Overnight Tech: Senate gets late start on email privacy

LEDE: A hearing on email privacy Wednesday will be the Senate's first real step this year in a fight to reform a decades-old law that advocates want changed. 

Officials from the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are slated to testify. They previously expressed reservations that reform would cut off an important enforcement tool and have asked for accommodations. Additional testimony will come from reform advocates -- including Google, The Software Alliance and the Center for Democracy and Technology -- who oppose any carve outs and argue Congress has let reform languish for too long.  

"It is long past time for Congress to pass a clean version of S. 356," Google's Richard Salgado is expected to say. 


The issue concerns an update to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which currently allows law enforcement to use a subpoena, rather than a warrant, to compel Google and other service providers to hand over customer emails or other electronic communications if they are more than 180 days old. Legislation to close the loophole that treats old emails differently than recent ones is supported by a veto-proof majority in the House and more than 20 senators. 

But the bill has gone nowhere in the past few years as federal regulators and law enforcement have said it could cut off an important enforcement tool. The Justice Department previously testified that it supports closing the 180-day loophole, but also argues its power to subpoena service providers to hand over customer emails is important to civil litigation. The SEC has made similar arguments and asked Congress to create a process to allow agencies to obtain warrant-like court orders when investigating civil, rather than criminal, abuses. In a boost for advocates, the SEC admitted in April that it has not recently used the subpoena power to access old emails from providers. 

MICROSOFT CASE TO COME UP: A separate issue regarding the geographical limits of a U.S. warrant to access electronic communication is also expected to come up. Microsoft is fighting the government over a U.S. warrant that demands the tech company hand over a user's email account that is stored on a server located in Ireland. It has pressed Congress to clarify that portion of the law.  

HOW TO 'DISLIKE' A CANDIDATE: Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook is working on a "dislike" button after years of prodding, noting that not everything is good and should be liked. The new testing could have implications for the political world, as nearly every politician and candidate interacts on the platform. For example, Facebook prominently highlighted U.S. engagement during each presidential candidate's announcement earlier this year. That included tallies of posts, comments, shares and likes. Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 MORE saw the most engagement by far. But with a divisive figure like Trump, the dislike button could have added more insight into the tone of that conversation. 

AI COULD EVENTUALLY DETECT GRAPHIC IMAGES: Zuckerberg also predicted that in the next five years artificial intelligence advances will allow the company to automatically detect and shield graphic photos from sensitive users. He said it is an issue where "we can certainly do better." But he cautioned that some sensitive images can be important, including the photo of a young Syrian refugee boy's body that washed up on a Turkish shore which brought attention to the migrant crisis this month.  

TWITTER SUED OVER PRIVACY ALLEGATIONS: A lawsuit alleging Twitter is abusing its users' privacy was filed in a federal court in California this week. The suit alleges that Twitter eavesdrops on users' direct message chats by automatically scanning through those private chats and shortening hyperlinks with its own custom link that can be used for advertising analytics, according to reports. The plaintiffs allege Twitter's conduct violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, but Twitter called the charges meritless. 

PAYPAL PROCESSING US GAMBLING PAYMENTS AGAIN: Paypal is re-entering the online gambling market in the United States after leaving the U.S. industry in 2003, according to CNBC. More than a decade ago, Paypal stopped payment processing for U.S. gambling because of its merger with eBay and increased regulation around online gambling. The company said its step back into the industry is a pilot program that is meant to comply completely with evolving laws. Paypal has continued payment processing for online fantasy sports, which is legal in the United States.

TIM COOK TALKS PRIVACY: BuzzFeed spent some time in Tim Cook's ride on the way to a surprise store visit, and spoke with him about privacy concerns around Hey Siri, an always-on feature of the personal assistant. "First you can decide you don't want Hey Siri," Cook said. "But the real answer to that is that the information is held on the device and so it is not going back to Apple. Apple doesn't have access to it. So there's not privacy concerns I think, for most people, when the information is held on their device and they can encrypt it with their passcode." He added: "Hopefully people will look at our stance on privacy in general and know that we're not trying to operate outside of a fairly distinct line that we're drawing. I hope that people trust us to do the right thing there."

ADVOCACY GROUP TRIES TO COAX LAWMAKERS TO TALK COPYRIGHT IN THE VALLEY: House Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlattePress: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself USCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids MORE (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) announced last week they would hold an event in Nashville as part of their "listening tour" on copyright policy. The Internet Association, which reps Pandora, is hoping that tour has a stop in Silicon Valley. "In this new world, Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay area are just as much at the center of copyright as Nashville and Hollywood have been for decades," the group said in a letter. "Representing the world's leading Internet companies, the Internet Association would like to host your copyright review listening tour at the date of your choosing."

WP EDITOR TO FACEBOOK: Anne Kornblut, an associate editor at the Washington Post, has joined Facebook as Director of Strategic Communications. She's no stranger to technology, broadly: A recent Knight Fellow at Stanford, she was the main editor for the Post's Pulitzer-winning coverage of the Edward Snowden documents. Kornblut joins David Plouffe, Jay Carney and Chris Lehane as part of the migration from the political world to the tech industry. She will be based in California.

COPYRIGHT ALLIANCE GETS NEW CEO: The Copyright Alliance named Keith Kupferschmid as its new chief executive. He previously worked as the non-profit's general counsel and senior vice president. He replaces Sandra Aistars, who joined the faculty of George Mason University's law school. 


At 9 a.m., the FCC holds a workshop "that will examine the current state of robocall-blocking solutions, the steps industry is taking to protect consumers from unwanted robocalls, and potential solutions to caller ID spoofing."

At 10:15 a.m., the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony from agency officials on "reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act."

At 5 p.m., Intel is sponsoring an event called "big data, genome sequencing and the future of personalized medicine."


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is warning drone users that they can't fly the devices in cities where the Pope is visiting this month.

Twitter users are most frequently naming Mexico as the country they would move to if Donald Trump wins the White House. 

"The Late Show" host Stephen Colbert pressed Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court's ban on cameras in an interview Monday.

Facebook is joining a task force assembled by the German government to crack down on hateful content to the platform, part of a broader government effort to deal with a rise in racist posts directed at the record number of migrants trying to enter Europe.

Twitter on Tuesday made it easier for political campaigns to raise money by creating a way for supporters to donate directly through a tweet.


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