OVERNIGHT TECH: House panel puts FTC in crosshairs

THE LEDE: The Federal Trade Commission’s enforcement powers will come under fire in the House on Thursday, when lawmakers set their sights on recent actions on data security.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has been criticized for stepping into one high-profile case against medical testing company LabMD, but that hasn’t stopped him from pulling out a new microscope for the commission. LabMD chief executive Michael Daugherty will testify at Thursday’s hearing, which refers to the FTC as “prosecutor, judge and jury” in its title. Also testifying is the head of another firm that claimed it was bullied by the commission after refusing to buy cybersecurity protections as well as legal and cyber experts. Conspicuously absent, however, is the FTC, which won’t be appearing before the panel. 

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The Oversight Committee is often a sparring ground between Democrats and Republicans and Thursday’s session is likely to be no different. 

Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) took the rare step on Wednesday of weighing in with the lower chamber’s actions warning Issa that he was “troubled by the impropriety of your ongoing interference” in the trial. “Instead of allowing the parties in this trial to present evidence and to argue their positions before an independent fact finder, you are instead using heavy-handed, bullying tactics to undermine due process and to inappropriately assist the defender, LabMD.”

The FTC has used its legal powers to go after “unfair or deceptive” practices to file charges against LabMD for failing to protect people’s information before it was stolen in 2012. Issa, however, has pointed blame at the cyber firm Tiversa, which may have provided inaccurate information to the commission about LabMD’s security after LabMD refused its services.

The case was widely seen as one test case for the FTC’s power to punish companies that suffer data breaches. The commission’s argument seemed to win out in another case against the Wyndham Worldwide hotel chain, in which a court ruled in the FTC’s favor.  

 

FCC's Rosenworcel defends Wheeler: Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat on the Federal Communications Commission, defended Chairman Tom Wheeler's sometimes-controversial tenure at the agency. She pushed back on the idea that the agency has been particularly split along party lines while Wheeler has been at the helm.

"I don’t think there’s any partisanship of note right now," she said, speaking at an event hosted by The Hill on Wednesday. While there are some high-profile items at the agency that got passed by a 3-2 vote along party lines — like Wheeler's plans to rewrite the agency's net neutrality rules or auction off airwaves next year — “the vast majority of our decisions are unanimous," she said. “There are some times we don’t agree, they get all the attention."

Despite having expressed concerns in the past about Wheeler's handling of certain contentious issues, Rosenworcel credited Wheeler for his action-oriented agenda. “He has a bias towards action, and he wants to get things done," she said.

Miss The Hill’s tech policy event this morning?: Check a video out here

AT&T clears first set of merger hurdles: AT&T has cleared the first hurdles on its road to acquire DirecTV in a $49 billion deal announced earlier this year. On an earning call Wednesday, AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens said the company has cleared the merger review processes in Brazil — where DirecTV has subscribers — and at the state level without restrictions.

House panel to talk PTO: The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property will hold a hearing next week on the Patent and Trademark Office. At a hearing scheduled for July 30, the panel will discuss the agency’s domestic and international policies. The hearing comes after the House passed a patent reform bill from Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) last year, which stalled in the Senate earlier this year.

Twitter releases diversity stats: Twitter is the latest Silicon Valley titan to disclose details of its diversity. About 70 percent of the company’s staff and 79 percent of its leadership are men, it announced on Wednesday. Additionally, just 2 percent of workers are African-American, while 59 percent are white and another 29 percent are Asian. In a blog post, diversity and inclusion vice president Janet Van Huysse said that the company has “a lot of work to do,” but is committed to rebalancing its workforce to include more women and minorities. 

GAO dings NASA on rocket plans: A new Government Accountability Office report has some words of criticism for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which is expected to someday carry Americans into deep space. Though NASA is “making solid progress” on the design, the agency “has not developed an executable business case” for matching its cost and resources, the report said, which could find the agency $400 million short of what it needs to launch its first flight tests in 2017. NASA is also looking at “challenges” fitting in existing systems that weren’t designed for the new rocket, the report said. 

 

ON TAP

The House Oversight hearing gets underway at 9:30.

At 10:15, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee is holding a legislative hearing on three bills.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai speaks at an Internet innovation Alliance event at 10 a.m.

At 11 a.m., the House Science Committee speaks live with astronauts on the International Space Station.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property will hold a hearing on copyright remedies kicking off at 1:30 p.m.

The Commerce Department holds another meeting in its stakeholder process to develop privacy-enhancing guidelines for facial recognition technologies.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Federal rules for adding someone to the government’s terrorist watchlist are broad enough to include people who are dead or have been acquitted in court of terrorism charges, according to a government document that emerged on Wednesday.

Advocates of “smart” cars say federal regulators must listen more closely to developers’ concerns to allow emerging technologies to hit the roadways.

President Obama passed a handful of protesters on Wednesday pushing back on potential new regulations that could lead to “fast lanes” on the Internet.

The FCC on Wednesday put broadband Internet companies on notice that they should give customers accurate information about their prices, Web speeds and services.

 

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

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