set to move forward.

Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) unveiled a bill that would incentivize companies to share information about cyber threats with each other and the government. The bill “responds to the massive and growing threat to national and economic security from cyber intrusion and attack, and seeks to improve the security of public and private computer networks by increasing awareness of threats and defenses,” according to a release from Feinstein’s office.

According to the release, the bill removes legal obstacles and provides liability protections for companies that want to share information about cyber threats. The bill also directs the federal government to share information about cyber threats with private companies “at the classified and unclassified levels.” The bill includes measures aimed at protecting privacy as companies share information with each other and the government.

Senators: No 'watered down' NSA reform

Three senators are doubling down on their call for a sweeping end to the National Security Agency’s “dragnet surveillance.” Sens Rand Paul (R-KY), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) pledged to fight against “limited” and “watered down” legislation to reform the spy agency, which they said includes the bill that passed the House in May.

“This is clearly not the meaningful reform that Americans have demanded, so we will vigorously oppose this bill in its current form and continue to push for real changes to the law,” they wrote in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. “This firm commitment to both liberty and security is what Americans -- including the dedicated men and women who work at our nation's intelligence agencies -- deserve," they added. "We will not settle for less.”

The three senators, who have been among the most vocal critics of the NSA in the upper chamber, said that any reform bill must end a “loophole” allowing the government to snoop on some Americans’ emails without a warrant, add a special advocate to the federal court overseeing the intelligence community and clearly prevent bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

Privacy groups ask President Obama not to renew NSA powers

A coalition of more than two dozen privacy and digital rights groups is asking President Barack Obama not to renew a contested National Security Agency program when its legal authority expires soon.

In a letter, organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Electronic Privacy Information Center urged Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder not to seek another court order allowing the agency to collect Americans’ phone records. The contested program is “not effective,” “unconstitutional” and “has been misused,” they wrote. “It should end.”

The NSA needs approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court every 90 days in order to continue its collection of records, which track the numbers people call as well as the length and frequency of their conversations but not what they actually talk about. The current authorization runs out.

Internet governance in transition: What's the destination?

[Commentary] With the decision to transition away from US control, addressing Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)’s longstanding accountability and "legitimacy" issues becomes even more pressing. If ICANN is not accountable to the US government or to other governments, to whom will it be accountable?

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a non-profit, places a great deal of emphasis on obtaining input from the Internet "community," but in the end, it is ICANN's board that makes the decisions. That board has no external entities to which it is accountable. Meaningful accountability requires meaningful external checks, and virtually all major organizations are structured so as to be externally accountable. ICANN has no shareholders, members, or donors. The most direct way for ICANN to be externally accountable is to modify its governance structure so that board members, or at least a significant number of them, are accountable to external groups.

Our research shows that many organizations with coordination functions that are similar to ICANN's are governed by their direct users, who have a strong interest in the organization doing its job effectively. The direct users of ICANN include:

  • "Registries," which are companies that coordinate gTLDs, such as .com, .edu and .org;
  • "Registrars,” which register the second-level domain names that we all use, such as aol.com; and
  • Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), which are responsible for distributing numeric Internet Protocol (IP) addresses that are needed for the Internet to work.

In sum, as part of this transition, the issue of ICANN external accountability urgently needs to be addressed. We believe that our suggested system of accountability to ICANN's direct users would be the best way to move to the next phase of Internet governance.

[Lenard is president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute; White is a professor of economics at New York University's Stern School of Business]

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.