Daniel Savickas

ATR Joins Bipartisan Effort to Create FCC Transparency

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Posted by Daniel Savickas on Tuesday, October 4th, 2016, 3:50 PM PERMALINK

Today, Americans for Tax Reform President, Grover Norquist, sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) supporting the petition filed by 19 civil rights groups on Monday, October 3rd. 

After the FCC’s delay in rolling out the new proposal, there have been greater calls from across the aisle to lift the Sunshine restrictions that would keep the public and companies with a vested interest from commenting on the proposal. The full letter can be found both below and here:

Dear Commissioners:

I write in support of the Petition to Lift Sunshine and Allow Public Comment submitted to the Federal Communications Commission regarding its new rules on set top boxes.

(Ironically, sunshine in this context really means the exact opposite of sunshine. Dark side of the moon might be more appropriate terminology.)

The petition asks the FCC to do what it is already required to do under law.  Lift the Sunshine restrictions that keep interested parties and Commissioners from communicating with each other regarding the new set top box rules; and two, allow interested parties to review and comment on the new proposal.

With requests to see the new rules from Democrat and Republican Senators and Representatives, private industry, civil liberties groups, and other advocacy groups representing a broad swath of the political and socioeconomic spectrum, it is hard to understand how Chairman Wheeler can say the public has already had enough opportunity to comment on this proposal.  It is clear the public does not agree.

Transparency is of the utmost importance. On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform, I respectfully request that the FCC grant the petitioners request and that these rules go through the correct legal process.

If you should have any questions regarding this issue please contact me, or Katie McAuliffe at kmcauliffe@atr.or or 202-785-0266.

Onward,

Grover G. Norquist

 

                                                          


Unconstitutional, Dangerous Step Taken to Give Up the Internet

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Posted by Daniel Savickas on Tuesday, August 16th, 2016, 5:31 PM PERMALINK

The NTIA announced on Tuesday that it intends to allow the United States’ control over the Internet to expire on October 1st. This is a move that threatens to let more power fall into the hands of authoritarian governments.

In a statement, released on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) blog, the NTIA administrator, Larry Strickland, said, “Based on our review and barring any significant impediment, NTIA intends to allow the IANA functions contract to expire as of October 1.”

This will leave the Internet susceptible to authoritarian control.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Name and Numbers (ICANN), the organization in question, has repeatedly refused to comply with Senate requests for information on its relationship with the Chinese government. It also employs a former key member of Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak’s, government as an advisor.

This decision raises constitutional issues as well. According to Americans for Tax Reform’s Executive Director of Digital Liberty, Katie McAuliffe:

“If NTIA doesn’t extend its contract with ICANN to administer the IANA functions Sept. 30, then all of the work that they've done since the beginning of 2016 in examining the transition would be in violation of the funding ban rider.”

A coalition of 25 interest groups signed on to a letter urging Congress to sue for this very purpose. NTIA has run afoul of an appropriations rider that, even Strickland admitted “does restrict NTIA from using appropriated dollars to relinquish our stewardship.”

This move by NTIA also comes in the midst of a debate in Congress to ensure all issues are ironed out and approved by the legislature before any definitive decision is made. This moves the timeline up significantly.


Norquist Statement in Support of Digital GAP Act

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Posted by Daniel Savickas on Thursday, July 14th, 2016, 12:52 PM PERMALINK

The Digital GAP Act, H.R. 5537, introduced by Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce, Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Ranking Member Eliot Engel and Rep. Grace Meng, passed out of the Foreign Affairs Committee on voice vote.

The following can be attributed to Americans For Tax Reform President, Grover Norquist:

“Passing the Digital Gap act would build on the success of the Electrify Africa Act passed last year.  The “Dig Once” policies, promoted in the Digital Gap Act, make sense in Africa and also in the United States of America.  When we export good ideas we should also use them ourselves at home.  The Digital Gap Act will increase the value of U.S. international aid contributions without increasing the burden on taxpayers.” 


Committee Holds Hearing on FCC Oversight

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Posted by Daniel Savickas on Tuesday, July 12th, 2016, 4:07 PM PERMALINK

The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing today with all five Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioners to discuss oversight of the Commission.

The hearing touched on a wide range of issues. Of those included the auction of high band spectrum, the FCC’s set top box proposal, and the sustainability of the Lifeline program.

FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler, set the stage for the FCC’s open meeting on Thursday that will clarify the FCC’s policy and plan on high-band spectrum. This is another first of its kind auction.  Wheeler is optimistic about the proceedings.  He belives more high-band spectrum will allow the United States to lead the world in high speed, high capacity 5th Generation (5G) networks.

Vice-Chairman of the Committee, Representative Bob Latta, began by taking aim at the set top box proposal saying it is not the solution to protecting consumers. Representative Marsha Blackburn followed shortly thereafter saying the FCC has not ensured people be compensated for creating what is theirs, and the proposal threatens small businesses.

In Commissioner Ajit Pai’s testimony, he criticized the Commission’s set top box proposal further by saying it “misses the mark” and fails to protect the intellectual property of consumers and disproportionately hurts small businesses. He also said the proposal fails the most basic test of providing all consumers with the same privacy protections. He strongly recommended an approach that would lead towards an app-based system instead.

Pai continued by addressing the rampant waste, fraud, and abuse in the Lifeline program, which is meant to increase Internet access for low-income families. Pai added that the abuse is greater than he imagined, and that the program does not serve the low-income families that deserve it.

Americans for Tax Reform joined a coalition letter expressing gratitude that the Committee is looking into these important matters, and outlined concerns about the harmful effects of the FCC’s policies. The full letter can be found here.


Thune Encourages More Oversight of Executive Bureaucracies

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Posted by Daniel Savickas on Friday, July 8th, 2016, 1:50 PM PERMALINK

Senator John Thune highlighted yesterday vast leadership failures at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and shed light on how bureaucratic institutions like the FCC have hijacked the separation of powers doctrine that has guided this nation.

Thune powerfully condemned the systemic misuse of an organization that was meant, in his words, “to be places of expertise” to inform policy-making. However, the FCC has not embodied this key role for quite some time. Thune continued:

In recent years, the FCC has behaved less as an independent commission accountable to Congress, and more as a de facto arm of the executive branch, wholly subservient to the President. At the same time, the FCC has become more partisan than ever before, and an institution that has seized greater regulatory power while simultaneously shutting down bipartisan dialogue and compromise.”

In a time where the regulatory arm of the Executive Branch would make any one of our founders cringe, it is vital to sustaining our liberty that we recognize the reality of our situation as Senator Thune has done.

Thune’s words also ring true in a time where brave representatives in our legislature are trying to reclaim the promise that our founders handed down to us that our government would not have the power to act so unilaterally as to restrict our most basic freedoms.

The Separation of Powers Restoration Act (SOPRA) reels in the power that federal agencies and unelected bureaucrats have to dictate the policy that governs each American.

Introduced by Congressman John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.), as well as Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Mike Lee (R-Utah), SOPRA ends judicial deference to a 1984 court decision that requires courts to accept the executive branch’s interpretation of any law passed by Congress that may be vague in any way.

The FCC and the Obama administration have been allowed to run rampant, because of this irresponsible decision. Thune, along with these representatives are trying to solidify the truth that each branch of government is on equal footing.

Thune’s words go a long way in exposing the tacit acceptance of government overreach in this country. This precedent must not be allowed to continue.


Internet Governance Is in Danger

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Posted by Daniel Savickas on Thursday, June 30th, 2016, 4:22 PM PERMALINK

The Internet, as we know it, is moving ever closer to falling into the hands of people and governments who don’t respect the right to free speech.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible for oversight of domain name registration, an important role in Internet governance. To ensure this all runs smoothly, and fairly, the US government retains jurisdiction over the organization.

This is about to change.

The Commerce Department recently approved a plan that would transition ICANN from under US oversight, to a purely independent organization. This would expand their role from what is essentially being the white pages of the Internet, to one that has far more control and influence over the basic function of the web. Not to mention, they would be beholden to no one.

Once ICANN gains autonomy, it may choose to incorporate in any nation they choose, where it is not subject to the US justice system, and where these governments’ authorities would have some measure of influence in their decision-making. This would be devastating.

Tarek Kamel, the Senior Advisor to the President of ICANN, is well-known for being responsible for shutting down the Internet in Egypt amid Arab Spring protests. A voice like Kamel’s would hold a lot more weight should ICANN ever become independent from the US.

Despite Kamel’s shadowy past and history with blatant censorship, ICANN’s own website holds him up as a “visionary strategist in driving and developing Egypt's ICT sector” and praises his “pivotal role” in shaping Egypt’s national policy and claimed he had made Egypt “a regional role model.”

Further, ICANN has repeatedly refused to comply with Senate requests for information about its relationship with the Chinese government, a known authoritarian regime that censors speech on the Internet.

As a nation that values speech as a sacred right, there is no excuse for allowing an organization that praises those who put down dissidents. The future of the Internet holds many obstacles to free expression, if Internet governance came under an oppressive regime.


Obama's FCC Has a Long History of Regulatory Overreach

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Posted by Daniel Savickas on Thursday, June 23rd, 2016, 9:52 AM PERMALINK

Federal Affairs Manager at Americans for Tax Reform, Katie McAuliffe, recently published an op-ed in The Hill detailing the FCC’s illustrious past of interfering in the lives of everyday Americans. This comes in light of the FCC’s Title II regulations, more commonly known as “Net Neutrality”, being upheld by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. She elaborates:

“It doesn’t take a genius to see what the FCC is doing.  It is piling up obstacles to private investment in private networks, putting us on a glidepath to a taxpayer-funded and government-owned telecommunications and Internet structure that looks like a cross between a Yugoslavian car factory and a Soviet-era milk distribution scheme.”

The full article can be found here.

More from Americans for Tax Reform


ATR Supports FTC Reform Bills

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Posted by Daniel Savickas on Wednesday, May 25th, 2016, 10:56 AM PERMALINK


In a letter to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, Americans for Tax Reform lent its support to the SHIELD Act (HR 5118) and the STALL Act (HR 5097), which would instill much needed reforms in the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Currently, the FTC has been able to avoid both congressional and judicial checks on its authority by operating under a system of “soft law” that treats guidelines and recommendations as binding legal edicts. This places an unnecessary burden on small businesses who have to comply with complex guidelines that are unchecked by any branch of government. HR 5118 remedies this and reins in the power of the FTC to circumvent proper oversight.

HR 5097 will help companies suffering from long, drawn-out cases with the FTC. The FTC can currently take action against a company for an infinite time period. HR 5097 limits that to six months and helps small businesses avoid frivolous legal fees, and emboldens them to litigate, instead of settle by limiting the amount of time the FTC can hinder their business.

These concerns and more have been reflected in the testimonies of people such as Berin Szoka, the President of TechFreedom, and Geoffrey Manne, the Executive Director at the International Center for Law and Economics. Their testimony can be found here.

The full text of the Americans for Tax Reform statement can be seen below:

 
May 24, 2016

Dear Members of Subcommittee on Commerce Manufacturing and Trade:

We urge you to support both H.R. 5118, the SHIELD Act, and H.R. 5097, the
STALL Act.

It is Congress’ job to provide rules for administrative agencies to follow.

Both the SHIELD and the STALL Acts set reasonable clarification and parameters of Federal Trade Commission enforcement action authority.

The SHIELD Act makes it clear that a violation of current law must take place before an FTC investigation can be pursued. Guidelines and recommendations are suggestions as to how a law can be followed; however, pursuing a different path that still complies with law does not warrant FTC enforcement action.

The uncertainty of an open-ended investigation in which no action has taken place for more than six months leaves is harassing. Individuals may have no idea how to prepare and could sit in a paralyzing state of limbo. The STALL Act, requires that investigations close if no action has been taken in six months. It is reasonable to expect an investigating agency to investigate within a six month timeline.

We encourage the Subcommittee to move these bills for full Committee consideration. 

Please contact Katie McAuliffe by email, kmcauliffe@atr.org, or phone, 202-785-0266, with any questions or comments.

Onward,

Grover G. Norquist
 


Chicago Attempts Yet Another Tax Increase to Rescue Pensions

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Posted by Daniel Savickas on Tuesday, May 24th, 2016, 2:55 PM PERMALINK

Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is trying to save his city’s bleeding pension fund by raising its phone tax for the second time in as many years. This new tax increase is meant to back up a $600 million General Obligation Bond the Chicago government issued.

The decision by Emanuel comes on the heels of the Illinois Supreme Court striking down his previous plan, the Chicago Pension Reform Act (CPRA). Under CPRA, employee contributions to the pension plan would have to be increased 29 percent, and tweaks were made to adjustments in Social Security.

This new phone tax is nothing new for Chicago taxpayers. In 2014, the wireless tax was raised by 56% from $2.50/month to $3.90/month for every phone line, wired and wireless phone. According to Randy Nehert, the President of the Illinois Telecommunications Association, this would cost a family of four an extra $425 a year. That tax was also meant to save the Laborers’ Pension Fund.

This tax, as it stands now, is already the highest in the nation. For perspective, New Yorkers only pay a rate of $1.50/month. In Houston, the rate is 50 cents/month. And, for Los Angeles, that rate is a mere 38 cents, less than ten percent of what Chicago taxpayers are burdened with. Now Emanuel wants to hike the rate once again to save the Pension Fund.

Emanuel is trying to follow through on a promise he made to ex-Governor Pat Quinn, to avoid raising property taxes in order to fund the pensions. However, Emanuel did recently raise property taxes by $700 million, with $588 million earmarked in order to rescue another pension fund for police officers and firefighters.

Now, the Laborers’ Pension Fund is running out of money yet again, in Chicago, and the city government’s solution is to just throw out taxes on their citizens to try and fix the problem. It has yet to work, and Emanuel is not even confident this one will either. The goal of this new tax is only to have the pension fund funded to 90% by the year 2055. The plan is, evidently, to use the same tactic that failed in the past, to partly fix a problem over 40 years.

The Chicago government’s policy will also tax the city’s middle and lower classes out of existence. Most obviously, these types of taxes cut into a greater percentage of lower income families’ paychecks. Below the surface, though, many of these families are using phones as their primary access to the internet. Tax increases like this are threatening the stability of Chicago’s residents and their access to basic needs. We urge Mayor Emanuel to find other means to save his city’s floundering economy.

More from Americans for Tax Reform


Time for the Fourth Amendment to Join the 21st Century

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Posted by Daniel Savickas on Thursday, May 19th, 2016, 4:56 PM PERMALINK

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendment Act (S 356), authored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), was brought before the Judiciary Committee by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Grassley’s decision is an incredibly important one in defending the Constitution in a world with almost unlimited technological capacities that can undermine the privacy and freedoms of American citizens, and should be commended.

 

In the age of increasingly capable technology, it is important to make sure that our laws, and our constitutional rights, keep up with the evolving nature of the digital world. The Senate, as well as the House, with their Email Privacy Act (HR 699) have helped introduce effective pieces of legislation to ensure that the 4th Amendment Rights of American citizens are protected and national security interests are conserved.

 

The bill is an expansion of the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which extended 4th Amendment protections to emails. In the 30 years, since ECPA was passed, many advances have been made that render it obsolete. Governmental authorities have used the language of the previous law to violate the privacy of today’s Americans, claiming that new, improved technology is technically not protected.

 

This naked example of overreach threatens the United States economy, and the ability of US companies to compete. In a world where much data is stored in “The Cloud,” the government is hoping to use the aforementioned loopholes in ECPA to access that information without confronting the owner of the data. This violates that citizen’s or business’s due process rights. It also has the effect of harming small businesses who do not have the financial resources to comply with the legal complexities that entails. It also deters investment in the United States by signaling that company data will not be protected, and risks losing US business and jobs to foreign competitors.

 

Cloud computing is growing into a huge industry and is projected to be worth about $241 billion by the year 2020. US businesses can save both time and money moving to the Cloud. Not only will continuously violating the rights of its citizens prompt European companies to exploit our weak record on privacy to draw business away from the US, it will decrease competition within the US, as many companies will fade away in the face of these regulations. Supporting ECPA reform in the Senate will send a strong message that the US supports its growing industries to the rest of the world.

 

Concerns about security interests can also be assuaged. Neither S 356, nor its House companion, amends any of the parameters of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA deals with issues of national security and terrorism investigations. The government’s ability to bring justice to these cases will not be altered in any way. Additionally, many domestic law enforcement officials have testified that these new reforms in S 356 will not hinder the abilities of local law enforcement at all.

 

Greater technological advances make it far easier for the government to infringe on our rights. The protection of our rights is not a partisan issue and the House displayed that in its rare, unanimous decision to pass this much-needed reform. In order to ensure that as technology advances, the Constitution does not fall by the wayside. It is time for the Senate to expand on Senator Grassley’s important measure to bring this before the Committee, and pass this legislation for all Americans.

 

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