Hillicon Valley: Election security funding gets mixed response | Facebook tests community fact checking | Lawmakers look to block Chinese pick for IP organization | Secret court judge rebukes FBI over surveillance warrants

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



A MIXED BAG: The inclusion of $425 million for election security purposes in the House and Senate-negotiated annual appropriations bill garnered mixed reactions on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, with Democrats taking issue with how states will be allowed to spend the funds.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the key Senate Democrats who has advocated strongly this year for the Senate to take action on election security, told reporters on Tuesday that it was a “huge mistake” for Congress to allow the new funds to be spent on items including voting machines that experts might not deem as secure.

“Under this language they can basically spend it on a whole variety of things apparently that really don’t go to the heart of modern security,” Wyden said. “As a member of the [Senate] Intelligence Committee, I won’t talk about anything classified, but I will say that the threats we face in 2020 will make what we saw in 2016 look like small potatoes.”

The funds were included in the government appropriations deal following negotiations between the House and Senate, along with a requirement that states match the federal funds by 20 percent, meaning the final amount available for election security upgrades will total $510 million. 

The House approved the 2020 Financial Services and General Government spending bill earlier this year with $600 million included for election security, and requirements on how the money could be spent in regards to securing elections. 

The Senate Appropriations Committee previously approved their version of the same bill that included $250 million for election security, but with far fewer requirements around how the money could be spent. 

While the amount was increased from $250 million, the Senate language was ultimately used in the appropriations bill, which the House passed on Tuesday. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the measure before the end of the week, and the White House has indicated that President Trump will sign it.


Read more here.


FACEBOOK FACT-CHECKING: Facebook on Tuesday announced plans for a pilot program where community reviewers will evaluate content that is flagged as potentially containing misinformation to assist third-party fact checkers.

Product manager Henry Silverman explained in a blog post that having a representative group of users look over content will provide “additional context” for the third-party fact checkers that will ultimately determine if posts are false.

The reviewers will be hired as contractors through Facebook partners and make no final decisions on content.

The program will “allow fact-checkers to quickly see whether a representative group of Facebook users found a claim to be corroborated or contradicted,” Silverman wrote Tuesday, accelerating the fact checking process.

Facebook partnered with survey firm YouGov to determine requirements for selecting community reviewers to ensure they represent the “diverse viewpoints” of the social media giant’s user base.

The program will be tested in the U.S. “over the coming months.”

Read more on the announcement here.


CHINESE IP SHAKEUP: Four bipartisan lawmakers on Monday urged President Trump to oppose China’s bid to lead the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) at the United Nations, alleging that China’s own infractions could threaten intellectual property rights and the U.S. economy.

The Chinese Communist Party last month nominated a candidate to head the WIPO, which sets international standards for copyrights and patents, a move seen as a bid to shape the body.

“Given China’s persistent violations of intellectual property protections, including through trade secret theft, corporate espionage, and forced transfer of technology, the United States and its allies must stand firmly against such a move,” Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Reps. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) wrote in Monday’s letter to Trump.

“We cannot let a regime, which continues to blatantly undermine the rules-based system by failing to ensure open markets or respect for intellectual property rights, ascend as the leader of global intellectual property policy.”


The lawmakers asked Trump to both oppose the Chinese nominee and “take the necessary diplomatic steps to ensure our allies and partners do the same before the Director General election next spring.”

They noted that Trump himself has accused China of intellectual property theft and cited the U.S. trade representative declaring China a “precarious and uncertain environment” for American intellectual property owners.

Read more here.


UPDATE ON ANTI-SEX TRAFFICKING LAW: A group of Democrats, including 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), on Tuesday introduced a bill to study the effects of a recent sex trafficking law on the health and safety of sex workers in the U.S.

The SAFE SEX Workers Study Act, which calls for the government to conduct a wide-ranging study into the experiences of sex workers, emerges in response to evidence that a sex trafficking bill signed into law last year has dismantled vital online ecosystems for people engaged in consensual and often life-sustaining work in the sex industry.

The controversial bill, dubbed SESTA-FOSTA, made it easier to target websites with legal action for enabling sex trafficking online. But it also effectively cut off services that allowed sex workers to communicate and organize online.


“As lawmakers, we are responsible for examining unintended consequences of all legislation, and that includes any impact SESTA-FOSTA may have had on the ability of sex workers to protect themselves from physical or financial abuse,” Warren, who has faced criticism over some of her previous positions on sex work, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The legislation was introduced by Warren, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who represents Silicon Valley; Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.); and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who helped write the original statute that SESTA-FOSTA diluted.

Warren is the only co-sponsor who voted for SESTA-FOSTA last year. Khanna, Lee and Wyden all voted “no” on the legislation over a variety of concerns about whether it would harm free speech online and result in discrimination against sex workers.

Warren is co-introducing the bill as she continues to face scrutiny from sex workers over a number of issues, including her reluctance to call for decriminalizing sex work and a piece of legislation she co-sponsored in 2017 that critics say would enable banks to discriminate against sex workers.  

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for president, is also an original co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate. 

Read more here.



NOWHERE TO HIDE: Facebook this week told senators that it continues to track the location of its users even after they’ve said they don’t want the social media giant to know where they are — and that it makes money off that information. 

Facebook’s letter to Sens. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), obtained by The Hill on Tuesday, comes in response to the senators’ questions about the company’s location-tracking policies. The senators had asked Facebook to explain how it learns the location of its users and whether it continues to track that information even when users opt out.

The company’s deputy chief privacy officer, Rob Sherman, wrote that Facebook is able to deduce location based on a user’s IP address and how they behave on the platform, even if they’ve turned off “location services” on their phone. For instance, the platform can figure out where a user is located when they consistently say they are attending events in a certain city. 

“When location services is off, Facebook may still understand people’s locations using information people share through their activities on Facebook or through IP addresses and other network connections they use,” Sherman wrote. 

Sherman also noted that Facebook always serves ads based on location information, even after a user has chosen to turn off location-tracking from their phone.

“By necessity, virtually all ads on Facebook are targeted based on location, though most commonly ads are targeted to people within a particular city or some larger region,” Sherman wrote.

The senators aren’t happy: Coons and Hawley on Tuesday both criticized Facebook’s response to their letter, panning the company for continuing to make money off of personal information that users have explicitly said they don’t want Facebook to have.

Coons, who helps head the Senate Judiciary Committee’s tech task force, called Facebook’s efforts “insufficient and even misleading.” 

Hawley, who regularly lambasts Facebook and recently sat down with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for a testy hourlong meeting, tweeted, “There is no opting out. No control over your personal information. That’s Big Tech. And that’s why Congress needs to take action.”

Read more here.


SECRET COURT SCOLDS FBI: The secretive federal court that approved the surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page on Tuesday accused FBI agents of creating a misleading impression about their basis for requesting a warrant and ordered the bureau to overhaul its process. 

In a blistering order, a judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) accused the bureau of providing false information and withholding materials that would have undercut its four surveillance applications. 

“The FBI’s handling of the Carter Page applications, as portrayed in the OIG report, was antithetical to the heightened duty of candor described above,” Rosemary Collyer, presiding judge with the FISC, wrote in the order released by the court. 

The judge gave the FBI until Jan. 10 to provide the court a sworn statement detailing how it plans to overhaul its approach to future surveillance applications.

The order comes after the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report earlier this month on its investigation into the Trump campaign and the 2016 election, with Inspector General Michael Horowitz detailing a series of missteps taken during the investigation.

The FBI said it would take more than 40 “corrective steps” in response to the watchdog report. 

The surveillance court judge said Tuesday that the inspector general report documented “troubling instances in which FBI personnel provided information to NSD [the National Security Division of the Justice Department] which was unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession.”

Read more on order here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: The Space Force has gone from joke to reality 



Leftists using TikTok to spread socialist ideology (BuzzFeed News / Ryan Brooks)

Another fired Google employee alleges union retaliation (The Washington Post / Greg Bensinger)

No one knows if the internet’s most controversial law helps or hurts women (OneZero / Lux Alptraum)

Tim Cook’s Apple had a great decade but no new blockbusters (Verge / Walt Mossberg)

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