Tech Giants Take Government Spying Feud to the Public

BY Terence Burlij  June 12, 2013 at 9:00 AM EDT

An employee walks past servers in one of four server rooms at the Facebook Data Center in Forest City, N.C. Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Technology companies can be a powerful force in Washington.

As domestic spying remains in the headlines, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Twitter are urging the government to lift the veil of secrecy from its surveillance programs. The tech giants want to convince anxious consumers that they’re concerned about their users’ privacy.

Craig Timberg and Cecilia Kang write on the Washington Post front page that the tech giants “have struggled to stanch the damage to their reputations.”

The requests for transparency came in waves Tuesday, as Google went public with a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking for the ability to detail the numbers and scope of the national security data the courts mandate they hand over. Yahoo issued a statement saying it recognizes the “importance of privacy and security” but also believes “that transparency . . . will help build public trust.”

Politico’s Alex Byers & Michelle Quinn write that the calls for transparency help save face, but also “kicks things up a notch in the public relations game, where consumer confidence will be crucial for Internet companies going forward.”

From their story:

“The Valley is absolutely absorbed by this story,” said Paul Saffo, a longtime Silicon Valley technology forecaster. “It’s the perfect confluence of tech geeks, privacy hawks and Libertarians. The discussion is to put it bluntly, ‘Is Google evil?’ The consensus so far is that no they aren’t, and Google and Facebook and the others will not get swept up in this.”

Politico also reported that Mozilla and civil liberties groups launched StopWatching.us, “which they describe as a campaign to call on citizens to demand a ‘full accounting of the extent to which our online data, communications and interactions are monitored.’”

On the NewsHour Tuesday, Jeff Brown talked with Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond about the move. Watch here or below:

The NewsHour also looked at the latest on the Edward Snowden probe, and examined how government contractors can end up with so much access.

The issue will be front and center on Capitol Hill Wednesday as NSA Chief Gen. Keith Alexander testifies at a Senate Appropriations hearing on cybersecurity. Watch that here.

THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE

The Senate cleared its first hurdle on a sweeping immigration reform measure Tuesday, paving the way for a few weeks of debate and the possibility of sending a bill to the House.

The Washington Post broke down the vote and Erica Werner sums up the stakes nicely for the Associated Press:

Supporters expressed confidence they could muster the 60 votes needed for the bill to pass the Senate by July Fourth. Democrats control 54 Senate votes, and Republicans 46. But a number of opponents said success was far from assured. And supporters are hoping for closer to 70 votes on final passage to show resounding momentum for the bill and pressure the Republican-led House to act.

There’s not a clear indication Speaker John Boehner will allow a broad measure that includes a pathway to citizenship to reach a vote. As we noted Tuesday, the Ohio Republican says he wants to do something. But advocates for a comprehensive approach are starting to worry.

In a new development, the Club for Growth sent a letter to Republican members of Congress pointedly backing the so-called “Hastert Rule” to only allow floor votes on legislation that has support from the majority of the party. The move goes right at the issue plaguing Boehner ahead of the immigration debate.

“Recently House Republicans have passed bills that are inconsistent with its mandate from the American people,” a group of conservatives wrote in the letter. “Now you face issues such as gun control, immigration reform, tax increases, and a debt ceiling that threaten to divide Republicans and in so doing empower the liberal minority in the House.”

Meanwhile, the Senate forged ahead with debate.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., gave his floor speech entirely in Spanish Tuesday. The Senate Librarian told NewsHour Coordinating Producer Linda J. Scott that Senators have used other languages to utter a few words or phrases, but never a complete speech. Kaine learned Spanish as a young missionary in Honduras.

The NewsHour outlined the opening debate Monday night. Watch Kwame Holman’s report here or below:

[ DUE TO RIGHTS RESTRICTIONS, VIDEO IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE ]

And here are some other stories tracking the debate. David Brody looked at Sen. Marco Rubio’s efforts to keep evangelicals on board. Politico has the details of an amendment to protect same-sex couples, a measure most Republicans won’t support.

LINE ITEMS

  • New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is urging top New York Democratic donors not to give money to the four Democrats who voted against background check legislation.

  • In a low turnout primary, state Sen. Ralph Northam edged out Mr. Obama’s former chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra to grab the Democrats’ lieutenant governor nomination in Virginia. He will challenge the Rev. E.W. Jackson. And state Sen. Mark Herring won the nod for attorney general. He will run against state Sen. Mark Obenshain.

  • Vice President Joe Biden spoke at a fundraiser Tuesday in Washington for Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., facing a special election for now-Secretary of State John Kerry’s former Senate seat. Close polling numbers between Markey and his Republican opponent, Gabriel Gomez — as well as fear of a similar outcome to former Sen. Scott Brown’s upset win in 2010 — has drawn major national Democrats, including Mr. Obama, into stumping for their candidate, Alexandra Jaffe of The Hill writes. The president visits Massachusetts for a rally Wednesday.

  • Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald breaks down the costs to taxpayers of Mr. Obama’s visit to Miami Beach Wednesday for a fundraiser.

  • Ahead of a likely Supreme Court decision this month, two polls show eroding support for affirmative action. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll reports, “45 percent of respondents said they believe affirmative action programs are still needed to counteract the effects of discrimination against minorities, while an equal 45 percent feel the programs have gone too far and should be ended because they unfairly discriminate against whites.” A new Washington Post poll shows widespread agreement among Americans that colleges shouldn’t use race when admitting students. That poll finds 76 percent oppose the key part of affirmative action admissions practices.

  • White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough is meeting with Senate Republicans as lawmakers grapple with government spending. They sparred behind closed doors.

  • Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Michael Douglass and Robert DeNiro are among the stars who star in this video pressuring Mr. Obama to keep his pledge on nuclear weapons.

  • The Associated Press catches that the ritual June White House congressional picnic is “Not going to happen” this year. It’s a scheduling thing, not due to the sequester. “June is packed, July is hot, August they’re not here,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told the AP.

  • The president did, however hold an off-the-record schmoozefest with the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Time, McClatchy, Politico, Tribune, NPR, Bloomberg, USA Today, AFP, Yahoo, “and other outlets,” reports BuzzFeed’s Evan McMorris-Santoro.

  • In light of the National Security Agency data-gathering scoops last week, ProPublica breaks down the various data the government can get from you and their legal rationales.

  • South Dakota Republicans breathed a sigh of relief Monday — Rep. Kristi Noem will seek re-election instead of challenge the state’s former governor in a Senate primary.

  • House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor will meet Thursday with families who lost loved ones in the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. six months ago. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the speaker “wants to hear stories and talk about ways to reduce the culture of violence in our country.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters last week he is looking for a way to revive the legislation on a set of gun proposals that stalled in the Senate in April. But House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer told the NewsHour’s Coordinating Producer Linda J. Scott he is “very doubtful” House leadership will bring anything to the floor.

  • Roll Call examined what it means when Congressional spouses are on the payroll.

  • The North Carolina Democratic Party is in chaos after a top official resigned.

  • Charlotte, N.C. police spent $450 on manure removal and $1,680 to clean up graffiti last summer ahead of the Democratic National Convention. Here is a look at how they racked up $50 million in convention expenses.

  • Nathan Gonzales examines how the purchase of a barn jacket could be the best investment a campaign can make.

  • Nieman Story Board looks at why Eli Saslow’s story on the anniversary of Newtown was so good.

  • If you notice some new Twitter background images, that means we’ve stepped up promotion ahead of the Congressional Women’s Softball Game on June 26. You can buy your swag here. And this blog reminds us of one of the reasons why we play.

  • Thursday night is that other game in town, the one where members of Congress play each other at Nationals Stadium. Roll Call has a handy guide for Hill staffers attending the game.

  • Ferris Bueller was released this week in 1986. So, where do you think the mischief maker is now?

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • What if government paid for the information it collected on its citizens? Catch Jaron Lanier, the father of virtual reality, explaining how free technology is making society more unequal — and what we should do about it.

  • NewsHour Art Beat covers the massive One Million Bones public art installation at the National Mall. It protests genocide.

  • Where to go to learn history in Detroit? To the graveyard, one professor says.

  • Kwame Holman writes about one senator’s “lonely fight” to end sequestration.

TOP TWEETS

Coordinating Producer Linda J. Scott and Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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