Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack

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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).

 

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LOOKING OUT FOR YOU: A handful of prominent progressives in the House on Tuesday said they opposed a measure to put off an impending government shutdown over a provision that would extend government surveillance authorities for three months.

Overall, the lawmakers’ small revolt did not kill the continuing resolution (CR) – it passed 231-192 and only 10 Democrats voted against it. But Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) all pushed their colleagues to vote “no” on the CR throughout the day, claiming they do not believe the Trump administration should be allowed to surveil U.S. citizens for another three months.

“I cannot in good conscience vote in favor of a CR that reauthorizes unconstitutional mass surveillance authorities, especially under a President who has retweeted images of his opponents jailed and suggests anyone who disagrees with him is a criminal,” Tlaib said in a statement to The Hill.

The details: The last-minute addition to the CR would give Congress 90 more days to debate whether it wants to reauthorize several government surveillance provisions first enacted under the controversial Patriot Act. One of those provisions, known as Section 215, enables the government to access phone records on millions of Americans every year during terrorism investigations. 

The National Security Agency (NSA) revealed earlier this year that it shuttered the phone records program amid enormous technical difficulties.  

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), who recently raised concerns about reauthorizing Section 215, also voted against the CR alongside Omar, Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib. 

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The provision extending Section 215 was added to the CR late on Monday, Ocasio-Cortez told The Hill, leaving lawmakers with little time to weigh in on whether they want to extend the surveillance authorities.

A coalition of civil liberties and progressive groups on Tuesday sent a letter urging lawmakers to oppose the CR, writing, “Extending these authorities for any period of time absent major reform, as the Continuing Resolution [CR] does, reflects an abandonment of Congress’s most basic responsibilities.” 

Crunch time: But several progressives who signed onto Tlaib’s previous letter told The Hill that they supported the CR because it was their only option to ensure the government doesn’t shut down this week.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) in a statement said, “Although I do have serious concerns with reauthorizing Section 215, we must focus on the bigger picture here.  Therefore, I plan to vote yes on today’s CR in order to keep the government open and ensure that my constituents continue to receive their Social Security benefits and have access to the vital services they require like community health centers.”

“I’m supporting [the CR],” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who signed the previous letter, told The Hill. “We’re taking it in its entirety, and hopefully in three months, we’ll get a chance to correct some of that. But right now, I don’t see another option.”

Read more here.

 

GETTING ON THE SAME PAGE WITH 5G: Top senators from both parties are urging national security adviser Robert O’Brien to appoint a coordinator for the country’s fifth-generation wireless networks, or 5G, strategy.

“Without a national strategy, facilitated by a common understanding of the geopolitical and technical impact of 5G and future telecommunications advancements, we expect each agency will continue to operate within its own mandate, rather than identifying national authority and policy deficiencies that do not neatly fall into a single department or agency,” the chairs and ranking members of the Intelligence, Homeland Security, Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees wrote in a letter on Tuesday.

“This fractured approach will not be sufficient to rise to the challenge the country faces,” they added. “We would further urge you to designate a dedicated, senior individual focused solely on coordinating and leading the nation’s effort to develop and deploy future telecommunications technologies.”

The Trump administration and security experts have identified the transition to 5G networks as a key threat. The next-generation networks would allow for an increasing amount of internet-connected devices, many of which may not be secured against cyberattacks.

Lawmakers have also expressed concerns about Beijing’s leadership in the arena and potential dependence on technology owned by companies that are essentially required to report to the Chinese Communist Party.

Read more on the letter here.

 

WHERE ARE YOU: A bipartisan pair of senators are pressing Facebook over its location tracking policies, questioning whether the social media giant continues to track users even when they’ve said they don’t want Facebook to do so.

Sens. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Tuesday sent a letter addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg raising concerns that Facebook ignores the wishes of users who don’t want their exact location to be tracked. The letter comes on the heels of a Facebook blog post in which the company pledged it would stop tracking users’ location data when they choose that option on the latest Apple and Google software updates. 

But the senators said Facebook’s blog post leaves open the possibility that it will continue to record and use location information, even when users have opted out on Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android software.

“If a user has decided to limit Facebook’s access to his or her location, Facebook should respect these privacy choices,” Coons and Hawley wrote in the letter. “The language in the blog post, however, indicates that Facebook may continue to collect location data despite user preferences, even if the user is not engaging with the app, and Facebook is simply deducing the user’s location from information about his or her internet connection.” 

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Android 10 and iOS 13, the latest software updates for the Android and iPhone, offer users more control over which apps track their location data. Facebook pledged to listen to those preferences — but noted in the post that it “may still understand your location using things like check-ins, events and information about your internet connection.”

“Given that most mobile devices are connected to the internet nearly all the time, whether through a cellular network or a Wi-Fi connection, this practice would allow Facebook to collect user location data almost constantly, irrespective of the user’s privacy preferences,” Coons and Hawley, who both sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote.

Coons is the co-leader of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s tech task force, a group mainly aimed at educating senators and their staff about the latest issues around privacy and data security. And Hawley is one of the most outspoken tech critics in the Republican Party. 

Read more here.

 

FOLLOWING UP: A bipartisan group of senators is demanding information from 36 technology companies about their efforts to prevent the spread of material depicting child sexual abuse on their platforms.

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“Technology companies have a vital and irreplaceable role in stemming this flood of child exploitation and abuse,” Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) wrote in letters to the firms sent Tuesday.

“Online platforms cannot be a haven for child exploitation due to neglect and siloed efforts, and companies should be willing to collaborate with peers and NGOs to keep up with the threat.”

The letters, sent to companies including Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter, follow a series of reports in The New York Times detailing the staggering amount of content depicting child sexual exploitation shared online. Some 45 million online images and videos were flagged as child sexual abuse just last year, according to the newspaper.

Read more on the letter here.

 

DEAR MR KREBS: A group of three Senate Democrats is urging the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) cyber agency to help fund cybersecurity threat information-sharing centers involved in election security efforts.

In a letter sent on Monday to Christopher Krebs, the director of DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) expressed concerns around the funding level for two groups.

Specifically, the senators noted that DHS’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget covers only around 70 percent of the estimated $15 million it would take for the Center for Internet Security to run both the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) and the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC).

“Recently, across the nation our cities and states have suffered from debilitating ransomware attacks that are carried out to extort public funds,” the senators wrote. “Local governments – including small towns, counties, and school districts – simply do not have the budgets, the personnel, or the expertise necessary to deploy sophisticated tools in order to defend themselves against this evolving threat environment.”

Read more on their ask here. 

 

RANSOMWARE ATTACKS IN LOUISIANA: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) on Monday activated the state’s cybersecurity team in response to an attack on multiple state agencies.

Edwards tweeted that upon discovering the attempted ransomware attack, Louisiana’s Office of Technology Services (OTS) took state agency servers offline, which impacted emails, websites, and other online applications.

“The service interruption was due to OTS’ aggressive response to prevent additional infection of state servers and not due to the attempted ransomware attack,” Edwards wrote. “Online services started to come back online this afternoon, though full restoration may take several days.”

The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services was among the agencies impacted by the attack, tweeting that their Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline was down for several hours. 

Edwards noted that the Louisiana State Police and “several federal agencies” were investigating the attempted attack. 

This is the second major ransomware attack Louisiana has been through this year, following one in July that impacted three school districts. Edwards declared a state-wide emergency in response to these attacks, which allowed for state resources and cybersecurity assistance to be given to the districts.

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Powerful tribute to an American hero

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Digital big tech drives small business success 

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

FCC proposes 988 for suicide prevention hotline (CNET) 

Police can keep Ring camera video forever, and share with whomever they’d like, company tells senator (The Washington Post) 

Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple push back on House tech concerns (Bloomberg News) 

Facebook’s Chinese workforce bucks CEO’s rhetoric (Information)

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Written by Alan Smith

Alan Smith

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