Security fears stoke tech spending

Major tech companies saw their lobbying fees jump in 2013 as they focused on reforming National Security Agency surveillance programs and other issues.

Facebook plowed more than $6.4 million into lobbying last year, nearly twice the $3.8 million it spent the year before, according to lobbying disclosure documents finalized on Tuesday evening.

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Microsoft spent nearly $10.5 million, a jump from the $8.1 million spent in 2012.

Apple spent $3.37 million, up from $1.97 million in 2012.

An exception to the rule was Google, which saw its K Street spending drop from $16.5 million in 2012 to $14 million in 2013.

A handful of new trade groups and businesses also got into the game for the first time in 2013.

The Internet Association, which counts AOL, Amazon, Ebay and Yahoo among its members, only began lobbying in 2013 and spent $1.6 million to influence Congress and regulators.

The trade group focused on immigration reform, including the Senate bill from the so-called Gang of Eight, and temporary H-1B visas, which tech companies often use to bring in foreign workers. 

Twitter and Yelp hired their first lobbyists last year. The companies’ lobbying spending -- $90,000 and $30,000, respectively -- is just a sliver of the millions that larger companies spend.

An industry-wide focus on the NSA’s programs contributed to the jump in spending.

Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Apple all lobbied on issues related to government surveillance last year, according to their disclosure forms.

Several firms were also focused on patent and cybersecurity issues, and pressed to protect Silicon Valley’s intellectual property and sensitive data.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) Innovation Act would thwart so-called “patent trolls” that buy up patent rights and try to sue companies for using similar technologies. The bill passed the House overwhelmingly in December but has so far gained little traction in the Senate.

Microsoft, Apple, and other computer giants lobbied on the legislation, as did the communications firm Clear Channel.

Several companies reported lobbying on the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act, a bill from Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) that would put limits on government agencies’ and companies’ ability to secretly track a person’s location based on their electronic devices.

Tech companies like Twitter, LinkedIn and the Internet Commerce Coalition also focused on the USA Freedom Act.

The bill, which is being pushed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), would curb many of the surveillance programs at the NSA and end its bulk collection of telephone records. Sensenbrenner is the original author of the Patriot Act.

Another popular bill for tech companies was an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, introduced last spring by Leahy and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). The bill, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, would update the 27-year-old law that outlined how government officials could obtain some emails and online documents without a warrant.

A companion version of the bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) and has attracted the support of two-dozen co-sponsors.

Legislation calling for businesses to notify customers after data breaches also attracted support from Silicon Valley last year.

Concerns about surveillance are only likely to increase in 2014, as lawmakers in Congress work with the Obama administration to place new checks on programs at the NSA and elsewhere.

President Obama unveiled a series of reforms to the country’s surveillance programs last week, but many of the measures will require congressional action or further study. Tech companies, lawmakers and privacy rights groups said they would push for additional reforms.