TechFreedom is starting 2014 strong. We’ve had our hands full with some of the biggest technology policy news in years: In the same week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out most of the FCC’s Net Neutrality regulations, and President Obama took a few (cautious) steps towards reforming mass surveillance. We’ve also had some big victories on other issues, and have a lot of exciting stuff coming up soon!
Whatever Doesn’t Kill the FCC Makes it Stronger
Last week, the D.C. Circuit Court struck down the major provisions of the FCC’s Open Internet Order, commonly referred to as Net Neutrality. Initially, most pundits viewed it as a major blow to the open Internet, declaring “Net Neutrality is dead” and that we will now see “the end of the Internet as we know it.” We’ve always been skeptical of such claims, but this time, we were the first to explain what the decision really meant: the ruling actually increased the powers of the FCC and state governments over the Internet. That concern is now gaining serious traction.
- As we said in our initial response to the ruling, “The FCC may have lost today’s battle, but it just won the war over regulating the Internet. By recognizing Section 706 as an independent grant of statutory authority, the court has given the FCC near limitless power to regulate not just broadband, but the Internet itself.”
- Our op-ed in Wired drove the point home: “The FCC’s broad new powers should worry everyone, whatever they think of net neutrality. Because beneath the clever rallying cries of ‘net neutrality!’ lurks a wide range of potential issues. Most concerns are imaginary or simply misplaced. The real concerns would be better addressed through other approaches — like focusing on abuses of market power that harm competition.”
- We’ve gained a lot of media attention for being among the first to recognize the real implications of the ruling, including in Adweek, Forbes, Watchdog, GovHealthIT, Wired, and NPR.
Minor Reforms to NSA Mass Surveillance
In a highly-anticipated address, President Obama announced a number of reforms to the federal government’s unconstitutional mass surveillance programs. While his claims that he would “end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists,” are clearly overblown, some of the reforms — especially only allowing NSA analysts to investigate people two degrees of separation, or “hops,” from its targets, rather than the previous three hops — will do a lot to rein in the scope of surveillance.
- TF President Berin Szoka responded: “The reforms announced today will certainly help address some of the greatest privacy concerns raised by U.S. surveillance. But the speech will probably be remembered most for the much-needed reforms it didn’t announce.” For example, the president will continue to let the NSA investigate suspects if they have a “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity, rather than the constitutionally-required standard of “probable cause.”
- In The Hill, we lamented Obama’s “deafening” silence on requiring the NSA to show probable cause for accessing telephone records or requiring law enforcement to get a warrant for searching email contents. The latter, ECPA reform, is an essential step towards any larger privacy reforms. It was also endorsed by the 107,000 people who signed our Whitehouse.gov petition. The Administration is required to issue an official reply. It’s been over five weeks, and we’re still waiting.
Over 10,000 Demand End to FDA Crackdown on 23andMe
Thanks to supporters like you, our 23andUs petition reached its goal! Late last year, the FDA ordered home genetics testing company 23andMe to cease marketing its diagnostic service, which informed customers about their predispositions to a wide variety of health issues. In response, we launched a Change.org petition to demand the FDA stop bullying home genetics testing services. Over 10,000 people have now signed on, uniting in opposition to the FDA’s overreach and support of the home genomics revolution.
Much More to Look Forward to
We laid out what we did last year in our New Year’s message. Here’s some of what’s on the immediate horizon for us:
- We’ll be responding to the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s call for comments on re-writing the Telecom Act, especially to express our concerns about the broad discretion of the FCC and state regulators under Section 706 just affirmed by the D.C. Circuit.
- We’ll also be filing on the FCC’s expected NPRM about the IP Transition. Our own Berin Szoka will be on Public Knowledge panel about the IP Transition, which was postponed due to DC’s recent “polar vortex” snow. Stay tuned for details!
- We’re closely following the FCC’s botched reform of prison payphone calling — and fear the FCC will have to start all over again.
- We’re also closely watching the FTC’s litigation of two data security cases, Wyndham and LabMD. Stay tuned for more from our FTC Reform Project, which released its initial “Questions and Frameworks” report last month.
- We’ll be at the 2014 International Students for Liberty Conference next month, educating students on the need to reform ECPA, the privacy law that hasn’t changed since 1986. We’ll even be raffling off an Atari Flashback gaming system, so if you’re at the conference, be sure to swing by our table with CDT and the R Street Institute!