OVERNIGHT TECH: Email privacy bills keep coming

THE LEDE: A bill that sets down restrictions on the government's access to emails in the United States and overseas is dividing some technology companies.  

The bill introduced by Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMeet Washington's most ineffective senator: Joe Manchin Lobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage MORE (R-Utah) on Thursday would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant if it wants a U.S. company to hand over customers' emails older than 180 days. The second part of the bill would allow the government to use a warrant to get access only to Americans' data stored overseas, but not from foreigners. A U.S. company could fight the government order if it would violate the foreign country's laws. It is cosponsored by Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.).


Hatch's proposal won support from companies like Apple, Microsoft, IBM and Verizon as well as trade groups like the App Association, The Software Alliance, and National Association of Manufacturers. They said the proposal would "advance global data flows while protecting the privacy of our data when requested by foreign governments."

The Internet Association, which represents companies like Google, Facebook and Yahoo expressed concerns, however. It took issue with its focus on where data is stored, which it warned might inspire host governments to clamp down on their operations and undermine online privacy. The Center for Democracy and Technology also expressed reservations last year.

"The Internet Association believes that an alternative approach focusing rules on a user's citizenship – rather than where the data is stored – can address these concerns," Internet Association president Michael Beckerman said. 

Meanwhile, a huge privacy advocate in the Senate, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), signed his name to a similar proposal that already has broad support from lawmakers in the House and Senate but does not include the overseas language . Updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to require a warrant for old emails has been supported broadly in Congress and among industry leaders.  

Both of those bills are also up against a third piece of legislation, the Online Communication and Geolocation Protection Act, which was introduced last week and would update ECPA to require a warrant both for obtaining online communications and to obtain geolocation data. "Really if we're going to reform the law, we want to do the full thing," Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) -- one of the bill's cosponsors -- told an industry group earlier this week  

Title II proponents huddle at FCC ahead of vote: Representatives from the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute and the Engine advocacy group brought tech startup heads to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Capitol Hill on Thursday to meet with regulators and members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. At the FCC, the groups met with Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and staffers of Chairman Tom Wheeler.

The meetings "will allow us to push for specific rules that are strong enough to prevent any form of [Internet service provider] discrimination and flexible enough to allow the FCC to preempt future threats to the open Internet," Engine's Evan Engstrom and OTI's Alan Davidson said in a joint statement.

Flake wants movement on tech-related immigration bill: Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has no illusions about moving a comprehensive immigration bill this Congress, calling it "extremely unlikely." He lamented his own party's moves on the Department of Homeland Security funding bill, but said it is a reaction to the "anger and mistrust" brought on by President Obama's executive action on deportations last year. Instead, Flake is pushing smaller pieces of reform, including one introduced by Sen. Hatch earlier this year that would more than double the yearly cap on high-tech visas.

Net neutrality bill paused until FCC vote: Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) doesn't expect to see much action on his net neutrality legislation until after the FCC votes later this month. "We're going to continue to discuss this," he told reporters in the Capitol on Thursday. "I think right now the critical thing is getting past the 26th, because right now everybody's kind of gone to their respective corners, and then maybe we'll have a better atmosphere for working on a solution."

"Hopefully by that time we'll have gotten through all the politics that goes on surrounding the FCC's order, and then maybe that will present an opportunity to actually legislate in this area," he added.

Committee passes FCC reporting bill: Legislation to combine a number of FCC reports into one unanimously passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday morning. "Today's vote is a crucial first step in reforming the FCC, a goal that is long overdue," bill author Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) said after the vote. "It is time for the FCC to operate in a manner consistent with the innovative era in which we live, and I am pleased that the committee agrees."

Thune, Wyden team up on trade bill: Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) brought back their legislation to change the way imports are taxed. Under current law, shipments of goods up to $200 are exempted from taxes, but items carried into the country can be worth up to $800 before taxes would go into effect. The Low Value Shipment Regulatory Modernization Act would change that by raising the exemption on shipped goods to $800, which the lawmakers said would level the playing field for online companies.

"Arbitrary and anachronistic customs rules that harm American consumers are a serious problem for the digital economy and all small businesses," Wyden said in a statement. "An Oregonian who carries goods on a plane shouldn't face different rules than if she buys them online and has them shipped home."

Not so family-friendly guy: The Parents Television Council wants people to file complaints to the FCC over this Sunday's episode of "Family Guy." The episode featured jokes about statutory rape and contained "sexually explicit dialogue," the anti-profanity group said. "We believe that joking about statutory rape, as 'Family Guy' did throughout this episode, exceeds contemporary community standards of decency for the broadcast medium," president Tim Winter said in a statement.

Post editorial board wants net neutrality bill: The Washington Post endorsed congressional action on net neutrality, rather than through the regulatory process at the FCC. The board said a bill floated by Republicans on the House and Senate Commerce committees has little chance of becoming law, but that shouldn't end the discussion.

"For years, the FCC has attempted to use old law to regulate broadband. The best way out of this mess is to create new law," the board wrote. "That would settle the jurisdictional question between the FCC and the FTC, and it would make net-neutrality rules legally unassailable."



The White House will hold a day-long summit on cybersecurity and consumer protection at Stanford University on Friday.

Georgetown University's Center on Privacy and Technology is holding an event on the "black box society" at noon.



House lawmakers are taking early steps to heed President Obama's call and institute new safeguards for information about students.

During a celebration of the Lunar New Year on Tuesday, China's Cyberspace Administration debuted an anthemic musical celebration of the country's Internet prowess.

A House Republican wants to prevent all federal employees from watching pornography at work.

Virtually every major tech industry trade group in Washington is rallying to urge Congress to pass "fast-track" trade authority.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Thursday took aim at the Federal Communications Commission's plan for net neutrality, expressing skepticism about the push to ban Internet "fast lanes."


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