Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 28, 2014

November 26, 2014

Senate Cybersecurity Vote Not Likely in Lame Duck

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has acknowledged that a Senate vote on her cybersecurity bill likely isn’t going to happen before the 113th Congress ends, according to a story (subscription) by CQ Roll Call’s Rob Margetta.

Margetta writes that the bill’s backers have been making “last-minute pitches” as the end of the 113th Congress nears, but the bill hasn’t moved in the Senate (It was marked up by the Intelligence panel back in July):

Authorization legislation has remained low on the priority list for years, even while Congress has pointed to cybersecurity as a priority for the nation. But the bill’s supporters are also fighting a perception that the bill’s tangled up in surveillance issues that may make it seem too complicated to be passed.

Leaders of the House Intelligence panel at a recent hearing tried to separate the issues of surveillance and cybersecurity, Margetta reports. The cybersecurity measures in both chambers deal with cyberthreat information sharing between the private sector and government.

Margetta writes:

But in a Congress where surveillance has been a buzzword for the past two years, and where members have constantly been hearing from companies that say they’re worried about losing customers angry about government intrusions, the idea of handing over any more data has run into resistance — even if the bill’s architects stress that they specifically don’t want to collect information on people.

November 25, 2014

Leahy Writes Visa and MasterCard on Cyberlockers

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee wants Visa and MasterCard to stop providing payment processing services to leading cyberlockers and any other websites “dedicated to infringing activity.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., wrote to the heads of the two companies Tuesday, and refers to a report by NetNames for Digital Citizens Alliance released this fall that stated that cyberlockers “peddling stolen content are making nearly $100 million in annual revenues,” and that Visa and MasterCard were payment options on 29 of the 30 sites it looked at.

The companies’ participation “unwittingly contributes to these websites’ viability,” Leahy writes in his letters.

While the companies have long had policies barring use of cards for illegal activities, “further work is clearly needed,” Leahy writes.

He writes his letter to MasterCard, which is repeated in his letter to Visa:

The cyberlockers listed in the NetNames report bear clear red flags of having no legitimate purpose or activity. I ask MasterCard to swiftly review the complaints against those cyberlockers and to ensure that payment processing services offered by MasterCard to those sites, or any others dedicated to infringing activity, cease.

Study Indicates Most Internet Users Understand Concept of Net Neutrality

According to a survey by Pew Research Center, the majority of Internet users correctly identified what the concept of net neutrality refers to.

The online survey released Tuesday – which quizzed roughly 1,000 Internet users between Sept. 12 and 18 – asked a number of questions, like whether Twitter has a 140 character limit and whether the Internet and the World Wide Web are the same.

One of the questions asked what net neutrality refers to, and according to Pew, 61 percent selected the correct answer from four options: “Equal treatment of digital content by internet service providers.”

Another 12 percent incorrectly chose the answer “The postings on websites that are nonpartisan” and 13 percent selected “A promise by users of some websites that they will not make critical comments.”

“The way Wikipedia editors are instructed to handle new entries on their site” was an answer selected by six percent of respondents and nine percent didn’t answer the question at all.

The percent of respondents who correctly answered a privacy-related question was much lower.

The survey found that only 44 percent of Internet users are “aware that when a company posts a privacy statement, it does not necessarily mean that the firm actually keeps in information it collects on users confidential.”

The majority – 52 percent – incorrectly answered that this statement was true: “When a company posts a privacy policy, it ensures that the company keeps confidential all the information it collects on users.”

November 24, 2014

Next Week: SCOTUS Hears Case on Threats Via Facebook

It’s a slow week in D.C. for tech policy with the Thanksgiving holiday right around the corner. But next week, when things kick into gear again, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case involving threats issued via Facebook and the First Amendment.

Both The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post had stories Sunday on the case that’s scheduled to be argued on Dec. 1.

The Washington Post writes: “In its first examination of the limits of free speech on social media, the Supreme Court will consider next week whether, as a jury concluded, [Anthony] Elonis’s postings constituted a “true threat” to his wife and others.”

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The appeal, up for arguments on Dec. 1, presents a vexing legal issue courts have long struggled to settle, and it does so when what people say can reach a bigger audience than ever before through social media. Although social-media companies have rules for managing individual speech online, the outcome could affect the leeway people have to express themselves, even darkly and violently, on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other sites.

NPR and Slate had a rundowns on the case earlier this year.

From Slate, earlier this year on the legal nitty-gritty:

The case deals with an area of First Amendment law known as “true threats.” These kinds of threats are unprotected under the First Amendment. The trick is figuring out whether Elonis’ speech was a true threat or not. At his trial, the jury was told that the legal standard for whether something is an unprotected “true threat” is if an objective person could consider Elonis’ posts to be threatening. Elonis claims that the correct test should look at whether he intended for the posts to be understood as threats. He also argues that his rap lyrics are important protected speech, no different from the rap lyrics created by the great artists.

By Anne L. Kim Posted at 3:11 p.m.
Social Media

November 21, 2014

Weekly Wrapup: Surveillance, Immigration and Satellite Television

It was a busy week, with the Senate rejecting moving forward with a surveillance overhaul bill, President Barack Obama announcing executive actions on immigration and Congress sending a satellite television bill to the White House.

Full story

By Anne L. Kim Posted at 4:53 p.m.

‘Integration Ban’ On Its Way End, Process to Start Working Group to Start Immediately

A five-year satellite television reauthorization bill is on its way to the President after both the House and Senate passed the measure this week, and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said he would immediately start the process of forming a working group required in the bill to look into a next generation follow-on to the CableCARD.

The bill would repeal the so-called “integration ban” one year after the bill is enacted. As CQ Roll Call’s Daniel Peake writes (subscription), this is the requirement that cable and satellite set-top boxes use a common device (the CableCARD) for signal decryption:

CableCARD was developed in an effort to help independent manufacturers of set-top boxes and other electronics to compete against cable and satellite companies by eliminating the need for the specific set-top box provided by the cable or satellite operator.

The bill Congress sent to the President Thursday also would require Wheeler, within a month-and-a-half of the bill’s enactment, to create a working group of technical experts to recommend performance objectives and technical standards of a “not unduly burdensome, uniform, and technology- and platform-neutral software-based downloadable security system designed to promote the competitive availability of navigation devices…” The panel would be required to submit recommendations to the FCC within nine months of the bill’s enactment.

“We’re gonna move now,” Wheeler told reporters Friday in answering a question about whether the group would be commenced immediately, assuming the President signs the bill.  He noted that the agency first has to go through a process under existing law to form such a council, but said that the agency would start that process now.

On Thursday, Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., wrote to Wheeler  saying the FCC should work to ensure a “competitive set top box marketplace” and to do so, would need to “require a new simpler, cheaper and more efficient standard of common reliance embedded in all set top boxes.”

They called on the FCC to issue rules for a new standard, and fast:

If STELAR becomes law, we urge the FCC to immediately convene this working group and, following the group’s conclusion, quickly commence a rulemaking so that a new standard can be developed without delay. Without strong FCC action, consumers may be left with no choice but to rent set top boxes from their cable providers in perpetuity, which is akin to the days when consumers had no choice but to rent their rotary dial telephone from the telephone company.

Roundup: President’s Immigration Executive Actions and Tech

President Barack Obama announced his long-awaited executive actions on immigration on Thursday, and CQ Roll Call’s Steven Dennis has the details of the executive actions here.

Reuters lays out parts of the plan that affect the tech industry and reports that “tech industry insiders said the changes, while positive, were limited.” From Reuters:

President Barack Obama plans to make life a little easier for some foreign tech workers, but Silicon Valley representatives are disappointed his immigration rule changes will not satisfy longstanding demands for more visas and faster green cards.

The Wall Street Journal notes:

Mr. Obama’s plan contained only minor benefits for businesses that crave more visas for foreign workers and which have lobbied unsuccessfully for action in Congress. A new program will expand immigration options for foreign entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria. But White House officials said they opted against a plan, favored by high-tech companies, to make visas available from those unused in prior years, after concluding they couldn’t justify it legally.

The Los Angeles Times reports that tech leaders in “Silicon Valley and the Southland collectively reacted to President Obama’s national address with a shrug and a slight smile. But nobody’s jumping for joy.”

More from the Los Angeles Times:

That’s because presidential orders on immigration cannot address the problems that trouble technology companies most: tight limits on temporary visas for high-skilled workers, and a cumbersome system for achieving “green card” permanent resident status they say causes too many talented workers to give up and go back home. Congressional action is required to fix those.

By Anne L. Kim Posted at 9:08 a.m.

November 20, 2014

Culberson to be Next House C-J-S ‘Cardinal’

rogers 001 040914 445x297 Culberson to be Next House C J S Cardinal

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., left, and Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, at a markup in the Rayburn Building on April 9. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Texas Republican John Culberson is slated to become the next chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee and on Thursday he signaled that he’ll be a booster for NASA and the National Science Foundation.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., announced on Thursday the 12 House Appropriations subcommittee chairman (known as “cardinals”) approved by the House Republican Steering Committee.  Among them: Culberson for the panel that has jurisdiction over funding for NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Full story

State-of-Play on Online Sales Tax Legislation

CQ Roll Call’s Sarah Chacko gives the state-of-play on online sales tax legislation in the latest Roll Call Policy Focus.

Chacko writes:

Though the Senate appears ready to pass a second bill allowing states to require online retailers to collect sales taxes on purchases made by their residents, House leaders seem intent on keeping the issue out of an end-of-Congress rush for action.

The Senate passed legislation by Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., in May of 2013. Chacko writes that Enzi has another bill queued up on the Senate floor that would combine the sales tax provisions with a 10-year extension of the Internet tax moratorium.

She writes:

Supporters of the measure hope for final action by the end of the year.

The House, though, is more difficult for them. Republican leaders back an extension of the Internet access tax moratorium, but Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia want to handle the issue separately from online sales taxes. Earlier this month, a Boehner spokesman said the Senate sales tax bill is as good as dead.

The access tax moratorium is set to expire, along with government funding, on Dec. 11, but House leaders might attach it to another stopgap spending bill or legislation to continue expiring tax breaks.

For more on “origin sourcing,” the “destination-source method,” the different congressional landscape for next year, and what the online sales tax issue has to do with potential gas tax hikes in Maryland and Virginia, read the rest of the story  here.

November 19, 2014

Lynch, Unhappy With Postal Service Data Breach Response, Mulls Legislation

After a data breach affecting roughly 800,000 U.S. Postal Service employees was made public earlier this month, the ranking Democrat on a House Oversight & Government Affairs subcommittee signaled he was thinking about legislation that would require automatic disclosure.

Stephen F. Lynch, D-Mass. said at a Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and the Census Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday that he was “disappointed” with the Postal Service’s response, arguing employees should have been notified earlier.

Employees should be notified as soon as it’s known that personally identifiable information has been compromised, Lynch said at the hearing.

Under the Postal Service’s plan, a U.S. government agency could have Social Security numbers of all its employees compromised, and it decides based on its own interests when they’ll be notified, he said.

“That doesn’t work,” he said.

“We gotta figure something out,” Lynch said in questioning Randy Miskanic, vice president of the U.S. Postal Service’s Secure Digital Solutions group. “Maybe it’s legislatively we need… mandate this, but you have to be more forthcoming with the people that you’re supposed to be protecting than you have been in this case.”

Full story

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