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Democrats protest intelligence funding bill over NSA

The intelligence funding bill the House overwhelmingly passed would make no major reforms to some of the most controversial spying programs, which angered some Democrats.

Rep John Conyers Jr (D-MI), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, voted against the measure because it made no effort to reform the National Security Agency and other programs. The funding bill “excludes even modest efforts to address cybersecurity, whistleblower protections, increased transparency, and drone warfare,” he said. “Because the bill falls far short on each of these matters -- and because the members introducing these reforms were not provided even the courtesy of open debate -- I did not support this bill.”

“While I recognize the necessity of guarding some of the intelligence community’s clandestine activities, matters that impact the civil liberties and safety of all Americans cannot be conducted in a manner that shuts out Congress and leaves the public in the dark," he added.

Rep Yoder: Agencies seizing e-mails is ‘much worse’ than NSA spying

A decades-old law on emails is more of a threat to privacy than National Security Agency surveillance, according to Rep Kevin Yoder (R-KS). He expressed deep concern over the 1986 Electronic Privacy Communications Act (ECPA), which allows police to obtain emails without a warrant.

“It’s much worse than the debates we’re having over whether the NSA should be able to theoretically review phone call” data, Rep Yoder said. “This is much worse in that they’re actually reading the emails,” he said.

Rep Yoder’s bill, the Email Privacy Act, would update the ECPA to require law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant before accessing digital communications including emails. Currently, officials can access any email that has been stored for more than six months without a warrant. The bill has wide support in the House, Rep Yoder said. He and co-sponsor Rep Jared Polis (D-CO) touted the bill’s 214 co-sponsors, just shy of half the members of the House.

“We’re very close to what we in Congress like to call a magic number,” Polis said, encouraging viewers to ask their member of Congress to support the bill. Yoder asked viewers to “differentiate this from the NSA issue” when contacting their members of Congress. While both issues deal with privacy, “it is different politically,” he said. No members have come out publicly against the bill, despite pushback from federal agencies, the lawmakers said.

House Dems fight back on measure to hamstring Internet oversight shift

A group of House Democrats are pushing back on a Republican amendment mean to limit the administration’s ability to move ahead with its plans to relinquish oversight of key technical Internet functions.

In a letter to Democratic members, Reps Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) urged members to vote against an amendment from Rep Sean Duffy (R-WI) to the Commerce Department’s appropriations bill that would limit the ways the agency can use its funding.

“We strongly urge you to oppose the Duffy Amendment and stand up for a global Internet free from government control,” the lawmakers wrote. The amendment would “greatly increase the likelihood of authoritarian control of the Internet, exactly the opposite outcome its author seeks and that we share as a nation,” they said.

Sinclair Proposes Surrendering Three Licenses to Gain Allbritton Deal Approval

Broadcasting giant Sinclair is taking some of its local stations in Alabama and South Carolina off the air after the Federal Communications Commission actions in 2014 to keep broadcasters from sharing resources.

In a recent filing with the FCC, Sinclair told the agency that it couldn’t find buyers for two stations in Birmingham (AL) and one station in Charleston (NC). Sinclair was supposed to sell those local broadcast stations as part of its nearly $1-billion deal to purchase stations from competitor Allbritton Communications.

Sinclair outlined its plans for various moves so that no joint sales agreements or sharing agreements or financial ties would be involved in its purchase of the Allbritton stations, which has a closing deadline of July or either party can terminate the deal.

Tech industry pushes lawmakers to fund Internet oversight shift

Two groups representing tech industry giants are asking lawmakers to give the administration funding to carry out its controversial plan to relinquish oversight of key technical Internet functions.

That administration move is a “critical transition” that needs full funding to be carried out successfully, the Internet Association and the Information Technology Industry Council said. The Internet Association includes Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Amazon. The Information Technology Industry Council includes Google, Apple, Microsoft and IBM.

The groups ask House members to oppose a provision in the Commerce Department’s authorization bill that would reduce funding for the agency. That bill is being considered on the House floor soon.

Lawmakers to unveil bill for pre-1972 recordings

Reps George Holding (R-NC) and John Conyers (D-MI) are set to introduce a bill that would require Internet radio services like Pandora and Sirius XM to pay to play songs that were recorded before 1972.

The bill from Reps Holding and Conyers -- the Respecting Senior Performers as Essential Cultural Treasures, or RESPECT, Act -- would require Internet radio services to pay federal performance royalty fees for the older recordings.

The call for performance royalty fees for pre-1972 recordings is supported by industry groups and musicians, some of whom -- including Martha Reeves, Dickey Betts and Al Jardine -- are set to appear at the bill’s unveiling.

House lawmakers want answers from eBay

A bipartisan duo of House lawmakers has questions for eBay about its recent data breach. Reps Joe Barton (R-TX) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) told eBay chief John Donahoe that they share “some concerns regarding the data security practices of personal information at eBay.”

The lawmakers, who are both members of the Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, want to know if the company is still gathering details about the full scope of the hack and how users have been affected. They also asked whether or not eBay is looking to overhaul its security standards in light of the hack and if it had noticed a decrease in security breaches in recent years.

Norquist: Don’t tax the Net

Americans for Tax Reform head Grover Norquist wants House lawmakers to permanently ban any tax on companies providing Internet service. In a letter to leaders of the House Judiciary Committee, Norquist said that a current bill in Congress would prevent “punitive and discriminatory” taxes from limiting the power of the Web.

“Excessive taxes will hinder continued growth in the digital space,” he wrote. “Allowing the Internet access tax moratorium to lapse would certainly lead to higher tax rates on consumers and reduce the rate of adoption and innovation. The Internet is our greatest gateway to innovation and education, higher taxes on Internet access undermines American economic competiveness and growth.”

The Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act would ban state and local governments from enacting taxes on Internet service. Unless it is passed this year, a 1998 law temporarily prohibiting the taxes would lapse, clearing the way for governments who might be eyeing taxes on Internet service companies as a way to fill their coffers.

Deadline set for Senate action on cybersecurity

The Senate needs to pass a major cybersecurity bill by August, or else the effort could be lost for the year, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) warned.

“If we don’t have something moving by August, I think it gets lost in the haze, and it will be a very long time until we actually get a bill passed that will actually have an impact,” he said.

The Senate has struggled to pass a companion measure to his Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which passed the House more than a year ago. Since then, revelations from Edward Snowden about programs at the National Security Agency have derailed the effort and heightened concerns about government snooping. The bill would allow companies to share information about possible cyber threats with each other and the government.

Rep Rogers said he was “cautiously optimistic that we can find some agreement within the next 30 days to try to get something moving.”

Senate panel to examine ‘stalking apps’

Sen Al Franken (D-MN) will hold a hearing on “stalking apps,” which can secretly track people through their smartphones.

“I believe that Americans have the right to control who can collect that information, and whether or not it can be given to third parties,” said Sen Franken, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy. “But right now, companies -- some legitimate, some not -- are collecting your location and giving it to whomever they want.”

The bill also has a provision to end specific “stalking” apps that can be used by one person to secretly track another person. “My commonsense bill helps a whole range of people, and would finally put an end to GPS stalking apps that allow abusers to secretly track their victims,” Sen Franken said.

That bill will be the subject of the subcommittee’s June 4 hearing, which will include testimony from representatives of the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, the Government Accountability Office and local law enforcement, as well as the National Consumers League and the National Network to End Domestic Violence.