The Switchboard: The FISA Court just approved bulk collection of phone records, again

October 14, 2013

Remember when Netflix was about delivery via mail? Now it's reportedly looking into delivery via cable set top boxes.  (Photo By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

FISC approves phone metadata collection yet again. "The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has once again approved the blanket collection of telephony metadata from American phone companies," reports Peter Bright at Ars Technica. This is the same program that came to light after documents were leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Effort underway to declassify document that is legal foundation for NSA phone program. Speaking of the phone records program, our Washington Post colleagues Carol Leonnig and Ellen Nakashima, remind us that a key document on the program is still missing from the public disclosures: "the original — and still classified — judicial interpretation that held that the bulk collection of Americans’ data was lawful." Sources told them that the original document is about 80 pages and was written by Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, then the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Netflix pursues cable-TV deals. Online streaming pioneer Netflix is trying to make its way into American set top boxes, Shalini Ramachandran at the Wall Street Journal reports. According to Ramachandran's sources, the company is in talks with a number of U.S. cable companies, including Comcast and Suddenlink. One issue with a possible deal, however, is cable companies' reluctance to let Netflix use their Open Connect servers over cable networks -- which they say helps deliver streaming video better. "So far, Internet providers Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T and Verizon Communications have declined to use the technology, concerned that such an arrangement could lead other online services to ask for special treatment, the people familiar with the matter say."

Google to put user photos, comments in online ads. Our Post colleague Cecilia Kang explains Google's next online advertising foray: turning you into a digital spokesperson. "After the policy takes effect Nov. 11, users who review a video on YouTube or a restaurant on Zagat.com could see their name, photo and comments show up in ads on any of the 2 million Web sites that are part of the company’s display advertising network." As Kang explains, the policy will be similar to Facebook's sponsored stories program, although Google says you will be able to opt out of its new ad effort.

The point of Flipboard isn’t to give publishers "reach." The Switch's Brian Fung explains the real utility of Flipboard in light of TPM's defection from the app: converting app users to web site visitors. "I suspect there's still a case for Flipboard. But the right metric isn't scale, or reach. It's about conversion — when a publisher like TPM is able to hook a Flipboard user into reading often enough that he or she winds up visiting the site outside of the app." But the problem, he says, is that there aren't any good metrics to track whether or not that is actually happens.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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Brian Fung · October 13, 2013