OVERNIGHT TECH: Lawmakers: Revised NSA bill best ‘we’re going to get’

THE LEDE: Lawmakers on both sides of the surveillance debate say that privacy advocates’ exodus from a key bill to rein in the country’s intelligence agencies is not likely to halt momentum for the legislation.

Privacy advocates balked at a new version of the USA Freedom Act — which is scheduled for a House vote on Thursday — saying it has been too “watered down” to sufficiently end the worst abuses at the National Security Agency (NSA). Like-minded lawmakers in the House agreed with some of their concerns about the bill, but nonetheless vowed to press onward.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) — a member of the House Intelligence Committee who has said the bill that passed the two committees was already weaker than he preferred — said his “gut sense is that the bill overall, even with the manager’s amendment, is probably about as good as we’re going to get.”

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“We’re better off moving forward with reform than continuing to stagnate, so I think the bill is worth supporting,” he said. He added that he will be offering an amendment to “strengthen” the USA Freedom Act’s role for a privacy advocate to argue against new surveillance programs when the U.S. government seeks approval at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

“We’ll see how far I get,” he said.

Judiciary Committee member Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who helped craft the compromise measure that passed both panels two weeks ago, offered similarly tempered enthusiasm about the bill.

“It did not go as far as we would’ve liked,” he said off the House floor on Tuesday, while noting he had not seen the final language. “But it goes a long way in fixing a lot of the problems, including the gathering of mass amounts of data." The bill is nonetheless “a major step in the right direction,” he added.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who fought for stronger language when the bill was moving through the Judiciary Committee, said she plans to offer amendments to strengthen the newest version. “I’m waiting to see” what needs to get changed, she said, adding that she hasn’t “had a chance to study the changes to the changes” yet.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, seemed unconcerned that the privacy activists’ complaints about the changes could lead to a revolt on the House floor.

“This is the way Congress is supposed to work,” he said. “Republicans and Democrats, liberals, conservatives, moderates coming together and finding a way to do things that are right for America.”

Leahy to bring it up Wednesday: Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will raise concerns about the newest version of the House’s USA Freedom Act — which he sponsored in the Senate — at a Wednesday hearing on oversight of the FBI, according to a Judiciary aide. That hearing will include testimony from FBI Director James Comey.

In his prepared remarks for the hearing, Leahy asks Comey to “work with me as the Senate takes up” surveillance reform, which he said will happen later this summer. While Leahy said he is “glad the House is poised to act on a revised version of the USA Freedom Act,” he remains “concerned that some important reforms were removed.”

Wheeler optimistic about more Wi-Fi waves: While testifying at a Tuesday hearing held by the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler said he is optimistic that the agency can find a way to make more Wi-Fi airwaves available in the upper part of the 5 GHz band, which is currently reserved for vehicles that communicate with each other and others using the spectrum.

“There are strong feelings about the need to protect” intelligence vehicles’ use of those airwaves, Wheeler said, but “I believe that its possible to work together to meet both sets of needs” since it uses same technological standard as Wi-Fi airwaves. Wheeler would not, however, get specific about when the FCC might take action to make those airwaves available for Wi-Fi. “I would be misleading you... if I gave you a timeframe,” he told lawmakers.

Carper looking to help DHS hire cybersecurity pros: Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) on Tuesday introduced a measure to help the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hire more cyber experts. Current department restrictions make it too difficult to hire the best and brightest in the business, he said. Instead, top cyber experts get lured away to jobs in the private sector and other outposts.

“Our nation needs a strong cybersecurity workforce to address these growing threats in cyberspace,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the demand for cybersecurity experts in the government greatly outpaces the supply and many agencies have had difficulty attracting the best and brightest and retaining those already in service.”

Unlike the DHS, the Pentagon and NSA have special authorities that let them hire employees faster, pay them more and offer a slew of benefits and other inventives. Carper’s new bill, the DHS Cybersecurity Workforce Recruitment and Retention Act, would try to level the playing field for the DHS by granting it the same advantages.

The Homeland Security Committee is scheduled to consider the bill on Wednesday.

Activists to protest Comcast investor meeting: Comcast shareholders are heading to Philadelphia, Pa., on Wednesday for their annual meeting. When they get there, they will be met by a slew of protesters looking to block the cable giant’s purchase of Time Warner Cable.

National groups like Consumers Union, Free Press and Common Cause are joining with local organizations to disparage the company’s work in Philadelphia and across the nation. They will also tout a petition with more than 400,000 signatures asking the Justice Department and the FCC to block the transaction.

Critics say the combined cable giant would be a behemoth with too much power over the content that it shows. Executives at the cable companies, meanwhile, point out that they don’t currently compete in any of the same markets and say the merger would help them compete against new companies like Google and Amazon.

FCC goes after California retailer for counterfeit smartphones: The FCC is cracking down on California retailer PanaSystem which it says marketed counterfeit smartphones with illegal labels that falsely claimed the devices had been approved. The agency warned PanaSystem that it would face a $16,000 fine per day for each device it imports and sells going forward.

“The trafficking of these devices not only robs the intellectual property of legitimate manufacturers, it harms consumers by failing to provide them with safe and certified smartphones that comply with the FCC’s equipment authorization process,” Travis Le Blanc, acting chief of the agency’s Enforcement Bureau, said in a statement.

Wireless group bulks up board: CTIA – The Wireless Association added three new board members on Tuesday. Nokia’s Rick Corker and Ingram Micro Mobility’s Bashar Nejdawi joined the trade group board as large supplier representatives, and DoCoMo Pacific chief Jonathan Kriegel is coming aboard to represent carriers. Each will serve in their posts for the rest of the year.

 

ON TAP:

FBI Director James Comey will testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee at 10 a.m.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will discuss the cybersecurity hiring bill at 10:00.

At the same time, two House Homeland Security subcommittees will meet to talk about cyber attacks to the U.S.  

The House Science Committee is also holding a hearing on “astrobiology and the search for life in the universe.”

Comedian and former Loveline host Adam Carolla will lead a briefing on patent trolls in a Senate office building in the morning. The session, sponsored by the Internet Association, will focus on Carolla’s experience being sued over his podcast.

The Commerce Department will hold the next in its series of meetings to improve the notice-and-takedown system under current copyright law in Nashville, Tenn. The meeting will be webcast on the department’s site.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Privacy advocates that have pushed for legislation to reform U.S. government surveillance are backing away from a House bill that they say has been "watered-down" as it heads to the floor.

AT&T’s expansive lobbying operation is seeking redemption as it tries to win approval of a $49 billion merger with DirecTV.

Free-speech groups are resisting a House effort to crack down on advertisements for girls and women who have been forced into prostitution.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) wants to stop the government’s snooping on people’s phone calls any way he can.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the FCC decision to rewrite net neutrality rules would result in “the end of the Internet as we know it” and demanded that President Obama try to stop it.

 

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

Follow Hillicon Valley on Twitter: @HilliconValley, @ktummarello, @jmhattem

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