OVERNIGHT TECH: Privacy advocates cheer call to update laws

THE LEDE: A White House report’s call to update the country’s privacy laws was met with a resounding cheer from privacy and civil liberties advocates on Thursday.

The “big data” review called for an overhaul of the law allowing warrantless email searches, new efforts to notify people if their data has been hacked and ways to identify and stop vast amounts of information from being used for discrimination.

Supporters praised the review as a wakeup call.

“The most important takeaway is that our privacy really does matter when it comes to big data,” said a statement from Nuala O’Connor, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology. “The report rightfully highlights the potential for limiting our choices or discriminating based on broad assumptions from a data set. A stronger focus on personal control would empower individuals and engender trust in big data applications.” 

On Thursday, White House counselor John Podesta revealed the results of the 90-day survey, which President Obama announced along with a slew of overhauls to the country’s surveillance programs. Privacy advocates have worried that the ability of companies and other organizations to collect and use large amounts of data about people’s activities could expose too many personal details. 

O’Connor’s praise for the White House report was echoed by American Civil Liberties Union counsel Christopher Calabrese, who praised the call for an update to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The law says the government does not need a warrant to search emails and other documents that have been on the cloud for at least 180 days, a standard critics say is badly out of date in the modern era.

“By recognizing that online and offline communications should be treated the same, the report lays the groundwork for keeping everyone’s emails, texts, and photos private and secure,” he said.

The privacy coalition Digital 4th said that the report's conclusions should finally force the White House to come out in favor of an overhaul bill. 

Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said the effort builds on the panel’s investigations of “data brokers,” who collect and sell information about consumers.

“This conversation is long overdue,” he said. “We have to come together – industry and government – to implement policies that make sure consumer protections evolve in tandem with advances in big data.” 

Some privacy advocates wanted more: Kevin Bankston policy director at the Open Technology Institute, chided the report for neglecting to talk about National Security Agency spying. Was it the best use of the White House’s time, he asked, “or was this process ultimately a distraction that has needlessly taken focus away from the debate over how to rein in the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance programs?”

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said the report “failed to identify the commercial surveillance complex that has been put in place by Google, Facebook, and many other data-driven businesses.”

“The report may give a green light to expanded data collection, where the principle is ‘collect first and worry about privacy and consumer protection later,’” he said, criticizing the administration for further delaying a baseline privacy bill that Obama pledged to back two years ago.

Facebook weighs in: "We realize the potential impact of big data on everything from science to health to civil society, and we want to help achieve that potential in a way that respects people’s ability to control their own information,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement. “We look forward to reviewing the report and continuing to participate in this important discussion.”

PCAST report out too: The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology also issued its report on “big data” on Thursday. That report recommended, among other things, that policymakers focus on the use of consumers’ data rather than the fact that companies collect it. “Policy attention should focus more on the actual uses of big data and less on its collection and analysis,” the report recommended.

Patent markup scheduled for next week: The Senate Judiciary Committee has rescheduled its markup of Chairman Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) patent reform bill. The markup was scheduled to take place Thursday and — in the latest of a series of delays as Leahy looks to find compromises on the most contentious patent reform measures —  is now set to take place next Thursday.

“We have settled the vast majority of the issues in there, and I think by ... next week we can actually start marking up a manager’s package,” Leahy said during Thursday’s meeting, thanking “both the Republicans and the Democrats who worked hard on this.”

Verizon calls FCC airwave plan “perverse and unjust”: According to filings at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Verizon is protesting the agency’s plans to limit the company’s participation in next year’s highly anticipated airwave auction. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said that Verizon and AT&T will face participation limits in the 2015 auction, which will involve the agency buying back airwaves from television broadcasters and reselling those airwaves to spectrum-hungry wireless companies looking to boost their cellphone networks.

In a meeting with staff members from the Commission’s Republican offices, Verizon protested Wheeler’s plans, saying the participation limits could prevent the auction from reaching its Congressionally-set revenue goals by keeping bids low, which could keep broadcasters from selling back their spectrum. Additionally, the plan would unfairly advantage “large corporations” like Sprint and T-Mobile, which would not be subjected to the participation limits under Wheeler’s plans.

“Most importantly, Verizon stressed that it would be perverse and unjust for the Commission to adopt auction rules that subsidize some large multinational companies at the expense of their competitors,” the company wrote. “T-Mobile and Sprint are large corporations with established, well-financed corporate parents. They and their parent corporations are more than capable of paying substantial amounts to acquire spectrum in the incentive auction if they choose to do so.”

Study calls for overhaul of video regs: A new study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University argues for repealing video distribution regulations “because current regulations limit market opportunities for existing media providers.” Current bills in Congress “offer only marginal improvements or actually burden the marketplace with more regulations,” the authors argue, but a more comprehensive overhaul is needed to deal with the modern marketplace. 

 

ON TAP:

The Motion Picture Association of America, along with Microsoft and ABC, are hosting the Creativity Conference starting at 9:00 a.m. Vice President Joe Biden and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) are scheduled to appear.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

The Justice Department announced a settlement Wednesday with eBay, likely resolving a two-year antitrust case targeting the Silicon Valley giant’s “no-poach” personnel agreement with a competitor.

As the Federal Communications Commission considers allowing Internet “fast lanes,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is looking to hold President Obama accountable for the commitment he made to an online “level playing field” during his 2008 campaign.

Broadcast television stations from Boston to Denver have been accused of failing to disclose legal information about political ads they showed this year.

 

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