This Week in Tech: NSA reform hits Senate floor

Legislation to reform the National Security Agency hits the Senate floor this week, more than a year after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s first revelations about the spy agency.

The USA Freedom Act faces its biggest test yet and could run into trouble from critics on both sides of the debate. Some say it handicaps American intelligence, while others say it would entrench some of the most sweeping spying tactics.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign America isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Your tax dollars fund Afghan child rape MORE’s (D-Vt.) bill would end the agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records and require the agency to obtain a court order before getting records from private phone companies, among other changes.

The bill’s progress is largely the result of Leahy’s dogged determination to pass something this year. He has formed a careful coalition in support that includes lawmakers in both parties, civil liberties groups, the Obama administration and major U.S. tech companies, which say the spying is costing them billions of dollars overseas.

Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee say they still have problems with the bill, however. And libertarian lawmakers, such as Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLexington mayor launches bid for Congress Trump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics Meet the Iran hawk who could be Trump's next secretary of State MORE (R-Ky.), have also opposed portions of the bill, which might end up squeezing it from all sides.

Tech companies and privacy advocates are making a furious last-minute effort to get lawmakers on board.

On Thursday, the Consumer Electronics Association — which includes giants Apple, Google and Verizon among its 2,000 members — told Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters MORE (R-Ky.) that the spying “could result in the loss of thousands of jobs.”

“We need strong and decisive reforms of the nation’s intelligence gathering programs to restore trust in American companies and preserve our national competitiveness,” the trade group added.

A preliminary vote to proceed is expected on Tuesday afternoon, and a floor fight could follow that.

On Friday morning, the Federal Communications Commission holds its monthly meeting at its Southwest Washington headquarters, where it will look at a pair of measures to pave the transition from copper phone lines to new, Internet-based lines.

One proposal would ensure that 911 services are protected during that change, so that software glitches or database outages don’t leave people stranded during an emergency. A second measure would update its rules for retiring those old copper lines, to make sure that people aren’t left in the dark, as the rest of the country moves on.

“Technology must improve; these values must be protected,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in a blog post when the meeting was announced. “[T]hese items demonstrate how both can go hand-in-hand.”

Additionally, the FCC is planning to consider a new proposal giving broadcast companies more flexibility in disclosing terms of on air contests.  

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up legislation aiming to reduce TV blackouts of sports games.

Off Capitol Hill, Commerce Secretary Penny PritzkerPenny Sue PritzkerTrump transportation chief to join Biden for jobs event DeVos should ‘persist’ despite liberal opposition Indiana teachers hold sit-in to demand Young recuse himself from DeVos vote MORE will sit for a discussion with the co-founder of Washington startup hub 1776 on Monday morning.

Later that day, the Open Technology Institute will a debate about the fight between law enforcement and technology companies over smartphone encryption. The debate titled "Is FBI 'Going Dark' or in a golden age of surveillance" will include several former officials from the FBI, the Justice Department and the Obama administration.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteRosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week Conservative pressure on Sessions grows Clock ticking down on NSA surveillance powers MORE (R-Va.), Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate ethics panel wants details on sexual harassment allegations American innovation depends on strengthening patents Tax reform and innovation – good news and a cloud MORE (D-Del.), acting Patent Office Director Michelle Lee, and other government and industry officials are taking part in the Chamber of Commerce’s global intellectual property summit all day Tuesday.  The session will focus on the path ahead for 2015 and the outstanding issues on patent, copyright and other areas.

President Obama on Wednesday will get together with school superintendents and educators from across the country to talk about the transition to digital learning. The event builds on the White House’s call to make sure 99 percent of students have access to high-speed Internet connections.  

On Thursday, the libertarian-leaning think tank TechFreedom will hold a debate at the Rayburn House Office Building asking, "Should the FCC ban paid prioritization."


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