The Switchboard: IRS faces pressure to clarify Bitcoin rules

(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Published every weekday, the Switchboard highlights five tech policy stories you need to read.

IRS under pressure to clarify bitcoin rules. "The Internal Revenue Service is under mounting pressure to issue guidance clarifying how taxpayers should handle transactions involving bitcoin and other digital currencies," according to the Hill. "In an annual report to Congress, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson said the IRS has failed to provide clear guidelines for unregulated and fast-growing virtual money markets. 'It is the government’s responsibility to inform the public about the rules they are required to follow,' according to the report, unveiled Thursday. 'The lack of clear answers to basic questions such as when and how taxpayers should report gains and losses on digital currency transactions probably encourages tax avoidance.'"

AT&T plan to turn data caps into more cash could come to home Internet. "AT&T announced three days ago that it would start charging content providers for the right to bypass data caps that might otherwise prevent smartphone owners from using data-hungry services like streaming video or music," according to Ars Technica. "The plan is opposed by those who say it violates the principles of net neutrality, that Internet service providers should treat all data equally, and that AT&T shouldn't pick winners and losers by forcing content providers to pay for the best path to consumers."

Obama Readies Revamp of NSA. "President Barack Obama is leaning toward extending broad privacy protections to non-U.S. citizens and is seriously considering restructuring the National Security Agency program that collects phone-call data of nearly all Americans," according to the Wall Street Journal. "Mr. Obama plans to unveil these and other changes to surveillance programs as soon as next week, the officials said. Though he has made no final decisions on some of the most controversial proposals, Mr. Obama is nearing the end of his closely watched assessment of surveillance reforms that will define the NSA's rules of the road for years to come."

Senate Judiciary to hold patent briefings. "The Senate Judiciary Committee is moving ahead with its plans to reform patent law," the Hill reports. "Last month, the committee held a hearing on the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act, authored by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). According to a committee aide, the next steps will involve bringing in stakeholders to brief committee staff later this month."

The Bitcoin-Mining Arms Race Heats Up. "Joel Flickinger’s two-bedroom home in the hills above Oakland, Calif., hums with custom-built computing gear. Just inside the front door, in a room anyone else might use as a den, he’s placed a desk next to a fireplace that supports a massive monitor, with cables snaking right and left toward two computers, each about the size of a case of beer," Bloomberg reports. "Flickinger has spent more than $20,000 on these rigs and on a slower model that runs from the basement. They operate continuously, cranking out enough heat to warm the house and racking up $400 a month in electric bills."

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