OVERNIGHT TECH: Privacy groups skeptical of CISPA changes

THE LEDE: Privacy advocates are so far skeptical of proposed changes to a controversial cybersecurity bill by the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee. 

Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) on Monday outlined a set of proposed amendments to their bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), that they have agreed to support. While the proposed amendments are largely intended to quell privacy advocates’ concerns with the bill, it appears privacy groups are not won over yet. 

{mosads}Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), said the bill sponsors still have not addressed “the elephant in the room”: amending the bill so it would not allow companies to share cyber threat information directly with the National Security Agency (NSA). Instead, groups like the CDT and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argue that a civilian agency like the Homeland Security Department should handle the threat data before it gets sent to the NSA.

“The effect of that is to shift the control of the cyber program from civilian hands to a secretive military agency,” Nojeim said. “It’ll be very difficult for there to be any transparency or any accountability if that shift happens.”

“The Senate bill last year, in contrast, required that the [data] shared from the companies go to a civilian agency and the intelligence agencies supported the bill. They said that was just fine, so it troubles me that the sponsors refuse to address that critical answer,” he said. 

However, Nojeim declined to comment on the specific amendments outlined by the committee leaders because he has not yet seen the text of them.

Another concern is that none of the proposed changes require companies to strip personally identifiable information — such as email addresses and phone numbers — from cyber threat data before they pass it on to the government. 

Nojeim said one of the proposed changes discussed by the House Intelligence Committee leaders is a “significant” development. It would strike a provision that would allow the government to use information it receives from companies for “national security purposes,” which privacy groups said could be broadly interpreted by law enforcement to take action against non-cybersecurity matters. 

He also called for the committee to release text of the amendments ahead of the markup. 

“Secrecy fosters misunderstanding and distrust,” Nojeim said. “The sponsors of the bill should make the amendments they intend to offer public and they should hold their markup in public so people know exactly what was considered and why amendments were rejected or accepted.”

Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel in the ACLU’s Washington office, also echoed the same concern about transparency.

“In the area where [the bill sponsors] claim they will make amendments, we need to
see language to verify that it is substantive and [not] just a gloss for
appearances’ sake,” Richardson said in an email.

Fox threatens to go off the air if Aereo wins: News Corp President Chase Carey said on Monday he would consider turning Fox into a subscription service if the courts do not shut down TV streaming service Aereo. 

“Aereo is stealing our signal,” Carey said at the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas, according to Variety. “We believe in our legal rights, we’re going to pursue those legal rights fully and completely, and we believe we’ll prevail. But we want to be clear. If we can’t have our rights properly protected through legal and political avenues, we will pursue business solutions. One such business solution would be to take the network and turn it into a subscription service.”  

Aereo uses tiny antennas to pick up free over-the-air broadcast television signals and then transmits the video to its customers over the Internet. Customers pay a monthly fee to buy access to an antenna, which allows them to record and watch major network television on their mobile devices and computers.

The broadcasters argue that Aereo must pay for permission to re-broadcast their signals, just like cable and satellite providers already do. But two federal courts have sided with Aereo, and denied the broadcasters’ bid to shut down the service.

Carey said that pulling Fox stations off the air is “not a path we’d love to pursue,” but he insisted the company is “not going to sit idly by and let people steal our content.”

Virginia Lam, an Aereo spokeswoman, said in a statement that it is “disappointing to hear that Fox believes that consumers should not be permitted to use an antenna to access free-to-air broadcast television.”

“Over 50 million Americans today access television via an antenna. When broadcasters asked Congress for a free license to digitally broadcast on the public’s airwaves, they did so with the promise that they would broadcast in the public interest and convenience, and that they would remain free-to-air. Having a television antenna is every American’s right,” she added.


The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday morning to examine problems with rural communications. The witnesses will be representatives from CenturyLink, Ritter Communications, Boycom Cablevision and Telephone and Data Systems. The Federal Communications Commission proposed rules earlier this year to investigate problems with completing rural calls.

Google and the city of Austin, Texas, have planned an event to announce something “very important.” The announcement is widely expected to be that the company will offer its ultrafast Google Fiber Internet service in the city. 


Walden vows to protect broadcasters in auctions: Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) promised on Monday to look out for the interests of broadcasters during the Federal Communications Commission’s auction of airwave licenses.

“As the FCC moves through the incentive auction process, I intend to ensure that the Commission properly implements the provisions of the Act to preserve a vibrant post-auction broadcast environment,” Walden said during a speech at the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas. 

Feds hold lottery for H-1B visas: For the first time since 2008, the government held a lottery selection process on Sunday to award H-1B visas to highly skilled foreign workers.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that oversees immigration, said last week that it received enough petitions to fill the annual cap of 65,000 H-1B visa slots and will not accept further petitions. The agency also received enough applications for the 20,000 slots allotted to foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees, which are exempt from being counted towards the total visa cap.

Business group blasts ban on Chinese tech products: The U.S.-China Business Council objected Monday to a law that restricts parts of the federal government from purchasing technology equipment produced by entities associated with the Chinese government. 

John Frisbie, the president of the China-focused business group, said the new rules are misguided, and urged House and Senate leaders to ensure the provision is kept out of future appropriations bills. 

Please send tips and comments to Brendan Sasso,, and Jennifer Martinez,

Follow Hillicon Valley on Twitter: @HilliconValley, @BrendanSasso, @JenMartinez


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