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).
PRIVACY ON DECK: Key Democratic and Republican senators have offered dueling versions of legislation to create more privacy for Americans online in recent days.
The competing bills highlighted how months of bipartisan negotiations have yet to yield a proposal both parties can back but have also raised hopes of boosting those efforts.
The proposals — from the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over tech issues — show some substantive common ground. But there are still stark differences, with Republicans backing some of the tech industry’s top priorities while Democrats push tougher restrictions on how those companies handle data.
Parallel efforts: Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, detailed Democrats’ privacy wish list when she released her bill with several senators on the committee last week.
Days later, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) drew the GOP line in the sand as his office began circulating a draft bill that hews closely to the tech industry’s ideal proposal. Wicker’s bill would override any state privacy laws, including the tough California law that will go into effect in January, and does not allow individuals to sue companies over privacy violations.
The backdrop: Wicker and Cantwell stepped aside from a larger group of bipartisan senators to begin negotiating with each other over the summer. Those efforts had largely stalled for months.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) were both part of the previous larger effort to work up a privacy bill, and the two are now working together to put out their own legislation.
“Senator Blumenthal continues to work with Senator Moran on comprehensive, bipartisan privacy legislation and is grateful for the leadership shown by both Chairman Wicker and Ranking Member Cantwell on this critical consumer issue,” a Blumenthal spokeswoman told The Hill.
Where things stand: Stakeholders across the tech industry and privacy advocacy community told The Hill on Monday that Cantwell and Wicker’s bills are a clear signal that bipartisan negotiations were going nowhere. But they said the proposals could also breathe new life into the effort now that Republicans and Democrats have gone public with their priorities and revealed some substantial areas of mutual interest.
The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a data privacy hearing on Wednesday, during which lawmakers are expected to go public with their views on a variety of proposals to rein in tech companies’ unregulated collection of information on their billions of users.
One industry source described the current status of privacy negotiations on Capitol Hill to a public comment period following the release of a bill’s text. “I think the fact that they have both of these bills out there really helps the negotiation because others can get involved with some creativity and suggestions,” the source said.
Several basics in both bills are the same: “It’s interesting because when you look at the two bills, there are actually certain similarities in language and provisions,” Ferras Vinh, who works on public policy for privacy-focused tech company Mozilla, told The Hill. “A more positive takeaway is … the two sides have obviously had a lot of conversations, in terms of what should be in a comprehensive privacy bill.”
“Nobody panic,” advised Michelle Richardson, a director with privacy group the Center for Democracy and Technology. “This is not an uncommon way for legislation to proceed. They’ll start closing the gaps between the two proposals.”
SELF-DRIVING CAR ADVOCATES HEAD TO CAPITOL: Advocates for creating federal standards for autonomous vehicles rallied on Tuesday to spur lawmakers to move quickly on legislation to roll out and test the emerging technology.
Representatives of automobile manufacturers and stakeholder groups argued forcefully for the need for federal rules to create standards around autonomous vehicles at a forum on Capitol Hill.
The push comes as lawmakers are circulating draft legislation on self-driving cars among stakeholders after long delays but with no bills formally introduced in Congress.
The advocates, brought together by the Coalition for Future Mobility, warned of the danger of falling behind the rest of the world in creating and testing these cars, and the worry that states would act without federal guidance, creating a patchwork of laws.
Ron Thaniel, the vice president of legislative affairs at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, noted that states are creating regulations around self-driving cars “because they have to.”
“I have not heard a single state say they want to do this,” Thaniel said. “This is an election calendar, we have a short calendar next year, and we need to move forward, and if we don’t, we’re going to have more and more states developing regulations around automated vehicles. It’s time to get in place a federal framework.”
The state of play: The pleas by stakeholders for Congress to move forward on legislation come amid signs of some progress on Capitol Hill.
The Senate Commerce Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee are currently in the process of circulating draft language for a new bill to address autonomous vehicles that is similar to a previous bill that was passed by the House in 2017.
BRINGING TIKTOK TO COURT: A California college student has sued the viral video app TikTok over allegations that it transmitted data about users’ devices and their browsing histories to servers housed in China despite promising not to do so.
Misty Hong alleges in a suit filed in her home state that she downloaded the app earlier this year but did not create an account, only to discover later that the app had created one for her that reportedly included some of her biometric information taken from videos she had filmed but not published.
The lawsuit goes on to allege that TikTok’s coding includes source code from two Chinese companies, an advertising firm accused of inserting spyware on users’ devices as well as a tech giant, though it reportedly did not provide evidence for this charge or the allegations of data being stored in China.
App creators “vacuumed up and transferred to servers in China vast quantities of private and personally-identifiable user data” without users’ knowledge, the lawsuit alleges.
ORDER IN THE COURT: Billionaire Elon Musk on Tuesday began his trial for alleged defamation after calling a British diver involved in the Thailand cave rescue last year “pedo guy” on Twitter.
Musk attended a federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles midday after jury selection, Reuters reported. The Tesla CEO will face trial to determine if he owes British diver Vernon Unsworth punitive damages for designating him a pedophile, which the diver has denied.
The trial in front of U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson, a Reagan appointee, is expected to last about five days, in which Musk is expected to testify in his defense, according to Reuters. The CEO has apologized, saying “pedo guy” is a common insult in his native South Africa.
Three jurors were dismissed because one was interviewing for a job at Tesla and another two said they follow Musk’s tweets and could not remain objective, according to the newswire.
Unsworth sued Musk in September 2018, two months after he assisted in the rescue of 12 boys and a soccer coach who were trapped in a cave in Thailand. Their altercation began when Musk volunteered to provide a mini-submarine from his Space X rocket company to help rescue the boys.
RANSOMWARE IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Senate Cybersecurity Caucus will hold a classified briefing Wednesday to address the ongoing spree of ransomware attacks on local governments, school districts and other entities nationwide.
Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), the co-chairs of the caucus, will host the bipartisan event, which will feature a briefing for members from Christopher Krebs, the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
According to a spokesperson for Warner, the briefing will include discussion of the “current threat landscape including actors and vulnerabilities, current trends and resources available to address the threat, and what Senators can do to help protect their states.”
Gardner told The Hill on Tuesday that while this week’s briefing is classified and closed to the public, he hoped there would be more “in the open” on risks from ransomware attacks in the future.
“I think it’s important that the American people understand what’s at risk, so to have something that it is out in the open that we can get out is needed, so the American people can be eyes open when it comes to the challenges that our country faces,” Gardner said.
IT WASN’T UKRAINE: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday said he’s “1,000 percent confident” Russia was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) as part of an effort to interfere in the 2016 election, dismissing the theory that Ukraine played a role in the breach.
The comments from Graham come amid a House impeachment inquiry into President Trump‘s dealings with Ukraine and whether he conditioned military aid on the country opening investigations that benefited him politically.
Trump and some of his GOP supporters in Congress have pushed a conspiracy theory that Ukraine tried to meddle in the 2016 election to help Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“It was the Russians. I’m 1,000 percent confident that the hack of the DNC was by Russian operatives, no one else,” Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill.
“I have no evidence (Ukraine) did. Russia stole the emails, not the Ukraine,” he added.
GOOGLE SHUFFLE: Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin announced Tuesday they will be stepping down from the leadership of the search giant’s parent company, Alphabet.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who previously had been a member of the Alphabet board of directors, will head both companies moving forward.
“With Alphabet now well-established, and Google and the Other Bets operating effectively as independent companies, it’s the natural time to simplify our management structure,” Page and Brin wrote in a blog post.
“We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company,” they added.
Alphabet, created in 2015, comprises several companies beyond Google, including the driverless car firm Waymo and the biotech company Calico.
HUAWEI ON THE MOVE: The founder of Chinese tech giant Huawei has said the company is moving its U.S. research center to Canada due to U.S. sanctions on the firm.
Huawei’s “centre for research and development will be moved out of the United States. And that will be relocated to Canada,” Ren Zhengfei told Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper in a Monday interview.
He told the newspaper that U.S. restrictions prevent Huawei from communicating with American employees.
“We can’t exchange calls or e-mails with them,” Ren said. “That’s why we will shift our focus of development more toward Canada.”
According to The Globe and Mail, Ren said that Huawei spent about $510 million on its U.S. research department last year. It has since cut its workforce by 600 to about 250.
A LIGHTER CLICK: #nodeletedecember
AN OP-ED TO CEW ON: Should Congress be concerned about California’s data privacy law?
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
How Ring went from Shark Tank flop to multi-million dollar company (Motherboard)
Guide for cleaning up the internet (Verge)
Seven 2020 candidates respond to questions about tech (Vox)
Fake news continues to dodge Facebook algorithms (OneZero)