OVERNIGHT TECH: Bid to limit NSA spying narrowly fails

THE LEDE: The House narrowly defeated an amendment on Wednesday that would have defunded the National Security Agency's massive phone record collection program.

The final vote was 205 to 217, with 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats backing the amendment to the Defense spending bill from Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.). 

The surprisingly close vote for a measure opposed by both parties' leaders and the White House demonstrated the depth of anger over the recently revealed surveillance programs.

The program, revealed by former government contractor Edward Snowden, collects records on virtually all U.S. phone calls. The data includes the time, date and duration of the call, as well as the phone numbers involved, but not the contents of the conversations.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who voted for the amendment, told reporters that the supporters will "try every vehicle that comes along" to reign in the program.

"It's going to end now or later," he said before the vote. "The only question is when, and on what terms." 

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), an Intelligence Committee member and opponent of the amendment, told The Hill that the details of the spying program had been sensationalized.

"Some people are trying to exploit it no question, whether it's to increase their Twitter followers or for whatever purpose," he said. "Yet not all members have had the opportunity or have taken the opportunity to really learn what it is, and why it's important and what we lose if we do away with it."

Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, issued a statement applauding the House for defeating a measure that would have eliminated a "crucial counterterrorism tool," but they acknowledged the widespread opposition to the program.

"As the bill moves to conference with the Senate, we will work to foster stronger public confidence in the program’s privacy protections to ensure that we retain this important national security tool,” they said.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a long time critic of the NSA, declined to say whether the Senate should try to defund the phone record program through the appropriations process. But he urged the Senate to limit the NSA "given the fact that there is an always-expanding, omnipresent surveillance state."

"I am urging the president and the NSA to join this growing bipartisan coalition and work with Congress to focus the NSA's surveillance efforts on terrorists and spies — not innocent Americans," Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said in a statement following the House vote. 

Rockefeller, Thune introduce cyber bill: Senate Commerce leaders Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced a bill on Wednesday that's aimed at boosting the country's cybersecurity. The bill's introduction comes ahead of a Commerce panel hearing on Thursday that will look at the government's effort to craft a list of computer security best practices that are designed to protect critical infrastructure against cyberattacks.

The cyber bill would would task the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) with developing a framework of cybersecurity best practices and standards for critical U.S. infrastructure. It would also boost cyber research and development and expand training of skilled cyber professionals.

"NIST is a jewel of the federal government and it’s the right organization to guide this very important work,” Rockefeller said in a statement.

TechAmerica and AT&T issued statements of support for the cyber bill.

"The bill clarifies the importance of truly voluntary standards, developed jointly with industry and not a precursor to future regulation," AT&T said in a company blog post.

"While we still believe that the most important thing government can do to enhance cybersecurity is to pass information sharing legislation, we commend Chairman Rockefeller and Sen. Thune for their leadership and in reaching a compromise that we hope will end debate on how to address critical infrastructure standards and best practices and allow cybersecurity legislation to move forward," AT&T added.

Senate Judiciary Committee schedules hearing on FISA oversight:
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing next Wednesday that will consider the oversight of surveillance programs operated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) recently introduced a bill that would reform the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act, which are used by the National Security Agency to operate surveillance programs.

“I remain deeply concerned about the expansive use of government surveillance under FISA,” Leahy said in a statement. “The authorities under this law, and the government’s interpretation of them, must be carefully scrutinized by Congress. As I have said, just because we have the ability to collect huge amounts of data, it does not mean that we should be doing so.”

BSA voices concern with patent troll bill by Issa and Chu: BSA | The Software Association, a Washington trade group that represents software companies, said on Wednesday that it's concerned the STOP Act by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Judy Chu (D-Calif.) takes too broad of an approach to cracking down on patent trolls and could keep worthy products from being patented.

The bill would expand a program currently used by companies to ask the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to re-examine patents related to financial services.

“Expanding a provision in the America Invents Act that was intended to cover a small class of patents could undermine a broad universe of innovation that fully deserves to be eligible for patent protection," said Tim Molino, director of government affairs at BSA, in a statement.  “The most effective way to block frivolous patent lawsuits is by correcting imbalances in the legal system that make troll litigation an attractive business model.”

Cellphone unlocking vote delayed: The House Judiciary Committee delayed a vote on Wednesday on legislation to legalize cellphone unlocking. The committee is expected to take it up next week.

ON TAP

The Senate Commerce subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet will hold a Thursday morning hearing on the state of the wireline industry. Later in the day, the full committee will hold a cybersecurity-focused hearing that examines the government’s effort to craft a list of computer security best practices that are designed to protect critical infrastructure against cyberattacks.

The House Judiciary subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet will hold the first of two hearings on copyright and technology on Thursday morning.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

FCC targets additional spectrum ahead of incentive auction: The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to auction off four bands of wireless frequencies, including one currently used by the military.

The additional spectrum will help wireless carriers meet their customers' skyrocketing demand for data, and the revenue from the auction could help the government pay for a nationwide communications network for first responders.

House Dems rally support for Amash amendment against NSA spying: A pair of House Democrats on Wednesday urged lawmakers to support an amendment by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would restrict a National Security Agency surveillance program that collects the phone data of people in the United States.

In a "Dear Colleague" letter sent to House members, Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said the amendment would make an "important improvement" to the NSA's data collection program by preventing the spy agency from using its funds to collect the phone records of people who are not under investigation.

Clapper urges House to reject amendment limiting NSA spying: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a statement Wednesday opposing an amendment to curb the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities, the latest push from the Obama administration to sway lawmakers ahead of a crucial vote.

“I join others who caution that acting in haste to defund the FISA Business Records program risks dismantling an important intelligence tool,” Clapper said.

Appeals court rejects Fox challenge to Dish ad-skipper: A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected Fox's bid to shut down Dish Network's ad-skipping service, Hopper.

Fox claims that the technology, which allows viewers to instantly edit out commercials from recorded programming, infringes on its copyrighted content and violates its contract.

Senate Judiciary schedules hearing on standard-essential patents: The Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subpanel has scheduled a hearing next Tuesday that will cover standard-essential patent disputes and antitrust law.

The hearing will be chaired by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

FTC finalizes Google patents settlement: Following a public comment period, the Federal Trade Commission finalized its settlement with Google on Wednesday over the anti-competitive use of patents.

The commission first announced the terms of the settlement in January at the end of a nearly two-year investigation into Google's business practices. The agency took no action on the most serious charges — that Google manipulates its search results to favor its own search results over those of rivals.

ACLU urges lawmakers to support Amash amendment on NSA spying:
The American Civil Liberties Union is urging House members to support an amendment authored by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would limit a National Security Agency surveillance program that collects phone records of people in the United States.

In a letter sent to all House members on Tuesday, the civil liberties group argued that Amash's amendment to the 2014 defense spending bill "would increase privacy and limit the collection of innocent Americans' personal information."

Mike Lillis contributed to this report

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