Morning Consult

FCC Chairman Pai Is Weakening the Nation’s Cybersecurity

[Commentary] President Donald Trump has promised aggressive cybersecurity policy. In a dangerous departure from the president, the Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has taken actions to eliminate its role in addressing cybersecurity.

Chairman Ajit Pai stopped an order addressing known flaws exploited by low-end attackers to “hi-jack” the Emergency Alert System. He pulled cybersecurity considerations out of the new internet protocol-based TV broadcast proposal avoiding public discussion of this backdoor vector to Wi-Fi and broadband connected devices. He halted the cybersecurity provisions in the FCC’s Broadband Privacy order and opposed inclusion of cybersecurity in communications outage reporting. He rescinded a notice of inquiry generating early public dialog regarding cybersecurity risk reduction for next-generation wireless networks and pulled from public view a study by FCC economists highlighting the growing gap between communications sector corporate cybersecurity investment and that needed to properly protect society.

The greatest concern, however, will come from benign neglect, as the chairman asserts cybersecurity risk is somebody else’s problem.

[Rear Admiral (Ret.) David Simpson served as chief of the Federal Communications Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau from November 2013 through January 2017.]

Thune Open to Moving New Broadband Infrastructure Spending Through FCC

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune said he’s open to funneling a potential tranche of broadband infrastructure funding through the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund. “I think the USF could be a way to figure out how we channel and move money in the right direction — get the most lead on the targets, so to speak, to get results,” Thune said following a hearing on how to best allocate funds under a possible infrastructure bill.

On Feb 28, President Donald Trump said he would ask Congress for a $1 trillion infrastructure package, but he did not mention broadband investment. Chairman Thune said that while he believes broadband will ultimately be included in the White House package, “it’s hard to say exactly what their plan might entail.”

Surveillance Battle in House Focuses on Number of US Citizens Affected

The House Judiciary Committee began the process of examining potential changes to a foreign intelligence-gathering program, with the panel’s top Democrat saying a key concern is how many American citizens are targeted by the law. Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI) gave varying levels of support to reforming Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a law that allows for the surveillance of foreigners reasonably believed to be outside of the United States, while forbidding intelligence officials from surveilling Americans. Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Goodlatte said that while the intelligence community has labeled Section 702 as the “most important tool in battling terrorism,” it has been criticized as an “overly broad” program that collects U.S. citizens’ communications “without sufficient legal process.” “We must ensure that our protection doesn’t come at the expense of cherished liberty,” Goodlatte said, adding that strong national security tools and civil liberties “can and must coexist.”

The issue of how many U.S. citizens get their communications collected under the law, known as “incidental” collection, is central to the debate as the intelligence agencies seek a reauthorization of the statute in Congress. Conyers said committee members “require that estimate” and they won’t “simply take the government’s word on the size of so-called ‘incidental’ collection.”

FTC Chair Says Privacy Shield Is Safe, Despite Immigration Order

Acting Federal Trade Commission Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen said that President Donald Trump’s immigration order will not in any way affect the FTC’s enforcement of the Privacy Shield, a commercial data-transfer agreement negotiated by the United States and the European Union. “We will continue to enforce the Privacy Shield protections, and we hope we will move ahead as planned,” the Republican FTC chief said. “In my opinion, nothing has changed.”

Data protection officials across the EU are reportedly worried that the White House immigration order — or its potential follow-ups — could undermine the 2016 EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, a hard-won agreement safeguarding EU residents’ personal data that is collected and stored by US companies. The pact allows for the free flow of consumer information between US and EU borders, and its weakening could negatively affect economic ties.

FCC Receives 106 Complaints on Madonna’s Speech at Women’s March

Madonna stirred up controversy in Jan when she took the stage to address a massive crowd at the Women’s March on Washington in a speech featuring three F-bombs and musings of “blowing up the White House.” The networks that aired that speech, namely CNN and MSNBC, received a lot of flak for the pop star’s words: The Federal Communications Commission received 106 complaints from viewers nationwide about Madonna’s speech. The complaints primarily targeted the networks’ failure to implement a delay to censor potential vulgar language when they picked up Madonna’s Jan 21 speech, which came one day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Seventy-four of the complaints mentioned CNN, while 21 complaints targeted MSNBC’s failure to bleep Madonna’s swearing. One complaint from Missouri questioned why CBS aired the speech and five mentioned C-SPAN.

Give Chairman Pai a Chance to Break the Net Neutrality Logjam

[Commentary] At some point Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is going to have to dance with the elephant in the room: network neutrality. In truth, this fight is much more about the legal authority the FCC claims for regulating broadband, and its long-term implications, than it is about the open internet.

On the one hand, we could return to the prior regulatory structure established under former President Bill Clinton, with the FCC relying on light-touch rules, voluntary codes of conduct, and antitrust-like enforcement to oversee a by-and-large competitive market of different technologies innovating to offer similar services. On the other, we can continue in the direction former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler laid out toward a heavily regulated utility service. The problem is net neutrality is more religious war than policy discussion, and, with accusations of “alternative facts” already flying, it’s unlikely the gulf between the two sides is closed any time soon. We need some way to break this logjam; I hope Pai is up to the task.

[Doug Brake is a telecommunications policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation]

Sen Hatch Rolls Out Tech Agenda, Warns Industry Against ‘Provoking’ Trump

Sen Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced a sweeping tech-focused agenda that aims to bolster the H-1B visa program, prevent forum-shopping by patent trolls and improve data privacy both at home and abroad. In a speech on Capitol Hill, the Utah Republican addressed the tech community’s concerns about President Donald Trump potentially issuing an executive order that could weaken the H-1B visa program, which many tech employers say they rely on to fill high-skilled positions. Sen Hatch, who’s chairman of the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force, said it was important for tech leaders to do their part in persuading Trump not to weaken the foreign-worker program, and that includes “not provoking the White House unnecessarily.” He reiterated his close relationship with Trump, and stressed his ability to act as a “bridge” between Silicon Valley and the administration when it comes to the H-1B program and other industry issues. “I know he trusts me,” Sen Hatch said, referring to President Trump. “Then again, I’m not sure he trusts anybody … but I think he does trust me. He knows I’m not going to go around what he’d like to do.”

A Measured Lifeline Reboot

[Commentary] It is disappointing that a recent order from the Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Bureau to reconsider the eligibility for participation of just nine of the more than 900 companies currently participating in the Lifeline program has sparked such a maelstrom of misinformation and motive-questioning.

Notably, the FCC did not cut funding for the Lifeline program, nor did it attempt to unwind the more than 30-year commitment to ensuring American consumers have access to baseline communications. The FCC simply announced it was putting on hold the eligibility of less than 1 percent of the companies currently participating in the program while it takes steps to ensure the program’s integrity. Ensuring digital opportunity for everyone includes affordable broadband options for low-income consumers. But companies that game the system threaten its effectiveness and, ultimately, its existence. Bottom line? Closing the digital divide and maintaining the integrity of the Lifeline program are hardly objectives that should be at odds. It is imperative that our government leaders take clear and firm action to protect low-income Americans who need financial help to get and stay connected — and weed out entities that are siphoning resources away from those who need broadband’s many opportunities most.

[Diane Smith is a board advisor to Mobile Future]

Sen Thune Not Waiting for FCC to Act Before Drafting Net Neutrality Bill

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) is pushing forward with plans to draft legislation that would codify network neutrality principles into law, even if the Federal Communications Commission hasn’t taken action to roll back the agency’s 2015 Open Internet order. “Sen Thune is open to immediately working with his colleagues on legislation if there is a serious readiness on the other side of the aisle to come to the table,” said Commerce Committee spokesman Frederick Hill. “To date, Democrats haven’t been quite ready to sit down.” At the same time, Hill added that action from the FCC action could lead to “new engagement” from Democrats in a legislative effort, and Chairman Thune is “all for that.” The remarks follow recent comments from House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who said that she wanted to the let the FCC make the first move on net neutrality before legislating.

FBI’s Top Lawyer Urges Congressional Action on Encryption

James Baker, the top lawyer at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, recommended that Congress take a more active role in legislating on US law enforcement’s limited access to encrypted data tied to a criminal investigation. “We don’t want this debate driven by some kind of catastrophe down the road,” Baker said. Baker, the FBI’s general counsel, appeared at an event to discuss a new encryption report issued by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The American people, through their elected representatives, have to make a value determination” regarding encryption, he said. “The world is moving forward, and doing nothing is an action, and will result in a particular state of affairs.” “I’m not sure that a commission is going to be able to come up with a kind of granular solution, [a] highly technical solution, promptly, that we can put in place to deal with this,” Baker said.