FISA COURT REBUKE MAKES CONGRESSIONAL, PRIVACY GROUP SPLASH — Tony and your MT-er have the story: “Congressional critics of government surveillance blasted the National Security Agency and promised additional hearings after the Obama administration on Wednesday declassified documents that show thousands of Americans’ emails had been scooped up….Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and top House Democrats said they too were displeased, while Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the leader of the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, promised a hearing in the coming weeks. Beyond the Capitol, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation stressed they — and the country — had been misled.”

“The released documents that brought Wednesday’s backlash reflected the NSA hoovered up thousands of Americans’ emails for three years, despite clear limits in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act against such practices. The NSA changed its collection activities in 2011 after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled its behavior unconstitutional. … Nevertheless, the revelations have only galvanized the most vocal critics of government surveillance.” More:

QUESTIONS REMAIN FOR HILL’S NEXT STEPS — Wednesday’s document dump is likely to mean more ire in the halls of Congress and more questions from constituents at home. But the NSA’s content collection programs are largely more complicated than their records-collection activity, which has thus far been the subject of most reform proposals, and it’s not clear what lawmakers might propose going forward. “It’s definitely a challenge for Congress to grapple with this set of issues. And they have not done a good job up till now or we would not be in the position we are in,” Federation of American Scientists’ government secrecy guru Steven Aftergood told MT. “But if there is a way forward, it has to involve an inclusive process in which dissenting views are fully represented and then it goes from there.” Said the ACLU’s Michelle Richardson: “It’s too soon to tell, but we were waiting for something like this on the 702 Internet content collection issue.”

AND: ADMINISTRATION PUSHES BACK ON REPORTS TIED TO WSJ ARTICLE — A joint statement from the NSA and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s office Wednesday night called reports based on the WSJ’s morning article “inaccurate and misleading.” The WSJ story said the NSA’s surveillance network was broader than officials have previously disclosed, but the administration says reports “leave readers with the impression that NSA is sifting through as much as 75 percent of the United States’ online communications, which is simply not true.” The reported assistance from telecommunications providers, the administration also said, isn’t new — it’s “the same activity that has been previously revealed as part of Section 702 collection and PRISM,” according to the administration statement.

GOOD THURSDAY MORNING and welcome to Morning Tech, where your old standby Alex is back in the saddle. Many thanks to Tony for holding down the fort while he was in — cue Jim Carrey — a little place called Aspen. Let us know what we missed while we held the fort down in D.C.

TODAY: LEW VISITS VALLEY — Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will hit up Silicon Valley today where he’ll hobnob with techies and tout the president’s plan to create jobs and develop innovative technology in the U.S. He’ll talk about the state of the economy at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View and even make a stop at the AT&T Foundry in Palo Alto. He’ll also head to Menlo Park, where he’ll visit Facebook and sit down with CEOs to discuss the economy. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, who is hosting the business leader roundtable, has done so with previous secretaries — remember, she was chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary and potential Fed president Larry Summers. Shoot us a note if you hear some gossip — no press allowed.

CONTENT INDUSTRY EYES SEARCH IN ANTI-PIRACY COMMENTS — The music and movie industries want to see more willingness from search engines to take voluntary steps to combat online piracy, according to comments filed this week with the Patent and Trademark Office. Private-sector agreements like the Copyright Alert System have worked well, the Motion Picture Association of America writes, but they aren’t a catch-all solution. “Search engines have thus far failed to undertake sufficiently effective action to address their role in directing users to infringing (and otherwise illegal) content,” the group writes. The RIAA, for its part, suggests the government look at what new approaches search engines could bring to the table — using the same technology that seeks to block child pornography to combat piracy, for example.

The Internet Association, though, says that the content industry itself can do plenty to reduce infringement. “Taking a holistic approach will reveal that today’s copyright landscape involves important industry practices, marketplace realities, and consumer behavioral dynamics that all play a role in both the source of and potential solutions to online infringement,” the group said in a statement. “For instance, the introduction of legal alternatives to content in certain markets has resulted in dramatic reductions in online infringement. This phenomenon, among others, is largely under-examined.”

FIRST LOOK: COST-CUTTING STILL TOP PRIORITY FOR FEDERAL IT MANAGERS — Better budgeting is the chief driver of leveraging new technology at federal agencies, according to a new survey out this morning from Wakefield Research and Juniper Networks. Cybersecurity is far and away the top concern amongst the 250 federal IT professionals interviewed by surveyors — 72 percent of respondents marked it as a major issue — with a majority (56 percent) also prioritizing the renewal and upgrade of hardware and software systems. The data matches up with the policy issues sitting at the forefront of D.C.’s tech scene. House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, for example, has said D.C. may be overspending on IT by as much as 20 percent, and has also pushed a bill that would reform the federal government’s acquisition practices. Similarly, the White House has been touting a federal data center consolidation initiative that seeks to phase out outdated hardware.

TECH PACs IN JULY — Google’s PAC dished out around $52,000 in the first month of the second half of 2013, filings out this week show — but for Mountain View, the real story might be what they haven’t given out yet. The company has a full $1.3 million in cash on hand — a figure that surpasses most, if not all, tech PACs, and has grown from about $1 million at the beginning of the year. Elsewhere, Microsoft dished out $73,000 in July to follow its big month of June, where it gave lawmakers and committees almost $200,000. AT&T handed out just about $100,000 — a large figure compared to many tech firms, but relatively small for Big Blue. And Comcast gave out $150,000.

ESPN HOLDS PRELIM TALKS WITH WEB TV — Via Bloomberg’s Christopher Palmeri and Andy Fixmer: “ESPN sports network has held preliminary talks to offer programming on a Web-based TV service like those proposed by Google, Sony Corp. and Intel Corp….Access to ESPN would give new online TV providers instant credibility and a foothold to compete with established players like Comcast Corp. and DirecTV. The network is the most valuable channel on pay TV, garnering the highest subscriber fees on basic cable, according to researcher SNL Kagan. … Talks with alternative TV providers are exploratory and any new platform would have to offer a package of channels comparable to what other operators provide, according to Chris LaPlaca, a spokesman for ESPN.”