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Comcast transparency report reveals 24k requests

Comcast published its first transparency report, outlining the more than 24,000 federal, state and local government requests for user data it received in 2013.

"With every request ... we make sure it complies with applicable legal standards before we respond with any information," the company's Chief Privacy Officer Gerard Lewis said.

According to the report, Comcast received 24,698 requests for user data during 2013. Of those, 19,377 were subpoenas, which "typically seek basic customer account information" such as information to identify the subscriber, the report said. The company also said it received 1,333 warrants, which require probable cause and a judge's approval. Of those, 253 warrants sought the content of users' communications. Additionally, the company said it received 3,893 general court orders, which require a judge's approval and "typically seek historical information." It also received 93 requests for real-time information about email and phone exchanges and two requests for real-time access to the contents of those exchanges.

Department of Commerce denies 'abandoning the Internet'

The Department of Commerce rejected charges that is abandoning the open Internet by relinquishing oversight of the domain name system.

"This announcement in no way diminishes our commitment to preserving the Internet as an engine for economic growth and innovation," Larry Strickling, administrator of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), said. "Our announcement has led to some misunderstanding about our plan with some individuals raising concern that the US government is abandoning the Internet," Strickling said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

He repeated his assurances that the US government won't hand over its oversight role to governments that have tried to restrict the open Internet. "I have emphasized that we will not accept a proposal that replaces NTIA’s role with a government-led or an inter-governmental solution," he said. "Until the community comes together on a proposal that meets these conditions, we will continue to perform our current stewardship role."

Deadline nears for NSA reform proposals

Attorney General Eric Holder said he is on track to meet a March 28 deadline for presenting specific reforms to the National Security Agency (NSA).

Attorney General Holder did not say whether a formal recommendation has already been submitted to the White House.

“That review is ongoing. We are in touch with the White House,” Attorney General Holder said. “I've been in touch with the president. We'll meet the deadlines that the president has set. We have meetings that are scheduled,” he said.

Comcast: Network neutrality is good business

Comcast has business motivations to follow the Obama Administration's now-defunct network neutrality rules, according to CEO Brian Roberts.

Comcast will continue to treat all Internet traffic the same, the company's CEO said. "Getting broadband connectivity to our customers ... means you want to have the best experience," Roberts said, adding that consumers don't want their Internet providers to block or slow access to certain websites.

"I think the ship has long ago sailed in terms of charging companies for [a] high speed fast lane." Roberts said his company will work with the Federal Communications Commission as it attempts to rewrite its network neutrality rules, which kept Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain websites and was struck down by a federal court in early 2014.

The company's investors want to ensure that Comcast's base of Internet subscribers continues to grow, he said. "It's the first thing our Wall Street investors will ask us." Outside of business reasons to treat all Internet traffic the same, Comcast committed to practicing net neutrality when it purchased NBC Universal in 2011.

Rep Eshoo backs Commerce decision to relinquish Internet management role

Rep Anna Eshoo (D-CA) applauded the recent decision by the Obama Administration to relinquish its oversight role in Internet governance.

"I’ve long held the belief and championed the US support for the successful multistakeholder model for Internet governance," Rep Eshoo -- the leading Democrat on the House Commerce subcommittee on technology -- said.

The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced it would be relinquishing its oversight role of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which runs the technical side of the Internet's domain name system. The Commerce agency said that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers -- which manages the assignment of domain names and operates the technical side of the domain name system under contract with the Commerce Department -- will convene Internet stakeholders to develop proposals for transitioning oversight of IANA from the US government to a global entity.

Rep Eshoo said she welcomes the transition "to a multistakeholder governance community, guided by the principles of an open, secure, stable and resilient Internet.”

FCC’s O’Rielly: Congress should ‘expect abuse’ as it rewrites communications laws

Federal Communications Commissioner Mike O’Rielly warned that Congress should anticipate abuse as it looks to update the law governing the communications industry.

“Expect [that] people are going to misinterpret and abuse your provision and then work backwards,” he said.

Commissioner O’Rielly, the newest of the two Republicans on the FCC, suggested that the members and staff working on the Communications Act rewrite “leave out extraneous provisions.” He noted the political benefits of including “benign” provisions but warned, “those are the ones that often come back to haunt you,” because they are most easily misinterpreted by a “misguided court or activist agency.”

Sen Thune: Internet ‘doesn't need a nanny state’

Sen John Thune (R-SD) commended the Commerce Department's move to relinquish control over the technical system that manages web addresses and said it should remain out of the hands of other governments.

"I trust the innovators and entrepreneurs more than the bureaucrats -- whether they're in DC or Brussels," the Senate Commerce Committee's top Republican said. The Internet "doesn't need a nanny state, or a collection of nanny states, trying to stifle it," Sen Thune said. "It needs -- and deserves -- a strong multi-stakeholder system free from the control of any government or governmental entity."

Apps look to simplify privacy notices

The mobile app industry wants to make privacy policies easier to understand. Mobile security company Lookout launched a tool to help app developers turn lengthy, legal documents into short form privacy policies that users can comprehend.

The privacy toolkit walks developers and their lawyers through a questionnaire to help them shorten and simplify their privacy policies. App users need “a short form privacy policy that is really clear … and understandable,” Lookout’s Associate General Counsel Irene Liu, said. Lookout’s launch follows on the 2013 launch of a government-backed voluntary code of conduct, encouraging app developers to be more transparent about their data practices.

Rep Polis: Update privacy law to save March Madness

Rep Jared Polis (D-CO) is telling his fellow members of Congress that their "March Madness" brackets hang in the balance over a federal e-mail privacy law update.

In the playful letter, Rep Polis warned colleagues that Attorney General Eric Holder may be snooping on their basketball picks. "Ever think Eric Holder’s March Madness bracket looked a lot like yours?" he wrote. "Stop the madness, cosponsor the Email Privacy Act!"

The Email Privacy Act, introduced by Rep Polis along with Reps Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Tom Graves (R-GA) in 2013, would update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which critics say is out of date for the modern world.

Rep Polis's bill would require police to get a warrant before searching e-mails. "It defies common sense that emails should be less protected than postal mail," Polis wrote. The bill has more than 180 co-sponsors in the House and has been steadily gaining steam over recent months.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has introduced a companion measure in the upper chamber, which has the backing of major tech firms like Google, Facebook and Microsoft.

House panel wants to fix online piracy 'Whac-A-Mole'

Lawmakers are looking for ways to fix the country’s “Whac-A-Mole” copyright system. During a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, members said they want to find a solution for copyright holders who must repeatedly ask Internet companies like Google to take down infringing content online.

“Victims of theft but have to fight tooth and nail to protect their property” from online piracy, Rep Judy Chu (D-CA) said.

Under current copyright law, Internet platforms are not held liable for copyright infringement committed by users as long as they have policies that prohibit infringement and take actions to remove infringing content when notified. Members on both sides of the aisle drilled down on how the current system affects small and independent creators.

House Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) said he wants to focus on independent creators. “Those are the ones I’m mostly concerned with because the big corporations are going to usually take care of themselves,” he said. Members of the subcommittee urged the tech companies and content creators to work together to avoid government intervention in the online space.