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PRAISE FOR THE WHISTLEBLOWER: Former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper on Wednesday described the complaint submitted by an anonymous whistleblower about President Trump‘s communications with Ukraine as the “best written” and “best prepared” complaint he had ever seen.
“I would say that of all the whistleblower complaints that I ever saw during my 6 1/2 years as DNI that this one was the best written, best prepared, footnoted and caveated as appropriately it should be,” Clapper, who served as DNI under former President Obama from 2010 until the beginning of 2017, said at The Washington Post’s Cybersecurity Summit.
Clapper said he did not remember a whistleblower complaint being submitted to the intelligence community’s inspector general that was “declared to be urgent,” as the recent whistleblower complaint was deemed to be.
Clapper praised the anonymous whistleblower for “complying meticulously with the provisions of the law” involved with submitting a complaint, and emphasized that “serious, credible complaints of wrongdoing should be investigated.”
The complaint details concerns around a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
The complaint is now at the center of an impeachment inquiry.
Trump last week described the whistleblower as “close to a spy” while speaking at a private event, according to audio obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Clapper said that comments like this were “not a good thing.”
“That is not good for morale, and that is not good for our intelligence partners who share with us, in good faith, information that they believe is germane to our national security,” Clapper said.
And for more on today’s impeachment developments…
Trump fumes amid impeachment furor
House Democrats threaten to subpoena White House for Ukraine docs
Trump: Democrats wasting time on ‘bullshit’
New York Times reports that whistleblower contacted Schiff’s committee before filing complaint
DEEP CONCERNS: Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Wednesday urged major social media platforms to create policies and standards to combat the spread of “deepfake” videos, citing the potential threat to democracy.
Warner and Rubio sent identical letters detailing their concerns to Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Reddit, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Snapchat, Imgur, Pinterest, and Twitch. Deepfake videos are those created using artificial intelligence in order to manipulate the meaning of the video.
“Given your company’s role as an online media platform, it will be on the front lines in detecting deepfakes, and determining how to handle the publicity surrounding them,” the senators wrote. “We believe it is vital that your organization have plans in place to address the attempted use of these technologies. We urge you to develop industry standards for sharing, removing, archiving, and confronting the sharing of synthetic content.”
The senators criticized the companies for only making “limited progress” in establishing policies around deepfake videos “despite numerous conversations, meetings, and public testimony acknowledging your responsibilities to the public.”
They also cited concerns around how deepfakes can damage public trust.
“As concerning as deepfakes and other multimedia manipulation techniques are for the subjects whose actions are falsely portrayed, deepfakes pose an especially grave threat to the public’s trust in the information it consumes; particularly images, and video and audio recordings posted online,” the senators wrote. “If the public can no longer trust recorded events or images, it will have a corrosive impact on our democracy.”
COOK OPPOSES TRUMP ON DACA: Apple CEO Tim Cook urged the Supreme Court to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) in a filing submitted under his name with the top court on Wednesday.
Cook was joined by Deirdre O’Brien, a senior vice president at Apple, in arguing in the brief that the company’s employees enrolled in DACA deserve protection from deportation.
“Apple has filed numerous briefs before this Court, but this is the first time we lend our own names as well,” they wrote. “We do so here to stress that not only does Apple care as a company, but we care as leaders, colleagues, and human beings. This is an issue we feel to our core.”
“Our interest in this case is simple: We are distressed at the prospect of ripping our DACA colleagues from the fabric of our company,” Cook and O’Brien continued. “This issue is a moral one: Our country made a deal with a highly vulnerable population interested in a bright future, and we should keep that deal.”
Next month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments from both sides as it decides whether to allow the Trump administration’s rollback of the program, which could leave hundreds of thousands of recipients in jeopardy of deportation.
Cook and O’Brien wrote that Apple employs 443 Dreamers and that the company had sought out to hire them after DACA was created, “relying on the commitment our government made to them.” In the brief, they describe the lives and careers of five of those employees.
“We collectively owe it to the Dreamers to hold up our end of the bargain. It is not just a legal requirement,” they wrote. “It is the moral thing to do.”
CONTROL CONCERNS: Almost 9 in 10 Americans say “social media companies have at least some control over the mix of news people see,” according to a Pew Research survey released Wednesday, while 82 percent believe social media sites provide preferential treatment to some news organizations over others.
Overall, 62 percent of the more than 5,100 U.S. adults that Pew surveyed in July say social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter have too much control over the mix of news people see, while 55 percent say “the role social media companies play in delivering the news results in a worse mix of news.” Just 15 percent feel that control results in a better mix of news, while 28 percent said it has no impact.
The results trend along party lines, the study finds, with Republicans inclined to be more negative than those identifying as Democrats when it comes to their views on social media control over news content.
Pew finds that 75 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents polled said social media companies have too much control over the mix of news people see. The number drops to 53 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaners who feel the same way.
Two-thirds of Republican respondents say social media’s control over the news results in a worse mix for consumers, while just under half of Democrats, 49 percent, agree.
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BE AWARE: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Tuesday warned patients, providers and manufacturers about cybersecurity vulnerabilities in certain medical devices and health care networks.
The vulnerabilities, referred to by the agency as URGENT/11, have the potential to harm operating systems for medical devices connected to communications networks like Wi-Fi and equipment such as routers and phones.
According to the FDA, the cyber vulnerabilities could allow a remote actor to “take control” of the device, leading to a change in function, information leaks or causing the device to stop functioning.
The FDA emphasized that it had not received any reports of “adverse events” that have occurred as a result of the cyber vulnerabilities.
However, Suzanne Schwartz, the deputy director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships and Technology Innovation in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement that the “risk of patient harm if such a vulnerability were left unaddressed could be significant.”
“It’s important for manufacturers to be aware that the nature of these vulnerabilities allows the attack to occur undetected and without user interaction. Because an attack may be interpreted by the device as a normal network communication, it may remain invisible to security measures,” she added.
GOOGLE UNVEILS MORE PRIVACY FEATURES: Google on Wednesday unveiled a set of new privacy features for products including Google Maps and YouTube, marking the company’s latest effort to address privacy and surveillance concerns amid new scrutiny.
In a blog post, the tech giant announced several new features that allow users to hide their data and personal activities from Google.
Starting later this month, users will be able to turn on “incognito mode” for Google Maps, meaning the company won’t save the places the user searches for and won’t use that data to “personalize” their “Maps experience,” according to the post.
“When you turn on Incognito mode in Maps, your Maps activity on that device, like the places you search for, won’t be saved to your Google Account and won’t be used to personalize your Maps experience,” Erin Miraglia, Google’s director of product management in its privacy and data protection office, wrote.
The feature is only available to Android users, but Miraglia wrote it will come to iPhones “soon.”
And on YouTube, users will now be able to “auto-delete” their YouTube history, meaning the video-sharing platform won’t store information on what they’ve watched and scrolled through.
Google will allow users to delete their data from the Google Assistant via voice command. Users will be able to delete data by speaking commands such as, “Hey Google, delete the last thing I said to you” or “Hey Google, delete everything I said to you last week.”
Google has launched a concerted public relations effort to frame itself as privacy-focused, including spending big on a global advertising campaign and offering a slew of new features aimed at giving users more control over how much data they share.
KAMALA TAKES ON TWITTER: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is escalating her effort to suspend President Trump’s Twitter account.
The 2020 presidential candidate on Tuesday sent a formal letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey calling for him to take action on the issue, arguing that the president’s Twitter feed has been used to “target, harass, and attempt to out the whistleblower” responsible for a complaint regarding Trump’s interactions with Ukraine.
The letter points to a series of posts from Trump that Harris claims violates Twitter’s community rules on targeted harassment. The California senator highlights tweets in which Trump suggested the whistleblower was a “spy” and demanded a meeting with the unidentified figure.
“Trump also published the following tweet suggesting that violence could be incited should Congress issue formal articles of impeachment against him,” Harris wrote, before citing a tweet Trump promoted that warned that a successful impeachment of him would lead to “a Civil War like fracture” in the U.S.
In addition, Harris takes strong issue with Trump’s descriptions of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Among other things, Trump has suggested that Schiff be arrested for treason for exaggerating portions of his phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“These are blatant threats,” Harris wrote. “We need a civil society, not a civil war. These tweets represent a clear intent to baselessly discredit the whistleblower and officials in our government who are following the proper channels to report allegations of presidential impropriety.”
An official from Twitter told The Hill that the company received the letter and intends to respond.
Harris has been increasingly outspoken in her call for Twitter to suspend Trump’s account in recent days. Her advocacy for the punishment comes as the president faces mounting scrutiny over a whistleblower complaint that accuses him of a broad effort to pressure Ukraine into investigating 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son.
WARREN, TULSI DISAGREE: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) disagrees with her fellow presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), on whether President Trump’s Twitter account should be suspended.
“No,” Warren answered Wednesday, chuckling slightly, when asked whether the president should be banned from Twitter.
Warren’s fellow presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) also disagreed with Harris on Wednesday, saying “we can’t just cancel or shutdown or silence those who we disagree with or who hold different views or who say things even that we strongly disagree with or abhor.”
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NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
Silicon Valley billionaires’ strange new respect for Elizabeth Warren. (Recode)
Big Tech’s complexity will strain FTC resources, agency warns. (Bloomberg Law)
Kamala Harris wants Trump suspended from Twitter for ‘harassment.’ These 3 loopholes protect him. (The Washington Post)