Overnight Technology

OVERNIGHT TECH: Tech’s lame-duck wishlist

THE LEDE: Lawmakers come back to Washington on Wednesday and are getting straight to work on their lame-duck plans.

There are a number of issues that the tech sector will be watching for, from government spying to taxes. Republican leaders have expressed a desire to clear the decks and start 2015 with a fresh agenda, after their sweeping victory in the midterm elections last Tuesday. That could pave the way for significant action in the few weeks of legislative time remaining this year.

Here’s what the tech sector will be watching:

{mosads}NSA reform: Passing the USA Freedom Act to rein in the National Security Agency (NSA) is a top issue for the tech sector, who are hurting from Edward Snowden’s revelations about the spy agency for more than a year. The bill would end the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, make changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and give tech companies additional ways to talk about the government demands for information that they receive.  

While Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) bill has won support from both sides of the aisle, it still faces an uphill climb to reach the Senate floor this year. Leahy has made the issue a priority and has been twisting Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) arm to get a vote, though Reid has indicated that other, less controversial issues may be a bigger priority. The White House also seems willing to let the bill stall until next year, when lawmakers may back more modest reforms.

Still, reformers say that the midterm elections may have helped their cause. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated a desire to start next year’s Republican majority on a fresh page, which may cause him to push for a vote this year. If the bill gets put off until next year, supporters note, it could force an early standoff that splits the Republican Party, with lawmakers needing to take up some legislation before the NSA’s authority for its program expires in June.

Ban on Internet taxes: Reauthorizing a law preventing state and local governments from placing taxes on Internet access is largely uncontroversial in Congress. Some lawmakers, however, have tried to link the measure to a contentious online sales tax bill, making the push much more complicated. On Monday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) doubled down on his opposition to the online sales tax bill, which would allow states to collect sales taxes on purchases from companies based in other states.

The Marketplace Fairness Act easily passed the Senate last year with broad support in both parties, though McConnell and other prominent Republicans opposed it. Amazon has teamed up with major retail stores to get the bill passed this year, though eBay and other companies have worried it stacks the deck against smaller sellers.

The current ban on taxes for Internet access expires on Dec. 11

Email privacy: More than half of the House has signed on to co-sponsor the Email Privacy Act, which would update a 1986 law to require that police obtain a warrant before searching through a suspect’s emails. Current law allows authorities to search through emails and other documents stored on the “cloud” without a warrant, so long as they are at least 180 days old.

“The message is loud and clear that [Electronic Communications Privacy Act] reform can’t wait any longer,” said Yael Weinman, general counsel at the Information Technology Industry Council, in a recent blog post.

Despite the broad support, however, the bill seems to be all but dead for the year. Leahy, the author of the Senate version of the bill, seems to be focusing all of his attention on NSA reform and many lobbyists admit that they are largely preparing to wage the fight anew in 2014.

Immigration: Congress isn’t likely to do much on immigration this year, but all eyes are on President Obama’s expected executive actions, which have yet to be announced. The industry has pressed the White House to allow more skilled foreign workers into the U.S. by making administrative changes to the visa process.

The administration could re-issue unused green cards, supporters argue, or let people work who have been approved for a green card but still need to wait for their visa number. Additionally, the government could make it clear that immigrant spouses and children don’t count towards a yearly cap on employment-based green cards.

Tax extenders: Tax breaks for research and development and other measures are included in a broader package of temporary tax breaks up for discussion in the next few weeks. Lawmakers got hung up on the expired measures before leaving Washington earlier this year, but hopes are high that the so-called “tax extenders” can be finalized in the lame-duck.

Attorney general nomination: Tech advocates will be among the many people with eyes on possible confirmation hearings for Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s pick to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. The industry will be watching for anything Lynch says about additional reforms to the country’s surveillance laws and on the relationship between tech companies and law enforcement agencies.  


EBay under pressure after AOL drops ALEC: After AOL left the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) on Monday, the pressure is now on eBay to split as well. “EBay now holds the unfortunate distinction of being the last tech company standing among ALEC’s membership,” Brant Olson, the campaign director of Forecast the Facts, said in a statement. “We strongly encourage eBay to affirm its commitment to climate action by stepping down from ALEC immediately.”

British spy chief’s ‘crocodile tears’: The New York Times editorial board accused the top British spy chief of crying “crocodile tears” after he accused technology companies of aiding terrorists by implementing stronger encryption to protect people’s data, following surveillance revelations from Edward Snowden last year. Earlier this month, the head of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Britain, Robert Hannigan, said the online networks “become the command-and-control” infrastructure of terrorists and criminals.

“The technology companies are doing their job in protecting people’s private data precisely because the intelligence agencies saw fit to rummage through that data,” the editorial board wrote. “Mr. Hannigan’s argument overlooks the many legal avenues intelligence agencies have to seek data.”

Veterans to urge bold executive action: Democratic House members will join a group of veterans on Wednesday to urge President Obama to take “bold” executive action on immigration. The veterans each have family members who came or are living in the country illegally. The press conference is being organized by FWD.us, the group cofounded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (R-Md.) will be there, along with Reps. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Bill Foster (D-Ill.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), José Serrano (D- N.Y.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep.-elect Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.).

Vet wants three-digit number for suicide hotline: A Vietnam War veteran wants the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make it easier for people contemplating suicide to get help. Retired Army Capt. Dan Davis — who received the Bronze Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam — and more than 3,000 people sent a petition to the FCC on Tuesday asking that it simplify the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Instead of the current 1-800 number, Davis wants the FCC to designate a three-digit number such as “111” or “811” to the suicide prevention service.



Starting at 8:30 a.m., the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is holding a daylong meeting on ”defining privacy,” featuring some of the country’s top privacy experts.

At 9 a.m., the Family Online Safety Institute begins its annual conference. Federal Trade Commission Commissioner Terrell McSweeny gives the keynote address in the afternoon.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn gives remarks at the beginning of an American Enterprise Institute event on reforming the agency’s Lifeline program at 9:30 a.m.

The LGBT Technology Partnership and Institute is holding its fall policy forum starting at 10 a.m.

At 10 a.m., Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) will speak at the fourth annual Americas Spectrum Management Conference. She helps lead the Congressional Spectrum Caucus.

At 2 p.m., FWD.us is organizing a press conference with lawmakers and veterans urging “bold” executive action on immigration.

At 2:45 p.m., the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation will hold a debate on the “appropriate legal framework for net neutrality.” Experts from Public Knowledge, Glover Park Group and others will be there.



Democrats are falling in line behind President Obama’s call for federal regulators to treat the Internet like a public utility.  

The FCC must make decisions on open Internet rules independent of President Obama, Republican member Ajit Pai said on Tuesday.

Technology company representatives are hailing a breakthrough in talks to eliminate tariffs on a range of high-tech goods.

A leading civil liberties group is urging Facebook to disclose more information on requests from foreign countries to censor online content.

Postal workers are taking their frustrations to the National Labor Relations Board after a U.S. Postal Service data breach that exposed 800,000 employees’ information.


Please send tips and comments to Julian Hattem, jhattem@thehill.com and Mario Trujillo, mtrujillo@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @HilliconValley@jmhattem

Tags Bill Foster Boehner Email Privacy Act Eric Holder Harry Reid Internet Tax Freedom Act John Boehner Mitch McConnell Online sales tax Patrick Leahy USA Freedom Act

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video