Hill, The

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(R-KS) and Tom Graves (R-GA) in 2013, would update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which critics say is out of date for the modern world.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.

Does the NSA spy on members of Congress?

One of Congress' most vocal critics of US government surveillance is demanding information about whether intelligence agencies spy on members of Congress.

Rep James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the author of the original Patriot Act, told the Justice Department in a letter he wants a response by March 28 to questions about whether and how intelligence agencies spy on lawmakers.

"It has been over a month and my colleagues and I have not received a response," he wrote to US Deputy Attorney Gen James Cole. Rep Sensenbrenner's letter also addresses recent information provided by Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

GOP senators press FCC on rural broadband

Sens Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) are urging Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler to press ahead with plans to bring broadband Internet to remote parts of the country.

Sens Ayotte and Blunt (R-MO) told Chairman Wheeler to “move forward promptly.” “The most rural and mountainous areas of New Hampshire and Missouri are in great need of broadband communications,” the two wrote. The FCC’s effort, they added, “could help ensure that American consumers who live and work in sparsely populated, unserved areas have access to affordable broadband services.”

Under the umbrella of FCC’s Universal Service Fund, which attempts to bring broadband to all corners of the country, $100 million has been set aside for the Remote Areas Fund (RAF), which specifically targets rural residents. The full program was originally scheduled to be implemented by the end of 2012, but the money has not yet been fully allocated. The delay, the lawmakers wrote, is making it harder for people to get access to highest-speed connectivity.

Court reverses, will allow NSA to keep data longer

A federal court reversed an earlier decision and will allow the National Security Agency (NSA) to hold phone records relating to pending lawsuits.

Judge Reggie Walton, siding with plaintiffs who were suing over the legality of the NSA's surveillance programs and wanted the government to retain the data for the lawsuits, issued a restraining order to keep the government from destroying the data. The Department of Justice filed with the surveillance court, asking for clarification on the two conflicting rulings.

"These conflicting directives from federal courts put the government in an untenable position and are likely to lead to uncertainty and confusion," Judge Walton wrote, allowing the government to keep the data. Judge Walton set out limits for how the NSA can use the data it must now retain. Agency personnel can access the data "only for the purpose of ensuring continued compliance with the government's preservation obligations," he wrote.

Pay TV’s mission is to kill free broadcast TV

[Commentary] During the last Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) reauthorization, the process was derailed by debates about other cable industry (Pay TV) issues.

Pay TV is pushing Congress to transform STELA into a debate about “retransmission consent” -- the right of TV stations (Free TV) to control redistribution of their programming. Pay TV claims they are raising consumer prices because Free TV is charging too much for retransmission rights. Spinning it as a consumer issue has prompted Congress to ask whether it should adopt reforms to retransmission consent in the STELA process.

The answer is “No.” Changes sought by Pay TV could have significant consequences for video consumers and market participants that cannot be adequately explored in the truncated STELA process. The absence of credible evidence that retransmission prices are too high begs the question Congress should be asking: Why has Pay TV made this their highest legislative priority?

In short, Pay TV’s fixation on retransmission rights isn’t about programming prices -- it’s about eliminating the Free TV model and increasing advertising revenues for Pay TV distributors. This explains the cognitive dissonance of some free market advocates who, while clamoring for repeal of retransmission consent and other provisions that are essential to the Free TV model, are not advocating for repeal of provisions mandating that TV stations broadcast their signals for free. It’s a nifty way of killing Free TV without expressly acknowledging it.

[Campbell is executive director of the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology and former chief of the FCC's wireless bureau]

[March 11]

President Obama pick pledges transparency at NSA

President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the National Security Agency (NSA) pledged to protect privacy rights while at the helm of the spy agency.

Appearing before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Vice Adm. Michael Rogers, who would also be taking the reins as the head of the US Cyber Command, said that he would work to make the embattled agency’s surveillance efforts more transparent. If he takes office, Vice Adm Rogers said he would be “ever-mindful” that the agency needs to work “in a manner which protects the civil liberties and privacy of our citizens.”

“I will be an active partner in implementing the changes directed by the president with respect to aspects of the National Security Agency mission and my intent is to be as transparent as possible in doing so, and in the broader execution of my duties, if confirmed.”

Rogers has spent more than 30 years in the Navy, and has been in charge of the branch’s cyber command since 2011. He has also been the director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the US Pacific Command. As a cryptology expert, he is a relative unknown to privacy and civil liberties advocates, though he will be taking over the NSA amid turmoil unlike any the agency has ever seen.

[March 11]

Senate panel ‘very close’ to cyber bill

Lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee are getting “very close” to a new cybersecurity bill, according to the panel's top Republican.

“As you know we have been working on a cyber bill for years now,” Sen Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) told President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the US Cyber Command and National Security Agency, Vice Adm. Michael Rogers. “We’re getting very close to an agreement within the Intelligence Committee between the chairman and myself, on a cyber bill that is much needed. One of the key provisions, and kind of the last remaining obstacle we’ve got, is the immunity provision or the liability protection provision.”

Lawmakers have for years pushed for a comprehensive bill to protect American financial markets, transportation systems and the electric grid in the event of a massive cyber attack. “I believe one of our greatest vulnerabilities is cyber attack,” said Sen Angus King (I-ME). "I think the next Pearl Harbor is going to be cyber. And the problem is we’re more vulnerable than many other places.”

[March 11]

Yahoo taps surveillance critic as security chief

Security expert and surveillance critic Alex Stamos is Yahoo's new Vice President of Information Security, the company announced.

Previously, Stamos was Chief Technology Officer at Internet security firm Artemis and is an organizer of TrustyCon, a technology conference organized and sponsored by anti-surveillance companies and advocacy groups.

Stamos "will lead all aspects of information security at Yahoo, including our team of Yahoo 'Paranoids,' charged with making our products as secure as possible," Yahoo Senior Vice President of Platforms and Personalization Products Jay Rossiter wrote in a company blog post. "This is a broad role which includes implementing top-to-bottom security for our products and systems but also to lead the company and the industry in not just how security works today but how it needs to work in the future."

[March 11]

Can Congress save TV?

Unless Congress acts, more than a million satellite TV subscribers could turn on their TV in a year and miss out on news, hit shows and sporting events.

On Dec 31, the law allowing satellite television companies like Dish and DirecTV to carry out-of-market broadcast channels to many rural customers expires. Unless Congress takes action, that means some subscribers won’t be able to watch ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox as of 2015. And it’s no sure thing Congress will act. While renewing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) is one of the few must-pass bills of 2014, many observers expect it to become entangled in larger fights between cable, satellite and broadcast providers. A deadlock might make a short-term extension of the law the only way out.

“You know, I suppose there’s always a possibility, like there is around here, that you get some sort of a short-term extension until we get a chance to do a more complete process with it, but we’ll see,” said Sen John Thune (R-SD) of the Senate Commerce Committee. “The goal is to try and get it done.”

The law allows satellite providers to import broadcast signals to an estimated 1.5 million rural consumers who are unable to pick up the broadcasts on their own. The legal authority for the companies to provide local broadcast channels to people who would otherwise be able to pick them up with an antenna does not expire.

[March 10]