OVERNIGHT TECH: Advocacy groups oppose DOTCOM Act

THE LEDE: A coalition of advocacy groups wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), urging the Senate to push back on an amendment to the House’s recently-passed defense funding bill that would keep the Obama administration from going forward with its plans to shift Internet oversight.

The amendment from Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) would keep the U.S. from realizing its “opportunity to fulfill its decades-long promise and reassure the world of its commitment to an open, participatory and decentralized approach to Internet governance,” the groups said in a letter on Tuesday. Signatories include the ACLU, Public Knowledge and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Shimkus’s amendment — which mirrors the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act that he introduced earlier this year and was passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee over objections from Democrats — is a response to the Commerce Department’s announcement in March that it would step back from its oversight role of the technical side of the Internet’s Web address system.

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While supporters hailed the move as a step towards a long-envisioned more global Internet, critics said it could open the door for more oppressive governments to exert control over the Internet. Shimkus’s amendment would keep the Commerce Department from going ahead with the Internet oversight transition until the Government Accountability Office conducts a study on the potential outcomes of the transition.

“Although the Act’s drafters claim their support for the bill is based on their fear of a takeover of ‘control’ of the Internet by authoritarian regimes, that fear is misplaced; indeed, the DOTCOM Act could actually have the opposite effect and empower those nations seeking greater governmental control of the Internet” by giving “additional ammunition to foreign governments and stakeholders who oppose Internet freedom, bolstering their argument for an overhaul of the current Internet governance system to facilitate greater control by non-democratic governments or international organizations,” the letter said.

NSA head denies snooping on Americans' faces: The National Security Agency (NSA) only collects images about foreigners’ faces on the Internet, Adm. Michael Rogers said on Tuesday, not Web users in the United States. He called facial recognition technology “a tool to help us understand these foreign intelligence targets we work,” and said it has been most helpful in counterterrorism efforts.

“We see entities through our signals intelligence capabilities and we will know them digitally, if you will, but we want to see if we can try to understand them more broadly,” he said. “We do not do this in some unilateral basis against U.S. citizens,” he added, claiming the agency is not involved in scanning through Americans’ passport or drivers’ license photos.

Usually, whenever the agency comes across an American in its work, “we've got to stop what we're doing,” Rogers said.

The comments come a day after the New York Times reported that the spy agency used emails, text messages and social media exchanges to snag images of targets’ faces.

FCC comment system goes down: The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) system for submitting public comments went down on Monday “due to heavy traffic,” the agency said on Twitter.

The downtime comes as interest in the agency’s rewrite of its net neutrality rules increases. The FCC voted last month to move forward with Chairman Tom Wheeler’s controversial plans to rewrite the rules, which kept Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain websites before they were struck down by a federal court earlier this year. The controversial vote opens up a months-long process for companies, advocacy groups and members of the public to comment on the proposal, which includes potentially allowing Internet providers to charge websites for better access to users.

Comedian John Oliver — who encouraged viewers to submit net neutrality comments to the FCC during Sunday’s episode of his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” — took credit for the agency’s website problems on Twitter. “Whoops. It seems that you've all crashed part of the FCC website,” he tweeted, along with a link to his segment from Sunday’s show. “I hope you're proud of yourselves.”

Google wants to make encryption easier: Google announced Tuesday that it will unveil an end-to-end encryption plug-in for Chrome that will allow users to keep their messages encrypted until the recipient decrypts them. At first, the company is releasing the code to be tested and evaluated by the public. After that, it will be available through the Chrome store “and anyone will be able to use it to send and receive end-to-end encrypted emails through their existing web-based email provider,” Stephan Somogyi, a security and privacy product manager, wrote in a blog post.

Most likely only certain users with sensitive messages will need the encryption, but Somogyi wrote that the goal is to “make it quicker and easier for people to get that extra layer of security should they need it.”

In addition to the new plug-in, Google is adding a section to its transparency reports outlining how much of its emails were encrypted in transit. Over the last month, nearly two-thirds of messages from Gmail to other providers were encrypted en route, while the same was true for only half of the messages sent to Gmail accounts from other providers.

Facebook buys mobile data plan company: Facebook has acquired Pryte, a Finnish company that will sell short-term mobile data plans, allowing users to access specific apps, according to Reuters. A company spokeswoman told Reuters that Facebook is interested in Pryte’s team and pointed to Prtye’s relationships with wireless companies in emerging markets. The acquisition — details of which were not disclosed — is another step in Facebook’s efforts to bring Internet, and Facebook, access to the developing world.

Senate plans federal IT hearing: A Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on federal information technology projects and staffers next week. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), chairman of the Federal Workforce subcommittee, announced that the session will feature officials from the Homeland Security Department, Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Personnel Management, the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon’s healthcare management system.

 

ON TAP:

The Consortium for School Networking and the National Association of State Boards of Education are hosting a discussion about online education assessments on Capitol Hill at 11.

At 1 p.m., Brookings Institution scholars will talk about the global implications of Edward Snowden’s leaks about the NSA.

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy will hold a hearing on Sen. Al Franken’s (D-Minn.) location privacy bill starting at 2:30.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Edward Snowden probably wasn't acting on behalf of Russia or another foreign government when he fled the United States with millions of classified files, according to the head of the National Security Agency.

The House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications will hold a hearing next week to discuss media ownership issues.

The story about Edward Snowden and his National Security Agency leaks is headed for the big screen.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said the surveillance reform bill that passed the House last month goes too far in ending some of the NSA sweeping surveillance programs.

The Secret Service wants to hire an Internet analysis company that can detect when people are being sarcastic.

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