Zoe Lofgren to present award to Aaron Swartz

Rep. Zoe Lofgren announced today that she’ll present the 2013 James Madison Award to the late Internet activist Aaron Swartz “in honor of his dedication to expanding access to public information in the digital age.”

Aaron SwartzSwartz’s family will accept the award, named in honor of President James Madison and administered by the American Library Association, which recognizes those who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know. Lofgren, D-San Jose, will present the award at a ceremony Friday night at the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center in Washington, D.C.

Lofgren received this award last year for her congressional work in protecting and advancing the freedom of information, and is now drafting “Aaron’s Law” legislation to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the wire fraud statute to protect other Internet users from outsized liability for everyday activity.

Swartz – a longtime crusader against Internet censorship – was charged with two counts of wire fraud and 11 CFAA violations, carrying combined penalties of up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines plus restitution, for downloading millions of academic journal articles from a subscription-only service without authorization. He hanged himself in January in his Brooklyn apartment at age 26.

UPDATE @ 5:05 P.M. THURSDAY: Lofgren regrets she won’t be able to attend after all “because of a personal matter,” her office announced a short while ago.


Senate gets its version of Eshoo’s 4G bill

Three U.S. Senate Democrats introduced a bill today that mirrors legislation introduced in June by a Bay Area House member to make wireless providers give complete, accurate information about their 4G wireless data services in their ads and sales practices.

The Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Al Franken, D-Minn., parallels the earlier bill, HR 2281, by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto.

“Consumers deserve to know exactly what they’re getting when they sign up for a two year wireless data plan,” Eshoo, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee, said today. “Consumers want faster and faster phones, and demand for 4G is only going to increase. But they also deserve to know the truth about the speeds they’re actually getting. Wireless companies advertise 4G service as ‘lightning fast’ and ‘super-charged,’ but that’s not always the case. My legislation is simple – it will require truth in advertising.”

She said she’s proud to see Blumenthal and Franken – both of whom sit on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law – along with Klobuchar introduce the bill’s Senate version. “With their help, we can make sure that consumers have all the information they need to make an informed choice about which wireless data service to purchase.”

At the moment, 4G wireless broadband internet is in the eye of the beholder: With no standard definition, the four major wireless companies can advertise different technology as “4G” despite speeds that differ vastly depending on provider and location. The legislation would force them to disclose guaranteed minimum data speed, network reliability, coverage area maps, pricing, the technology used to provide 4G service and network conditions that can impact speed on all of their point-of-sale marketing and advertising as well as on all billing materials.

The bills also would require the Federal Communications Commission to evaluate the speed and price of 4G wireless data service provided by the top ten U.S. wireless carriers, so consumers can see a side-by-side comparison in their own service areas.

“When consumers purchase a 4G wireless plan, they have the right to know exactly what they’re getting for their money,” Klobuchar said today. “This legislation will help ensure that wireless companies are honest about their product’s capabilities so consumers can get a fair deal.”

Consumer advocate groups are all about this legislation.

“The Eshoo bill will empower consumers who are shopping for wireless broadband service,” Consumers Union policy counsel Parul Desai had said in June. “It will help people cut through the clutter so we can compare prices and options, and we can better understand what really constitutes 4G data service. Right now, there aren’t a lot of consumer protections for mobile broadband customers, and the Eshoo bill would help ensure consumers have certain rights and information when they sign up for a plan.”


Ellen Corbett’s internet privacy bill fails again

Closer, but still not close enough for state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro.

Corbett’s SB 242, would have required that social-networking sites default to hiding information unless users choose to have it shown; that they create a process for new users to set their privacy settings as part of their registration, using plain language; and that they remove personal identifying information in a timely manner upon the user’s request. A violation would have been punishable by a fine of up to $10,000.

Last Thursday, the state Senate’s vote on SB 242 was 16 to 16, five votes short of what it needed to pass. After several days of arm-twisting, Corbett gave it another go today – and fell two votes short. Friday is the last day for Senate-originated bills to pass out of the Senate this session, so this battle is over for now.

But Corbett vowed today to keep working on the issue and organize a summit on internet privacy dangers.

“I feel terrible for children, their parents and the many others who are at risk of being victims of identity theft or other criminal activity because their private information falls into the wrong hands,” she said in a news release. “It is clear to me that everyone, and especially children, who use social networking sites needs their personal information better protected.”

Corbett said that she has received letters and emails of encouragement from across the country, and that polls show a growing number of Americans are worried about the lack of protection of their personal information on the internet. The San Franciso-based national nonprofit Common Sense Media issued a floor alert yesterday telling legislators it supported AB 242 as “an important step forward in ensuring the privacy rights of social network users” with “important implications for kids and their families” who would be empowered “with more information and more control over how their personal information is being used and displayed.”

Facebook staunchly opposed the bill; company spokesman Andrew Noyes last week said Corbett is threatening California’s internet economy by trying to impose “unnecessary regulations that ignore the extraordinary lengths that companies like ours go to in order to protect individuals’ privacy and give them the tools to determine for themselves how much information they wish to share online.”

Noyes emailed reporters yesterday to note the company’s response to a letter he said it received from Corbett in which the Senator purportedly said she had “been unable to engage representatives of [Facebook] in any dialogue.” Facebook’s public policy people met with or talked to Corbett’s office 13 times this year, Noyes wrote, including a February meeting at the company’s Palo Alto headquarters between Corbett and Facebook’s chief operating officer, safety programs manager, chief security officer and vice president of public policy.


Jackie Speier offers online, financial privacy bills

Worried that Facebook, Google or some other online entity is collecting, using and sharing data on your online activities? Rep. Jackie Speier says she has your back, with one of two bills she introduced today aimed at protecting people’s personal information.

The Do Not Track Me Online Act of 2011 (H.R. 654) aims to give consumers the ability to prevent the collection and use of data on their online activities, directing the Federal Trade Commission to develop standards for a “Do Not Track” mechanism so people can choose upfront to opt out of the collection, use or sale of their online activities, and require covered entities to respect the consumer’s choice. Failure to do so would be considered an unfair or deceptive act punishable by law. The covered entity would have to disclose its collection and sharing practices, including with whom the information is shared. The bill would allow the FTC to exempt commonly accepted commercial practices like the collection of information for billing purposes.

“People have a right to surf the web without Big Brother watching their every move and announcing it to the world,” said Speier, D-Hillsborough. “The internet marketplace has matured, and it is time for consumers’ protections to keep pace.”

Speier cited a USA Today poll released Tuesday that showed that 70 percent of Facebook members and 52 percent of Google users say they are either “somewhat” or “very concerned” about their privacy.

“It’s crucial that Americans have as much control over their online privacy as possible and this bill is a welcome and important first step toward that goal,” American Civil Liberties Union Legislative Counsel Christopher Calabrese said. “Signing on to the Internet shouldn’t mean signing away your privacy. Americans must have a mechanism in place to opt out of having their online habits tracked so that they can protect their most sensitive information. A ‘do not track’ list is a logical and common sense place to start. We urge the House to make this bill a priority.”

Speier also introduced the Financial Information Privacy Act of 2011 (H.R. 653), which aims to give consumers control of their own financial information. The bill mirrors a California law Speier steered to passage that prevents financial institutions from sharing or selling personally identifiable nonpublic information with affiliates without an opportunity to opt-out, or in the case of unaffiliated third parties, a requirement that consumers opt-in.

“Because of the law we passed in California, consumers now have the clear and simple ability to prevent financial institutions from sharing their personal information,” Speier said. “Every American deserves that right.”


Almost half of Americans use Internet for politics

A new study out by the Pew Internet and American Life Project says nearly half of Americans used the Internet, email or cell phone text messaging to get political news. That’s a big number, one that will continue to impact how candidates and political parties campaign.

Here are the first few graphs from the study:

“A record-breaking 46% of Americans have used the internet, email or cell phone text messaging to get news about the campaign, share their views and mobilize others. And Barack Obama’s backers have an edge in the online political environment.

“Furthermore, three online activities have become especially prominent as the presidential primary campaigns have progressed: First, 35% of Americans say they have watched online political videos–a figure that nearly triples the reading the Pew Internet Project got in the 2004 race.”