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Hillicon Valley: Agencies play catch-up over TikTok security concerns | Senate Dems seek sanctions on Russia over new election meddling | Pentagon unveils AI principles

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill’s newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don’t already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills).

 

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TROUBLE WITH TIKTOK: Lawmakers scored another win in their fight against TikTok after the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) barred its employees from using the megapopular video app.

But the latest episode also highlighted frustration that various government agencies have been slow to recognize the potential threat from TikTok — and how difficult it can be to manage employees’ personal social media presences.

The TSA move came after criticism from Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who along with other China hawks have raised concerns about government employees using the app, which they claim could allow China to access sensitive information about people in the U.S.

Over the past several months, agencies that deal with national security and intelligence issues have completely banned their employees from using TikTok on any government-issued devices. The bans have come as a U.S. government committee conducts a national security probe into TikTok, which is owned by Chinese internet company ByteDance.

But enforcement has been spotty and government employees, particularly military service members, have continued to inundate the app with videos posted from their personal devices, which is not technically a violation of any rules.

Read more on the latest TikTok controversy here.

 

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DEMS PUSH FOR SANCTIONS: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other senior Senate Democrats on Monday called on the Treasury and State Departments to impose sanctions on Russian individuals found to be meddling in U.S. elections following reports of new interference efforts

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the Senate Democrats pointed to concerns around reports last week that Russian agents are already interfering in the lead-up to the 2020 U.S. elections in order to favor both the campaigns of President Trump and Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). 

“In light of this information, we urge you to immediately and forcefully impose sanctions on the government of the Russian Federation, any Russian actors determined to be responsible for such interference, and those acting on their behalf or providing material or financial support for these election interference efforts,” Schumer and Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote. 

Brown serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, while Menendez is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

The senators called on Mnuchin and Pompeo to use existing statutory powers to impose sanctions on Russian individuals including President Vladimir Putin and other Russian government officials. 

The senators warned that “doing anything less” than imposing sanctions on those interfering in U.S. elections would be “an abdication of your responsibility to protect and defend the US from this serious threat to our national security, and to the integrity of our electoral process.”

Read more here.

 

AI WARFARE: The Department of Defense (DOD) on Monday released a set of principles for the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in war.

The broad principles include responsibility, equity and governability.

The Pentagon wrote that individuals should “exercise appropriate levels of judgment and care” when using artificial intelligence and called for capabilities developed by the DOD to be traceable. 

“The United States, together with our allies and partners, must accelerate the adoption of AI and lead in its national security applications to maintain our strategic position, prevail on future battlefields, and safeguard the rules-based international order,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a statement.

“AI technology will change much about the battlefield of the future, but nothing will change America’s steadfast commitment to responsible and lawful behavior,” he added. “The adoption of AI ethical principles will enhance the department’s commitment to upholding the highest ethical standards as outlined in the DOD AI Strategy, while embracing the U.S. military’s strong history of applying rigorous testing and fielding standards for technology innovations.”

Read more here.

 

MISINFORMATION CONCERNS: Facebook recently investigated research around suspicious content on its platform meant to support the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

The newspaper, citing unnamed sources, reported that top executives at Facebook were notified of the investigation, which was sparked by two independent outside researchers who told Facebook they found evidence that pro-Sanders content was being circulated by Russian agents and Trump supporters.

A Facebook company spokesperson pushed back against the WSJ article, telling The Hill in statement that the company has not been able to validate the claims made by researchers.

“We welcome and regularly receive reports from the research community,” the spokesperson said. “We investigate each credible claim we receive, just as we did in this instance when an outside researcher contacted us. To date, we have not been able to substantiate the researcher’s claims and we have not been notified by the intelligence community.”

The spokesperson added that “had we found a campaign of coordinated inauthentic behavior, we would’ve removed it and announced it publicly, just as we did more than 50 times last year.”

Read more here.

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SUSPENDED: Twitter announced Friday that it is suspending 70 accounts that posted content supporting Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign, saying the messages violated its company rules. 

Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, has launched an expansive social media campaign to buoy his White House bid. One prong of the strategy involves hiring temporary employees to launch an array of Twitter accounts that post identical messages, a tactic the social media site said amounted to spam and “platform manipulation.”

“We have taken enforcement action on a group of accounts for violating our rules against platform manipulation and spam,” a Twitter official told The Hill regarding the suspensions, which were first reported by The Los Angeles Times.

Bloomberg, who is worth upwards of $60 billion, launched his presidential campaign in November, several months after his 2020 competitors. To make up ground, the former mayor has spent hundreds of millions of his own money on a national advertising blitz and a social media push to gin up support for his campaign. 

The temporary employees recruited by Bloomberg’s camp are given the title “deputy field organizer” and make $2,500 a month to promote his White House bid among their followers. The employees can choose to use campaign-approved language in their posts.

Read more here.

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A LIGHTER CLICK: That’s a good dad right there

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Space Adventures proposes an orbital cruise on the SpaceX Dragon

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Apple, TikTok decline to testify at second congressional hearing probing tech’s ties to China (Washington Post / Tony Romm) 

As finance firms jostle for tech dominance, startups look set to benefit (Protocol / Andrea Peterson) 

Here’s what happens when an algorithm determines your work schedule (Motherboard / Kaye Loggins) 

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