OVERNIGHT TECH: NSA critics turn hopes to Senate

THE LEDE: After the House's passage of a compromise version of the USA Freedom Act, some of the biggest critics of government surveillance are hoping the Senate will come through with a stronger bill.

The 303-121 vote in the House was a step forward towards ending some of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) most controversial operations, but could amount to little unless the Senate strengthens a number of the legislation’s provisions, critics said.

Robyn Greene, policy counsel with the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, said activists were “gravely concerned” that the House-passed bill was too weak. “Congress must pass reforms to guarantee that Americans’ private communications and records are protected, and that transparency and oversight mechanisms exist to ensure that the surveillance abuses we learned about over the past year never happen again,” she said in a statement on Thursday. “We now look to the Senate to help us make that happen.”

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Software and technology companies echoed the sentiment. BSA/the Software Alliance chief Victoria Espinel said she was hoping for “a more careful balance” between national security and privacy when the bill hits the Senate this summer.

Mozilla global privacy and public policy leader Alex Fowler added that the lower chamber “missed a critical opportunity” to rein in the country’s surveillance. “The Internet needs and deserves more,” he added. “If the Senate is unable to address these shortcomings, Congress will have done little to restore trust in the Web by hundreds of millions of Internet users, inside and outside the U.S."

Fully half of the USA Freedom Act’s original cosponsors in the House ended up voting against the measure, as a signal that it had been watered down too heavily. Key civil liberties advocates like Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) all voted against its passage on Thursday. Among other complaints, they alleged that eleventh-hour changes had undermined the bill’s claims to bar the NSA from collecting bulk amounts of data.  

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has pledged to review the bill in his committee this summer. Multiple senators on Thursday urged him not to repeat the path of the House effort.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), one of the upper chamber’s leaders on the effort, urged the Senate to set aside the House effort and take up the original USA Freedom Act. “The NSA has shown it will seize upon any 'wiggle room' in the law, and there is plenty of wiggle room in the House-passed legislation,” he said in a statement.

Terry close on demand letter bill: Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) said he expects to move forward with his bill to curb abusive patent “demand letters” — which companies send, threatening to bring patent infringement lawsuits — in the coming weeks. That bill is currently being circulated as a discussion draft and was the subject of a hearing held Thursday in the House Commerce Subcommittee on Trade, which Terry chairs.

The hearing included testimony from Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Tom Marino (R-Penn.), who asked the panel to protect consumers from what Polis called the “misleading and scary” letters. The hearing also included testimony from representatives of tech companies and consumer protection agencies. Many said they would not support the bill in its current form but said they could support it if Terry makes adjustments to the wording of and definitions in the bill.

“From the testimony today I think there's probably about six issues on just basic nuancing of wording that I think we can resolve and we're going to keep working on that over the next two to three weeks,” Terry said.

HBO, Netflix tout Hollywood-tech relationship: The Creative Rights Caucus hosted a briefing Thursday to promote the relationship between the entertainment and technology industries, which are often portrayed as pitted against each other in the entertainment industry’s fight to stop online piracy. In a statement after the briefing, the caucus’ co-chairmen — Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Howard Coble (R-N.C.) — called for more action to combat those portrayals.

“Perceptions of these industries in opposition to one another distract from the real challenges they face, such as piracy and online theft,” Coble said. “That’s why it is so important that the public is made aware of tech platforms that make up the lawful ecosystem for access of content.”

Microsoft wins over FBI ‘gag order’: Microsoft has won out against the FBI’s attempt to use a national security letter to secretly obtain information about one of its subscribers. Last year, the FBI asked for the data but tried to limit the firm from disclosing the fact that it had received the letter. Microsoft fought back in court, which caused the FBI to drop its request.

“This marks an important and successful step to protect Microsoft's enterprise customers regarding government surveillance,” Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith wrote in a blog post after the court documents were unsealed on Thursday. “For over two centuries individuals in the United States have turned to the courts to protect our most fundamental freedoms. This case demonstrates the vital role our courts continue to play and the cause for confidence they provide.”

Apps group launches data effort: The Application Developers Alliance is getting together with Yahoo, Google, AT&T, Intel and Blackberry for a new working group. The effort will focus on data driven innovation and the “Internet of things,” the system of wirelessly connected devices like refrigerators and cars, it said.

“Developers are using data to build products that make us smarter, healthier, and more efficient, but with these innovations comes the need to ensure data collection is transparent and secure,” Jon Potter, the trade group’s president, said in a statement. “The Data, Analytics, and Security Working Group will develop best practices for data collection and work to promote innovative data contributions to commerce and society.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

The House on Thursday passed the most sweeping changes to the country’s intelligence operations in more than a decade, voting to limit the NSA’s ability to snoop on communications. 

The House also voted to delay the Obama administration’s plans to relinquish the United States' oversight of fundamental Internet functions. 

A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation to crack down on people and businesses that steal valuable economic secrets from American companies. 

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) called on Congress to pass a bill that would permanently extend a moratorium on taxing the Internet.

Edward Snowden will appear in his first TV interview with a U.S. news outlet next Wednesday, NBC News announced Thursday. 

 

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