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GOP OFFERS ELECTION SECURITY BILL: A group of House Republicans introduced legislation Friday to reduce foreign interference in U.S. elections, including by making online political ads more transparent.
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), the top Republican on the House Administration Committee and the primary sponsor of the bill, told The Hill in a statement that he was putting forward the legislation due to the “unacceptable” nature of Russian misinformation efforts in the lead-up to the 2016 elections.
“We may never be able to prevent criminal activity, whether that’s in our elections or in our day-to-day lives, but we can provide our law enforcement with the best tools and resources available,” Davis said. “It’s imperative that our elections systems are free from foreign influence, and I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will support this legislation and put the needs of the American people first.”
What the bill does: The Honest Elections Act would expand the prohibition on foreign nationals contributing to campaigns to include state and local initiatives and referendums.
It would also codify existing Federal Election Commission guidance to require that all online political advertisements include a disclosure of who paid for them, such as with a “click-through” option, where the individual could click to a second page for information on who purchased the ad.
The context: The bill’s introduction comes on the heels of a heated debate between Davis and Democratic members of the House Administration Committee over the SHIELD Act earlier this week. That legislation, which the committee approved in a 6-1 vote, required that political ads on social media platforms be subject to the same rules that those on television or radio are.
Davis pushed back against the SHIELD Act during the committee markup, describing it as “unfixable in its current form.”
WATERS GETTING CHOPRA-Y: Rohit Chopra, a Democrat on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), on Friday testified before a House panel that he is concerned the U.S. government is “too often captured” by the country’s largest tech companies.
Chopra made the comments during a hearing about data privacy before the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, which has been investigating whether the top technology firms wield their power in the marketplace.
“All too often, the government is too captured by those incumbents that use their power to dictate their preferred policies,” Chopra said, discussing his concerns around the unprecedented power and strength of Big Tech. He did not name any specific agency or company.
Chopra, a Democratic official who formerly helped Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in recent months has aggressively dissented to the FTC’s record-breaking settlements with large tech companies including Facebook and Google’s YouTube, claiming the agency is not using the full breadth of its authority to take on some of the most powerful companies in the world.
At the hearing, Chopra said he’s concerned that the massive troves of data held by companies like Amazon and Facebook allow them to elbow out smaller players, harming competition and stinging small businesses.
“Under-enforcement [of antitrust] can really kill innovation and kill entry because when it’s harder and harder to break in, that’s just bad for small business and it’s bad for all of us,” he told lawmakers.
After the hearing, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on the panel, told reporters that he shares Chopra’s “serious” concerns about the influence of tech companies over the regulatory and legislative process.
“I think there’s great concern that the large technology companies have a disproportionate influence over the regulatory process,” he said. “When you have these tremendous concentrations of economic power, it’s followed by tremendous concentrations of political power.”
“I think that’s something that we should look at,” he said.
THE BLIZZARD CONTINUES: A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Friday sent letters to two tech giants over accusations that they were censoring pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong to protect business interests in China.
Members of the House and Senate panned both Apple and Acitivison Blizzard over actions they said suppressed “criticism of the Chinese government in hopes of gaining higher profits.”
Apple has come under fire for its decision to remove from its app store HKMap.live, a volunteer-run crowdsourced app that tracks the protests in Hong Kong.
Activision Blizzard has also drawn criticism for suspending Hong Kong-based player Chung Ng Wai from competing in esports for a year and revoking his prize money after he endorsed the pro-democracy demonstrations in a post-game interview.
“Apple’s decisions last week to accommodate the Chinese government by taking down HKMaps is deeply concerning,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook. “We urge you in the strongest terms to reverse course, to demonstrate that Apple puts values above market access, and to stand with the brave men and women fighting for basic rights and dignity in Hong Kong.”
In a separate letter to Activision Blizzard CEO Robert Kotick, lawmakers wrote: “As China amplifies its campaign of intimidation, you and your company must decide whether to look beyond the bottom line and promote American values—like freedom of speech and thought—or to give in to Beijing’s demands in order to preserve market access. We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider your decision with respect to Mr. Chung.”
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) all signed onto the letter to Apple, while Wyden, Rubio, Ocasio-Cortez, Gallagher and Malinowski also signed onto the letter to Activision Blizzard.
GO GAO: Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) this week urged the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to look into how the federal government is supporting state and local governments that have been hit by debilitating cyberattacks over the past few months.
In a letter sent to GAO on Thursday, Hassan noted that “ransomware is a serious and growing threat to government operations at the federal, state, and local level,” and asked that GAO review and issue a report on current federal efforts to assist state and local government entities to protect their systems against ransomware attacks.
These attacks, which have been increasingly widespread across the country this year, involve a malicious actor or group gaining access to a network, encrypting it, and then asking the user to pay a ransom in order to gain back access.
Hassan asked that the GAO give evaluating ransomware assistance its “prompt attention,” and noted that is an area of “great concern” to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, on which Hassan serves.
“If successfully executed, cyberattacks can have far-reaching consequences from exposing personal information to shutting down nursing home systems to causing widespread power outages,” Hassan said in a separate statement Friday. “The federal government must do more to help state and local governments prevent and respond to cyberattacks, and this report will give us a key tool to identify how the federal government is doing in this task, and what more can be done.”
TESTING, TESTING, 123: Pennsylvania will launch a pilot of an election security audit in Philadelphia and Mercer County after the November elections, the Pennsylvania Department of State announced this week.
The risk-limiting audit is designed to check the accuracy of election outcomes.
It will use security measures new to the state and much of the country, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.
“This pilot project will allow us to explore audit procedures that will further strengthen Pennsylvania’s election security profile and provide confidence to the voters that their votes are being counted accurately,” acting Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar (D) said in the announcement.
The state department will work with local officials to conduct the audit using new paper-based voting systems in Mercer County and Philadelphia.
The Pennsylvania Department of State last year directed all counties to switch to voting machines that produced a paper record to increase election security.
A lighter click: Gone bowling.
An op-ed to chew on: Social media shouldn’t be a ‘sanctuary city’ for child pornographers.
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
U.S. border patrol eyeing facial recognition for body cams. (Reuters)
On Facebook’s live stream, Zuckerberg’s free speech lecture got a big thumbs up. (The Washington Post)
The most important right-to-repair hearing yet is on Monday. (Motherboard)
Mark Hurd, co-chief executive of Oracle, is dead at 62. (The New York Times)