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An update from the office of U.S. Representative Michael E. Capuano
7th Congressional District of Massachusetts

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June 14, 2013

Giving Users the Right to Say No To Being Watched by their Own TV

Yesterday I filed the “We Are Watching You Act” with Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) in response to reports that national telecommunications companies are exploring technology for digital video recorders (DVRs) that would record the personal activities of consumers as they watch television from the privacy of their own homes. Current law is silent on these devices and this legislation would require both an opt-in for consumers and an on-screen warning whenever the device is recording information about consumers.

This may sound preposterous but it is neither a joke nor an exaggeration. These DVRs would essentially observe consumers as they watch television as a way to super-target ads. It is an incredible invasion of privacy. Given what we have recently learned about the access that the government has to the phone numbers we call, the emails we send and the websites we visit, it is important for consumers to decide for themselves whether they want this technology. Think about what you do in the privacy of your own home and then think about how you would feel sharing that information with your cable company, their advertisers and your government.

Devices would utilize technology such as infrared cameras and microphones embedded in DVRs and cable boxes. One example of industry efforts on this technology can be found in a patent application filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office by Verizon. According to the patent application, the set-top device will be able to distinguish “ambient action … of eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, humming, cleaning” and more. The application further notes that ambient action also “comprises an interaction between the user and another user” which are described as “at least one of cuddling, fighting, participating in a game or sporting event, and talking”. That information would then be used to deliver targeted ads to your living room. Other companies, such as Intel and Comcast have explored similar technology.

Although this DVR technology is in its conceptual stages, it is important that Congress establish clear boundaries before it becomes reality. Right now, there is nothing preventing companies from utilizing the technology, no obligation to notify the consumer before it is used and no obligation to give consumers the chance to opt out. Too often, Congress is far behind when it comes to advancements in technology and is forced to update regulations that are decades old so that they are meaningful for today’s innovations. The “We Are Watching You Act” does not prohibit companies from developing this technology. It simply lets consumers make their own decisions about whether or not it belongs in their homes.

The “We Are Watching You Act” requires prior consent from the consumer before this type of DVR can be installed in a home. The operator of the technology must provide specific details on how collected information will be used, and who will have access to the data. When the recording device is in use, the words WE ARE WATCHING YOU would appear, large enough to be readable from a distance, for as long as the device is recording the viewing area. If consumers opt out of the new technology, companies are required to offer a video service that does not collect this information but is otherwise identical in all respects.

Advances in technology have given us more entertainment choices, improved picture quality and delivered better products but this takes advancement to a whole new level. At a minimum, consumers should have the option of saying no to being watched. The Boston Globe had a report on my legislation today, which you can read here:

Recent Votes

On Wednesday the House considered H.R. 1256: The Swap Jurisdiction Certainty Act. This legislation would exempt swaps with foreign subsidiaries from U.S. rules established under the 2010 financial reform legislation. Swaps are used to hedge risk or speculate on the market. This is the type of derivative used by AIG, which led to their bailout in 2008. Currently these swaps are regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). H.R. 1256 would revoke the authority of our regulators and instead allow swaps involving U.S. companies and their foreign subsidiaries to follow the rules of the host country where the foreign subsidiary is based. Other nations are far behind in developing derivatives regulations and H.R. 1256 has the effect of creating a large loophole through which U.S. banks can conduct swaps while avoiding U.S. oversight. These financial institutions, and possibly taxpayers, would be on the hook if these deals resulted in significant losses — ultimately importing the derivatives risk to the U.S.

Here is my floor statement about this bill:

I voted NO. H.R. 1256 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:





















Today the House passed H.R. 1960: FY 2014 Defense Authorization Act. This legislation authorizes funding for the Departments of Defense and Energy. Although H.R. 1960 includes some worthwhile provisions, I could not support it. H.R. 1960 authorizes $50 billion more in funding than sequestration requires. As I have long argued, sequestration should be replaced with a balanced approach to deficit reduction. The additional funding authorized in this bill will come from other programs that have already been cut. The legislation contains funding to make some temporary facilities at Guantanamo permanent, and doesn’t go far enough to facilitate its closing. It also doesn’t go far enough to address problems with how the military handles cases of sexual assault within its ranks. I voted NO. H.R. 1960 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:





















What’s Up Next

Next votes are scheduled for Monday June 17th. The House is expected to consider H.R. 1797, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act.


Congressman Mike Capuano
7th District, Massachusetts
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee on Financial Services

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