Democratic Attempt To Alter Spying Bill Falters
Democratic-backed language to regulate the Bush administration's anti-terrorism spying activities failed to get enough votes for Senate adoption this week. The language also would have denied telecommunications companies legal protections for helping the Bush administration spy on U.S. citizens without warrants dating back to 2001. The measure was offered by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., as the Senate debated legislation to overhaul the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Leahy offered the measure as an amendment to a FISA reform bill approved by the Intelligence Committee. Had the language been adopted, it essentially would have replaced the Intelligence proposal. But the proposal was rejected 36-60. The vote was a major defeat for Democrats, who said the Leahy measure would have done the best job of protecting U.S. citizens' constitutional rights. Republicans and the White House back the Intelligence bill, which also has the support of National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell.
Copyright Damages Will Be Debated In Private
Language in a bill to boost U.S. intellectual property enforcement will be the focus of a closed-door Capitol Hill roundtable Friday, sources told Technology Daily. The event will focus on a section of the bill that would increase statutory damages in copyright-infringement cases. Existing law provides for penalties of up to $30,000 for each non-willful violation and up to $150,000 per willful violation. Critics say the legislation would wrongly disaggregate parts of a compilation or derivative work to triple or quadruple damages. An e-mail to participants from a Copyright Office official said the purpose "is to hear about the actual experiences various stakeholders have had with [the damages statute] and to receive their views on whether it should be amended" either through the bill or another way. Also on the IP front, Senate leaders may schedule a patent debate on the floor for mid-February.
Search For GOP Backing Delays Net Neutrality Bill
Rep. Edward Markey is seeking a Republican co-sponsor of his upcoming bill on network neutrality in an effort to bolster its prospects upon introduction next month, multiple sources said. The bill will be aimed at preventing communications giants such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications from potentially blocking or degrading competing content or services carried over their high-speed Internet networks. Sources said Markey, D-Mass., delayed the measure's introduction from December to February partly to give himself more time to find backers from both parties. His office did not return calls. The observers said Markey has been courting the support of Reps. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., and Charles (Chip) Pickering, R-Miss., each of whom has previously expressed support for net neutrality. "He has been approached about the legislation [and] he is considering it," Pickering spokesman Brian Perry said.
FCC's Copps Vows To Fight For Wireless Choice
FCC member Michael Copps questioned whether voluntary steps that wireless carriers have taken to open their networks to competing applications and devices are sufficient. While he is encouraged that companies such as AT&T and Verizon Communications are moving in that direction, he hinted at regulations if warranted. Copps warned that carriers can use predatory pricing, onerous certification rules, service degradation and other tactics to dissuade competitors from utilizing their networks. "If voluntary initiatives bring consumers the kinds of choices and the kinds of freedoms that they've come to expect in other parts of the technology marketplace, fine, I will be fully supportive," Copps said during a panel discussion. "If not, then I will seek and I will push for a greater commission role in protecting consumers and in protecting entrepreneurs from the power of the giant telecom providers that now dominate the wireless market."
Tech Group Will Expand State Lobbying Activities
The technology industry group AeA announced plans to expand its state lobbying operation. AeA will increase the money spent on state lobbying to $6.2 million, which CEO Chris Hansen said is approaching half the operating budget. "It is the most substantial part of our budget," he said. The budget will be put toward contracting lobbyists in five states, hiring staff to advocate on environmental issues, and starting an online information-sharing network on state issues impacting the tech industry. The network will let members compare what various states are doing on tech issues. AeA currently has 20 lobbyists working in a dozen tech-oriented states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington. It has not decided which five states to add to its lobbying targets. The Information Technology Association of America and the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association, meanwhile, have agreed to merge.
Europe Seeks To Balance Online Ad Rights, Privacy
High-tech executives, privacy watchdogs and U.S. policymakers joined members of the European Parliament in a discussion of how to better protect online free speech while at the same time safeguarding consumer data. The hearing featured testimony from Microsoft, Google and Yahoo officials, as well as from FTC Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour, who disagreed with her agency's recent support of Google's multibillion-dollar buyout of the online advertiser DoubleClick. Merger critic Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center said European regulators "need to bring data protection into account" when reviewing that plan. "Trust between the user and the online service supplier cannot exist in a monopoly situation, yet Google's buyout of DoubleClick could create such a case," Portuguese Member of European Parliament Carlos Coelho warned during the hearing. Google's privacy counsel emphasized his company's commitment to privacy in a statement issued before the hearing.
Lawmakers Favor Outside Access To Legislative Data
The legislative process could become a lot more exciting if lawmakers get their way in freeing the data inside the Library of Congress' legislative Internet database so that independent Web sites can repackage the information. In November, the House Administration Committee asked the library to explore solutions for supplying the public with raw legislative information from the THOMAS database, committee spokesman Kyle Anderson said. "The library is looking into the resources that would be required to make this data available," spokesman Guy Lamolinara confirmed. A report to the committee is expected during the first part of the calendar year. "By providing an open legislative database to the public," sites could "better tap into the knowledge of the American people," said Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif.
Maryland Governor Seeks New Voting Machines
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is on a mission to secure funding for his state's plan to ditch touch-screen voting machines. O'Malley, a Democrat, signed legislation last year moving the state to a paper-based system. But many feared the state's budget woes would make it difficult for lawmakers to find the money needed to acquire new machines. The budget proposal O'Malley presented the General Assembly this month includes $6.8 million to buy optical-scan equipment. Kevin Zeese, the executive director of the advocacy group TrueVoteMD.org, said he is relieved that O'Malley's latest budget proposal includes funds for e-voting upgrades. "The money the governor is asking for is more than enough to carry us through the transition," Zeese said. "But we still need to make sure it gets through this legislative session." Maryland still plans to use its touch-screen system for the 2008 elections.