This week in tech: Patriot Act fight begins

House lawmakers are expected to finally unveil legislation to extend expiring provisions of the Patriot Act and reform government surveillance, after snags delayed a planned rollout last week.

Compared to last year’s National Security Agency (NSA) reform efforts, the new version of the USA Freedom Act will have “more protections for civil liberties while protecting national security,” according to a fact sheet distributed among congressional staffers.

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The bill would effectively end the NSA’s ability to collect Americans’ phone records, put new limits on the government’s use of national security letters requesting data, add provisions for tech companies to reveal more about what they hand over to the feds and add a new expert panel to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. At the same time, it would renew three sections of the Patriot Act, set to expire on June 1, to December 2019.

The bill from bipartisan leaders of the House Judiciary Committee was originally expected early last week, with a markup initially planned for Thursday, April 23.

That was delayed over objections from GOP leaders on the House Intelligence Committee, however. While backers insist that the hang-ups are not over the meat of the new reform bill, it remains to be seen whether there will be any lingering friction over the new legislation.

In any case, the House bill is likely to be seen as the ceiling for reform efforts, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democratic field narrows with Inslee exit McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster MORE’s (R-Ky.) plan for a “clean” reauthorization as the floor. Backers of the USA Freedom Act will have to walk a tightrope to win the support of hawkish lawmakers while also enacting enough reforms to satisfy civil libertarians.

Separately, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will mark up a bill Wednesday that would give the Federal Trade Commission more power to crack down on so-called patent trolls who send abusive demand letters. Republicans in a subcommittee approved the bill last week, but Democrats and some outside advocates pushed for changes that were not adopted. Opening statements will take place the day before, on Tuesday.

On Thursday, the same committee will hear from Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler and GOP Commissioner Michael O’Rielly about a trio of FCC transparency bills, one of which would force the commission to publicly release proposed regulations before they are approved — an issue that was pushed to the forefront by the net neutrality debate.

 

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