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Hillicon Valley: GOP chairman says defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal | Senate panel advances FCC nominee | Krebs says threats to election officials ‘undermining democracy’

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 our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.

SECTION 230 REPEAL LEFT OUT: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeCongress set for chaotic year-end sprint House Democrats back slower timeline for changing Confederate base names Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee MORE (R-Okla.) said Wednesday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King’s attorney believes they’re close to getting pardon from Trump MORE is prepared to accept language regarding a plan to remove Confederate names, monuments and symbols from U.S. military installations, adding that the mammoth defense bill does not include a repeal of a tech liability shield, referred to as Section 230, despite a veto threat.

Inhofe said the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Congress hopes to send to Trump’s desk this month, includes language passed by the Senate in July that would set up a commission to form a plan on renaming bases honoring Confederate generals and instruct the Defense secretary to implement it.

The senior Oklahoma senator, who previously told colleagues that he would attempt to change the language substantially, cast it as a victory because it would delay the stripping of commemorations to the Confederate States of America. House Democrats wanted a one-year deadline for renaming bases.

“It hasn’t changed and, quite frankly, it’s a good thing that it is there because that language would stall that for about three years, it would appoint a commission that we would have a lot of participation in,” Inhofe said of the Senate-passed language included in the final version of the defense authorization bill.

“I’m glad the language is there because that’s one way of stalling the closures and the shuffling around of the installations,” he said.

Inhofe, who spoke to Trump on Monday, said the president is “fine with that.”

Read more here.

 

SIMINGTON HEADS FOR SENATE VOTE: The Senate Commerce committee advanced Federal Communications Commission (FCC) nominee Nathan Simington on a party-line vote Wednesday.

The 14-12 approval for the Republican nominee tees up what is likely to be a hotly contested vote before the full Senate.

If confirmed, Simington’s presence on the commission would leave it at a 2-2 partisan deadlock when current chair Ajit Pai steps down on Jan. 20. Republicans could make it difficult for President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Tiger King’s attorney believes they’re close to getting pardon from Trump Cruz urges Supreme Court to take up Pennsylvania election challenge MORE to break that tie, posing problems for his policy objectives.

However, it is not yet clear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Top GOP senator warns government funding deal unlikely this week Criminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot MORE (R-Ky.) intends to bring the nomination up for a floor vote given the limited legislative time left in the year.

President Trump nominated Simington, a senior adviser at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), after pulling the renomination of Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly in August.

Read more here.

 

KREBS SPEAKS OUT: Christoper Krebs, the nation’s former top cybersecurity official, said Wednesday that recent threats against election officials were “undemocratic” and “undermined democracy.”

“I’ve received death threats, a number of these officials have received death threats, and to me, there aren’t good words to describe how un-American and undemocratic it is that the actual individuals responsible for the process of this most sacred democratic institution of elections are the ones that are getting the blowback here,” Krebs, the former director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), said during a virtual event hosted by The Washington Post. 

“We are actively undermining democracy. We are actively undermining confidence in the electoral process,” Krebs said. 

Krebs was fired by President Trump last month after pushing back against Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and election interference through CISA’s “rumor control” webpage, and after CISA signed on to a statement with state and local officials calling the 2020 election the “most secure in American history.”

Read more here.

 

DOUBLING DOWN: Christopher Krebs wrote separately Wednesday that he stands by his determination that the 2020 election was the most secure in the nation’s history.

In an op-ed for The Washington Post published after a Trump campaign lawyer said he should be “shot,” Christopher Krebs wrote about specific efforts the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency undertook ahead of the 2020 election.

These included aiding states in the expansion of voting systems that provide paper records rather than direct recording electronic (DRE) machines, which generate no such record, he wrote. Ahead of the 2020 election, Louisiana was the only state using DRE machines.

“This point cannot be emphasized enough: The secretaries of state in Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania, as well officials in Wisconsin, all worked overtime to ensure there was a paper trail that could be audited or recounted by hand, independent of any allegedly hacked software or hardware,” Krebs added.

Read more here.

 

ACLU SEEKS FEDERAL CELL PHONE DATA: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is ramping up efforts to obtain records of the Trump administration’s reported purchase of cellphone data to track locations of immigrants.

The ACLU on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) demanding the agencies release the records. The group says it has waited for more than nine months for DHS, CBP and ICE to produce the records through the Freedom of Information Act.

The nonprofit alleges the government agencies bought access to databases containing “precise location information for millions of people,” gathered by apps running on smartphones. 

The Wall Street Journal first reported in February that the Trump administration was buying access to such data through a company named Venntel that was selling access to a database to DHS, ICE and CBP.  

“The agencies’ purchase raise serious concerns that they are avoiding Fourth Amendment protection for cell phone location information by paying for access instead of obtaining a warrant,” the ACLU wrote in the lawsuit. 

In 2018, the Supreme Court held in Carpenter vs. United States that collecting significant quantities of historical data location from cellphones is a search under the Fourth Amendment and requires a warrant.

Read more here.

 

ATTEMPTED VACCINE HACKS: North Korean actors have attempted to hack into at least six pharmaceutical companies developing COVID-19 treatments in the U.S., the U.K. and South Korea, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The outlet, citing people familiar with the matter, reported Wednesday that among the companies targeted were U.S.-based Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, both of which are developing coronavirus vaccine candidates.

South Korean companies in earlier stages of COVID-19 drug trials were also reportedly included in the hacking attempts: Genexine, Shin Poong Pharmaceutical Co. and Celltrion. 

The people who spoke to the Journal also said North Korean hackers targeted U.K.-based company AstraZeneca, which announced last month that interim data revealed its coronavirus vaccine to be up to 90 percent effective.

The reported hackings comes after Reuters reported last week that North Korean hackers had attempted to break into AstraZeneca’s systems in recent weeks. 

Read more here.

 

CHINA ZEROS IN ON BIDEN: William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said Wednesday that Chinese foreign influence efforts have pivoted since the election to target members of the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

“We’ve seen an uptick, which was planned, and we predicted, that China would now revector their influence campaigns to a new administration,” Evanina said at the Aspen Institute’s virtual Cyber Summit. 

“We are starting to see that now play across the country to not only folks that are in the new administration, but those who are around those folks in the new administration,” he added. “That’s one area we are going to be very keen on making sure the new administration understands, that influence, what it looks like, what it tastes like, what it feels like when you see it.”

Evanina, who described Biden as the president-elect, noted that it was “really important” that Biden be able to see this intelligence. Biden, along with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, received his first daily presidential intelligence briefing earlier this week. 

Read more here.

 

KATKO THROWS HAT IN THE RING: Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoKatko fends off Democratic opponent in New York race Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day Republicans who could serve in a Biden government MORE (R-N.Y.) on Wednesday announced his candidacy to serve as the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee in the next Congress. 

Katko currently serves as the ranking member of the committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee. He aims to take over from current House Homeland Security Committee ranking member Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersOvernight Defense: Mike Rogers slated to be top House Armed Services Republican | Defense bill hits another snag | Pentagon dinged for 0M loan to trucking company using COVID funds Mike Rogers set to serve as top House Armed Services Republican Former GOP congressman calls for Biden to receive presidential briefings MORE (R-Ala.), who was elected Tuesday to serve as the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. 

The Homeland Security panel has jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and covers areas including border security, cybersecurity, counterterrorism, election security and infrastructure protection, among other issues.

Katko said in a statement that “serving on this Committee is not simply an assignment for me–it is a passion.”

“Through the various leadership roles I’ve held in Congress and as a federal organized crime prosecutor, I’ve spent much of my life’s work on efforts that improve national security,” Katko said. “In the next two years, our nation will be forced to confront both foreseen and unforeseen threats to our national security.”

Read more here.

REINING IN SECTION 230: Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyOvernight Health Care: CDC panel recommends who gets vaccine first | McConnell offering new relief bill | Hahn downplays White House meeting on vaccines Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Pelosi, Mnuchin continue COVID-19 talks amid dwindling odds for deal MORE (D-Ill.) said Wednesday she will be introducing a bill in January that aims to hold tech companies accountable for their terms of service and would limit the reach of the liability shield that protects tech companies over third-party content posted on their sites.

Schakowsky said the Online Consumer Protection Act she plans to introduce would require platforms disclose to consumers in “easily understood terms” policies regarding health misinformation, incitement of violence, election misinformation and wildlife trafficking. 

If platforms fail to enforce these policies, then Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants tech companies a liability shield, would not protect them from liability related to these new obligations, she said.

Schakowsky announced she would be introducing the bill at a multinational summit on disinformation co-hosted by Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineDemocrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? House Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress Nominated for another Speaker term, Pelosi says it’s her last MORE (D-R.I.). 

She underscored the need for such reform based on rampant election misinformation that spread across social media platforms around this year’s presidential election.

“Some conventional wisdom might suggest that platforms performed better in 2020, but only if compared to their absolutely dreadful performance in 2016 can anyone keep from laughing at this ridiculous assertion,” Schakowsky said.

Read more here.

LIBRARY’S LOOK TO LEND AMAZON’S E-BOOKS: Amazon’s refusal to sell e-books published in-house to libraries is sparking backlash as demand for digital content spikes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Librarians and advocacy groups are pushing for the tech giant to license its published e-books to libraries for distribution, arguing the company’s self-imposed ban significantly decreases public access to information.

“You shouldn’t have to have a credit card in order to be an informed citizen,” Michael Blackwell, director of St. Mary’s County Library in Maryland, told The Hill. “It’s vital that books continue to be a source of information and that those books should be democratically discovered through libraries.”

A petition launched last week by Fight for the Future, a tech advocacy group, calls for Congress to pursue an antitrust investigation and legislative action against Amazon for its ban on selling e-books to libraries. As of Tuesday afternoon, it had nearly 13,000 signatures.

Amazon has indicated it is in discussions to allow its e-books to be licensed by libraries, but so far the public institutions are unable to access Amazon’s digital titles.

Read more here.

 

EPA JOINS PARLER: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced Wednesday on Twitter that he was joining the platform, though his first post appears to be from Tuesday. 

Asked why the agency joined Parler, EPA spokesperson Molly Block said in an email that the reason was “to reach new audiences and promote the numerous environmental accomplishments made under the Trump Administration.”

The initial posts from the agency promoted its 50th anniversary, which was Wednesday, and touted the administration’s record on environmental issues.

Parler describes itself as a place where people can “speak freely … without fear of being ‘deplatformed’” and does not do fact-checking. Experts and journalists have found disinformation including climate change denial on the platform. 

Its users include both traditional conservatives, including several lawmakers, and far-right groups. 

Read more here.

 

Lighter click: Back in the day

An op-ed to chew on: The free market is the best way to curtail power of technology firms

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Spain’s Biggest Union Is Suing Amazon for Spying on Striking Workers (Motherboard / Edward Ongweso Jr.)

Massachusetts on the verge of becoming first state to ban police use of facial recognition (The Verge / Nick Statt)

Parler’s got a porn problem: Adult businesses target pro-Trump social network (Washington Post / Craig Timberg, Drew Harwell and Rachel Lerman)

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