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Tech groups dissatisfied with NSA reform bill

A slew of tech companies and advocacy groups ranging from Facebook to FreedomWorks are hoping to change a sweeping overhaul of the National Security Agency before the bill hits the House floor.

In a letter to House leaders, dozens of organizations pushing for reform of the embattled spy agency asked for “several technical corrections and clarifications” and “substantive improvements” to ensure that the bill “is not misinterpreted and its stated goal of ending bulk collection is met.”

“Passing the USA Freedom Act would be an historic event in favor of privacy, but the bill certainly does not address all the significant human rights issues raised by over-broad national security surveillance,” wrote Harley Geiger, senior counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology, in a blog post.

Along with other privacy groups and top Web companies, the organization listed five minor language edits it wanted made to clarify the USA Freedom Act’s intent and ensure that agents at the NSA cannot get the content of people’s communications, among other measures.

The letter was signed by major Web companies like Facebook, Google and Apple, which have banded together under the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, as well as privacy and civil rights advocates like the Center for Democracy and Technology, the American Civil Liberties Union and FreedomWork

White House pledges scrutiny of net neutrality plan

The White House promised to “carefully review” the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) new plans for allowing Internet service companies to create faster speeds for some users.

President Barack Obama has long been a vocal advocate of net neutrality, the notion that Web traffic should be treated equally, and he "is looking at every way to protect a free and open Internet, and will consider any option that might make sense," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

Secretary Carney said that the White House is “pleased to see that [the FCC chairman] is keeping all options on the table.” Among the options that the FCC is accepting comments on is the notion of reclassifying the Internet from an “information service,” as it has previously been regulated, to a “communications service” like telephone lines, which would come with greater regulatory powers.

Liberals and other defenders of net neutrality have said that step, which would surely inflame passions from the right, is the best way to ensure all people can equally access content online.

Senators want rules to protect consumers from ‘malvertising’

Leaders of a Senate subcommittee called for new rules to protect people from malicious software disguised as Internet advertising. The “malvertising” can infect thousands of computers without users’ knowledge, even if people are being smart online, members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on Investigations said.

“As things currently stand, the consumer is the one party involved in online advertising who is simultaneously both least capable of taking effective security precautions and forced to pay the bulk majority of the cost when such security fails,” said Sen John McCain (R-AZ), who led the subcommittee's effort. “For the future, such a result is not tenable,” he added. “The value that online advertising has to the Internet should not come at the expense of the consumer.”

Sen McCain said that he was eyeing the chance to “reinvigorate” that bill or a similar measure to protect Web users.

US should look to Brazil and the EU for strong net neutrality rules

[Commentary] In Brazil, network neutrality was officially codified at the beginning of the NETMundial conference, a multistakeholder Internet governance convening in Sao Paolo in late April 2014.

The signing of the Marco Civil da Internet -- commonly referred to as Brazil’s Internet bill of rights -- was a huge victory for advocates of a free and open Internet, who have been pushing for the bill to pass with strong language for years.

According to the final language, ISPs are not allowed to “offer services in non-discriminatory commercial conditions” and must “refrain from anti-competition practices.”

The progress made in Brazil and the EU stands in stark contrast to what’s happening here in the US. After the court struck down the Open Internet rules in January 2014, it seemed like the Federal Communications Commission had a clear path to reinstate net neutrality: reclassify broadband as a Title II telecommunications service.

Reclassification would allow the FCC to treat broadband providers as common carriers, meaning it could implement clear and strong new rules that would prevent discrimination, blocking, and could even address paid prioritization issues. Instead, a watered down set of proposed rules was leaked to the press in April, which would address some discrimination issues but would create an even larger loophole for ISPs to charge for fast lanes.

[Kehl is a policy analyst with the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation]

House GOP warns FCC could 'derail' Internet

Top House Republicans are telling the Federal Communications Commission to tread lightly with new rules governing the way Internet companies treat customers.

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) warned FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that issuing expansive rules would “needlessly inhibit the creation of American private sector jobs, limit economic freedom and innovation, and threaten to derail one of our economy’s most vibrant sectors.”

“The Commission should be focused on unleashing the full job-creating potential of the private sector, including the Internet, rather than stifling such growth through expansions of federal power,” the four wrote in a letter.

Fighting for the future of wireless competition

[Commentary] The Federal Communications Commission will vote on a plan to conduct an “incentive auction,” that will pay television broadcasters to give up some of their existing wireless capacity so the FCC can auction it to wireless companies for mobile broadband. As part of this decision, the FCC will consider whether -- as suggested by the Department of Justice Antitrust Division among others -- to adopt rules that keep AT&T and Verizon from strangling competition.

AT&T and Verizon have launched a frantic last minute campaign to eliminate the reserve and retain the right to once again foreclose competition by buying up the licenses. In a nice spot of Orwellian messaging, supporters of AT&T and Verizon accuse the FCC of ‘acting like a cartel’ and ‘picking winners and losers’ by refusing to let AT&T and Verizon monopolize the spectrum. But the proposed spectrum reserve lets consumers, rather than the government spectrum auction, ‘pick winners and losers.’

Eliminating the reserve would convert the auction of spectrum licenses into an auction for a government-sanctioned duopoly. If we really “want the market to decide” -- the actual wireless market where customers choose the carrier that provides the best prices and the best service – then the FCC needs to keep the spectrum reserve when it votes.

[Feld is Public Knowledge's senior vice president]

Sen Markey urges FCC to drop new net neutrality regulations

Sen Ed Markey (D-MA) called on the Federal Communications Commission to reject proposed regulations governing consumers' Internet use. Sen Markey said that such changes to how Americans use the Internet would impede innovation.

Using C-SPAN as an example, he said that users could potentially see slower live streams. "Let's face it, the action in this deliberative body can sometimes feel a little bit slow," Sen Markey said. "Now imagine just a few companies deciding that C-SPAN.org will be put into a slow lane that public interest content streamed out to the world will be sent out at an even more deliberative pace, while kitten videos will get priority."

Sen Markey said that the proposed net neutrality rules would favor wealthy entrepreneurs. The Massachusetts Democrat further argued that different Internet speeds for certain companies would discourage creativity.

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.”

FCC Republican Commissioners in the dark on newest ‘fast lane’ proposal

The two Republicans at the Federal Communications Commission say they have not seen Chairman Tom Wheeler’s latest plans to rewrite the agency’s network neutrality rules, despite the vote on the item scheduled soon.

“When it comes to the Chairman's latest net neutrality proposal, the Democratic Commissioners are in the fast lane and the Republican Commissioners apparently are being throttled,” FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai’s office said in a statement.

“The Chairman's Office should end this discrimination and stop blocking the Republican Commissioners from seeing the Chairman's latest plan,” Commissioner Pai’s Chief of Staff Matthew Berry said. Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s office confirmed that he had not received Chairman Wheeler’s latest proposal either.