OVERNIGHT TECH: Tech industry comes out against new NSA reform bill

THE LEDE: Major tech companies are walking back their support of a bill to rein in government surveillance after the legislation underwent changes as it heads to the House floor tomorrow.

Since passing the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees earlier this month, the USA Freedom Act — written by Patriot Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) — “has moved in the wrong direction,” the Reform Government Surveillance coalition said in a statement Wednesday.

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That tech industry coalition was first formed after last year’s revelations about National Security Agency (NSA) online surveillance and includes Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter, LinkedIn, AOL and Dropbox.

“The latest draft opens up an unacceptable loophole that could enable the bulk collection of Internet users’ data,” the group said. “While it makes important progress, we cannot support this bill as currently drafted and urge Congress to close this loophole to ensure meaningful reform.”

The group’s statement comes on the heels of major privacy advocates walking back their support for the new bill when the newest version — written after negotiations between House leadership and the Obama administration earlier this week — came out on Tuesday.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association — which represents Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others — also said on Wednesday that they are pulling their support for the USA Freedom Act and criticized the way the bill has changed in the days before its scheduled floor vote.

“We had hoped there would be an adequate opportunity for the exact language of this legislation, and related committee report language, to be available for meaningful examination by all Members and by interested members of the public before being brought to a vote,” the group’s CEO Ed Black said in a statement. 

“We urge Congress to get the substance and process right, because trust cannot be easily restored when it has been so deeply eroded,” he continued. “We fear an opportunity for meaningful, historic reform is being missed.”

FBI head says it always gets warrants to search emails: Even though they don’t need to under the law, FBI agents always get a warrant before searching for people’s emails, Director James Comey said on Wednesday. 

“From my understanding, we treat [email content] as I believe it is, which is information which people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, so we obtain a warrant without regard to its age. That’s our policy,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The statute may be outdated but I think we’re doing it in the right way.”

Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, emails that have been online for more than 180 days can be searched by the government without a court order. Online privacy advocates on both sides of the aisle have pressed for an update to the law. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who has worked along with Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to update that law, called it “something of an anachronism in our legal system.”

E&C to take up demand letters: On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Trade will hold a hearing to discuss abusive patent demand letters, or the letters that companies send threatening patent infringement lawsuits and demanding payment. Earlier this month, Subcommittee Chairman Lee Terry (R-Neb.) introduced a bill to curb the use of these letters to extort businesses. Thursday’s hearing will include testimony from Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Tom Marino (R-Penn.), as well as representatives of the tech industry and consumer protection officials.

In a statement on Wednesday, Marino — who was a vocal player during the House Judiciary Committee’s attempts to pass a patent reform bill last year — applauded the subcommittee for taking up the issue. “Patent trolls have created a business model that takes advantage of our laws and threatens our economy and job creation,” he said. “I am confident that the Committee will work to strike the right balance in order to deter fraudulent, deceptive actors while preserving the ability of legitimate rightsholders to protect their intellectual property.”

Airbnb agrees to hand over users’ data: Airbnb complied with a subpoena on Wednesday to hand over data about “bad actors” on its service, after a months-long battle with the state of New York over the rental site’s operations. Under the terms of the agreement, the company is only giving over anonymous data that does not include names or addresses. The state attorney general has a year to look at that data and then ask for additional information about people who may be breaking New York laws.

“We believe that this is a strong agreement that best protects our community’s data and sets us on a positive path forward,” the company said. It added that it wants to change the state hotel law, which prevents some people in New York City from renting out their homes.

ITI wants education update: The Information Technology Industry Council is pushing Congress to update a law supporting high school and college vocation education. The Perkins Act needs to be reauthorized to ensure that “the country remain[s] a leader in global competitiveness, more than 200 businesses, trade groups and community organizations said in a letter on Wednesday. Major tech firms like IBM, Adobe and Oracle signed on. 

The law was last reauthorized in 2006, and should be overhauled to align educational programs with market needs, support schools working with companies and allow for more mentorship and internship opportunities, they said.  “These improvements will more effectively spend federal dollars to help our nation’s students acquire the skills that they need and employers are demanding.”

 

ON TAP:

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Trade will hold a hearing at 9:15 a.m. to discuss patent demand letters and Subcommittee Chairman Lee Terry's bill on the issue.

The House is scheduled to vote on the USA Freedom Act.

At 8:30 a.m., former FBI Director Robert Mueller will speak on cybersecurity issues at a Georgetown Law event. Julie Brill, a Democrat on the Federal Trade Commission will speak at 9:30 a.m.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Senators delivered a potential deathblow to patent reform on Wednesday as the Judiciary Committee postponed work on the tech industry’s top legislative priority.

Eleventh-hour attempts to attach National Security Agency reforms to two bills will not see the House floor.

The White House is putting its support behind legislation to end some of the country’s most controversial surveillance programs.

The head of the FBI says he understands why people worry about the scope of the government's powers, and in fact, he agrees with them.

 

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