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OpenMarket: Tech and Telecom

  • Net Neutrality Questions FCC Commissioners Need to Answer

    November 16, 2015 4:56 PM

    In a House Energy & Commerce Committee oversight hearing on Tuesday, November 17, all five Federal Communications Commissioners will testify. Net neutrality, the FCC’s broad push to control both the infrastructure and content of tomorrow’s Internet, with full support of America’s left-wing, will be a lead topic.

    The debate over net neutrality has been done to death and elements are subject to legal challenge. Yet even Republicans can’t let go of wanting to regulate boogeymen like so-called “throttling” and “discrimination,” so in that respect they have themselves improperly conceded a moral victory and undermined the advance of free, competitive enterprise and consumer welfare in infrastructure wealth.

    All this mess and distraction at a time when Congress needs to dismantle the FCC altogether.

    I think the best approach for the members is to frame all questions from the right perspective: that FCC’s entire purpose is outdated and its intervention destabilizing, anti-technology, anti-infrastructure—and just plain anti-Internet, and anti-neutral, for that matter.

  • CFPB's Database Should Be Bipartisan Privacy Concern

    November 12, 2015 4:43 PM

    ​The behemoth Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) played a big role in Tuesday night’s GOP presidential debate on Fox Business, both during the commercials and in the candidate’s answers.

    A new ad by American Action Network that made its debut during commercial break correctly linked the CFPB—created by the Dodd-Frank so-called financial reform act rammed through Congress in 2010—to denial of mortgages and car loans due to the CFPB’s costly and paternalistic rules that hit Main Street bank and credit unions. The candidates critical of Dodd-Frank dinged those same policies, but often without naming the CFPB.

    Carly Fiorina called out the CFPB directly and for another disturbing policy. She pointed out that the CFPB is an entity with “no congressional oversight that is digging through hundreds of millions of your credit records.”

    The “digging” refers to CFPB’s massive database of mortgage and credit card info that rivals that of the National Security Agency in both size and intrusiveness. As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal, “Every month the CFPB … gathers data on 22 million mortgages, 5.5 million student loans, two million bank accounts with overdraft fees, and hundreds of thousands of auto sales, credit scores and deposit advance loans.” My Competitive Enterprise Institute colleague Iain Murray and I have been writing about the troublesome database and its threat to privacy since the CFPB created it more than two years ago.

  • Passcode for Liberty: Why the Government Shouldn't Restrict Encryption (Video)

    November 4, 2015 4:43 PM

    Most Americans own a smartphone and use cloud computing services such as Gmail, Dropbox, and Facebook. Increasingly, we store sensitive data on our devices and in the cloud—but is it safe?

    On Tuesday, October 20, 2015, the Competitive Enterprise Institute held a briefing to discuss the current debate over data encryption. It was moderated by CEI Associate Director of Technology Studies Ryan Radia. Watch the video below:

  • As Senate Cybersecurity Vote Nears, CISA Remains Seriously Flawed

    October 26, 2015 9:13 PM

    This week, the U.S. Senate will vote on the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act. Also known as “CISA,” the bill aims to improve cybersecurity by making it easier for companies and the government to share information about potential cyber threats with each other. (The latest version of CISA is here; a package of amendments slated to be voted on is here.) But CISA suffers from a serious flaw that Senate lawmakers have repeatedly ignored: the bill doesn’t put agencies on the hook if they misuse information shared with them in the name of cybersecurity.

    CISA’s basic premise—that information sharing can improve cybersecurity—makes sense, as I’ve long argued. Every day, big Internet companies deal with all kinds of cyber attacks, many of which target data that providers store on their customers’ behalf. Internet firms learn from the attacks they experience, and over time, they can improve the resiliency of their systems. Similarly, the more willing companies are to share information about cyber threats with federal agencies upon request, the better the government will be equipped to investigate and punish cyber criminals.

  • What Will a Chaffetz Speakership Mean for Internet Freedom? Part 2

    October 8, 2015 12:23 PM

    Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz recently threw his hat in the ring in a bid to replace Speaker John Boehner, after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) gaffe regarding the Benghazi investigation made the race far more open. As my colleague Jessica Melugin notes, Chaffetz considers himself one of the more tech-savvy members of Congress and a strong defender of the Tenth Amendment.

    Yet, Chaffetz has twice introduced the Restoration of America’ Wire Act (RAWA, H.R. 707), which would allow the federal government to overturn state laws that govern a wholly intrastate activity. Internet gambling has been around since the day the Internet made it into American homes. And Republican lawmakers have been trying to ban it—without much luck. So much for state sovereignty.

    There is no federal law directly governing Internet gambling, so the task has been left to the Department of Justice to interpret existing federal gaming laws. During the Clinton administration, DOJ defined online sports betting as unlawful. Then during George W. Bush’s administration, DOJ determined that all online gambling was illegal under U.S. law—an interpretation that held until 2011 when, pressed by state lotteries, the Obama DOJ returned to the previously held understanding: As long as the gambling is intrastate and not related sports betting, it is not illegal under federal law.

    This opened the door for states to legalize intrastate online gambling. Three states—New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada—have done so. In addition, more than a dozen states have some form of lottery games available online.

    Unsurprisingly, casino magnate and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson has poured millions of dollars into promoting legislation meant to crush the burgeoning online competition to his business. What is surprising is who in Congress is now pushing his federalism-trampling bill.

  • What Will a Chaffetz Speakership Mean for Internet Freedom?

    October 8, 2015 11:33 AM

    With House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) gaffe regarding the Benghazi investigation, the race to replace outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appears much more open. Days later, Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz seized the opportunity to announce his own bid for the Speaker’s gavel. The second-term congressman considers himself one of the more tech-savvy members of Congress, but how might a Chaffetz Speakership affect Internet freedom?

  • Court Upholds Legality of NSA's Bulk Collection of Telephone Records

    August 31, 2015 4:35 PM

    On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit handed down its much-awaited ruling in Obama v. Klayman, one of several lawsuits challenging the legality of the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. In 2013, the District Court for D.C. issued a preliminary injunction after it found the plaintiffs were “substantially likely” to show that the NSA was collecting their telephone records in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The D.C. Circuit disagreed with this conclusion, reversing the preliminary injunction and sending the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.

    Although the D.C. Circuit’s decision in Klayman has major implications for future cases about government surveillance, it won’t immediately affect the NSA’s bulk collection program. When the District Court in D.C. granted the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction, the court decided to “stay” its preliminary injunction pending an appeal—meaning the NSA could continue its bulk collection while the lawsuit made its way through the federal courts. This process has taken longer than expected, with nearly two years elapsing since the preliminary injunction issued in December 2013.

  • Did North Dakota Just Authorize Pepper-Spraying Police Drones?

    August 27, 2015 1:26 PM

    The Daily Beast’s Justin Glawe has written an article about a North Dakota law aimed at limiting law enforcement use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones. He claims that the law was watered down by police interests and corporate lobbyists, and that the weakened protections now authorize law enforcement’s use of non-lethal UAS-mounted weapons:

    With all the concern over the militarization of police in the past year, no one noticed that the state became the first in the union to allow police to equip drones with “less than lethal” weapons. House Bill 1328 wasn’t drafted that way, but then a lobbyist representing law enforcement—tight with a booming drone industry—got his hands on it.

    The bill’s stated intent was to require police to obtain a search warrant from a judge in order to use a drone to search for criminal evidence. In fact, the original draft of Representative Rick Becker’s bill would have banned all weapons on police drones.

    Then Bruce Burkett of the North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association was allowed by the state house committee to amend HB 1328 and limit the prohibition only to lethal weapons. “Less than lethal” weapons like rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, sound cannons, and Tasers are therefore permitted on police drones.

    Scary stuff, right? I certainly don’t want the police to have armed UAS—whether they be deployed with lethal or non-lethal weapons—and requiring warrants is a good first step. But based on a reading of the statute in question, it does not appear to do what Glawe and others claims it does.

  • Senate Prepares to Vote on Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA)

    August 5, 2015 12:59 PM

    Today, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), which is a serious threat to civil liberties and privacy.

    CEI’s Ryan Radia offered these thoughts:

    CISA doesn’t provide any meaningful deterrent against government agencies using information they receive from companies in ways that exceed the uses authorized by the Act. Although CISA requires agencies to issue guidelines that are supposed to prevent the misuse of information shared under the Act, this is hardly reassuring. Agencies violate their own internal procedures and guidelines all the time with impunity, from the IRS to the State Department.

    That’s why it’s critical that any cyber information sharing legislation include a provision that gives relief to individuals injured by governmental misuse of information shared by companies. In this Congress, and in the last two Congresses, the House passed cyber threat information sharing legislation that allowed injured parties to sue the government for damages (i.e., a waiver of sovereign immunity). Another approach to deterring misconduct, used in the Wiretap Act, would bar the government from using evidence in court that is derived from shared cyber threat information for purposes beyond those allowed by the bill. Either a waiver of sovereign immunity or a suppression remedy needs to be included in any bill that liberalizes information sharing, or else companies won’t be able to meaningfully ensure that the government doesn’t use information they share with it for impermissible purposes.

    Read more on CISA:

    CISA Steps into the Limelight with a Manager’s Amendment and Agency Discontent

  • FCC Ignores Rule of Law in Attempt to Fine AT&T for Throttling Wireless Users

    June 17, 2015 8:37 PM

    Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), on a three-to-two vote, found that AT&T violated federal regulations by failing to disclose that it was throttling certain wireless customers on an “unlimited” data plan. The FCC claims AT&T owes a $100 million fine. This announcement follows a lawsuit filed in October 2014 by another federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), arguing that AT&T violated federal consumer protection law by throttling its unlimited data plan customers. AT&T has pledged to take both agencies to court to defend itself against these allegations.

    By way of background, for many years, AT&T and many other wireless providers offered data plans—used for Internet browsing, email, video, and so forth—on an all-you-can eat, unlimited basis. These plans let customers transmit and receive as much information as they wish, without facing overage charges for downloading too much data.

    However, in mid-2010, AT&T stopped offering unlimited data plans to new customers. For existing customers on an unlimited plan, AT&T allowed them to stay “grandfathered” on their old plans. Then, in 2011, AT&T began throttling the throughput—commonly known as “speed”—of its highest users of unlimited data plans. This throttling didn’t stop any customers from using as much data as they wanted, but it did substantially degrade a fraction of AT&T customers’ connectivity.

    Had AT&T not told anybody about this throttling, it would clearly run afoul the FCC’s transparency rule, which was issued in 2010 and upheld on judicial review by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2014.

    Yet AT&T did disclose its behavior to customers and the public through various means:

    • AT&T issued a press release in 2011, which over 2,000 news outlets covered;
    • AT&T included an insert explaining its new policy in the bills of unlimited data customers;
    • AT&T posted an informational page on its website explaining the throttling, and linked to this page on the AT&T Wireless homepage;
    • AT&T modified its service contract in August 2012 to mention the potential throttling of heavy users;
    • AT&T sent text messages to heavy unlimited data users in the months before it began throttling to warn such users that they would face throttling in future months; and
    • AT&T sent text messages to heavy unlimited data users after it began throttling, warning such users that their usage was approaching the threshold where throttling would begin and explaining how to change to a different plan to avoid throttling

    A majority FCC, however, found that none of these disclosures were enough, because some customers might have missed all of them and simply assumed that “unlimited” meant not only unlimited usage, but unlimited throughput, too. But as dissenting FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai argued in his dissent, unlimited data and unlimited speed aren’t the same—and AT&T never promised its customers they would enjoy both. 


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