OVERNIGHT TECH: Bill Gates talks NSA, bitcoin

THE LEDE: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates thinks concerns about privacy will grow with new technologies, and is a fan of virtual currency — but isn’t necessarily becoming a booster for bitcoin.

In an “Ask Me Anything” discussion on the social news site Reddit on Monday, Gates said that government surveillance at the National Security Agency and elsewhere is a “complex issue.”

“Privacy will be increasingly important as cameras and GPS sensors are gathering information to try and be helpful,” he said, while avoiding harsher criticisms of the surveillance. “We need to have trust in the way information is protected and gathered.”

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Gates also advocated in favor of virtual currencies, which exist only online but have been praised for making it easier and cheaper to send money from one place to another. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which champions public health, education and other causes, uses some virtual currencies, he said.

“Digital money has low transaction costs which is great for the poor because they need to do financial transactions with small amounts of money. Over the next 5 years I think digital money will catch on in India and parts of Africa and help the poorest a lot.”

Earlier this month, Gates announced he would step down as chairman of Microsoft’s board and begin a stint as technology adviser. The move came as Satya Nadella, a 22-year Microsoft veteran, was installed as the company’s new chief executive. On Monday, Gates explained that he will focus mainly on his nonprofit work but will also devote about a third of his time to the company.

Spies outline bulk data collection rules: Federal intelligence agencies can only collect and search bulk information about people’s communications to fight six types of threats, a top spy chief said on Monday.

The disclosure from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper comes in response to President Obama’s January directive that the spy chief create a list of when and how bulk information can be collected. “This list shall be updated as necessary and made publicly available to the maximum extent feasible, consistent with the national security,” Obama said in the presidential policy directive.

According to Clapper, bulk data collection can be used “only for the purposes of detecting and countering” foreign espionage, terrorist threats, weapons of mass destruction, cybersecurity, threats to the military and “transnational criminal threats.”

In Obama’s policy directive, he specifically prevented bulk data collection from being used to suppress dissent, disadvantage one group or another or give U.S. companies a competitive boost.

Privacy groups encouraged by White House meeting: Privacy advocates met with White House staff Monday as a part of the Obama administration’s call for an examination of the privacy implications of big data. Monday’s meeting with privacy advocates was the first step for the review group — led by John Podesta — which is set to release a report on its findings in the coming months.

Attendees who spoke to The Hill said they walked away from the off-the-record meeting optimistic about the process.

“We had a useful exchange of views,” Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said in an email. The group’s report “will make a key contribution to the debate on how to protect and better serve the public in the 21st Century.”

In an email, Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said it was “a good meeting” and that the White House indicated it would pursue a letter from privacy groups asking the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy to open the big data review for public comments.

Mozilla backs net neutrality bill: Internet browser company Mozilla is supporting attempts to reinstate the net neutrality rules struck down by a federal court earlier this year, including a bill introduced last week. The bill — from Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) — would reinstate the Federal Communications Commission rules that kept Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain websites.

“The bill would help by providing some enforceable safeguards against bad actors and acts, although it’s not a long-term solution,” Mozilla senior policy engineer Chris Riley wrote in a blog post, noting that many “inexplicably” think the bill has no chance of succeeding in the Republican-controlled House. “On the road to protecting the open Internet, the United States once led, but has fallen behind due to legal technicalities and political fights.”

Consumer group opposes Google, EU settlement: In letters to European officials on Monday, Consumer Watchdog is opposing the recently announced settlement between the European Union and Google over concerns that the Internet giant was promoting its own services over competitors.

The settlement — which requires Google to change its search practices for European users, including promoting competitor’s services — does not go far enough, said John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. “At a minimum any remedy must insist that Google use an objective, nondiscriminatory mechanism to rank and display all search results — including links to Google products,” Simpson wrote.

Court denies stay in Apple e-book case: A federal appeals court has denied Apple’s attempt to get rid of a government monitor to watch the way it prices e-books.

The decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit throws a wrench in Apple’s plans to shake off the monitor, Michael Bromwich, whom it said was biased against the tech giant. Bromwich was appointed last year when a district court judge ruled that Apple colluded with publishers to fix the price of e-books.

“Today’s ruling makes abundantly clear that Apple must now cooperate with the court-appointed monitor,” Justice Department spokeswoman Gina Talamona said in a statement. “The appellate court’s ruling reaffirms the department’s and district court’s decision that a monitor is necessary to oversee Apple’s antitrust compliance policies, procedures and training to help ensure that Apple does not engage in future price fixing and that U.S. consumers never have to pay the price of their illegal conduct again.”

Expedia shifts lobbying accounts: The lobbying shop Cloakroom Advisors will help represent the online travel company Expedia in Washington. Gregg Hartley, ex-chief of staff to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), will lobby for the company about occupancy taxes, which apply to hotels and motels, according to a federal lobbying disclosure form posted on Friday.

Hartley is a former lobbyist for Cassidy and Associates and launched Cloakroom Advisors at the beginning of the year with another Cassidy alum. He pledged to continue working with some clients who had transferred from the old shop, and is lobbying for Expedia on behalf of Cassidy.

 

ON TAP

Thousands of websites have signed up to protest government surveillance in a daylong event billed as The Day We Fight Back.

The Hill will help to moderate a Main Street Patent Coalition panel discussion on “patent trolls” on Capitol Hill, beginning at 8:30 a.m.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) will speak at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday. According to his office, Pryor will discuss consumer protection in light of the recent high-profile data breaches, broadband deployment and accurately locating 911 mobile calls. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are also scheduled to speak.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, will testify about “current and future worldwide threats” before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m.

The House Small Business Committee will hear from small businesses about their use of wireless technology in a hearing at 1:00 p.m.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Longtime financial industry lobbyist Scott Talbott joined the Electronic Transactions Association, the group confirmed to The Hill. 

The Labor Department is suing AT&T on behalf of 13 Ohio workers it claims were unfairly treated after reporting injuries they received on the job. 

The Federal Communications Commission needs to remain nimble to respond to evolving technologies as Congress considers rewriting the agency’s foundational law, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said.

The House Transportation Committee is scheduled Tuesday to mark up a bill that would ban cellphone calls during flights. 

A leading trade group for the retail industry says it will mount a "robust" campaign this year for passage of an Internet sales tax law.

 

Please send tips and comments to Kate Tummarello, katet@thehill.com, and Julian Hattem, jhattem@thehill.com

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