OVERNIGHT TECH: NSA won't abandon phone program without Congress

THE LEDE: The Obama administration has ruled out using internal administrative policy to reform controversial federal surveillance programs, a top Justice Department official said on Thursday.

Officials have not tried to persuade the country’s surveillance court to change its understanding of the law, Deputy Attorney General James Cole told lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and do not plan to replace a National Security Agency (NSA) program with other ways to collect data about Americans.

“We think that our choices at this point really come down to what has been approved by the courts over a number of years, new legislation or else not having the tools at all,” he said.

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Cole’s statement came in response to a question from Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), a critic of the NSA's surveillance, who claimed that the administration “has the tools it needs” through other methods to protect national security while also not violating their privacy.

Opponents of the NSA’s program to collect records about people’s phone calls say that the federal government could abandon the program and use other means, such as national security letters, to collect the data.

“The current law gives the government broad authority right now – right now – to obtain records quickly,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), another critic of the government surveillance, told Cole. “The fact that this dragnet surveillance is taking place right now is unacceptable to me.”

Cole maintained that those other powers “don’t really give us the tools that we need” to protect the country. The NSA's phone records program “gives us a wider range of information that we wouldn’t have under normal authorities,” he added.

The Senate is currently debating legislation to effectively end the NSA’s phone records program, and instead have those records stay in the hands of private phone companies. The program, however, relies on reauthorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court every 90 days. That current authority is scheduled to run out in two weeks, at which point it’s likely that the White House will ask for additional authority from the court.

House Republicans call for Internet oversight study: Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the Commerce Department’s recently-announced plans to step away from its oversight role of the Internet’s Web address system. While some hailed the Commerce Department’s plans as a step towards a more global Internet, critics — including Republicans in the House — have opposed the move, saying it could open the door for more oppressive governments to seek control over the Internet.

In their letter Thursday requesting the study, the Republicans ask about the national security implications of the switch and whether it will allow other governments to seize control of the Internet’s technical systems. Signatories include Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) — chairmen of the House Commerce Committee and the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, respectively — and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who has proposed multiple measures that would delay the Commerce Department’s plans until the GAO completes its study, including one amendment to a defense funding bill that passed the House last month.

Tech group hits broadcasters, citing decline in over-the-air consumption: Next year, the people who rely exclusively on the Internet for television programming is likely to match, and maybe surpass, the number of people who rely exclusively on broadcast airwaves delivered via antenna, according to new research from the Consumer Electronics Association. Currently, 5 percent of U.S. households with television rely on Internet programming while 6 percent of U.S. households with a television rely on over-the-air programming, a number that has declined since 2005, the tech industry trade group said.

“In the next year, we expect the number of U.S. households relying exclusively on the Internet for TV programming to equal or surpass the total of those relying only on antennas,” the group’s CEO Gary Shapiro said in a statement. “As consumers continue to turn to other devices and services for TV programming – devices that need wireless spectrum to deliver the content we want anytime, anywhere – it’s clear that the free, public spectrum given to broadcasters could be put to much better use.”

The CEA report comes as broadcasters face challenges on multiple fronts, including a Supreme Court case over broadcast content-streaming company Aereo and pressure to sell back their airwaves for the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 airwave auction.

Broadcasters blast spectrum auction framework: The head of the National Association of Broadcasters had particularly harsh words for the FCC’s proposed framework for next year’s spectrum auction.

Gordon Smith said his group has “deep reservations” about the plan to redistribute the spectrum, which “ignores Congress’s clear direction to not do harm to broadcasters who choose not to participate in the voluntary auction.” The FCC, he said, seems to think that making sure wireless companies can use the airwaves is more important than keeping them for broadcasters.

Smith warned the commission not to coerce broadcasters to give up their spectrum licenses through “unrelated regulatory actions” that hurt the industry. “Now is the time for the FCC to make good on its repeated promises not to damage a vibrant television business, and for Congress to exercise the proper oversight needed to preserve a free, local and lifeline programming source that is the envy of the world."

House Judiciary adds another music licensing session: The House Judiciary Committee announced two hearings on music licensing as part of its comprehensive review of copyright law. The first hearing, slated for June 10, will include representatives from organizations representing musicians, songwriters, music publishers and music licensing firms. The second, set for June 25, will include witnesses from the NAB, Pandora, SoundExchange and the Recording Industry Association of America, as well as musician Rosanne Cash, testifying on behalf of the Americana Music Association.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Intelligence Committee senators warned their colleagues not to push legislation to end controversial spying programs at the National Security Agency.

Verizon is threatening to sue Netflix over its notices telling users that their Internet providers are to blame for slow-loading videos.

Government leaker Edward Snowden thinks the U.S. has notched a slew of successes to rein in surveillance since his first leaks one year ago, but the work is not done yet.  

A coalition of privacy groups is pushing the Senate to pass a stronger surveillance reform bill than the USA Freedom House that recently sailed through the House.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) wants U.S. airlines to add closed captioning to movies that are shown during long flights in an effort to aid hearing impaired airline passengers.

 

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