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A Federal Judge (Reluctantly) Upholds NSA Phone Program - Brought to You by SoftBank

Welcome to National Journal's Tech Edge, a morning tip sheet with the news you need in technology policy, featuring a roundup of the best coverage and exclusive tips for the day ahead. Got this by forward? Sign up at

By Alex Brown (@AlexBrownNJ), Laura Ryan (@NJLJRyan), Brendan Sasso (@BrendanSasso), and Dustin Volz (@dnvolz)


TODAY'S TOP PARAGRAPH: A federal judge half-heartedly upholds the NSA's phone data collection program. The DOJ throws songwriters a bone and agrees to review the decades-old music licensing rules. AT&T begins to build its case for a merger with DirecTV. A Senate Judiciary Subcommittee will look at Sen. Al Franken's bill to ban stalker apps.


JUDGE RELUCTANTLY UPHOLDS NSA'S PHONE PROGRAM: A federal judge in Idaho dismissed a challenge Tuesday to the NSA's phone data collection program. Citing Smith v. Maryland (which held that there is no expectation of privacy in dialed phone numbers) and other cases, Judge B. Lynn Winmill, wrote that the "weight of the authority favors the NSA."

But Winmill seemed to invite the Supreme Court to overturn his decision. He said Judge Richard Leon wrote a "thoughtful and well-written decision" against the NSA that "should serve as a template" for a Supreme Court opinion. But Winmill concluded that his hands are tied until the Supreme Court overturns Smith v. Maryland.


SONGWRITERS WELCOME JUSTICE DEPARTMENT'S REVIEW OF DECADES-OLD ROYALTY PLAN : The Justice Department will review a consent decree that determines how ASCAP and BMI–the two biggest songwriters and publishers organizations–license music and, in turn, how much songwriters get paid. The Justice Department's decision is a win for the songwriters' organizations, who have been chafing under the consent decree restrictions as digital music services have gone mainstream and songwriters' incomes have dwindled.

The feud between songwriters and digital music services, specifically Pandora, came to a head earlier this year when a federal judge sided with Pandora in a lawsuit against ASCAP over how much the Internet radio service should pay in royalties.The regulations were initially introduced in the 1940's to ensure fair rates for radio stations, but ASCAP said in a statement Wednesday that the rules–last updated in 2001 "before even the iPod was introduced"–no longer fit today's digital music landscape.

GOOGLE WANTS EVERYONE TO ENCRYPT EMAILS: Google touted its own encryption practices to keep Gmail users' messages safer, while shining a light on other major email providers encryption standards, or lack thereof, in a new section of its transparency report yesterday. Encrypting emails is the best way to keep emails from being read while traveling to its intended recipient. According to Google's numbers, major services like Comcast and France's Orange do not encrypt any of their users' emails.

To fix this, Google wants to make encrypting easier for all web users and is planning a plug-in for its web browser, Chrome, that will encrypt emails from any email service. Comcast says it is also testing encryption and it will be rolled out in the near future.


AT&T SAYS DIRECTV DEAL WOULD HELP IT BUILD FIBER: AT&T told investors Tuesday that a merger with DirecTV would help the company build out its ultra-fast fiber connections to consumers' homes and compete better with the major cable providers. A combined AT&T-DirecTV could result in significant savings from reduced programming costs–which could drop as much as 20 percent–and allow the company to invest more in expanded broadband coverage, according to a filing with the SEC.

SENATE INTEL NEAR CYBER DEAL: Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said during a Bloomberg event that he and Chairman Dianne Feinstein are still discussing "just a couple of provisions" on their cybersecurity bill. Liability protection appears to still be the main sticking point. Chambliss said he is confident Majority Leader Harry Reid will allow a floor vote if there is strong bipartisan support in the Intelligence Committee.

But Chambliss warned it could be now or never on cybersecurity. "You're looking at a year from now, and I'm betting you nothing will have been done," he said.

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CHAMBLISS CRITICAL OF USA FREEDOM ACT: The Republican senator said he's confident in an ultimate deal on NSA reform legislation but that the House-passed USA Freedom Act "went a little bit too far" limiting bulk collection.


HEARING ANNOUNCEMENTS: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing next Wednesday on media ownership issues. The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on the NSA this Thursday afternoon.

NSA CHIEF DENIES (INTENTIONALLY) SPYING ON AMERICAN FACES: Adm. Mike Rogers confirmed the NSA collects images of foreigners, but insisted that they don't intentionally target facial images of Americans. (Sasso, Tech)

FCC'S WEBSITE CRASHED FOLLOWING JOHN OLIVER'S NET-NEUTRALITY RANT: The agency's comment system was overwhelmed by angry commenters, who were spurred into action by John Oliver's net neutrality monologue. (Sasso, NJ)

ADVOCACY GROUPS URGE SENATE TO PROTECT INTERNET TRANSITION: The ACLU, Public Knowledge, CDT and others want the Senate to block attempts by House Republicans to slow or kill the administration's plan to give up oversight of the Internet's address system.

SEC: BITCOIN ENTREPRENEUR OFFERED UNREGISTERED SHARES: Erik Voorhees will pay the SEC more than $50,000 after he was caught offering shares in his bitcoin websites without registering the offerings.

EU REGULATORS TRY TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO ENACT GOOGLE SEARCH-ERASE RULING: Privacy regulators from European Union states will appoint a subcommittee Wednesday to determine how to implement a court ruling that allows individuals to have personal information removed from Google search results. (Lisa Fleisher/Sam Schechner, WSJ)

THE SECRET SERVICE IS NOT AMUSED: The agency will start detecting sarcasm on social media posts using a software program, part of a plan to detect patterns in online chatter. (Aliya Sternstein, NextGov)

ALL TALK, NO WALK IN CHINESE CYBERSPYING CASE?: Nothing has happened two weeks after Attorney General Eric Holder promised to bring to justice five Chinese men for hacking U.S. computers. (Eileen Sullivan/Eric Tucker, AP)

ITI HIRES LOFGREN'S COMMS DIRECTOR: Duncan Neasham is joining the Information Technology Industry Council after three years working for the California Democrat.

APPLE ON BOARD WITH BITCOIN TRANSACTION APPS? After pulling the Blockchain app, Apple is now saying it allows apps that facilitate transaction of "approved virtual currencies." (Brian Fung, WaPo)


  • The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and Law will hold a hearing on "The Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014," at 2:30 p.m.

  • SpaceX President and CEO Gwynne Shotwell will make an address on "The Future of American Space Launch," at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council at 10:30 a.m.

  • Brookings Institution will hold a discussion on "Innovation, Internet Governance and Freedom of Expression around the World," with Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro at 10 a.m.

  • The Wilson Center will hold an event to mark the one-year anniversary of Edward Snowden's NSA leaks at 10 a.m.

  • The Brookings Institution will hold an event on the global implications of the NSA surveillance leaks at 1 p.m.

Don't Miss Today's Top Stories

Love it - first thing I read in the morning."

Amy, VP of Communications

I read the Tech Edge every morning."

Ashley, Senior Media Associate

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