OVERNIGHT TECH: House eyes NSA reform votes

THE LEDE: The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will vote on a measure to overhaul federal surveillance programs, but the new version of the bill is drawing pushback from some of the most vocal critics of the spying.

The manager’s amendment of the USA Freedom Act before the committee drops or edits some transparency reforms of the National Security Agency (NSA), which the Open The Government coalition said makes it weaker than before.

“The revised version leaves out all of these reporting requirements—and leaves the American public without a reliable way to determine whether the NSA has access to their phone and e-mail records,” said the group, which includes the Project on Government Oversight, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

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Lack of legal transparency allowed for the controversial surveillance in the first place, the group added, and needs to be restored “to verify that the NSA actually ends bulk collection instead of finding new loopholes to exploit.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a key supporter of the bill and top member of the Judiciary Committee, said there was no reason for advocates to drop their support.

“I don’t think so,” he told The Hill. “It’s not perfect, but the key — the main purpose of the bill is to stop the dragnet surveillance altogether,” he said, which has not changed.

Changes, he said, were hammered out over the last month to win the support of committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who was not one of the bill’s 143 cosponsors.

USA Freedom isn’t the only NSA reform bill that will be discussed in Congress this week. The House Intelligence Committee is marking up its own bill on Thursday, setting the stage for a congressional battle that could draw in House leadership.

Nadler called the Intelligence Committee bill, the FISA Transparency and Modernization Act, “totally inadequate” because it does not require court approval each time the NSA wants to search a suspect’s phone records. One House staffer, however, said that the two pieces of legislation have come closer and closer together.

“Dial back the clock to a year ago, we were in very different positions, and now I would say that there are still important differences between the two bills but we’re a lot closer and I think we’re continuing to converge,” the staffer said.

If both bills make it through committee without significant changes, leaders in the House could be forced to weigh in. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has previously praised the “important progress” in the Intelligence Committee, but so far has yet to take a side in the debate.

“At this point, we’re just monitoring the Committee process,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told The Hill in an email.

Back up plan: Supporters of the more expansive USA Freedom Act think they have the upper hand.

Nadler pointed to an attempt last year by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) to attach a surveillance reform measure to the annual defense spending bill. That amendment “was far more radical” than the Judiciary bill, Nadler said, and would “just eliminate all bulk collection, no ifs ands or buts” but still came within just 12 votes of passage.

If the USA Freedom Act doesn’t make it to the floor on its own, Nadler suggested a similar strategy could be in the offing.

“We’ve got a bunch of appropriations coming up to which we could offer the Amash amendment or something like it or this bill as an amendment,” he said. “So we’re going to get a vote.”

Senate side: The backers of the Senate USA Freedom Act are waiting to see if some of the transparency provisions get worked back into the bill. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — who introduced the Senate version of the bill last year — said in a statement earlier this week that he hopes “eventually it will retain some important reforms” found in the earlier version.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) pointed to the original bill’s creation of a constitutional advocate to challenge government requests for new surveillance programs at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a proposal he first introduced last summer. “Certain provisions need to be strengthened, such as the constitutional advocate,” he said.  

“It should not be the sort of amicus” system laid out in Sensenbrenner’s amendment, he said.

Blumenthal added that he is “optimistic that [the Senate NSA reform bill] will be done sometime this spring or summer.” He said he is also eyeing the June 2015 sunset date for certain surveillance programs. “The natural progression of things around here indicate it has to be done by then.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a vocal opponent of the NSA programs, said he is optimistic that reform bills will move by or before that June 2015 deadline. “For the first time, essentially in almost a decade... the clock is on the reformers’ side,” he said, and “we continue to build support, every week.”

Senate patent bill likely delayed again: Lobbyists expect the Senate Judiciary Committee will once again delay its consideration of Chairman Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) patent reform bill. Consideration of that bill — aimed at “patent trolls,” or the companies that profit by bringing and threatening to bring meritless patent infringement lawsuits — has been delayed multiple times over the last several weeks as committee members try to find a middle ground on some of the more contentious provisions.

Though Senate aides say negotiations of the bill continue and are moving in the right direction, Leahy — who pledged to give committee members ample time to review a compromise version of the bill — did not produce a manager’s amendment by the end of the day Tuesday.

Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said on Tuesday afternoon that he had still not seen Leahy’s new version of the bill, but from what he had been told “it is running into opposition from groups that really want a strong bill.”

Obama administration comes out against Internet bill: The Obama administration officially opposes a House Republican bill that would delay the administration’s plans to step back from its current role in Internet governance.

That bill — the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters, or DOTCOM Act — would keep the Commerce Department from going through with its plans to step back from its oversight role of the Internet’s Web address system until the Government Accountability Office completes a report on the potential outcomes of that oversight transition. That bill is scheduled to be considered by the House Commerce Committee at a markup beginning Wednesday.

In a letter to the leaders of the House Commerce Committee and the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, the Commerce Department’s general counsel said the bill is at odds with the U.S. government’s support for multistakeholder Internet governance and sends the wrong message to the international community.

“The timing of this bill would be particularly damaging for supporters of the multistakeholder model,” the letter said. “By signaling a lack of confidence in the multistakeholder model, this legislation adversely impacts the ability of the United States and its allies to counter attempts by authoritarian regimes to obtain a greater role in Internet governance.”

Report outlines public broadband: The New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute has a new report out along with the consulting firm CTC Technology and Energy surveying government-backed broadband networks across the country. Public money “can serve as a path for bringing next generation broadband, while also developing network infrastructure and models to meet specific community needs and aspirations,” according to the report.

The emergence of hundreds of public networks should spur more municipalities to get onboard, the advocacy group said.

“Their success signals an opportunity for other local governments to define a better broadband future, where private sector-only approaches are unwilling or unable to meet a community’s aspirations or needs,” policy program associate Patrick Lucey said in a statement. “In light of the current debates about net neutrality and the potential Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, it is more important than ever that communities begin to discuss local broadband options.”

 

ON TAP:

The House Judiciary Committee is marking up the USA Freedom Act at 1:00 p.m.

Public Knowledge is holding a panel on 3D printing on Capitol Hill in the morning and a showcase in the afternoon.

At 2:00, different Senate Appropriations subcommittees are holding hearings on “investing in cybersecurity” and the White House’s budget for information technology.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will start work on the DOTCOM Act and a satellite TV law at 4:00. The panel will finish up the markup at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) is hosting a Google Hangout on the FCC’s proposed net neutrality rules at 6:30.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Leaders of top technology companies applauded the Department of Homeland Security for announcing new regulations that would allow the husbands and wives of foreign workers to get jobs in the United States.

Advocates and opponents of a bill to create a national online sales tax system noted that it has been a year since the Senate passed its online sales tax bill.

Privacy groups are considering asking the federal government to intervene in Facebook’s recent purchase of fitness app Moves.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he is tired of selling off public airwaves only to fund a pork-barrel project or make a tiny dent in the deficit.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is pushing banks and other financial institutions to post privacy disclosures online, so information about their data-sharing activities is more accessible to consumers.

 

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