OVERNIGHT TECH: Senate to hold briefings on NSA surveillance

THE LEDE: The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a briefing later this week for all members to discuss details of the National Security Agency's surveillance programs.

The briefing, scheduled for Thursday, will be closed to the public.

Several lawmakers, including Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), have complained that they were not informed of the NSA's program to monitor Internet users, called PRISM.

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"Well I think that the times that this program's been reauthorized, much of this operates in levels where there are not that many people — members of Congress who are fully engaged in what's going on," Thune said on MSNBC. "The Intelligence committees, obviously, are involved and Homeland Security to some degree, but most members of Congress are given a piece of legislation to vote on and I don't believe that most members of Congress were fully aware of how broad this was."

The White House said on Monday that it has held 22 briefings on the program over the last 14 months, including for members outside of the Intelligence panels.

Major Internet companies including Google, Facebook and Microsoft denied news reports last week that they gave the NSA direct access to their servers.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed the program's existence but said the government does not "unilaterally" obtain information from Internet companies.

He said that the Internet companies provide user data to the NSA only after receiving an order approved by a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Those courts only approve information requests if there is a "foreign intelligence purpose" and the target is "reasonably believed" to be outside of the United States, Clapper claimed.

Senate tees up action on immigration bill: The Senate is slated to officially begin debate on the Gang of Eight's immigration bill on Tuesday afternoon, and tech companies are putting their full support behind passage of the measure.

Over the weekend, tech companies scored a victory when Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) voiced her support for the bill. The tech industry has been working hard to gin up enough Republican support to build a supermajority for the comprehensive immigration measure.

At a briefing for House staffers on Monday, representatives for the tech industry voiced optimism about the upcoming debate and consideration of the sweeping immigration bill in the Senate.

"Ayotte's the first person who might face consequences for coming out when she didn't have to," Scott Corley, executive director of Compete America, a coalition of tech companies and associations that advocates for high-skilled immigration report. "It's significant that she still went ahead and said, 'This is why I'm going to be on this bill,' and we appreciate it and we're going to continue to tell people how important it is everywhere, all over New England for sure."

"We feel good, but I think we're going to run out of folks who will [come out in support of it] without changes in the bill very quickly," he added.

Despite its positive outlook, the tech industry is still on guard against potential amendments that would chip away at the measures it secured in a deal struck between Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). The measures softened requirements in the bill that employers would have to follow when hiring highly skilled foreign workers.  

Because of this, the industry plans to continue its fierce lobbying push in the Senate.

"We're going to talk to them until they're tired of seeing us," Corley said. "There will be no daylight involved here and there will not be any uncovered area. ... They will be absolutely clear that we want this bill, we need this bill and we're satisfied with the bill that the Senate has written today."

The tech industry views Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) as a potential backer of the bill. Winning Cornyn's support would help secure the bill's passage in the full Senate, though accomplishing that will not be easy, according to Corley.

"He's going to be a very expensive date," he said.

FCC reforms disability service: The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously on Monday to restructure the Video Relay Service — a program that uses a video link and translator to help people with hearing and speech disabilities make phone calls.

The FCC's action will make it easier for people to use off-the-shelf equipment for the program, and the agency took steps aimed at cracking down on waste and abuse.

Pritzker clears committee: Penny Pritzker, President Obama's nominee for Commerce secretary, received unanimous support from the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Monday.

AT&T adds Harris to Mid-Atlantic team: LaTara Harris has been named the new regional director of external affairs for AT&T in the Mid-Atlantic region, focusing on local policy matters in the D.C. metro area. Prior to joining AT&T, Harris spent more than a decade at the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education. 


ON TAP:

Acting Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn will give a speech on Tuesday morning, and the heads of the FCC's bureaus will speak at a panel on Tuesday afternoon at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association's annual conference.

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will hold a Tuesday morning hearing to examine ways to reduce duplication and improve federal information technology.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

'Rough road ahead' for Internet wiretap bill: Congressional aides said on Monday that a proposal that would make it easier for police to intercept online communications faces long odds on Capitol Hill.

The House and Senate Judiciary Committee staffers said that recent revelations about the National Security Agency's program to monitor Internet users will make it difficult to push any surveillance legislation.

Obama administration counts 22 Hill briefings on PRISM program: The White House held 22 Hill briefings over 14 months on the law that national security officials cite in defending a secret surveillance program that collects information from Internet use and telephone calls, according to a senior administration official.

Since October 2011, there have been 22 briefings to lawmakers on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Act Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act, the official said via an email.

Microsoft, Intel, Qualcomm push for immigration reform ahead of Senate debate: Representatives from top American technology companies, including Microsoft and Intel, attempted to debunk arguments raised by labor groups against high-skilled immigration reform at a briefing for House staffers on Monday.

The briefing, hosted by Compete America and the Congressional High-Tech Caucus, comes as the Senate officially begins debate this week on the Gang of Eight's sweeping immigration bill that tech companies support.

Inventor of the Web: NSA spying violates 'basic human rights': The inventor of the World Wide Web is calling on the public to protest the National Security Agency's recently revealed surveillance programs.

“Unwarranted government surveillance is an intrusion on basic human rights that threatens the very foundations of a democratic society," Tim Berners-Lee said in a statement to The Financial Times.

Democrats call on Nickelodeon to stop airing junk food ads: A group of Senate Democrats demanded Monday that children’s TV channel, Nickelodeon, stop airing commercials for unhealthy food and beverages.

The lawmakers said Nickelodeon could help address the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic by barring the advertisement of junk food.


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