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)
FCC MOVES AGAINST HUAWEI: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Friday voted unanimously to bar U.S. telecommunications companies from using FCC funds to purchase equipment from companies posing national security threats, including Chinese telecom groups Huawei and ZTE.
The proposals approved by the agency bar businesses from using money from the FCC’s $8.5 billion Universal Service Fund (USF) to purchase technology from companies that pose a threat, and formally designated Huawei and ZTE as threats.
The proposals also suggest that U.S. companies that receive funding from the USF be required to rip out and replace all equipment from ZTE and Huawei, and seeks comment from the public on how to pay for this process.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who put forward the proposals in October, said that the FCC was taking these actions “based on evidence in the record, as well as long-standing concerns from the executive and legislative branches, about the national security threats posed by certain foreign communications equipment manufacturers, most particularly Huawei and ZTE.”
“Given the threats posed by both Huawei and ZTE to America’s security, and our 5G future, this FCC will not sit idly by and hope for the best,” Pai said.
While the vote was unanimous, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who was appointed by former President Obama, noted that the commission “has more work to do when it comes to network security,” and pushed for the creation of a “national strategy” to manage threats to the grid.
Rosenworcel also criticized the possibility that Huawei and ZTE could be used as part of ongoing trade negotiations between the U.S. and China, saying that if the U.S. backs down on taking action against Huawei and ZTE, “it will have serious consequences for our credibility.”
Huawei pushed back strongly against the FCC’s decision on Friday, with the company writing in a statement that its designation as a national security threat was “based on selective information, innuendo, and mistaken assumptions,” and added that it believes the order is “unlawful” as the FCC “provides no evidence that Huawei poses a security risk.”
PLEASE RECONSIDER: The Democratic Party’s national campaign committees on Friday pressed Google to “reconsider” its recent decision to restrict political advertisements, escalating a pressure campaign against the tech giant over a policy change that will restructure how politicians and campaigns advertise online.
The joint statement from the Democratic Party’s most powerful campaign arms came several days after Google – which controls about 43 percent of the online advertising market – announced that it will no longer allow advertisers to micro-target political ads using real-world voter information, significantly paring down political advertisers’ ability to get their messages in front of the audiences they want.
“A blanket ban on all political advertising is a cop-out that fails to combat disinformation and harms voters’ ability to participate in our democracy, affecting voters of color in particular,” the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Democratic Congressional Campaign (DCCC) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) said in a joint statement.
The statement also served as a warning to Facebook, which is currently mulling changes to political advertising on its own platform.
“We call on these tech companies, including Google, to reconsider their decision to bluntly limit political advertising on their platforms, and we invite them to engage in an open and transparent conversation about how we effectively regulate political advertising online,” the campaign arms said.
JUSTICE FOR ALL: Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) on Friday introduced bipartisan legislation to help police officers learn how to access digital evidence, including data and online messages, during investigations.
The Technology in Criminal Justice Act, which is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, would create a new office at the Department of Justice to educate state and local law enforcement agencies about how to sift through digital evidence — on phones and computers — in a way that does not flout the law.
The legislation would also create a federal center to serve as a central clearinghouse providing training, tech expertise and legal assistance on gathering digital evidence. The so-called Center of Excellence for Digital Forensics would maintain a library of analytic and forensic tools to help police officers during criminal investigations, and it would offer advice on how to lawfully request any digital information.
“As a former law enforcement officer, I have seen first-hand the importance of digital evidence as we work to keep our communities safe and hold people accountable,” Demings said in a statement. “Digital evidence has been crucial in cases ranging from financial crimes to child endangerment.”
NO MORE DISTRACTIONS: Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee this week criticized the focus by Democrats on an impeachment inquiry into President Trump, saying the process was distracting attention from national security priorities.
In a letter to committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) made public on Friday, the Republican committee members, led by ranking member Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), noted their “concern” that the “Democrat majority’s overwhelming preoccupation with its partisan quest to impeach the President is undermining the ability of our Committee to move critically needed legislation to secure the homeland.”
“In the mist of impeachment, the majority has failed to make progress on important homeland security legislative priorities such as securing the border, safeguarding chemical facilities from acts of terrorism, protecting vulnerable public and private networks from cyber threats, or moving a comprehensive authorization of the Department of Homeland Security,” the Republican members also wrote.
Among cybersecurity challenges facing the country, the Republican committee members specifically noted the increase in ransomware attacks across the country this year.
Targets of those attacks have included schools and government entities, and the Republicans took issue with the full committee not yet considering legislation that has been introduced to help address them.
‘PROPAGANDA’ CONCERNS: Comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen ripped the country’s largest technology companies as the “greatest propaganda machine in history” while accepting an award from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Thursday night.
Cohen blamed the leaders of Silicon Valley’s top companies for allowing racism and extremism to spread across their platforms, which reach billions of people worldwide.
Pointing out that hate crimes are on the rise in the U.S., Cohen said, “All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history.”
“Think about it,” Cohen, a satirist known for railing against bigotry, said. “Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others—they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged—stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear.”
“And it’s no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history—the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous,” Cohen said at the event hosted by the ADL, one of the leading Jewish organizations in the U.S.
DIVERSITY NEEDED: A group of House Democrats sent a letter to Oracle CEO Larry Ellison on Friday criticizing the company for a lack of African Americans and Asian Americans on the company’s board of directors.
The letter was signed by House Tech Accountability Caucus Chairwoman Robin Kelly (Ill.), Congressional Tri-Caucus leaders Julian Castro (Texas), Judy Chu (Calif.) and Karen Bass (Calif.), and Congressional Black Caucus Diversity Taskforce leaders GK Butterfield (N.C.) and Barbara Lee (Calif.).
“The fact that African Americans make up 13% and Asian Americans make up 5.6% of the U.S. population but 0% of Oracle’s board and leadership is inexcusable,” the members wrote.
The letter follows a January letter to Oracle in which members voiced concern over a Labor Department claim that Oracle “systemically discriminated against women and individuals of color,” according to Friday’s letter. Oracle responded in February by refuting the claims.
RETAIL ASKS FOR PRIVACY: A coalition of trade groups, led by the National Retail Federation (NRF), on Thursday sent a letter to the Senate outlining requests for federal privacy legislation.
The Main Street Privacy Coalition called on the Senate to develop a “uniform and fair framework” for privacy in a letter to Senate leadership and relevant committees.
The coalition, which launched earlier this year, is made up of trade associations that represent companies that use customers’ data for first-party use only, like retailers, hotels, grocery stores and restaurants.
“What these industry groups have in common is they all represent companies for whom data is an important part of the business, not the sole focus of the business. They’re in the business of selling goods and services, not selling data,” David French, NRF’s senior vice president for government relations, told The Hill.
He added, “let’s focus the energy on the companies that are drilling for data, not the companies that are using data to make their businesses work better.”
HAND ‘EM OVER: Facebook has agreed to hand over additional documents to California’s state attorney general as part of a data privacy probe.
According to San Francisco Superior Court filings, the social media giant agreed to release some of the documents by Tuesday and the rest in December and January, Reuters reported Thursday.
A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 19 to discuss the Golden State’s remaining document requests.
Facebook Vice President for State and Local Public Policy Will Castleberry said in a statement to Reuters that the company “cooperated extensively with the state of California’s investigation by providing thousands of pages of written responses and hundreds of thousands of documents over the past year.”
“We look forward to continued cooperation and resolving the attorney general’s remaining requests,” he added.
Schumer recently wrote to McCarthy, particularly expressing concern about Army personnel use of the app, including as a tactic to recruit new soldiers.
“While I recognize that the Army must adapt its recruiting techniques in order to attract young Americans to serve, I urge you to assess the potential national security risks posed by China-owned technology companies before choosing to utilize certain platforms,” the senator wrote.
THAT’S UNSETTLING: An email accidentally sent out this week from Frontier Airlines spooked flyers across the country ahead of the Thanksgiving travel rush.
The subject line sent to flyers read, “There has been a change to your upcoming flight,” although the email did not detail what the change was or which part of a trip was impacted if customers booked a round trip, USA Today reported.
But the email allegedly made some believe their travel plans were canceled because it directed them to Frontier’s “rebooking hotline” to seek “reaccommodation options.”
The airline’s customer service hotline was almost immediately flooded and busy, with travelers reporting only getting the company’s voicemail, USA Today reported.
Thursday night, the company addressed the problem in a tweet, explaining to worried customers that the email was sent in error due to a technical issue.
“We sincerely apologize. You may confirm the details of your trip by entering your confirmation number on our website,” the airline tweeted.
Lighter click: Just a small difference
An op-ed to chew on: How online privacy notices can achieve informed user consent
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
What to expect from Congress’ cyber strategy brain trust (NextGov)
Tech companies step up fight against ‘deepfakes’ (Wall Street Journal)
Tech’s new labor unrest (Axios)