This Week in Tech: Surveillance by private and public sectors comes under microscope

Stakeholders in the fight over government and commercial surveillance will hold a high-profile workshop on Monday to hash out their differences over spying.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker will attend the event, which was launched when President Obama ordered a review of National Security Agency programs in January.

The workshop of privacy advocates, government officials, companies and scholars is the first of three meetings to be held on the issue. Upcoming sessions at New York University and the University of California at Berkeley will look at ethical and legal issues.

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The daylong workshop is co-hosted by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and will be held in Cambridge, Mass.

While it isn’t likely to settle the issue, it’s expected to give those attending a better sense of the debate over not only the NSA’s surveillance of Internet and phone records, but of what private companies are doing.

“There’s a whole range of technologies out there and I would say the unifying theme is just to be able to have a better understanding of how personal information is used and what kinds of privacy risks there are,” said Daniel Weitzner, the head of an MIT group on decentralized information and a former Internet policy official in the White House.

In January, Obama called on John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, and other officials to review government and commercial practices surrounding the collection and use of data.

“I think in the long run, if you look over that whole set of perspectives, we’ll hopefully help the administration to understand where technical tools can help privacy and where we might need either additional industry best practices or legislative action to make sure that we have the privacy issues well addressed,” Weitzner said.

Ahead of Monday’s event, a coalition of privacy groups released a set of “Civil Rights Principles for the Era of Big Data.”

The set of five principles,  backed by groups including the ACLU, the NAACP and the New America Foundation, ask that new technologies respect privacy rights.

“As new technologies allow companies and government to gain greater insight into our lives, it is vitally important that these technologies be designed and used in ways that respect the values of equal opportunity and equal justice,” the groups wrote.

The House Judiciary Committee is getting together on Tuesday to explore “alternative solutions” on an online sales tax. A committee aide has clarified that the hearing won’t be focused on any particular legislation, but Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has released a list of seven principles that a bill would have to meet in order to be considered by the panel.

The House is now the battleground for an Internet sales tax bill, after the Senate passed the Marketplace Fairness Act last year.

The bill would allow states to collect sales tax on purchases made from out-of-state retailers. Currently, shoppers only pay sales tax when they buy from an online store with a physical location in their state. Supporter of the bill say it would level the playing field for brick-and-mortar stores. Opponents worry that small businesses would be saddled with complying with a maze of thousands of state and local tax laws.

That same morning, the Federal Communications Commission’s Jessica Rosenworcel will speak at an event exploring opportunities to make more room on the nation’s airwaves for Wi-Fi. The event pushing for more unlicensed spectrum, where wireless Internet waves operate, is the first from a new coalition of Internet and communication companies advocating for more Wi-Fi space.

On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce communications subcommittee will explore an attempt to reauthorize the federal satellite television law. Executives from DirecTV, TiVo and other communications firms are scheduled to testify.

The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, which governs the video marketplace, is set to expire at the end of this year.  The committee’s leadership is considering a bill to reauthorize that law and make changes to the video marketplace, despite previous commitments to pass a “clean” reauthorization bill.

The International Association of Privacy Professionals will hold its annual privacy summit in Washington starting on Wednesday. The three-day affair will feature remarks from Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, Commissioner Julie Brill as well as top privacy advocates from major companies, government agencies and nonprofits.

Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) bill to make demand letters from “patent trolls” more transparent, the Transparency in Assertion of Patents Act will be up for debate in the Senate Commerce Committeeon Thursday. That bill — backed by Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) — would empower the FTC to bring enforcement action against companies that send deceptive demand letters.