Senate Set to Vote on Neutering Net Neutrality

WASHINGTON — The Senate is likely to vote within days on a measure that would undo net-neutrality rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in 2010, even though they’ve yet to go into effect.

One of the lead sponsor’s of Senate Journal Resolution 6 (.pdf), Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said “The Internet is not broken and does not need fixing.” She said a likely vote was planned for this week.

The measure simply says that Congress “disapproves of the rule” and “such rule shall have no force or effect.”

The House passed a similar measure, but Obama has threatened to veto it. It was not immediately clear whether the Senate has the necessary votes for passage.

The brouhaha dates to 2008, when the FCC ordered Comcast to stop interfering with the peer-to-peer service BitTorrent, which can use a lot of bandwidth. That marked the first time the FCC officially tried to enforce fairness rules put in place in 2005 by Republican FCC head Michael Powell. The action came as a response to complaints Comcast was sending forged packets to broadband customers to close their peer-to-peer sessions — a tactic used by the Chinese government to block internet content it doesn’t like.

Comcast appealed the decision, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last year vacated the agency’s net-neutrality rules.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the agency was enforcing the net-neutrality Four Freedoms, a set of agency principles dating to 2005 that supposedly guarantee that cable and DSL users have the right to use the devices, services and programs of choice over their wireline connections.

In response to last year’s appellate court decision, the FCC formalized the rules again, hoping to put them on stronger legal grounds — though it did not use all of the regulatory tools at its disposal, which left many net neutrality proponents angry that the Obama administration was not living up to campaign promises.

Verizon is already suing the FCC over the rules, which mostly apply to cable and DSL providers, and go into effect Nov. 20.

The rules prohibit companies from unfairly blocking services they don’t like and require them to be transparent about how they manage their networks during times of congestion. Mobile carriers like AT&T and Verizon face fewer rules but are banned from interfering with alternate calling services such as Skype.

Photo: ajagendadorf25/Flickr

Feds Seek Unfettered GPS Surveillance Power as Location-Tracking Flourishes

The Supreme Court is set to hear historic arguments Tuesday in what perhaps is the most important Fourth Amendment case in a decade — one weighing the collision of privacy, technology and the Constitution.

The question before the justices asks: May the police secretly install a Global Positioning System device on a vehicle without a probable cause warrant issued by a judge in order to track a suspect’s every move?

The last time the justices were confronted with the blending of technology and privacy was a decade ago before the mass proliferation of GPS gadgets. The high court at the time ruled in favor of constitutional protections when it concluded that thermal-imaging devices used to detect marijuana-growing operations inside a house amounted to a search and therefore required a court warrant. Contrast this to a prior ruling in 1983 when the justices said it was okay for the government to use beepers known as “bird dogs” to track a suspect’s vehicle without a warrant.

Technology has advanced since both of these cases, feeding the government’s growing hunger for cost-efficient, easy-to-use spy tools, and making the latest debate before the justices seem Orwellian. Today, one’s exact position on Earth can easily be secretly monitored with devices costing less than $200. Add to this the government’s argument in court briefs that “a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements from one place to another,” and you have the makings for widespread, unchecked surveillance.

Behind the scenes of the hotly contested GPS case, which is garnering press attention far and wide, is a fledgling enterprise capitalizing on the appetite for tools to track people by both police and private citizens.

The Justice Department has said that law enforcement agents employ GPS as a crime-fighting tool with “great frequency.”