OVERNIGHT TECH: Snowden calls for stronger online security

THE LEDE: Ahead of the one-year anniversary of his first leaks about the National Security Agency, former contractor Edward Snowden is calling for Internet users and companies take up the reins on privacy issues.

"One year ago, we learned that the internet is under surveillance, and our activities are being monitored to create permanent records of our private lives — no matter how innocent or ordinary those lives might be,” he said in a statement ahead of Thursday’s anniversary. “Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the U.S. Congress fails to do the same.”

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Snowden is throwing his support behind an online effort that Web companies and advocacy organizations are calling Reset the Net. Google, Mozilla, reddit and other leading websites are teaming up with advocacy organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee for the push, which is aimed at increasing users’ privacy protections online.

The campaign is looking for popular websites and online services to offer more online security in the absence of and in addition to any legislation from Congress. One of the main tools they want websites to offer is a “Privacy Pack” with software to help users better protect themselves. Google, for instance, is promoting its new plans to let users send emails encrypted end-to-end, so that they stay protected from the time they leave a sender until the recipient decrypts them.

The Mountain View, Calif., giant is not alone. Though it is not officially participating in Thursday’s campaign, Comcast has also announced plans to beginning encrypting its subscribers’ mail, which could open the floodgates to more companies following suit. In addition to unveiling a plug-in for its Chrome browser this week, Google also said that it would include details about email encryption in its transparency reports, effectively shaming companies that did not encrypt their emails. According to Google’s analysis, less than 1 percent of emails sent to or from comcast.net email addresses and a Gmail account was encrypted from start to finish.

“This is the beginning of a moment where we the people begin to protect our universal human rights with the laws of nature rather than the laws of nations,” Snowden said. “We have the technology, and adopting encryption is the first effective step that everyone can take to end mass surveillance. That’s why I am excited for Reset the Net — it will mark the moment when we turn political expression into practical action, and protect ourselves on a large scale.”

Commerce launches consumer privacy review: The Commerce Department is launching a process to review consumer privacy standards at the behest of White House advisors. On Wednesday, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that it is seeking public comment on how technological changes facilitating large-scale data collection and analysis affect the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights that President Obama first outlined in 2012. The NTIA’s announcement after a White House-ordered report earlier this year on “big data” said the Commerce agency should build on Obama’s privacy principles by updating them, if necessary, and draft a baseline privacy bill.

“As the White House’s big data report notes, there are many potential societal benefits from the use of big data,” NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling said in a statement announcing the agency’s request for comments. “We are now asking the public to help us assess how big data might impact the protections called for in the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.”

Progressives pressure Reid on net neutrality: A coalition of progressive advocacy groups are pressuring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to push the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for stronger net neutrality rules, including reclassifying Internet providers so the agency can treat them like the more heavily-regulated traditional phone companies.

“We should treat the Internet as the public utility that it is — like water, telephones and electricity,” the groups said in a Wednesday letter to Reid. Signatories include Demand Progress, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and MoveOn.

Earlier this year, the FCC voted to move forward with Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposals to rewrite the agency’s net neutrality rules, which kept Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain websites before they were struck down by a federal court in January. Under Wheeler’s proposal, the agency is asking questions about multiple paths to restore the rules, including a controversial option that would allow Internet providers to charge websites for better access to users.

“This would undermine the ecosystem of activist organizations, blogs, independent journalists, and new technology platforms that has enhanced our democracy and provided so much new vitality to our political process in recent years,” the groups said in their letter, urging Reid to call on Wheeler to “implement strong Net Neutrality regulations that will ban all unreasonable technical discrimination (and define pay-to-play arrangements as inherently unreasonable), forbid blocking and ban other undue interference with the open architecture of the Internet — thus protecting the Internet as we have known it, our economy, and our democracy.”

House panel sets AT&T-DirecTV hearing: A House Judiciary subcommittee will explore the proposed merger between AT&T and DirecTV on the morning of June 24. Top Democrats and Republicans on the full panel and the Antitrust subcommittee said in a joint statement that the session “will both allow the committee to undertake a serious examination of what might be the fourth-largest telecommunications merger in history and provide a forum for proponents and critics of the proposed merger to publicly discuss its potential competitive impact on the telecommunications marketplace.”

FCC charges Texas telco $875k: The FCC announced Wednesday a consent decree between its enforcement bureau and Texas-based telecommunications company Matrix Telecom, Inc., that requires Matrix to pay $875,000 for failing to connect long distance calls to rural areas “on a just, reasonable, and non-discriminatory basis,” as required by the agency. In addition to paying the $875,000 to the U.S. Treasury, Matrix must implement a three-year plan to ensure compliance with the agency’s rural call completion rules.

“Our nation’s telecommunications laws are based on the fundamental promise that all Americans should be able to call each other wherever they may be located,” Enforcement Bureau Acting Chief Travis LeBlanc said in a statement. “Rural America should not be treated differently, and we will continue to enforce the law to fulfill this promise.”

Former FCC chairman joins MasterCard Board of Directors: MasterCard elected former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to serve on its Board of Directors at the company’s annual shareholder meeting Tuesday. Genachowski was at the FCC from 2009 to 2013 and is currently a managing director at the Carlyle Group, focusing on technology, media and telecom issues.

FTC, DOJ announce conditional pricing agenda: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Wednesday announced the agenda for a workshop later this month on the antitrust implications of conditional pricing practices. The lineup includes Bill Baer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division and FTC Commission Maureen Ohlhausen.

 

ON TAP:

Starting at 9:15, a Senate Commerce subcommittee will explore the IP transition.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is marking up the funding bills for the Commerce and Justice Departments starting at 10 a.m.

The Brookings Institution is holding a discussion on the one-year anniversary of the Snowden leaks at 2 p.m.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will explore reforms to the NSA at 2:30.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Verizon and Netflix are publicly playing the blame game over Verizon subscribers’ experiences with slow-loading Netflix videos.

The government of the Bahamas has hired American lawyers to help with U.S. surveillance, after a report alleged that the National Security Agency was monitoring all the island nation's calls.

Germany’s top federal prosecutor is launching an investigation into the National Security Agency’s snooping on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are pressuring the FCC to go forward with its plans to take the agency’s long-standing sports blackout rule off the books.

The Department of Justice has launched a process to review its decades-old consent decrees with the music industry’s largest licensing organizations.

 

Please send tips and comments to Kate Tummarello, katet@thehill.com, and Julian Hattem, jhattem@thehill.com

Follow Hillicon Valley on Twitter: @HilliconValley@ktummarello@jmhattem

 

 

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