Overnight Technology

OVERNIGHT TECH: FTC shines spotlight on ‘smart’ devices

THE LEDE: New analysis from the Federal Trade Commission about the billions of connected devices caused a stir among lobbying organizations and advocacy groups on Tuesday.

Leaders in Congress stayed mostly silent on the contents of the FTC analysis — which raised privacy concerns regarding the “Internet of Things” — but applauded the agency’s focus on the tech trend. “The Internet is no longer a place we go to on occasion just to check email and access information, but it is now an integral part of our daily lives, helping us track our fitness, our sleep, and even control our home thermostats,” House Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), the head of the Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade subcommittee, said in a joint statement. “While public awareness of the Internet of Things is still in its early stages, now is the time to understand its future prospects and ensure that companies are protecting personal information when they introduce connected devices and services into the marketplace.” 

{mosads}Four members of the Senate Commerce Committee who have successfully pushed the panel to schedule a hearing on the matter said they “look forward to reviewing” the FTC’s work. “As we explore smart ways to shape the Internet of Things — realizing both its benefits and risks — the Commerce Committee is best positioned to ensure the United States remains the global leader in innovation,” Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) added in a joint statement of their own. If done right, the senators said that the Internet of Things could be a “game changer” for the U.S. economy. 

Industry groups were skeptical about the FTC staff’s call for new broad privacy legislation to enshrine protections in law. The Consumer Electronics Association, for instance said it would be “too early to rush out laws that may choke off innovation.” Steve DelBianco, the executive director of ecommerce group NetChoice, said that the report “risks scaring consumers and businesses away from a technology the report calls a new area of growth.” “The best policy decisions are grounded in significant and statistically relevant data, analysis and evidence,” DelBianco added.  

Chairman on Internet rules: Internet policy flows through the Federal Communications Commission, Chairman Tom Wheeler told a small business and emerging technologies conference Tuesday. He reiterated his plan to vote on strong open Internet rules next month, saying it is the job of the agency to help business avoid failure. 

“The key to growth and success is an open Internet, an Internet that successfully creates opportunity rather than selectively determining winners and losers,” Wheeler said. “That is what we are fighting for. We are doing it because of innovators like you. We want to provide the kind of stability that I know that as a [venture capitalist] I looked to see.”

Rubio wants permanent Patriot Act extension: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Tuesday called for a “permanent extension” of provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire in June. Rubio, who opposed a National Security Agency reform bill last year, made the call in a Fox News op-ed criticizing President Obama’s counterterrorism policies. 

The potential White House contender also urged technology companies to “cooperate with authorities so that we can better track terrorist activity” — an apparent reference to some companies implementing phone encryption that would not allow anyone, including law enforcement, to access its content without a password.

Polis mocks Rubio: Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) sent out a sarcastic statement following Rubio’s op-ed, calling for around-the-clock surveillance on the senator: “If Senator Rubio believes that millions of innocent Americans should be subject to intrusive and unconstitutional government surveillance, surely he would have no objections to the government monitoring his own actions and conversations,” Polis said.  

Rosenworcel calls for more Wi-Fi: FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was back on the stump calling for more unlicensed spectrum at the State of the Net conference on Tuesday. Rosenworcel, a Democrat, called Wi-Fi “an essential onramp for internet connectivity” and urged more work to free up the unlicensed airwaves on which Wi-Fi signals operate. “Unlicensed spectrum is our best bet for innovation,” she said. “It needs to move from the back bench to policy prime time.”

She outlined a three-pronged approach to maximize unlicensed spectrum. First, officials should find more areas to convert to unlicensed airwaves, she said, while also urging Congress to be more proactive. Rosenworcel also called for federal officials to go after companies that block others’ Wi-Fi signals, specifically criticizing Marriott for previously engaging in such practices.

New Dem to lead IT subcommittee: Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) will become the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight subcommittee on Information Technology. The new subcommittee was established this year and will be headed by freshman Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas). Kelly was reelected last year after first winning a special election in 2013 to replace former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr (D).

Small Web firms ask for exemption from some net neutrality rules: The American Cable Association, which represents smaller Internet providers, on Tuesday asked the FCC to exempt some companies from additional transparency requirements of possible new net neutrality rules. “The FCC should not burden small and medium-sized Internet Service Providers with additional enhanced transparency rules that are utterly unwarranted with regard to these operators,” trade group head Matthew Polka said in a statement. Forcing the smaller companies to comply with the possible provisions “would impose unworkable and costly burdens” on those companies, he added, without adding any benefit to consumers.

Net Neutrality won’t stop Google Fiber investment: After Google announced it will be rolling out its super-fast Internet network in four more cities, it told The Washington Post that strong net neutrality rules would not impact its future investment in what it calls Google Fiber.  

“The sort of open Internet rules that the [Federal Communications Commission] is currently discussing aren’t an impediment to those plans and they didn’t impact our decision to invest in Fiber,” the company said in a statement to The Post.

TV Freedom bulks up: TabletTV — which aims to bring broadcast television to people’s tablets — is the 29th member to join TV Freedom, the advocacy group announced on Tuesday. The coalition is often at odds with cable and satellite companies, and is comprised of broadcasters as well as groups like the Media Alliance and the Hispanic Institute. 


A House Science subcommittee is holding a hearing on supercomputing starting at 9 a.m.

At 10 a.m., Georgetown University’s Center for Business and Public Policy is holding a panel discussion on media mergers. 

Starting at 12:30 p.m., The American Enterprise Institute is holding a daylong conference on tech policy in 2015.  

At 1 p.m., the Center for Strategic and International Studies is holding an event to discuss how law enforcement agencies can cooperate to share digital evidence. 

At 2 p.m., Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) will outline his technology and communications agenda for 2015, during a speech at AEI

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affair Committee is holding a cybersecurity hearing at 2:30. 


Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) fired off his second letter to Uber on Tuesday asking for more details on the ride-sharing company’s privacy policies.

Lawmakers pressed officials about consumer data on Healthcare.gov being shared with outside companies during a Tuesday House hearing.

Federal regulators are concerned about how the billions of “smart” bracelets, cars, thermostats and other devices are creating new avenues to threaten people’s privacy

Hollywood is forgetting to include women scientists in its major blockbusters, according to a top White House tech aide.

Two Republican senators are hoping to shine a spotlight on the Commerce Department’s moves to hand off oversight of the system governing Internet addresses. 


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

Follow us on Twitter: @HilliconValley, @jmhattem

Tags Al Franken Deb Fischer Internet of Things John Thune Kelly Ayotte Marco Rubio Michael Burgess
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