Overnight Technology

OVERNIGHT TECH: Tech comes out ahead in NSA bill

THE LEDE: Internet and technology groups were swift to congratulate Senate lawmakers on Tuesday for new legislation to rein in the National Security Agency.

Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) new version of the USA Freedom Act “will help restore trust in the Internet by ending the government’s bulk Internet metadata collection and increasing transparency around U.S. surveillance practices,” said the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, which includes Apple, Facebook, Google and four other major tech companies.

{mosads}BSA-The Software Alliance chief executive Victoria Espinel, meanwhile, called the bill “an important step toward restoring public trust in the underpinnings of the digital economy.”

Similar kind words came out of Microsoft, Mozilla, the Software and Information Industry Association and the Information Technology Industry Council, which includes Silicon Valley titans like Google and Yahoo.

Among the changes in the Senate’s version of the bill are new transparency provisions that give companies ways to report more details about the government’s requests for information about users’ communications. That is a big victory for tech groups, who had complained that the last year of revelations about the NSA have caused people around the world to lose trust in their companies, adding up to billions of dollars in lost profits and the potential fragmentation of the Internet.

Privacy groups cheer the “true compromise”: Leahy also won over a number of civil liberties advocacy organizations with his bill, who said it amounted to a fair compromise on all sides.

In a letter after Leahy introduced the bill, 21 organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute urged House and Senate leaders to allow a vote on the bill “without changes to the text that would weaken the bill’s requirements.” It is “a true compromise and a crucial step in the right direction,” they wrote, while noting it does not “fully restore the provisions” in the original bill that Leahy and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced in October, “to take all the steps needed to restore democratic accountability to NSA surveillance.”

Among those “loopholes” are a provision that exempts the Director of National Intelligence from reporting data requests that “cannot be determined accurately,” they wrote. The bill also stays mostly mum on surveillance regimes beyond the bulk collection of phone records, such as “backdoor” searchers of Americans’ records through legal authority targeting foreigners.

House reformers weigh in: Lead advocates of reform in the House added their words of encouragement to the Senate action. Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, which was instrumental in advancing the lower chamber’s bill earlier this year, called for the Senate to “take the next step and pass this legislation without delay.”

Sensenbrenner, the original author of the Patriot Act, praised Leahy’s ability to bring tech companies and privacy groups back into the fold by “reclaiming important provisions stripped from our original bill…”

AT&T boosts Netflix traffic following interconnection deal: Netflix users accessing the site through AT&T’s networks should see an increased streaming experience in the coming days. An AT&T spokesperson confirms that the Internet provider is boosting Netflix traffic after the two companies reached a deal earlier this year, allowing Netflix to bypass the traditional middleman company and connect directly to AT&T’s servers. “We reached an interconnect agreement with Netflix in May and since then have been working together to provision additional interconnect capacity to improve the viewing experience for our mutual subscribers,” the spokesman said in a statement. “We’re now beginning to turn up the connections, a process that should be complete in the coming days.”

Netflix reached — and then publicly decried — similar interconnection deals with Comcast and Verizon earlier this year. In a blog post, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings called the interconnection deal with Comcast an “arbitrary tax,” and the company has pushed the FCC for net neutrality provisions that protect companies in these interconnection deals.

Patent office deputy director to testify: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Deputy Director Michelle Lee will testify Wednesday in front of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property. The hearing comes after House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) work to reform patent law, which hit a roadblock earlier this year when the Senate failed to move a bill despite the House having passed Goodlatte’s legislation late last year.

In her prepared testimony, Lee outlines the agency’s agenda and touches on its role in the patent reform debate. “We have been actively engaged within the Administration and with Congress to enact patent reform legislation that fairly balances the interests of innovators across all industries and technologies,” she wrote. “We are supportive of legislative changes that will streamline the patent process, address abusive litigation practices and reduce litigation costs, and improve patent quality and fairness, while preserving the rights of legitimate patent holders to enforce if needed.”

In a statement, Goodlatte said the hearing will be “critical to ensuring that the USPTO is held accountable and that it is doing everything within its power to protect America’s intellectual property.”

Senate panel turns to mobile cramming: The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday to discuss “mobile cramming,” or billing consumers for unauthorized charges — often for things like ringtones or daily horoscopes — through their cellphone bills. Wednesday’s hearing will feature testimony from the FTC, the FCC, the wireless industry and Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell. At the hearing, Rockefeller will discuss the findings of his two-year-long inquiry into mobile cramming.

The hearing comes after the FTC released industry guidelines earlier this week, encouraging wireless companies and others to be transparent and giving consumers more choice regarding third-party charges on cellphone bills. Earlier this month, the FTC took T-Mobile to court over claims that it made “hundreds of millions” of dollars from these “crammed” third-party charges.

According to John Breyault, vice president of public policy for the National Consumers League, Wednesday’s hearing coupled with the recent FTC movement indicates that “the issue of wireless cramming is clearly back on the radars of many policymakers in Washington.” Breyault said his group hopes “that the FTC report and Senator Rockefeller’s hearing will prod the industry to fix potential vulnerabilities in the direct carrier billing system before it, too, becomes a source of fraud” and believes “that sensible regulation is needed to give real teeth to voluntary industry agreements and reform an inherently insecure carrier billing ecosystem.”

House introduces trade secrets bill: Six House lawmakers unveiled a new bill designed to help companies protect their trade secrets. The Trade Secrets Protection Act from Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), George Holding (R-N.C.), Howard Coble (R-N.C.) and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) would amend a 1996 law and creates a civil cause of action for companies to go after thieves stealing their secrets.

“Trade secrets are fundamental to the success of any business. U.S. companies have struggled to protect trade secrets due to innovative technology,” said Conyers, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. “To combat further economic damage of trade secret theft, my colleagues and I worked together to draft bipartisan legislation that will create a civil cause of action and allow companies to enforce their rights in federal court.”

The bill got kind words from the tech industry, which said it would help protect tech firms’ innovations. “As technology improves, it has become easier for people to steal trade secrets, robbing companies and the economy of years of development and institutional knowledge built into the products Americans rely on and use every day,”  Information Technology Industry Council government affairs director Miguel Martinez said in a statement. “The Trade Secrets Protection Act makes great strides towards addressing this problem which affects not only the tech sector, but anyone who makes anything in America.

CDT takes issue with Uber ratings: The Center for Democracy and Technology is raising concerns about Uber’s tool that lets drivers rate passengers. In a blog post, Gautam Hans, a fellow at CDT, warned that the passenger ranking — which he described as a “a little-known Uber internal practice” — could be used to unfairly discriminate against customers. “If passengers receive lower ratings from drivers for specious or unfair reasons, patterns of discrimination could repeat themselves,” he wrote, encouraging Uber to mimic the credit industry’s treatment of customer profiles and let users access and, when appropriate, correct their ratings.

In response to CDT, an Uber spokesperson pointed to a company blog post about the passenger rating system from earlier in the year, which explained that “a user’s rating can be obtained by simply asking the driver or contacting customer support.” According to the post, Uber is working on a version of its app that will allow users to see their passenger rating.



At 10 a.m., the House Energy and Commerce Committee will continue with its markup of two tech bills: one that deals with labeling of electronic devices and another that deals with inaccurate caller identification information.

The Senate Commerce Committee hearing on mobile cramming begins at 2:45 p.m.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property hearing on the PTO begins at 3 p.m.



Senators from opposite ends of the political spectrum joined forces Tuesday to introduce sweeping legislation that would limit the National Security Agency’s controversial spying programs.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) is pushing the Federal Communications Commission to consider “data caps” as it rewrites its controversial net neutrality rules.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is getting involved in the fight over which cable companies can air Los Angeles Dodgers games.

Parts of C-SPAN online are going behind a paywall.

Privacy groups want regulators in the U.S. and Europe to stop Facebook’s recently announced plans to track users when they’re on other websites.


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

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Tags Bob Goodlatte Patrick Leahy Patrick Leahy Reform Government Surveillance USA Freedom Act
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