OVERNIGHT TECH: NSA critics underwhelmed by Obama’s reforms

THE LEDE: Minor changes to the nation's spying laws aren't earning plaudits from the intelligence community's civil libertarian critics.  

The few administrative reforms unveiled by the Obama administration in a report on Monday hardly merit notice, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Schumer opted for modest rules reform after pushback from moderates Sanders, 50 Democrats unveil bill to send N95 masks to all Americans MORE (D-Ore.) said. "My first impression on reading this report is it's hard to see much 'there' there," he said in a statement. "When it comes to reforming intelligence programs and protecting Americans' privacy, there is much, much more work to be done."


Neema Singh Guliani, a lobbyist with the American Civil Liberties Union, said that the handful of limits on agencies' collection and storage of people's data "do no more than tinker around the edges." "The documents clearly show that the government continues to stand by a number of its troubling mass surveillance policies, despite mounting evidence that many of these programs are ineffective," she added. "The report released today underscores the need for action by Congress and the courts to fully reform the NSA."     

Similar disappointment came from the Electronic Frontier Foundation — which called the new reforms "weak" — and from the Brennan Center for Justice, where Elizabeth Goitein said the changes are far short of the "fundamental course correction" needed.

Obama's changes, which were included in a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, would add new limits to the National Security Agency's ability to hold onto data that was found to be irrelevant to one of six specific types of threats. The move would also add new transparency to National Security Letters sent by the FBI and elevate a new oversight review of spying on foreign targets.

But the move notably refrained from taking any action on the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone records, the most controversial program unveiled in Edward Snowden's trove of documents nearly two years ago. Privacy advocates have urged the administration to unilaterally end the program, though it has so far declined to do so. Instead, some lawmakers are eyeing the upcoming June 1 deadline to reauthorize a key provision of the Patriot Act as a moment for change.

With that deadline looming, "Congress will have to engage in a meaningful discussion about Americans' right to privacy," Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Former US attorney considering Senate run in Vermont as Republican The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sen. Kaine, drivers stranded in I-95 backup MORE (D-Vt.) said in a statement. Leahy authored the USA Freedom Act last Congress, which would have ended the NSA's phone records program and required the agency get data from private phone companies. On Tuesday, he promised to reintroduce that bill "soon."

Bill would ease restrictions on transparency reports: Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzNunes retirement move seen as sign of power shift in GOP Congress's latest hacking investigation should model its most recent Fox News Audio expands stable of podcasts by adding five new shows MORE (R-Utah) reintroduced a bill to give technology and service providers greater leeway when reporting the number of National Security Letters and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act orders they receive from the federal government for customer information. Companies are currently allowed to release an estimate of government orders it receives in bands of 1,000, after a number of technology companies came to an agreement with the Justice Department in 2013. The bill would lower that reporting number to ranges of 100. Broader surveillance reform packages, like the USA Freedom Act, have included a similar proposal.

No Plan B on Patriot Act reauthorization: A U.S. intelligence lawyer said the administration does not have a Plan B if lawmakers do not extend some provisions of the Patriot Act due to expire in June. But Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of Director of National Intelligence, said "we'll figure out what we're going to do" if the provisions are not extended, according to The Wall Street Journal. Reform advocates have seen the deadline as another opportunity to try and pass reforms to end the government's bulk collection of U.S. phone records.

Tech giants up against AGs, kids advocates, anti-piracy groups in Mississippi: Major tech companies have rallied around Google's fight against Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (D) in a fight over a subpoena for the way the search engine removes links to illegal or pirated content. But on the other side of the fight are 11 state attorneys general, the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition and a handful of Internet safety advocates. Defenders of the state's action say that it needs to be able to protect people on the Web from ads for illegal drugs and stolen content.

Google's lawsuit against Mississippi "involves the extent of each state Attorney General's right to investigate an interactive computer service provider's potential violation of state consumer protection laws and the extent of his or her ability to utilize civil administrative subpoenas in doing so," the attorneys general wrote in their friend-of-the-court brief. The immunity granted to companies like Google under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act "is not absolute," they added, and erodes under some state consumer protection laws.

Stop Child Predators, the Digital Citizens Alliance and other organizations feared in their brief that Google's services "are being used to facilitate distribution of unlawful content and products, and that Google may be profiting from this illegal activity." The company should not be able to cut off an investigation so early in its tracks, they added.

Google has claimed that the state effort is part of a coordinated campaign with the Motion Picture Association of America to reinstate strict copyright rules to prevent people from sharing protected material online — potentially at the expense of free speech on the Internet.

Advocates claiming early net neutrality victory: Advocates are already claiming an "awe-inspiring, unprecedented victory" on the FCC's forthcoming net neutrality proposal. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Wheeler has hinted and reports indicate that the proposal will reclassify broadband Internet similar to a utility to enforce stronger rules. In a release, the advocacy group Fight for the Future said "we will remain vigilant," however, for loopholes, as rules are expected to be circulated among the commissioners Thursday and voted on later this month.

Did FCC leave $22.5 billion on the table in spectrum auction?: new paper from the Phoenix Center makes the case that the FCC made some mistakes with its record-breaking $45 billion AWS-3 spectrum auction. A pair of mistakes may have caused the agency to miss out on an additional $22.5 billion, authors conclude. "Raising $45 billion is great, but leaving half that much on the table is an expensive mistake," co-author and think tank president Lawrence Spiwak said in a statement. 



Starting at 8 a.m., The Hill is hosting an event on securing the energy grid against cyber and physical threats. Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) and Rep. Ed WhitfieldWayne (Ed) Edward WhitfieldBottom Line Why Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog What Azerbaijan wants from Israel? MORE (R-Ky.) are both preparing to deliver remarks, following by a panel discussion featuring the Energy Department's Patricia Hoffman and Steven Kunsman, from ABB Inc.

At 10 a.m., the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communication and Technology will hold a markup on legislation to increase efficiency at the FCC.

At noon, The Brookings Institution will host Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Director of National Intelligence, to discuss reforms to U.S. surveillance since President Obama's speech last year.  



A municipal broadband network touted by President Obama just last month is taking issue with his plan to enact tough net neutrality rules.

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters Biden hits one-year mark in dire straits 'All or nothing' won't bolster American democracy: Reform the filibuster and Electoral Count Act MORE (D-Nev.) is putting his weight behind regulators' attempts to police the Internet like a utility.

Nearly half of young people say they would be more likely to vote in the 2016 presidential election if they could cast their ballot online, according to poll released Tuesday.

Some of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's four other commissioners have largely been left in the dark about new Internet rules.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider an update to the law managing the public's access to government records in one of its first legislative acts this year.


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

Follow us on Twitter: @HilliconValley@jmhattem