OVERNIGHT TECH: Franken wants permanent surveillance transparency fix

THE LEDE: The American people should be able to count on continued and meaningful transparency around U.S. surveillance programs, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said during a Wednesday hearing held by the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Privacy.

Brad Weigmann, deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, defended the government’s steps to increase transparency around surveillance.

“I’m sure from the outside it looks very slow and ad hoc,” he said. “That’s because we’re trying to protect national security while also promoting transparency goals.”

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While the government’s “transparency efforts are a work in progress,” agencies are “working in good faith to try to be more open about our intelligence collection activities,” he said.

Franken — who chairs the Privacy subcommittee — challenged the stability of the government’s self-regulated transparency measures.

“There’s nothing permanent about what you’re doing,” he said. Bills like Franken’s Surveillance Transparency Act are “trying to create a framework where people have a little more confidence.”

Robert Litt, general counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, pointed to the “extensive oversight” that surveillance programs receive “from all three branches of government.” 

“Whether or not [the surveillance programs] appropriate is a valid question, but no one should” assume “that we’re operating with checks.”

The fact that the surveillance programs receive oversight “doesn’t mean what you do is always appropriate,” Franken responded.

“You made a good point there that there are checks to what you do, but this is part of it,” he said, referring to Wednesday’s hearing.

House panel examines Wi-Fi: The House Communications and Technology subcommittee examined the Federal Communications Commission's plan to set aside additional frequencies for Wi-Fi in the 5 GHz band.

Julius Knapp, chief of the FCC's Office of Engineering, warned of interference issues that will have to be overcome.

“Because of the existing incumbent users in the three 5 GHz bands, making the spectrum more usable — or usable at all — for unlicensed use will be challenging," Knapp said. "But the importance of the 5 GHz band, and the benefits of unlicensed spectrum generally are clear, and the Commission has indicated its strong desire to move forward in seeking to resolve those challenges." 

John Kenney of Toyota argued that the FCC should not move ahead until it can ensure that collision avoidance and other wireless transportation systems aren't disrupted. 

Lawmakers praised the potential expansion of Wi-Fi.

“Unlicensed spectrum technologies have allowed all of us to use devices that have made our lives safer, and more convenient, connected, informative and entertaining. It has and will continue to help create billions of dollars of economic growth and hundreds of thousands of jobs all across America,” subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said. 

More copyright hearings: The House Judiciary Committee detailed its plans for future hearings on copyright issues stretching into next year.

The next hearings will focus on digital business models, the scope of copyright protection (Section 102 and 106), the scope of fair use, and the notice and takedown provisions, the committee said. After those hearings, the panel will start making its way through the sections of the Copyright Act in numerical order. 

Sprint skips H block: Sprint said Wednesday that it won't participate in the Federal Communications Commission's upcoming auction of H block spectrum. "Sprint is focused on gaining access to more low-band spectrum to add to the company's spectrum portfolio, so we have opted not to participate in the upcoming H Block auction," Sprint spokesman John Taylor said. 

ECPA petition: Digital 4th, a coalition of advocacy groups, launched a petition on the White House website calling for an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which allows for emails to be searched without a warrant.

The issue has been overshadowed in recent months by revelations of National Security Agency spying. A White House statement in favor of updating the ECPA could give the effort a fresh boost of momentum (either as a standalone bill or part of reforms to the NSA. 

The Justice Department has agreed that the law should be updated while expressing certain concerns, but the White House has yet to weigh in. 

 

ON TAP

Tom Wheeler will lead his first meeting as FCC chairman, at 10:30 a.m.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

The U.S. intelligence community doesn’t have information on how often the NSA collects data on Americans, an official told a Senate panel.

The U.S. government has to be more forthcoming in its attempts to keep information about surveillance programs hidden, said Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and LinkedIn. 

HealthCare.gov is ripe for cyberattacks targeting personal information, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee charged.

The members of a surveillance review panel have presented their preliminary findings to the White House.

 

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