OVERNIGHT TECH: Lawmakers await Senate NSA bill

THE LEDE: Anticipation is building for Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to unveil his new bill for reforming the National Security Agency.

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Leahy’s negotiations with lawmakers and the Obama administration have yielded progress, he has said, and a bill could be introduced early next week. While Leahy puts the finishing touches on the measure, his colleagues are eager to see what’s happened. “I’m encouraged that there is some movement,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Intelligence Committee and frequent critic of the NSA, told The Hill. “I still have to look at the details but I’m certainly encouraged that we’re making some forward progress.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), too, was hopeful for the compromise version of the bill, called the USA Freedom Act. “Sen. Leahy has been the vanguard of reform for years and years and years,” he said. Time was in the reformers’ favor, Wyden said, which should give them a leg up after the House passed a version of the bill that caused many privacy and civil liberties backers to scoff. “Usually what has happened with respect to intelligence is you get backed up onto the deadline and everybody goes ‘Oh my goodness, it’s a dangerous world. There are a lot of bad guys’ --something I certainly agree with,” he added. “And then everybody says ‘Let’s just kind of do the status quo because we’re backed up against the deadline.’” The current deadline for the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program, however, does not expire until next summer.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member on the Judiciary panel, seemed more skeptical about the path forward. With just one week before the August recess and then a month before the midterm elections, the USA Freedom Act might get pushed back to later in the year, he predicted. “If it isn’t handled now it’s going to be handled in the lame duck session,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve got time to handle it now.”

Focus still on “backdoor searches”: In a gaggle with reporters off the Senate floor on Thursday, Wyden kept up support for ending the NSA’s “backdoor” searches of Americans through legal authority meant to track foreigners. Recent support for the searches from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board did not seem did not seem to quell his zeal. “We’ve got to close the backdoor search loophole, Wyden said.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who together with Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) introduced an amendment to the defense spending bill to block the searches, hoped her action would cause a stir as the upper chamber mulls the USA Freedom Act. “I think the House, by a huge majority — a majority of Republicans and a majority of Democrats — voted for the Fourth Amendment,” she said. “And I expect that we should have a measure that respects the Fourth Amendment.”

Authors raise pens to support NSA reform: George Saunders, Dave Eggers, Edward Albee, “Lemony Snicket” and more than two dozen other prominent writers penned an open letter in The Hill on Thursday calling for Congress to rein in the spy agency.  “Immediate reform is necessary to restore our historic and treasured balance between government protections and individual freedom,” they wrote.

“NSA mass surveillance poses a grave threat to the United States’ proud tradition as a champion of free expression,” the writers added. “Congress must act now to protect our freedom to speak, think, write, and create freely—and in private.” 

FCC approves Allbritton, Sinclair deal: The Federal Communications Commission approved Sinclair Broadcast Group’s nearly $1 billion deal to purchase television stations from Allbritton Communications. The FCC approval is the last in a series of hurdles Sinclair needed to clear to complete the deal. Allbritton CEO Robert Allbritton tweeted Thursday afternoon: “Very mixed emotions: FCC approved sale of our TV stations to Sinclair. Thanks to all at ACC for 40 wonderful years. I will miss you deeply.”

Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai used the deal’s approval to take a jab at Chairman Tom Wheeler, who earlier this year led the agency to effectively ban resource-sharing agreements between broadcast companies. Because of that FCC vote, Pai said, Sinclair was forced to shutter three of its local stations that would have run afoul of the agency’s new resource-sharing rules once the merger was approved. “Today, the FCC’s crackdown on joint sales agreements claims three more victims,” he said in a statement.

Major League Baseball calls error at the FCC: Major League Baseball’s Internet distribution arm issued a warning to the FCC last week not to allow companies to make “fast lanes” for online traffic. The company, which has streamed live baseball games online since 2003, warned that the paid prioritization agreements would turn broadband Internet service providers (ISP) into “gatekeepers” for the web. 

“Fast lanes would serve only one purpose: for Broadband ISPs to receive an economic windfall,” it wrote in a filing first noticed by Re/code. “American consumers would be worse off as the costs of fast lanes are passed along to them in new fees or charges where there were none, or higher fees or charges where they existed.”

FCC announces cellphone theft working group: The FCC announced Thursday the creation of a new working group to develop recommendations for the agency to combat cellphone theft. The working group includes representatives from AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Samsung, Motorola, Apple, eBay and other companies. "I am pleased that these recognized leaders have committed to assist the Commission in developing policies and recommendations that will advance the goal of stopping the theft of mobile devices and thereby better protect consumers,” Wheeler said in a statement.

Developer group releases privacy policy code: The Application Developers Alliance and Intuit announced Thursday the release of open source code that will help app developers create short form privacy policies so that users can better understand how the app collects, uses and shares data. The announcement comes after the group — which works with tech giants like Google and thousands of app developers — and companies participated in the Commerce Department-convened process to determine best practices for short form privacy policies.

“App developers want to inform consumers clearly and accurately, but traditional privacy policies written in legalese are difficult for consumers to understand,” the group’s President Jon Potter said in a statement. “By incorporating these notices, app developers will create a trusted standard for communicating with consumers, without need for government regulation.”

Squire Patton Boggs names tech head: Jeff Turner is taking over as the head of the technology practice at Squire Patton Boggs, the newly merged K Street giant announced. In the past, Turner has focused on telecom and copyright policy as well as energy, sanctions and other issues. 

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is close but not yet ready to unveil a negotiated measure to rein in government surveillance.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) fired shots at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Thursday for going after companies with poor data security.

The Department of Justice is pushing Congress to increase the penalties for streaming copyright-infringing content online, and some lawmakers are listening.

Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., want to allow their city-owned broadband Internet services to compete with companies like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, but state laws are standing in their way. They're turning to the FCC for help.

 

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