National Journal

Gigi Sohn one of thought leaders laying the groundwork for future policy change

Throughout her 30 years in telecommunications and technology policy, Gigi Sohn has worn many hats—a telecom lawyer, a progressive advocate, a top aide at the Federal Communications Commission, an academic. But if there’s one thread uniting the career of a woman widely viewed as the godmother of progressive tech policy in Washington, it’s her ability to bridge the vast chasms between industry, the advocacy community, and the federal government. “I spend a lot of time building bridges between industry and public interests—and also between the public-interest groups themselves,” Sohn said.

Privacy Groups Disturbed by California Governor’s Data-Dividend Plan

Gov Gavin Newsom (D-CA) may have thought he was throwing privacy advocates a bone when he proposed the creation of a “data dividend” during his state of the state address. The notion that Facebook, Google, and other tech platforms should return a portion of the tremendous wealth that they’ve accumulated through the exploitation of their users’ personal data is a popular one.

How Republicans Flip-Flopped on Government-Run Internet

Government-run Internet service is an abomination, a waste of taxpayer funds, and an assault on private industry. And if states want to ban it, the federal government should get out of their way.

That's what congressional Republicans are saying now, but just a few years ago, top GOP lawmakers were not only on board with municipal Internet -- they were actively working to protect it.

Some Republicans argue the debate is not about the virtue of municipal Internet, but rather the question of a federal board intervening against state laws. States should be able to overturn local officials' decisions, but the FCC shouldn't overturn the states' decisions, they argue.

But it's hard to ignore the most significant change since the Republicans sponsored the municipal broadband bills a few years ago: The Obama Administration has taken a position on the issue.

Cable Companies: Google Threatens Net Neutrality, Not Us

The real threat to online freedom is from Internet giants like Google and Netflix, according to major cable companies. Those sites could block access to popular content and extort tolls out of Internet service providers, the cable companies warn.

The argument is the backward version of the usual fight over network neutrality. In a filing to the Federal Communications Commission, Time Warner Cable claimed that the controversy over Internet providers potentially charging websites for access to special "fast lanes" is a "red herring." The real danger, the cable company claimed, is that Google or Netflix could demand payments from Internet providers.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association wrote that "a relatively concentrated group of large [Web companies] -- such as Google, Netflix, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook -- have enormous and growing power over consumers' ability to access the content of their choice on the Internet."

The NTCA argued that Google, which handles about 68 percent of all Internet searches, has far more control over access to other sites than any individual broadband provider does. "It makes no sense to focus exclusively on Internet access providers and ignore conduct by [websites] that threatens similar harms," the cable lobbying group wrote.

Sen Rockefeller Wants to Revolutionize How You Watch TV

Sen Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is getting ready to settle into retirement. But before he does, he'd like to upend the entire television industry.

His goal is to boost online video services like Netflix to allow them to become full-fledged competitors to cable giants like Comcast. Although his ambitious gambit is unlikely to pay off in the final few months of his 30-year career, it could lay the groundwork for future congressional action that could change how Americans watch TV.

Why The NSA Keeps Tracking People Even After They're Dead

You may be dead, but the United States government won't take you off its terrorist roster.

That's according to newly leaked internal guidelines from 2013 that reveal intimate details regarding the government's process for determining whether an individual should be designated as a possible terrorist suspect. So broad are their criteria that an individual is able to be placed onto a watch list -- and kept there -- even if he or she is acquitted of a terrorism-related crime.

Additionally, the guidelines note that a deceased person's name may stay on the list because such an identity could be used as an alias by a suspected terrorist.

FCC Blames Net Neutrality Glitch On Budget Woes

The Federal Communications Commission is blaming a lack of funding from Congress after its website crashed due to an onslaught of outraged comments on network neutrality.

An agency spokesman said Congress has failed to give the agency enough money to upgrade its information-technology systems. The official said additional funding could help prevent similar backlogs and ensure that the public is able to share its views with the agency. Republicans seem more inclined, however, to move the agency's budget in the opposite direction.

In Net Neutrality Push, Democrats Aim to Make the Internet a Utility

Several lawmakers want to apply utility-style regulations to Internet service providers. Sen Ed Markey (D-MA) collected signatures for a letter urging the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the Internet like the telephone system. Sens Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Al Franken (D-MN), and Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have signed on.

The lawmakers have planned a press conference with Internet advocacy groups. In the letter, the senators argue that stronger authority is necessary to enact strong network neutrality rules to prevent broadband providers such as Comcast from manipulating Internet traffic to favor giant corporations.

"Broadband is a more advanced technology than phone service, but in the 21st century, it performs the same essential function," the senators write. "Consumers and businesses cannot live without this vital connection to each other and to the world around them. Accordingly, it would be appropriate for the FCC to reclassify broadband to reflect the vital role the Internet plays in carrying our most important information and our greatest ideas."

Snowden Undermines Presidential Panel’s Defense of NSA Spying

Just when the National Security Agency looked as though it had finally scored a victory for its maligned surveillance programs, Edward Snowden again crashed the party.

The newest leak, reported by The Washington Post, claims that the vast majority of accounts scooped up in a foreign-intelligence program are not those of actual overseas targets but ordinary Internet users whose communications with those targets are incidentally collected. While revealing on its face, Snowden's latest revelation also arrived just days after the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent watchdog agency, deemed spying under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act legal and effective.

Whether intentional or not, the timely Post article -- the culmination of a four-month investigation of 160,000 email and instant-message conversations -- serves in part as a rebuke to the privacy board's conclusions, civil-liberties groups say, and calls into question the completeness of its review, which stands in stark contrast to the board's critical review of the spying on domestic phone records under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.

"There definitely seem to be discrepancies" between the reports, said Liza Goitein, codirector of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "It appears that, in the Snowden documents [American] information is collected deliberately in far broader circumstances than what the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board discussed."