Digital Content

Information that is published or distributed in a digital form, including text, data, sound recordings, photographs and images, motion pictures, and software.

Republican Reps battle within party over online sales tax bill

Members of the House Judiciary Committee sparred over the implications of a bill that aims to take away states' ability to collect online sales taxes. Republican Reps clashed within their own party and with Democrats in a hearing over whether or not the “No Regulation Without Representation” act (HR 2887) would help local economies or violate principles of state sovereignty.

“For most of American history, it was axiomatic that states cannot regulate beyond their borders,” said Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). “HR 2887 would provide a clear congressional response that would, at the same time, protect states’ rights.” Chairman Goodlatte contended that one state imposing an online sales tax could violate another’s right to govern. A bookseller in Idaho selling on Amazon to a buyer in Texas, for example, could be hypothetically affected by an online sales tax in Texas. One Republican legislator from South Dakota, state Sen Deb Peters (R-SD), testifying before the committee, said the opposite effect would be achieved. "With respect to interstate sales tax collection, the No Regulation Without Representation Act unjustifiably pre-empts state authority,” state Sen Peters said, arguing that the legislation Goodlatte is supporting would unfairly bar states from regulating commerce within their own borders.

FTC Announces Winner of its Internet of Things Home Device Security Contest

The Federal Trade Commission announced that a mobile app developed by a New Hampshire software developer was awarded the top prize in the agency’s competition seeking tools to help consumers protect the security of their Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The FTC launched the contest in January to challenge innovators to develop a tool that would help address security vulnerabilities of IoT devices.

With the assistance of an expert panel of five judges, the FTC awarded Steve Castle the $25,000 top prize for his proposal for a mobile app, “IoT Watchdog.” As a software developer, Castle said he was motivated to enter the contest to distill his network security knowledge and experience into a tool that can help users easily determine if their devices are out of date or if their networks are insecure. The mobile app he proposed seeks to help users manage the IoT devices in their home. It would enable users with limited technical expertise to scan their home Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networks to identify and inventory connected devices. It would flag devices with out-of-date software and other common vulnerabilities and provide instructions on how to update each device’s software and fix other vulnerabilities.

How Smart Devices Could Violate Your Privacy

Where smart technologies are concerned, the expectation of privacy extends only from the consumer to machine. Once the machine communicates with an outside server – even where data is sent to a server controlled by the product's manufacturer – privacy is violated. Currently, law enforcement can obtain a search warrant compelling a third party to turn over data recorded by the smart device if the company can control or access the information.

The Supreme Court has yet to consider a case that specifically addresses whether, in an era of modern technology where we regularly choose to give personal data to third parties, a person should have an expectation of privacy in the information. As the law stands, once information is voluntarily disclosed to a third party, he does not. One case currently pending at the Supreme Court may tee up the issue of the Third Party Doctrine in the digital age, but until the Court takes on such a case, this premise holds true. It seems the one thing technologists and lawyers alike agree on is that the "right" to privacy could be overcome by technology very soon. The danger is that the new standard will become: You have the right to remain silent, but your smart home does not.

Twitter faces new criticism from Congress amid charges it briefly blocked net neutrality critics

Sens Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) sharply rebuked Twitter following reports that the website briefly blocked its users from posting links to a blog post that criticized the US government’s network neutrality rules. Twitter previously had described the mishap as a glitch, but Sens Johnson and Blunt still penned a letter that slammed the company’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, for an incident that appeared to lawmakers to be “an affront to free expression.”

The confusing saga began on July 12, the day that Twitter joined Facebook, Google and other tech giants for an online rally in defense of an open internet. But those who sought to share the company’s blog post could not do so on Twitter. For a time, the site marked the link as suspicious and blocked new tweets containing it. That immediately led to cries of censorship, given Twitter’s public participation in the day of action in support of net neutrality — and on the opposite side of the debate from AT&T. A Twitter spokesman at the time said the link was “erroneously caught in Twitter's anti-spam filters” and quickly remedied the mistake. But the fracas still managed to reach Capitol Hill, where Sens Johnson and Blunt on Tuesday described the incident in a letter to Dorsey as “disturbing.”

Google Fights Against Canada's Order to Change Global Search Results

In June, Canada's Supreme Court came down on Google—hard. It ruled that the tech giant must take down certain Google search results for pirated products. And not just in Canada, but globally. Now, Google is going south of the Canadian border to push back on this landmark court ruling.

The tech giant filed an injunction July 24 with the US District Court for Northern California, arguing that globally removing the search results violates US law, and thus Google should not be forced to comply with the Canadian ruling. Because the case had already made its way to the highest court in Canada, Google should have not been able to fight the ruling. But Google is hoping to find a loophole on American soil by arguing this violates the First Amendment. “We’re taking this court action to defend the legal principle that one country shouldn’t be able to decide what information people in other countries can access online,” says David Price, senior product counsel at Google. “Undermining this core principle inevitably leads to a world where internet users are subject to the most restrictive content limitations from every country.”

FirstNet is Developing An Applications Ecosystem With Public Safety

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) was created to equip America’s first responders with state-of-the-art communications tools, enabled by the first nationwide interoperable, wireless broadband network. But FirstNet is doing much more than building a communications network: the organization is also working to drive continuous innovation over the Network – including the development of an open, integrated applications ecosystem tailored for public safety users.

Through FirstNet’s outreach to public safety, first responders have told them about the advantages of data communications in the field and their growing use of mobile broadband tools and technologies to help save lives. They have heard from responders at station visits, city and state meetings, training opportunities and ride-alongs about the promise of using applications over the FirstNet Network. FirstNet is taking first responders’ feedback and using their ideas to cultivate an open, integrated applications ecosystem on the FirstNet Network, so that public safety personnel will have access to more targeted applications and more timely data than ever before possible.

Democrats more likely than Republicans to say online harassment is a major problem

Some 14% of US adults say they have been targeted for online harassment or abuse because of their political views, according to a new report from Pew Research Center. And while Republicans and Democrats are about equally likely to have been harassed online because of their political views (15% vs. 13%), there are some notable partisan differences in their views of the issue. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they have heard a great deal about the topic of online harassment (38% vs. 25%). In addition, a larger share of Democrats than Republicans (69% vs. 54%) consider online harassment to be a major problem.

Regardless of political affiliation, women in both parties are more likely than their male counterparts to view online harassment as a major problem, to think offensive content online isn’t taken seriously enough and to prioritize safe spaces over people being able to express themselves freely online.

Sen Wyden Seeks Info on E-mail Intel Collection

Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, wants to know how many "backdoor" searches of e-mails and other communications the government has conducted. He is concerned about warrantless searches the attorney general can authorize of information collected from or about US citizens if it also involves a person from another country or agent of a foreign power. He also wants to know if the intelligence community can conduct searches of that information without an individual warrant and what limits there are in searching the information if that person is not the target—the target has to be a foreign power or agent on the other side of that communication collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Sen Wyden is also concerned about the lack of public awareness of the breadth of the data collection and limits on oversight, as well as what he says is the vagueness of government procedures for collection and use.

The clock may have just run out on the White House press corps

[Commentary] When I was White House communications director for President Barack Obama I would warn the White House press corps that they were living on borrowed time. In a digital age, with the proliferation of communication platforms, the media was eventually going to need a better answer for why 50 or so reporters deserved daily access to the White House — access not available to other outlets and the general public. Now, the clock has run out. The ultimate disrupter, in the form of President Donald Trump, is seeking to change nearly every rule that presidents and the reporters who cover them have lived by. To lose this give and take — either by refusing to turn on the cameras or by putting a showman at the podium — would be a significant blow to an accountable democracy.

[Jennifer Palmieri served as White House communications director from 2013 to 2015 and was communications director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign]

Verizon accused of throttling Netflix and YouTube, admits to “video optimization”

Verizon acknowledged using a new video optimization system but said it is part of a temporary test and that it did not affect the actual quality of video. The video optimization appears to apply both to unlimited and limited mobile plans. But some YouTube users are reporting degraded video, saying that using a VPN service can bypass the Verizon throttling. The Federal Communications Commission generally allows mobile carriers to limit video quality as long as the limitations are imposed equally across different video services despite network neutrality rules that outlaw throttling. The net neutrality rules have exceptions for network management. "We've been doing network testing over the past few days to optimize the performance of video applications on our network," said a Verizon spokesperson. "The testing should be completed shortly. The customer video experience was not affected."