OVERNIGHT TECH: Senators increase data privacy calls

THE LEDE: Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to call for action on data privacy, in the wake of a data breach at the shopping giant Target over the holidays.

“This was not just an attack on Target, which has 14 stores in my home state of Nebraska. It was a crime against millions of hardworking citizens,” she said.

Fischer said that Congress needed to intervene, and urged the Senate Commerce Committee, on which she sits, to take up the issue. “Our nation’s entire data security system is in desperate need of revamping,” she told the chamber. “That's going to require congressional action.”

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She hasn’t been the only one to call for a legislative fix. On Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) reintroduced his Personal Data Privacy and Security Act, which has long floundered. The bill has been introduced in each Congress since 2005, but has never made it through the Senate.

It would set a national standard for notifying consumers after companies suffer a data breach and impose criminal penalties for hiding breaches that affect consumers.

Lawmakers with a penchant for consumer protection have also increased their calls for lawmakers to get involved to protect Americans’ security. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) recently told The Hill that he would consider writing new legislation empowering the Federal Trade Commission to punish companies that take a lax approach to protecting data. The commission has gone after businesses that have been hacked for more than a decade, but recent court challenges have raised questions about whether or not it has the authority.

No online sales tax legislation: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is not actively drafting an online sales tax bill, according to a committee aide. On Wednesday, a coalition of retailer companies and trade groups wrote to Goodlatte urging him to bring to the committee a bill that would allow states to collect sales taxes on all online purchases, such as the Marketplace Fairness Act, which passed the Senate last year.

“Following the release of our online sales tax principles” — which came out in September — “we continue to welcome ideas consistent with those principles from interested parties; however, we are not actively drafting legislation at this time,” the aide said.

FTC commissioner wants ‘regulatory humility’: Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission Maureen Ohlhausen urged government officials to practice “regulatory humility” when it comes to new technologies, including connected devices called the “Internet of Things.”

“If harms do arise” from new technologies, “we should carefully consider whether existing laws and regulations are sufficient to address them before assuming that new rules are required," she said in prepared remarks for an address at the International Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday.

Ohlhausen, one of the commission’s two Republicans, discussed the agency’s role in protecting consumer privacy in the digital world.

“Because interconnected devices and services often collect and share large amounts of personal information, policymakers and members of the tech community must be sensitive to consumer privacy and data security issues,” she said, urging companies “to safeguard the privacy of users to avoid giving the technology a bad name while it is still in its infancy.”

Obama holds meetings on reforming NSA: President Obama met with members of the intelligence community and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) on Wednesday. Officials were relatively mum on the two meetings, which were part of the White House’s planned engagement before announcing reforms to the National Security Agency (NSA).

Obama is reviewing a list of recommendations to change how the agency functions in the wake of disclosures from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and will announce which ones he supports before his State of the Union address on Jan. 28.

On Thursday, Obama will meet with lawmakers to discuss “the status of his review,” according to White House press secretary Jay Carney.

The PCLOB is working on its own report on the NSA’s collection of information about Americans’ phone calls and the secretive court that authorizes surveillance activities. That report is not due out until late January or early February, however, so it will likely be issued later than Obama’s planned reforms.

Nonetheless, Carney said that Obama “has been and will be fully briefed on their views.”

Google, Yahoo, Microsoft OK on privacy efforts: A new report from the Global Network Initiative found that Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are “making a good faith effort” to implement the Initiative’s Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy. GNI — a coalition of civil society organizations and tech companies — evaluated how well the three member companies protect privacy and free speech when dealing with government requests for data.

“They demonstrated in the many specific cases examined how companies, applying the GNI Principles, have in fact been able to limit the removal of content and the release of personal data as a result of government requests,” GNI Board Chairman Jermyn Brooks said in a statement. 

Feds’ efforts to protect data inconsistent: Federal agencies have inconsistent approaches to protecting against data breaches involving personally identifiable information, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

All eight agencies surveyed by the GAO, which acts as Congress’s investigative arm, had taken steps to set up policies and procedures for responding to the hacks. However, three of them had not addressed priorities set by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) or the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Additionally, “none of the agencies we reviewed consistently documented the evaluation of incidents and resulting lessons learned,” the GAO found. 

The office said that incomplete guidance from the OMB was part of the problem leading to “inconsistent implementation” of the priorities.

 

ON TAP

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is talking about "the network revolution, innovation and economic growth" at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., at noon local. 

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

The online review site Yelp is seeking clout in Washington to match its growing influence in Silicon Valley. 

FTC Commissioner Julie Brill does not want Congress to wait on her agency before reforming patent litigation. 

Top Republican lawmakers took the first step to update a foundational law regulating Internet, television and telephone communications. 

Retailers and trade groups are ratcheting up the pressure on Goodlatte to take up an online sales tax bill. 

Leahy reintroduced a sweeping bill that aims to protect Americans’ data from cyber thieves.

The New York Times is accusing the Obama administration of abandoning the president’s promise to open up the federal government to new transparency. 

Apple is repeating its objections to a court-appointed antitrust monitor. 

Former FTC Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour has moved to the BakerHostetler law firm. 

 

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