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Tech Edge

Companies Win NSA Disclosures, And What Tech is Watching for in the State of the Union

January 28, 2014

Welcome to the National Journal's Tech Edge, a morning tipsheet with the news you need in technology policy, featuring a round-up 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 IN ONE PARAGRAPH: The government made a major concession to tech companies on Monday by allowing them to disclose more data about NSA spying. The State of the Net conference will feature discussions with top lawmakers and administration officials, and the tech world will watch President Obama's State of the Union address to get a sense of his priorities for the year. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet will hold a hearing at 2 p.m. on the scope of the "fair use" doctrine, which allows the use of copyrighted works without licenses in certain circumstances.


ADMINISTRATION, TECH AGREE ON DISCLOSURES: The Obama administration agreed on Monday to allow Internet companies to disclose more information about NSA surveillance of their users. Google, Facebook, Yahoo and the other companies agreed to drop their lawsuits, which claimed the government's gag orders violated their free speech rights. But under the deal, the companies will still be mostly limited to disclosing statistics in ranges of one thousand users. (Dustin Volz, NJ)


BUT TRANSPARENCY BATTLE NOT OVER: The tech companies said they will press Congress for more action on transparency. Sens. Al Franken and Dean Heller, who have introduced a bill that would require more NSA transparency, praised the administration's step, but said they will continue to push for expanded disclosures. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy also said legislative is still needed.

STATE OF THE NET: Expect the fallout from the DC Circuit's decision striking down net neutrality to be a major topic at the State of the Net conference at the Newseum. Tom Wheeler, Penny Pritzker, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, and Sens. John Thune and Rand Paul are all scheduled to speak.

Thune, the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, will push back against calls to expand federal regulation of the Internet.

"I honestly do not understand how anyone believes that laws designed for Ma Bell in the 1930's are appropriate for the Internet today," Thune will say, according to an excerpt from his planned remarks. "While there are fundamental goals that need to be preserved – such as universal service and public safety – as policymakers, we need to be open-minded about how to achieve those goals in the future without being bound by the strictures of the past."

STATE OF THE UNION: President Obama's State of the Union on Tuesday night will be an important opportunity to gauge the top items on his agenda. To help keep track at home, here are a few tech issues that he might touch on:

  • NSA spying - a hot button issue, but don't expect any major announcements beyond his speech earlier this month

  • Internet in schools - the president's plan to expand E-Rate is a key initiative that doesn't need congressional approval

  • Education - a likely topic in the speech and a priority for companies looking to boost the quality of their workforce

  • Immigration - Obama seems to be giving House Republicans room on one of his top goals for the rest of his term, but expect him to stress the issue's economic benefits

  • Patents - Obama took his own action against "patent trolls" last year and legislation has passed the House

  • Cybersecurity - It was a top issue for Obama in previous speeches, but now appears dead in Congress. His administration is moving ahead with its own voluntary standards.

  • Broadband - Obama occasionally touts the importance of expanding access to high-speed Internet networks

NADLER POISED FOR IP POST: The Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee will meet on Tuesday to pick new subcommittee assignments, according to an aide. New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler is expected to be named the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee for Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Subcommittee, taking over from Mel Watt.

HOUSE AIDES JOIN MPAA: The Motion Picture Association of America announced Monday that it has hired former congressional aides Patrick Kilcur and Ben Staub. Kilcur, a former staffer for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, will be a vice president of government and regulatory affairs. Staub, a former Democratic aide on the House Judiciary Committee, will be a director of government and regulatory affairs. They will both report to Neil Fried, a senior vice president who joined the Hollywood lobbying group last year from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

IT REFORM BILL UNVEILED: Reps. Anna Eshoo and Gerry Connolly proposed new draft legislation on Monday that aims to prevent the kind of technological problems that plagued the launch of Their bill would create a high-level White House office to oversee major IT projects and allow more small businesses to bid for IT contracts.


BITCOIN BIGSHOTS ARRESTED: Two bitcoin operators were arrested Monday on charges of laundering $1 million for the purposes of drug trafficking on the underground drug site Silk Road. (Dustin Volz, NJ)

LAWMAKERS WANT CLAPPER FIRED: House lawmakers led by Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa called for Obama to fire Director of National Intelligence James Clapper over false comments he made during a Senate hearing last year about NSA spying.

CABLE DEAL NEAR?: Comcast and Charter are reportedly near an agreement over how they would split up Time Warner Cable. But the deal is contingent on Time Warner Cable agreeing to sell itself to Charter—and regulatory approval. (Alex Sherman, Bloomberg)

VERIZON DATA OVERSEAS: Verizon's general counsel said the U.S. government has little authority to obtain the company's data stored abroad. (Verizon)

NET NEUTRALITY HITS THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Iowa Senate candidate Rep. Bruce Braley is urging his supporters to sign a petition supporting net neutrality. (Brendan Sasso, NJ)

TERRORISTS MIGHT BE ADDICTED TO ANGRY BIRDS, TOO: "I mean, look. Terrorists, proliferators, other bad actors, use the same communications tools that others use," said Jay Carney in response to a question about the highly addictive mobile app. (Volz, NJ)

POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENTS GET PERSONAL: Satellite TV services will experiment with targeted campaign advertisements during the midterm election season. (Brown, NJ)

APPLE IN THE POST-PC ERA: This graph illustrates how iPads conquered the Macbook. (Christopher Mims, Quartz)

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