OVERNIGHT TECH: Email privacy bill gets a boost

THE LEDE: Tech companies and privacy groups are pushing Congress to move ahead with email privacy reform now that a majority of the House supports a bill that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before accessing stored emails.

Late on Tuesday, the Email Privacy Act — from Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kans.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) — got its 218th cosponsor, meaning a majority of the House now supports the bill, which would reform a 1986 law that allows law enforcement officials to access, without a warrant, emails that have been stored more than 180 days.

ADVERTISEMENT
The companies and privacy groups that have long lobbied for email privacy reform hailed the milestone.

“This common-sense reform is long overdue,” Google Senior Privacy Policy Counsel David Lieber wrote in a company blog post. Lieber said that the 1986 Electronics Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) provides different privacy protections to an email “depending on how old it is, whether it has been opened, and where it is stored — while users attach no importance to these distinctions.”

“Now that a majority has gone on record to support this common sense update, we once again urge Congress to expeditiously pass legislation to update ECPA” and “send a clear message about the limits of government surveillance by enacting legislation that would create a bright-line, warrant-for-content standard,” he wrote.

Digital 4th — a pro-ECPA reform coalition that includes the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Tax Reform — hailed the bill and called for Congressional action.

“The House needs to act now,” Katie McAuliffe of Americans for Tax Reform, said in a statement. She called on the House to “cleanly” pass the bill without amendments. “This legislation is critical to Americans' Fourth Amendment rights,” she said.

The ACLU’s Chris Calabrese also applauded the bill. “Though our technology has advanced over recent decades, the law governing over online privacy has failed to evolve over time,” he said in a statement. “However, with over 218 co-sponsors now signed on in support of the Email Privacy Act, Americans’ electronic communications can be protected from unwarranted government intrusion.”

House panel approves budget cuts for FCC, FTC: The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government voted Wednesday to approve a bill that cuts funding for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The bill gives the FCC $323 million, which is $17 million less than its 2014 funding level and roughly $52 million less than its requested funding level for 2015. The bill gives the FTC $293 million, which is $5 million less than its 2014 funding.

Subcommittee Chairman Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) said the reduction in funding is “necessary to live within the discretionary budget cap provided in the Ryan-Murray agreement,” reached late last year. “We reduce funding for more than a dozen agencies and programs that can operate with a little less,” including the FCC and FTC, he said.

Subcommittee ranking member Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) said he couldn’t support the funding cuts but noted that Crenshaw “has been dealt a difficult hand with this bill.” As a result of the reduced appropriation levels for the subcommittee, “there are several agencies in this bill that are inadequately funded,” he said.

Issa calls for FTC investigation: House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wants a formal investigation into the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a firm that may have provided it false information. Issa sent a letter on Tuesday evening asking the FTC’s acting inspector general to investigate the relationship with Tiversa, a cybersecurity firm that may have helped with the commission’s investigation into bad data security at LabMD.

It is “clear,” Issa wrote in his letter, “that Tiversa provided incomplete and inaccurate information to the FTC.” Alleged collaboration with the company “creates the appearance that the FTC aided a company whose business practices allegedly involve disseminating false data about the nature of data security breaches,” he added. 

Lawmakers want study of tribal communications: A bipartisan group of four House lawmakers asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to survey communications service on Native American reservations. In their letter on Wednesday, Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Don Young (R-Alaska) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said that a “digital divide” was hurting people on tribal lands worst of all.

 “Today, based on the most recent available data, over 30 percent of households on Tribal lands still lack basic phone service,” they wrote. “We’re deeply concerned by the lack of access to communications services in Tribal communities and the barriers this presents to education, public safety, and economic development.”

They asked the GAO to focus specifically on the steps that state, local, tribal and federal governments are taking to collect information about communications options and encourage infrastructure construction, as well as obstacles to getting more people to subscribe to phone, TV and Internet service.   

Bitcoin for politics: Democratic campaign consultant firm NGP VAN is rolling out a way for campaigns to accept contributions in Bitcoin. Ben McIlwain, the organization’s lead developer for digital products, said the move shows it “can quickly respond to new technologies and integrate with innovative new tools.”

The move comes on the heels of a Federal Election Commission determination that campaigns can accept up to $100 worth of the digital currency.  

And Bitcoin for football: College football fans this December will settle down for the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl, thanks to a three-year sponsorship from the cryptocurrency company BitPay. Executives hoped that the move would launch the money into the mainstream, especially among the largely young and male fans of college football.

The game will feature one team from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and one from the American Athletic Conference. It will be played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

 

ON TAP

The FCC is holding a public workshop on mobile device theft. The daylong event kicks off at 9 a.m. with opening remarks from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.).

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to markup a bill to reauthorize the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, starting at 10 a.m. Under the committee’s often-invoked rules, the markup can be delayed for a week.

At 1 p.m., Georgetown University is holding a workshop on “big data” featuring White House aide John Podesta.

House Republicans will vote for a new majority leader at 2 p.m.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

A House panel on Wednesday moved forward with legislation to permanently bar state and local governments from taxing access to the Internet.

A bipartisan duo in the House is hoping to use a defense funding bill to keep the National Security Agency from spying on the Internet.

Most Internet service providers are meeting or beating their advertised Web speeds, according to a new report from the FCC.

The House panel overseeing trademark law is considering a probe into the Patent and Trademark Office’s decision on Wednesday to revoke the Washington Redskins trademark.

 

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