PolitiHacks Digest – 10 June 2013 – What are the politics of the NSA surveillance leaks?

These folks want your support:


  1. EFF: Oppose massive government surveillance program
  2. Support Sen. Moran’s startup visa amendment
  3. Lincoln Labs—Local to the Bay Area? Check out this politically-themed hackathon focusing on economic liberty

Got a cause you want to share? Tell me.

Political issues affecting startups: 


Open Internet and Privacy

What’s going on with the NSA surveillance programs?

The Washington Post dropped a bombshell that the government was engaged in a massive surveillance program (PRISM) with the compliance of major US tech companies. Opponents are in an uproar; expect another clash between open internet, national security.

Background: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Scandal of 2005-6, National Security Letters and the oddly similar Google, Facebook, Apple denials

What to know:

  1. Tech companies respond to online outrage over PRISM
  2. Verizon metadeta collected in separate, but related, surveillance program
  3. Coincidentally, President Obama’s nominee to be the new FBI Director opposed PRISM predecessor programs as No. 2 to the Attorney General in 2004
  4. PRISM whistle-blower Edward Snowden seeks asylum in Hong Kong

People to Watch:

  1. Sens. Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), long-time defenders of privacy, speak out against NSA program
  2. Sen. Paul’s (R-KY) proposal to block secret NSA surveillance programs through requiring warrants splits Republican Party
  3. Sen. Udall (D-CO) explains constraints in opposing top-secret programs without becoming a whistle-blower
  4. Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Rogers (R-MI), Chairs of the Senate and House Intellgence Committees, defend the programs as effective counter-terrorism
  5. President Obama contrasts metadeta collection with direct content collection
Immigration
PolitiHacks Analysis:

  1. What should we expect from the immigration debate?
  2. What are the chances for startup visa? What are the range of implementation outcomes?

What to Know:

  1. Immigration debate begins in Senate on Tuesday
  2. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) announces support for comprehensive bill: First official support outside Gang of Eight
  3. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) readies amendment to improve startup visa provision in the immigration bill

People to Watch:

  1. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)—Cornyn’s border security proposal may gain Gang of Eight approval or be “poison pill” that kills the bill; Cornyn is a key potential YES vote
  2. Sens. Sessions (R-AL) and Cruz (R-TX) are leading the opposition—intra-party fight with Republican supporters of the immigration reform bill
Patents and Intellectual Property
  1. Earlier this week, the White House announced a proposal to oppose patent trolls, organizations that collect large numbers of patents to drive lawsuits rather than to produce products based on the intellectual property.
  2. Patent trolls-driven lawsuits have been on the rise since the 2011 passage of the America Invents Act
  3. Last week’s cellphone unlocking hearing drove forward the Goodlatte-Conyers bill, which solely reverses the illegaliztation decision on unlocking by the FCC. The proposal favored by the startup community makes a permanent fix to the underlying law.
Elections and Campaigns
  1. Rand Paul visits Silicon Valley, talks up privacy issues as key to expanding Republican Party, making it more acceptable to tech savvy
  2. FWD.us runs VoIP-facilitated Congressional contact campaign to support comprehensive immigration reform on behalf of tech, startup communities
  3. Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani is running for Office of Public Advocateand will be holding a fundraiser in Palo Alto in late June
  4. President Obama visited Palo Alto last Thursday for two fundraisers—the first at the home of Flipboard CEO Mike McCue, the second at the home of Vinod and Neeru Khosla
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PolitiHacks Digest – 10 June 2013 – What’s going on with the NSA surveillance programs?

The Washington Post dropped a bombshell that the government was engaged in a massive surveillance program (PRISM) with the compliance of major US tech companies. Opponents are in an uproar; expect another clash between open internet, national security.

Critics quickly led to a retraction of many significant details in the initial reporting, but the core outline remains true: the US federal government, through the NSA, was accessing private content and metadata as part of a massive big data analysis project.

Congressional defenders, specifically the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee, insisted that they had been briefed—see: Intelligence Gang of Eight—and that the program was responsible for blocking terror attacks. The Obama Administration concurred and insisted that no direct content was being accessed. However, Congress as a whole was not briefed, despite Administration claims, and many individual elected officials are outraged.

Expect a major clash between privacy advocates and the national security apparatus, which has traditionally resulted in a resounding victory for the latter.

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PolitiHacks Digest – 10 June 2013 – Background: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Scandal of 2005-6, National Security Letters and the oddly similar Google, Facebook, Apple denials

PRISM and the related Verizon records requests seems to have been authorized following the FISA scandals of ’05-’06.

Which is interesting in the context of Obama’s recent nominee to be the next FBI director, who opposed the FISA warrentless wiretapping program, despite significant pressure from the Bush White House.

For further background, check out the National Security Letter framework set up by PATRIOT Act, declared unconstitutional, revised, declared unconstitutional as of the most recent judiciary review. For about 10 years, Nicholas Merrill and the ACLU fought to expose it, eventually winning the right of removal of the gag order that prevented Nick from doing so.

With this context, it’s quite possible that the oddly similar denials by Facebook, Google, and Apple, among others, are driven by specific requirements in whatever National Security Letters and accompanying gag orders were part of the information request.

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PolitiHacks Digest – 10 June 2013 – What should we expect from the immigration debate?

Debate begins Tuesday on the comprehensive immigration reform bill, which will be the largest overhaul of the US immigration system since at least 1986 or 1990, possibly even 1965, which created the modern immigration system.

Right now, between 52 and 54 Democrats are expected to support the bill, while four or five Republicans are confirmed supporters. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been one of the leading champions of the bill, but he has recently been stating that he would vote against the bill without changes to the border security section, one of the four main pillars of the bill. Amending the bill to include these changes could destroy the coalition, making it impossible for most Democrats to support the bill, which would classify that amendment as a “poison pill.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has been drafting the likely amendment, and he was a YES vote on the bill in one important test vote, while a NO on another, making him a key person to watch during the debate. Failure to adopt his amendment could drive away the 10-20 Republicans who could end up supporting the bill and are right now noncommittal. However, questions remain about how sincere their support is in getting a bill passed.

For the next week or two, while negotiations over this amendment carry on at the staff and Member level, public debate will drag on and minor amendments will be voted on. Expect the vote on this amendment to be one of the major do-or-die points the bill must survive in the next two to three weeks.

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PolitiHacks Digest – 10 June 2013 – What are the chances for startup visa? What are the range of implementation outcomes?

Currently, the comprehensive immigration reform bill contains a startup visa provision. It should work. So to get a startup visa, members of the startup community need to support passage of the comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) is proposing a set of fixes to improve the functionality of the startup visa provision. They will expand available funding sources, decrease the qualification barriers of funding or revenue levels that must be achieved, and in general tighten up the language to better fulfill the intent.

PolitiHacks has been supporting their efforts from the beginning, and we’re proud to see the amendment introduced on the Senate floor in the near future.

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PolitiHacks Digest – 3 June 2013

These folks want your support:


  1. Tech helping Sacramento—Requesting proposals for how tech could drive innovation in government
  2. Lincoln Labs—Local to the Bay Area? Check out this politically-themed hackathon
  3. FixTheDMCA—Own your cellphone by patching the law that restricts you to borrowing your cellphone from AT&T or another service provider

Got a cause you want to share? Tell me.

Reading List—Theme: Assorted


  1. WSJ: What Immigration Reform means to Social Security— Author argues that immigration keeps the US young, which in turn keeps Social Security solvent
  2. Feld Thoughts: UP Global = Startup Weekend + Startup America—The two groups have merged to promote entrepreneurship in both local communities and nationally
  3. Venture Beat: National Day of Civic Hacking—This weekend, 83 cities held hackathons with open data provided by local governments supported by DC. We’ll track what comes of the events.
  4. TheAtlantic: Liberty Reserve—Haven’t been following this one, but any accusation of $6B money laundering should be tracked, especially possible implications on other digital currencies, such as Bitcoin or Ripple
  5. Wired: Rand Paul visits Silicon Valley—Talks about broadening Republican appeal, issues like education reform, privacy

Political issues affecting startups: 


Japan joins trade treaty negotiations, China may soon follow—IP implications
Two weeks back, Japan announced that it would be joining the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty negotiations. Recently, China announced that it was considering also joining.

TPP is a wide ranging trade treaty, but it is the section on intellectual property (IP) that matters most to startups. International treaties have been used in recent years by the content industry to enact rules about copyrighted material that are then used to force Congress to comply. Most recently, Central European activists defeated a similar treaty, called ACTA.

Generally, these trade treaties are a net economic positive, but their IP provisions promise such a negative impact for the startup community that we’ve generally ended up strongly opposing them. From a political perspective, we need to do more to make it clear to DC that we will oppose any trade treaty that advances the maximalist approach to copyright, which can be used to suppress disruptive startups.

If you want to learn more, the US International Trade Administration Committee 15handles these negotiations, which are kept secret within the committee.


Sen. Rand Paul introduces expansive data privacy bill
Sen. Paul’s bill says that private information stored online does not waive privacy protections, which is currently how storing email on Gmail, files on Dropbox, or any other use of cloud-based Internet storage is handled by the relevant law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

Called the “Third Party Doctrine,” law enforcement and other federal agencies (e.g. the Internal Revenue Service or the Securities and Exchange Commission) legally consider such storage to be abandoned, which is surprising and upsetting. Sen. Paul’s bill seeks to entirely undo that interpretation of the law, which was written in 1986.

However, being such a blanket fix, Politico argues that the bill will see significant opposition from law enforcement. That said, it’s a clear improvement over the status quo, even if we’re likely to see another solution adopted.

(Full disclosure: PolitiHacks consults on the Leahy-Lee ECPA reform bill)


Senate Immigration bill to begin debate leading up to final vote around June 10
Talking Points Memo adds another data point that the immigration bill will begin final debate the week of June 10, with a final vote expected by July 4th.

Right now, the bill is being scored, where the policy is being translated into dollars and cents. That process began a week and a half ago and will likely be done by the end of this week. Following scoring, the bill must be entered into the Senate schedule by the Senate Majority Leader.

Once that’s done, debate will begin on the bill, with amendments of all kinds being acceptable, unless subject to a rule that every Senator is willing to agree upon, which is unlikely in the modern Senate.

At that point, debate will continue until the Senate leadership is ready for a final vote. Debate is expected to no longer than just before the July 4th vacation.

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PolitiHacks Digest – 28 May 2013 – What’s next for the immigration bill, startup visa?

Reading List—Theme: Immigration Reform


  1. Politico: LATISM & iMarch partnership—Latins In Social Media (LATISM) and Mayor Bloomberg’s March for Innovation (iMarch) partnered up to drive social media activity into the iMarch, which saw 30k+ actions taken over social media.
  2. Senators take to Vine for immigration reform—Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV) andCharles Schumer (D-NY) use Vine for the first time; Patty Murray (D-WA) marks her second time
  3. FWD.us: Joe Green on what the committee vote means—Joe provides a basic overview of the Senate process related to the recent vote and previews what’s next
  4. Sen. Jerry Moran: Startup Visa Amendment—Sen. Moran (R-KS) announces his intention to file an amendment to improve the startup visa provision in the immigration bill
  5. TheNextWeb: Hatch-Schumer H-1B deal—Sen. Hatch (R-UT) pushed hard for changes to the immigration bill, making more H-1Bs available for large companies, and Sen. Schumer (D-NY) represented the sponsoring Senators (Gang of Eight) in making a deal with him

One for the road: The New York Times reports on efforts by the FBI to compel online chat and Internet-based phone services to build in wiretap capabilities, as well as pushback by the open Internet activist community and network security experts.

Political issues affecting startups: 


Senate Immigration Bill passes out of Committee 13-5
Two major political take-aways from the vote (10 Democrats, 3 Republicans in favor, 5 Republicans opposed):
  • Two Republican members of the Gang of Eight sit on the Judiciary Committee, meaning only one non-Gang Republican member (Sen. Hatch of Utah) of six voted to favorably report the bill
  • Still, the final committee vote was 13-5, or 72% in favor, which is a strong signal moving forward

A committee vote to favorably report a bill is an important stage of the legislative process, as 88% of bills introduced die (see: Prognosis) before reaching this point. Still, Govtrack only gives the bill 27% of becoming law at this stage, though its chances have been rising since the November election.

The bill should be considered to have positive momentum moving forward, though only matching expectations without exceeding them.

The vote to watch is Sen. Cornyn’s (R-TX), who voted for the Sponsor’s amendment (passed 14-4) and flipped to vote against the committee report. He represents the tipping point vote right now.

The bill has already survived several points where it could have been doomed:

  • The discredited Heritage report was released, whose predecessor strongly correlated with the failure of the 2007 immigration effort
  • Various amendments were considered that would have destroyed supporters’ unity, specifically one allowing same-sex husbands or wives to be considered as a legal marriage for purposes of immigration.

The next point at which opposition could coalesce is when the bill is costed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).


PolitiHacks spends a Day on the Hill with National Immigration Forum

The primary takeaway was that expected opposition in the Senate from rank-and-fileRepublicans hasn’t yet coalesced. My vote count right now is between 52 and 75-77, which is surprisingly wide for such a major bill.

Many Republicans currently neutral on the bill could ultimately vote against it, but for now, they are still in listening mode. That alone is a striking change from 2007 to just before the 2012 election.

We heard that the CBO costing report could either keep these Senator’s neutral or drive them to the opposition. The CBO report will be derived from important assumptions that can and will be politically debated to either support or discredit the report.

Already, we’ve seen a costing report by the Heritage Foundation discredited due to itsassumptions, which argued that immigration reform would cost the US $6.3T over 50 years while considering only economic costs to reform.

As is often common in social science, reasonable people can rationally disagree about various assumptions’ economic contributions looking forward to the future. Where an assumption falls between reasonable and unreasonable gets addressed through adversarial debate, which is unusual for tech audiences. However, there are few binary solution sets in the political world.


What does the Hatch-Schumer tech immigration deal mean for startups?

The final sticking point before the committee had its final vote was whether or not Sen. Hatch (R-UT) could be convinced to vote for the bill. He wanted to see changes made to the high-skilled immigration, generally in support of what the big tech companies’ position is, as a previous sponsor of the I-Squared bill, which left out startup visa.

The end result was a complicated amendment tree representing complicated negotiations. An amendment tree details how an amendment itself can be amended up to a certain point. Hatch had submitted an amendment representing his extreme on the game theory spectrum, and Sen. Schumer (D-NY) inserted a secondary amendment that represented the in-between point representing the meeting point between the initial bill and Hatch’s perspective.

TheHill has the comprehensive coverage of what policy changes are in the amendments. For startups, the primary change is not needing to submit job postings to a proposed Department of Labor database unless 15% of your company or more holds H-1B visas, which would have been a difficult requirement to reach during early periods of founder or early hire matching and later periods of rapid growth.

Vivek Wadhwa debated Ron Hira on PBS about the deal and what it means for the tech industry as a whole.


What other immigration amendments should we be paying attention to?

Though missing the final days and deals, the Washington post piece remains the most comprehensive review of amendments considered, aside from the Hatch-Schumer deal.

Startups should be interested in the EB-5 investor visa program being made permanent, and Chinese founders may be able to make use of access to the visa waiver program through Hong Kong.

The most exciting was the passage of Sen. Whitehouse’s (D-RI) amendment to count investment through accelerators towards the qualification for the bill’s startup visa, though “accelerator” is loosely defined. I’m not sure exactly how helpful this amendment is, because no accelerator or incubator I’m aware of provides enough funding to qualify, and follow-on funding through angels or VCs was already covered.


Rep. Issa introduced high-skilled immigration bill in House—strengths and flaws

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who was a key supporter of startups and the open Internet on SOPA, recently introduced a high-skilled immigration bill with the support of Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA).

Most relevantly to startups, the bill does contain a startup visa, though the milestone of $1M raised or $1M in annual revenue within three years would restrict successful startup visa applicants to only top performing tech startups, mostly in Silicon Valley. Further, such a high bar could cause founders to have to give away significant equity, forcing a choice between ‘(green) card or king,’ to paraphrase the famous “rich or king” piece. We do cheer the understanding of the difference of scale in angel and VC investment, with $100k or $500k raised, respectively, being the milestone to qualify for this startup visa proposal.

Additionally, the E-2 visa, a popular founder visa intended for investors from countries friendly to the US, would be authorized to allow E-2 holders to apply for a green card after 10 years, which hasn’t been brought up before.

While these are positive improvements over the status quo, there are two primary problems, one policy (the idea) and one political (the implementation):

  • The proposal is unfavorably compared  to almost all other startup visa proposals
  • It remains unclear if the House will move forward with its piecemeal immigration bills or ultimately move a single, comprehensive bill—if the latter, these proposals offer insight to the final package but no constraint

While we support the principle of Rep. Issa’s bill (draft copy) and consider it a major improvement above the status quo, it could be much improved simply by modeling after other political proposals.


Sen. Moran plans startup visa floor amendment—what’s that?

PolitiHacks is proud to support Sen. Moran as he seeks to make the startup visa provision more effective.

The amendment has the following major fixes:

  • Remove business plan submission requirement
  • Clarify the intent to allow a founder to move from intending to leave the country after several years to pursuing permanent residence
  • Reduce the revenue and funding milestone requirements to be more in line with market data
  • Allow friends, family, and personal savings/investment to count towards qualification requirements

If your organization is interested in supporting this proposal, please contact us by June 7. We thank Hackers & Founders, Lean Startup Circle, and Watson Immigration Law for their support, specifically thanking Tahmina Watson for her research on where the immigration bill could be improved.


Cellphone Unlocking: Phone campaign report

PolitiHacks cosponsored a a phone campaign, led by FixTheDMCA.org and powered byPhone2Action. We targeted DC to advance the cellphone unlocking bill introduced by Reps. Lofgren (D-CA), Massie (R-KY), Polis (D-CO), and Eshoo (D-CA).

Phone campaigns work because DC political offices tally the number of calls on a given issue each day, which influences their decision-making process on legislative issues. According to one Congressman, if you can send at least 30 calls into an office from within the district, you’ll get advanced up the staff chain.

The call campaign reached 5,000, who generated 181 calls, for approximately a 0.3% conversion rate. This rate contrasted with a campaign to generate emails to Congress, which had a 35% conversion rate. Primarily reaching a tech audience, the results illustrate a large culture gap between the online world and that of DC.

However, phones are the minimum viable political action, as emails are not easily linked to a specific voter in an elected official’s district. Without that link, emails are mostly discarded by office interns without their views being registered, unless submitted directly through the office website.

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