Is Congress really capable of legislating the future?

Congress is supposed to write our laws, but it’s looking inadequate at doing so in the face of a rapidly evolving technology industry. The near-term passage of a bill allowing Netflix to share user data is too little, too late — and altogether too common.

The NYT’s Bill Keller on why we should defend WikiLeaks

In response to a GigaOM post about how attacks on WikiLeaks threaten the rights of all media entities, former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said he agrees the organization should be protected by the First Amendment and media companies should come to its defence.

Yes, we should be afraid of facial-recognition software

My gut instinct is to call Senator Al Franken a well-meaning fool when it comes to his latest outcry — this time against the advent of facial-recognition software — but he actually has a point. Facial-recognition software opens up a whole new class of privacy concerns.

A step-by-step guide to making CISPA suck less

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act is a lot like your old college buddy who used to get way too drunk and then puke in your lap: it claims to mean well, but its actions suggest otherwise. Here’s how to improve it.

House passes CISPA in surprise vote

The U.S. House of Representatives surprised the tech industry Thursday by voting on, and passing, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) after having originally scheduled a vote for Friday. The bill was amended several times prior to the final vote.

ACTA 2.0 is like a backdoor way to enact SOPA

The activists fighting for less-draconian copyright laws have seized the opportunity afforded to them by the defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act in the U.S. Congress to go after a bigger topic, the exportation of SOPA-style laws abroad.

Is the spectrum crisis a myth?

Mobile operators insist we are fast approaching a mobile datapocalypse where their networks will no longer be able to meet mobile broadband demands. But are these claims of a spectrum crisis red herrings? A couple of telecom industry commentators think so, and they’re calling the carriers out.

Gaiman: SOPA and PIPA are on the wrong side of history

Author Neil Gaiman said in an interview this week that the media industry is trying to “put genies back in bottles” with laws like SOPA and PIPA, and the Internet has fundamentally changed the landscape, just as Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press did.

Supreme Court sidesteps digital privacy … for now

On Monday, the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional in most cases to use GPS to track suspects without a warrant — calling the attachment of a GPS device to a suspect’s property a trespass — but the Court declined to address some major privacy issues also at play.

Has Wikipedia broken faith with users by going dark?

Critics of Wikipedia’s decision to shut the encyclopedia down as a protest against U.S. anti-piracy legislation say the site shouldn’t be taking an advocacy position on such an issue, but if anything, that decision is a great illustration of how Wikipedia functions and why it’s important.

White spaces are a go! (at least in Wilmington)

Ignoring the threats by Congress to kill off white spaces, the Federal Communications Commission has approved commercial operations of the first networks and devices to tap into the airwave gaps between TV broadcasts, potentially setting off a new revolution in ‘Super Wi-Fi’ services.

The Internet erases borders, SOPA puts them back

Just like the iPhone brought smartphones to the mainstream, widespread streaming, YouTube and online pharmacies have brought SOPA to Congress. But the fundamental issue isn’t about SOPA, it’s about protecting business models that rely on a fragmented world, as the web makes fragmentation less relevant.

Congress, please don’t kill white spaces

The spectrum bill that passed the House last night will make any technologist weep. I know the tech community is upset over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), but this bill represents a somewhat geekier threat–killing more unlicensed spectrum.

Amazon Silk’s cloud-based privacy conundrum

The ado around the privacy settings of the Amazon Silk web browser is probably deserved, but it didn’t have to be this way. Had Amazon understood the difference between running a web site and selling devices, it could have saved itself a lot of trouble.

Patent reform is coming: Who should care

When Congress returns from its summer recess in early September, it will vote on patent reform legislation that should represent a major overhaul of the United States patent system. It won’t do away with patent trolls or software patents, but it could level the playing field.

Congress Proposes Sweeping Internet Privacy Bill

Two Congressmen have proposed a sweeping bill to govern online privacy that would require companies to provide clear notices of what information is being collected by either their site or service or a third-party ad network, and would allow users to opt out from such services.

Quarterly Wrap-up

Second Quarter 2009 in Review: Green IT

As the first federal stimulus funds began to make their way across the country, second quarter saw a slight thawing of investor pocketbooks when it came to Green IT.

The smart grid, in particular, continued to attract both media buzz and venture capital investors (who couldn’t seem to contain their excitement over finding cleantech investments that looked just like traditional IT plays: low capital, quick return, little to no technology risk). In fact, there was so much interest in the consumer-facing software component of the smart grid — home energy management systems — that there is already talk of a “bubble” in that space. Which was not enough to keep software giant Microsoft from making noise in the home-energy realm.

On the networking and utility-facing software fronts, infotech leaders Cisco and Oracle also threw their sizeable hats into the smart-grid ring in second quarter, both with solutions aimed at utilities: Cisco on the networking and communications front and Oracle with a software package to help utilities integrate with smart meters, balance system loads, respond to outages, manage customer billing and offer time-of-use pricing.

The two primary issues hanging over the smart grid space continue to be energy storage and a lack of standards for interoperability. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is so far on-track to meet its ambitious September 2009 deadline to resolve the standards issue, and many industry watchers were relieved to see that the first batch of standards (released in second quarter) mirrored those that already dominate the industry. The energy storage problem is farther from a resolution, but a few promising startups emerged this quarter with potential solutions.

Meanwhile, second quarter saw more leaps forward in the plug-in vehicle space, including several corporate fleet agreement announcements and a number of funding announcements for battery startups. Tesla also (finally) secured a much-needed Department of Energy loan plus a “double-digit million-dollar” investment from Daimler, while Ford and Nissan both banked DOE loans for electric vehicle programs, and Chrysler teamed up with A123 Systems after GM canceled its deal with the battery startup in favor of a deal with rival Sakti3.

Solar and wind picked up slightly from first quarter, and while both sectors continue to struggle in the face of massive decreases in capital investments, as well as valuations and deal volume, analysts predict a better year ahead in 2010. Biofuels are still on a downward spiral, with more bankruptcy announcements crossing the wire in second quarter as Congress debated the merits of holding biofuel producers accountable for their carbon emissions, but there may be light at the end of the tunnel for next-generation biofuels thanks to federal mandates.

On that note, the United States got closer than it ever has been to putting a price on carbon — a hugely important policy in terms of support for the cleantech industry —when the Waxman-Markey bill passed the House of Representatives late in second quarter. Though historic, the House passage doesn’t guarantee a U.S. carbon law or market — not by a long shot. There remains a Senate vote on that chamber’s version of the bill; passage there would be followed by discussion between the chambers on what the final bill will be, and then decisions from various federal organizations about how to interpret climate legislation.

Telcos Will See a More Activist Congress

Congressional Committee moves yesterday could herald more regulation for telecommunications firms from issues ranging from rural access to net neutrality. Yesterday Rep. Henry Waxman ascended to the head of the Senate Commerce Committee, which began an investigation into how web firms use a consumer’s data.