The Switchboard: Lawmakers threaten to cancel key Patriot Act provision

February 5

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). (Susan Walsh / AP)

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

Panel to NSA: Change your ways — or else. "Lawmakers on Tuesday bluntly warned the Obama administration it will lose its sweeping surveillance powers if major changes aren’t made at the National Security Agency (NSA)," according to The Hill. "Members of the House Judiciary Committee said Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which is set to expire in the summer of 2015, will be dissolved unless the administration proposes broad changes to the NSA’s collection of phone records. Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who wrote the Patriot Act and its two reauthorizations, told Deputy Attorney General James Cole that the administration was on the hook to find a workable alternative."

Cable company blames 'misinformation' for failure of municipal Internet ban. "The legislation in Kansas that would have made it nearly impossible for cities and towns in that state to offer broadband service to residents was originally scheduled for debate in the Senate today," Ars Technica reported on Tuesday. "That hearing ended up being canceled after public outcry forced the bill's author, the Kansas Cable and Telecommunications Association (KCTA), to rethink its tactics. But that doesn't mean the bill is going away forever. Cox, a member of the cable lobby group, blamed the early struggle on 'misinformation' but said there will be 'continued discussion.'"

Republican Senator Wants to Change How the FCC Does Business. "Senator Dean Heller introduced legislation Tuesday that aims to help the Federal Communications Commission keep pace with the industries it regulates," National Journal reports. "The Nevada Republican's measure is very similar to a bipartisan bill passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in December. Republicans say it would make the FCC more efficient and transparent by beefing up disclosure of internal processes, creating shot clocks for decision making, and establishing performance metrics."

Bill Gates masters D.C. — and the world. "Bill Gates did not make a good impression the first time he testified on Capitol Hill," Politico writes. "It was 1998 and the Senate Judiciary Committee was looking into antitrust allegations against Microsoft. Gates evaded the questions. He rambled. He made sure everyone knew he was not interested in playing the political game. But Gates soon realized that approach wasn’t working — and turned himself into a player."

Lawmakers want secure payments sooner. "Senators are pushing credit card companies to accelerate efforts to make payment methods more secure," according to the Hill. "During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on data breaches Tuesday, senators questioned the efforts of MasterCard and Visa to incorporate chip technology into their credit cards. MasterCard and Visa plan for these 'chip card' systems to be widespread by October 2015, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said. 'I wish that could be hurried.'"

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Brian Fung · February 4