Tag Archives: Public Policy

Zuckerberg’s FWD Raises Criticism

Somini Sengupta and Eric Lipton Report in the New York Times

“Fwd.Us, the new nonprofit advocacy group created by Mr. Zuckerberg and several technology executives and investors to push for an overhaul of immigration law, has bankrolled television ads endorsing the conservative stands taken by three lawmakers, prompting an outcry from liberal groups and a call to withhold advertisements from Facebook.”

The group is engaging in a kind of lobbying that works like this: when senators and congresspeople support FWD’s policies on immigration reform, FWD then promises to help these representatives on other issues, unrelated to immigration. As Sengupta and Lipto go on to say:

The group has faced the most vocal criticism for television advertisements sponsored by its two subsidiaries, which are known as Americans for Conservative Action and Council for American Job Growth. One of those spots takes swipes at President Obama’s health policies. Another lauds the Keystone XL pipeline, fiercely opposed by many environmental groups.

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Updating an E-Mail Law From the Last Century

Somini Sengupta reports in the New York Times

The current statute requires a warrant for e-mails that are less than six months old. But it lets the authorities gain access to older communications — or bizarrely, e-mails that have already been opened — with just a subpoena and no judicial review.

The law governs the privacy of practically everything entrusted to the Internet — family photos stored with a Web service, journal entries kept online, company documents uploaded to the cloud, and the flurry of e-mails exchanged every day. The problem is that it was written when the cloud was just vapor in the sky.

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Google Testifies To Congress Calling For Email Privacy

Writing on The Verge, Carl Franzen reports that Google’s legal director, Richard Salgado, will testify in front of a subcommittee in the House of Representatives. Salgado will argue for a legislative update on the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

The subcommittee’s meeting subject: “Lawful access to stored content,” will deal with our society’s mismatch between new information technology and outdated legal paradigms.

Other companies and privacy advocates have spent years calling for updates to ECPA. The law currently gives government agencies and law enforcement organizations the ability to request all user email older than 180 days with just a subpoena, while access to newer email requires a stricter search warrant. The law has also been used to enable the government to request other cloud-based user information and even mobile device location information. But Google and those calling for reform want to see search warrants required to access all stored web user info and emails, regardless of their freshness or whether users have opened them.

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White House Reverses Its Stance On Cell Phone Unlocking After Citizen Petition

After being interviewed on Monday by Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now!” the political activist and former GOP staffer, Derick Khanna received a call from the White House. Khanna was told that the Obama administration would change it’s stance and come out against the Librarian of Congress who, in January 2013, decided that cellphone unlocking was a criminal offense.

The Administration said it will also put forth its own legislation that will decriminalize cellphone unlocking and would be in favor of tablet unlocking as well (so long as the consumer owns the device, and is not under contract by a carrier).

Khanna, along with Sina Khanifar, collected over 114,000 signatures on their online petition at “We The People,” a website run by the White House.

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Even If It Enrages Your Boss, Social Net Speech Is Protected

In it’s 2nd social media report, the National Labor Relations Board aims to protect employees’ rights to speech.  The memo “covers 14 cases, half of which involve questions about employer social media policies…The remaining cases involved discharges of employees after they posted comments to Facebook.”

Writing in The New York Times, Steven Greenhouse goes through some of these cases and helps explain what kind of things employees can say online and what things can rightfully get someone fired.

The labor board’s rulings, which apply to virtually all private sector employers, generally tell companies that it is illegal to adopt broad social media policies — like bans on “disrespectful” comments or posts that criticize the employer — if those policies discourage workers from exercising their right to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions.

Greenhouse also mentions that California and Illinois recently joined 4 other states in preventing companies from forcing workers to hand over their social media passwords.

The author quotes the president of the National Workrights Institute, Lewis L. Maltby: “No one should be fired for anything they post that’s legal, off-duty and not job-related.”

These rulings do not apply to public sector workers, however. And as Greenhouse reminds us, the internet speech of teachers, police officers, corporate execs and college students falls into a bizarro grey area that we are only beginning to grapple with.

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Crowd Funding and the JOBS Act

Ryan Caldbeck explains the law’s implications for the tech industry:

  1. An IPO on-ramp: helps emerging firms transition from private to public by scaling regulatory requirements, easing the cost of compliance.
  2. Lifts the general solicitation prohibition: allows companies to advertise their fundraising to accredited investors (previously, private companies were prohibited from publicizing their fundraising to people with whom they did not have previously existing relations).
  3. Crowd funding: Allows unaccredited investors to invest in private businesses through registered portals.

Crowd funding connects start-ups with investors by taking small pledges from many people over the internet.  Websites like Kiva and Kickstarter already do something similar. Kiva allows thousands of people to lend money to borrowers in the developing world, and the lenders are paid back with no interest.  On Kickstarter artists and inventors pitch their creations online where supporters can make small donations to the project.   However, current state and federal law prohibits donors and lenders from receiving a return.

The Securities and Exchange Commission allows only accredited investors, shareholders with a net worth over $1 million, to purchase equity stake in private companies.  And no more than 500 shareholders can hold a stake in one firm. Thus, middle class investors are essentially blocked from buying into a private company.  The Jobs Act changes this.

According to the Sustainable Economies Law Center, a non-profit advocacy organization, many small businesses lack the funding and legal resources to register with the SEC.  Legal fees for public filing amount to tens of thousands of dollars, effectively shutting out promising start-ups.  In a petition sent to the SEC, the Law Center points to the main challenge of small businesses: “The types of investors that would be most inclined to invest in them – community, customers, neighbors, and friends…are mostly unaccredited,” and therefore are unable to.

By allowing an exemption for crowd funding, start-ups gain another avenue to capital.

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