Congress is Back: Craigslist, Google, Net Neutrality And More

Welcome back Congress, recess is over! With just weeks to go before the November midterms that could send many of them home, lawmakers return to Washington this week for the September work period: four weeks of writing and trying to pass bills quickly so they can get back on the campaign trail.

But first, it’s a packed agenda. Lawmakers will have to make decisions on tax cuts, spending bills and federal stimulus projects before they can return home. Left unclear is where, with partisan tensions high, other issues, like net neutrality and privacy, will fall in line. We take a look ahead at the top social media issues awaiting Congress’s return…

  • Not directly related but unquestionably poised to get the most attention will be a hearing Wednesday of the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee on domestic minor sex trafficking. Why? Because that’s where Internet ad giant Craigslist has decided to break its silence over its surprising decision this month to post a “censored” link of its adult services section. William Clint Powell, the site’s director of customer service and law enforcement relations, will appear on a panel with human rights advocates.
  • Two Internet privacy bills are pending in the House – one by Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the other by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.). Although it doesn’t appear likely either will see action before the Nov. 2 elections, they remain a hot topic (or target). Last week both received the dubious honor of filling the top slots on advocacy group NetChoice’s iAWFUL worst legislation list. David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau, also spoke out last week to question the bills’ “safe harbors” approach, telling C-SPAN’s Communicators there is “not enough uniformity in the way these programs work” to allow ad consortiums to operate under a “very weak opt-in” standard. Vladeck also wants the bills to go further in requiring ad networks to provide “short, concise just in time notices to consumers about what’s being collected, who’s doing the collecting and what the data is going to be used for.”
  • On the Senate side, John Kerry (D-Mass.) pledged this summer to pursue an online privacy bill but has yet to put forward a proposal or draft. The Senate Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, has scheduled a hearing for the end of this month on how to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act later. Witnesses scheduled to testify include reps from Microsoft and the Commerce and Justice departments. Microsoft, Google and other companies invested in cloud computing have a stake in seeing the Act updated to address users’ discomfort with the features privacy dimensions.
  • Google, the recipient of its share of hits over privacy in recent weeks, is batting back and taking their fight to Congress with a privacy road show of sorts. Politico reports company bigwigs like Product Manager Jonathan McPhie will be all over Capitol Hill this week talking up privacy tools like Google Dashboard and Ads Preference Manager. The effort will include briefings with interest groups and think tanks, a privacy tool demonstration for Congressional staff and an inside-the-Beltway focused ad campaign.
  • On the net-neutrality front, the FCC pushed back its decision-making even further by announcing last week it would keep the public comment process open, delaying any action until at least December. That’s not stopping broadband providers, concerned any regulation will hurt their industry, from keeping the pressure on. The Hill scoops that executives from AltaCom, Tellabs and Alcatal-Lucent, among others, will also host a road show of sorts this week, traveling to D.C. to meet with FCC Commissioners and leaders of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Their clear message: net-neutrality rules are a “job killer.”