Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 22, 2014

December 19, 2014

Weekly Wrapup: Sony Pictures, CFPB Sues Sprint, and Senate GOP Rosters Change

Holiday vacations are fast-approaching for many, but before you jet off, here’s a roundup of some news and Technocrat posts this week.

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that it has determined that North Korea was behind the cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.
  • President Barack Obama said Sony Pictures had “made a mistake” in pulling the movie “The Interview.”
  • The White House’s announcement on Cuba included allowing commercial export of some communications devices and allowing telecommunications companies to establish infrastructure in Cuba so they can provide service.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Sprint, alleging the company billed wireless customers for unauthorized third-party charges over a roughly 10-year period.
  • There are some changes in store for the Republican rosters on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Judiciary Committee .
  • A group of 36 Democrats in the House and Senate wrote to Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler, saying it’s “time for action” on net neutrality rules.
  • The Senate confirmed FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly for a full five-year term that started July 1, 2014.
  • Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., wasn’t satisfied with Uber’s response to his letter where he raised privacy concerns.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it has an app to help the tipsy find a ride home.

Obama: Sony Pictures ‘Made a Mistake’ in Pulling ‘The Interview’

President Barack Obama said Friday that he thought Sony Pictures Entertainment “made a mistake” in pulling the movie “The Interview” from distribution.

Sony has been the subject of a massive cyberattack which the FBI blames on North Korea. The company reportedly recently cancelled the release of the film, after theater chains dropped plans to show it because of a threat of violence.

Obama said he was sympathetic to concerns Sony faced, saying it suffered significant damage and there were threats against employees.

But having said all that, “yes, I think they made a mistake,” he said at a news conference.

He said he wished the company had spoken to him before making the decision, saying he would have told them not to get into a “pattern in which you are intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.”

He also mentioned that he hoped Congress would work with the administration in the new year on “strong cybersecurity laws that allow for information-sharing across private sector platforms as well as the public sector” so that best practices are incorporated and attacks are prevented from happening in the first place.

But even as we get better, he said, hackers would get better too.

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” Obama said. That isn’t what America is about, he later added.

By Anne L. Kim Posted at 4:10 p.m.

FBI Says North Korea Responsible for Cyberattack on Sony Pictures

The FBI on Friday officially accused North Korea of conducting a recent cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, the effects of which have continued to be felt weeks after the hacking.

“As a result of our investigation, and in close collaboration with other U.S. government departments and agencies, the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions,” the FBI said in a statement.

In the statement, the FBI said it’s”deeply concerned” about how destructive the attack was on a private company and people who worked there.

From the FBI’s statement:

North Korea’s attack on SPE reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States. Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart. North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior. The FBI takes seriously any attempt—whether through cyber-enabled means, threats of violence, or otherwise—to undermine the economic and social prosperity of our citizens.

The FBI said it came to the determination that North Korea was responsible for the cyberattack based, in part, on three factors. From the FBI’s release:

  • Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks.

  • The FBI also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. government has previously linked directly to North Korea. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack

  • Separately, the tools used in the SPE attack have similarities to a cyber attack in March of last year against South Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by North Korea.

During a press conference later on Friday, President Barack Obama said the U.S. would respond “proportionally.” He also said there was “no indication” that North Korea was acting together with another country.

FCC Rejects Complaint That Saying “Redskins” on the Radio Is Obscene

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday rejected a request by George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf that it deny a license renewal for radio station WWXX over its broadcast of the term “Redskins.”

WWXX is run by Red Zebra Broadcasting, of which Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder is the primary investor.

Full story

By Anne L. Kim Posted at 11:14 a.m.
Telecom, Uncategorized

December 18, 2014

Group of 36 Democrats Call for Quick FCC Action on Net Neutrality Rules

A group of 36 House and Senate Democrats wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler Thursday,  saying it’s “time for action” on net neutrality rules, and that those rules should reclassify broadband service as a common carrier with “appropriate forbearance.”

The letter was led by Sen. Edward J. Markey, of Massachusetts, and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, of California, who have been calling for the FCC to reclassify broadband as a common carrier under Title II of the Communications Act.

It’s been nearly year since an appeals court struck down the bulk of the agency’s 2010 net neutrality rules and since then, millions of companies and constituents have articulated the “need for the Commission to use its authority to prevent broadband providers from engaging in discriminatory practices,” the lawmakers write.

“Many of us have previously written to you and urged the Commission to put the strongest possible rules on the books in order to ensure the health and vitality of the Internet for future generations,” they write, adding that the agency should reclassify broadband with “appropriate forbearance.” President Barack Obama has also urged this approach, they write.

“Everyone has spoken; now is the time for action,” they write.  “We urge you to act without delay to finalize rules that keep the Internet free and open for business.”

Report: No Consensus on Privacy Infrastructure by 2025

There isn’t a consensus on whether in the next decade we’ll have a commonly-accepted “privacy-rights infrastructure” that balances business innovation and individual privacy options, according to a report released Thursday by the Pew Research Center and Elon University.

It’s part of a project where more than 12,000 “experts and members of the interested public” were invited to share their thoughts on the “likely future of the Internet,” according to the report. Roughly 2,500 people responded to the privacy question. Thursday’s report is part of a series Pew and Elon University has been releasing on the future of the Internet and technology.

According to the report, 55 percent of respondents answered no while 45 percent responded yes to this question:

Will policy makers and technology innovators create a secure, popularly accepted, and trusted privacy-rights infrastructure by 2025 that allows for business innovation and monetization while also offering individuals choices for protecting their personal information in easy-to-use formats?

The report also lays out themes in the responses.

Interestingly, the idea that “public life is the new default” was a theme the report pointed out in both the affirmative and negative answers.

For those who didn’t think there would be a commonly-accepted privacy infrastructure in the next decade, the report sums up a common theme in their answers this way:

Living a public life is the new default. It is not possible to live modern life without revealing personal information to governments and corporations. Few individuals will have the energy, interest, or resources to protect themselves from ‘dataveillance’; privacy will become a ‘luxury.”

But the idea of a default public life was also marked out as a theme in the answers from those who did anticipate a privacy agreement by 2025. From the report:

Living a public life is the new default. People will get used to this, adjust their norms, and accept more sharing and collection of data as a part of life—especially Millennials and the young people who follow them. Problems will persist and some will complain but most will not object or muster the energy to push back against this new reality in their lives.

Another interesting theme the report describes among people who didn’t anticipate a privacy infrastructure in the next decade was the idea that different cultures have different views on privacy making it impossible for a consensus on “how to address civil liberties issues on the global Internet.”

December 17, 2014

CFPB Files Mobile ‘Cramming’ Lawsuit Against Sprint

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Sprint on Tuesday, alleging  the company made wireless customers pay for unauthorized third-party charges over a roughly 10-year period.

“Sprint’s flawed billing system allowed unscrupulous merchants to add unauthorized charges to wireless bills, and consumers ended up paying tens of millions of dollars in such charges,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in prepared remarks.

The company “unfairly charged its customers by creating a billing and payment-processing system that gave third parties virtually unfettered access to its customers’ accounts,” which let third parties “cram” unauthorized charges onto bills, according to the lawsuit. Sprint automatically enrolled customers in the third-party billing system without them knowing and without consent and kept “operating its flawed system despite numerous red flags,” the complaint states.

Full story

Report Looks at Broadband Competition at Different Speeds

ESA Report 445x296 Report Looks at Broadband Competition at Different Speeds

(Source: Commerce Department Economics and Statistics Administration)

While consumers have multiple Internet service providers to choose from at lower broadband speeds, “this number dwindles at higher speeds,” according to a new report by the Commerce Department’s Economics and Statistics Administration

The report was based on data from the Census Bureau and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Full story

By Anne L. Kim Posted at 12:49 p.m.

Senate Confirms FCC’s O’Rielly

Before the 113th Congress ended, the Senate on Tuesday night approved a raft of nominees by unanimous consent. Among them was the nomination of the Federal Communications Commission’s Michael O’Rielly for another term on the panel.

O’Rielly, who’s been a commissioner since November 2013, was confirmed by the Senate last year to serve a partial term – what was left of former commissioner Robert McDowell’s term, which ended June 30 of this year. On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed O’Rielly for the full five-year term that started July 1, 2014.

Before joining the commission, O’Rielly was a long-time GOP Hill aide, including as policy adviser for Sen. John Cornyn’s, R-Texas, Republican whip ‘s office.

December 16, 2014

NHTSA Has New App to Help the Tipsy Find a Ride Home

During the height of the holiday party season, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that they have an app to help people who’ve been drinking call a cab or a friend to get them home.

Called SaferRide, the app is available for Android devices, and NHTSA says in a release that it will help “keep drunk drivers off our roads by allowing users to call a taxi or a friend and by identifying their location so they can be picked up.”

The description for the app on Google Play says users can call taxis from a list of services in the area and also call a “pre-programmed contact.”

And the description includes this: “If you just need to know where you are, you can bring up a map of your current location.” So, apparently, if you’re too drunk to know where you are, this app might help.

On a more serious note, the announcement for the app came as NHTSA started its “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign.

“We’re making progress in the fight against drunk driving by working with law enforcement and our safety partners, and by arming people with useful tools, such as our new SaferRide app,” said NHTSA’s Deputy Administrator David Friedman in a statement.

It looks like NHTSA isn’t alone in the anti-drunk driving app department. The Governors Highway Safety Association pointed to a couple state anti-drunk driving mobile apps on Tuesday, like Maryland’s ENDUI app, which the Associated Press reported was funded by NHTSA. California also has an app targeted at designated drivers.

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