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RUSSIANS STILL AT IT: Facebook and Twitter on Thursday announced they have dismantled a Russia-backed online interference campaign targeting African-Americans.
The campaign was based out of Ghana and Nigeria, marking Russia’s latest attempt to obfuscate how it’s working to sow discord on U.S. soil by propping up volunteers and workers from foreign nations.
Russia associated with workers based in the two African nations to spread divisive and polarizing messages, specifically targeted at black social media users in the U.S., according to a CNN investigation published Thursday.
Facebook removed 49 accounts, 69 pages and 85 Instagram accounts for engaging in foreign interference on its platforms, the company announced.
“This network was in the early stages of building an audience and was operated by local nationals — some wittingly and some unwittingly — in Ghana and Nigeria on behalf of individuals in Russia,” Facebook said. “It targeted primarily the United States.”
Twitter suspended 71 accounts “largely Tweeting in English and that presented themselves as based in the United States,” the company said.
RIP IT OUT: President TrumpDonald John TrumpMnuchin, Schumer brief Trump, expect coronavirus stimulus deal Tuesday US airlines drafting plans for potential shutdown: report White House hits CNN, MSNBC for cutting away from coronavirus briefing MORE on Thursday signed into law a bill banning the use of federal funds to purchase equipment from telecom companies deemed a national security threat, such as Chinese telecom group Huawei.
The Secure and Trusted Communications Act, which the Senate passed in February and the House approved last year, will also require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a $1 billion fund to help small telecom groups remove existing equipment that is deemed to be a threat.
“Securing our networks from malicious foreign interference is critical to America’s wireless future, especially as some communications providers rely on equipment from companies like Huawei that pose an immense threat to America’s national and economic security,” the bill’s House sponsors, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), ranking member Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter dismantle Russian interference campaign targeting African Americans | YouTube to allow ads on coronavirus videos | Trump signs law banning federal funds for Huawei equipment Trump signs law banning use of federal funds to purchase Huawei equipment Trump coronavirus travel ban comes under criticism MORE (R-Ore.), and Reps. Doris MatsuiDoris Okada MatsuiHillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter dismantle Russian interference campaign targeting African Americans | YouTube to allow ads on coronavirus videos | Trump signs law banning federal funds for Huawei equipment Trump signs law banning use of federal funds to purchase Huawei equipment Hillicon Valley — Presented by Facebook — Federal court rules tech giants can censor content | Trump upends surveillance fight | Senate passes bill barring federal funds for Huawei equipment MORE (D-Calif.) and Brett GuthrieSteven (Brett) Brett GuthrieHillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter dismantle Russian interference campaign targeting African Americans | YouTube to allow ads on coronavirus videos | Trump signs law banning federal funds for Huawei equipment Trump signs law banning use of federal funds to purchase Huawei equipment Hillicon Valley — Presented by Facebook — Federal court rules tech giants can censor content | Trump upends surveillance fight | Senate passes bill barring federal funds for Huawei equipment MORE (R-Ky.), said in a statement.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerMcConnell sets Friday night deadline for bipartisan deal on stimulus Senate GOP plan provides massive tax relief, loans for business McConnell takes reins of third coronavirus bill MORE (R-Miss.), whose committee has made 5G security a priority, praised Trump for signing the bill into law.
“This legislation lays the foundation to help U.S. firms strip out vulnerable equipment and replace it with secure alternatives,” Wicker said in a statement. “Today marks an important victory for our economy and national security.”
The new law marks a major effort to eject Huawei and another Chinese company, ZTE, from U.S. networks. Both were previously designated national security threats by the FCC in November. The FCC also previously voted unanimously to ban the use of FCC funds by groups deemed to be threats.
A spokesperson for Huawei declined to respond to The Hill’s request for comment. The company has repeatedly pushed back against criticism, and is suing the FCC.
SAVING THE CENSUS: House Democrats on Thursday introduced two bills to penalize individuals for spreading misinformation about the upcoming 2020 census.
The Census Form Integrity Act, sponsored by House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyHouse Democrats plead with key committee chairman to allow remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic Brady PAC endorses Biden, plans to spend million in 2020 Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter dismantle Russian interference campaign targeting African Americans | YouTube to allow ads on coronavirus videos | Trump signs law banning federal funds for Huawei equipment MORE (D-N.Y.), would ban non-governmental groups from sending false census forms or census information to Americans.
The legislation was introduced in response to recent incidents involving the Republican National Committee (RNC) sending mailers to individuals that look like official census forms. Maloney and other House Democrats sent a letter to RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel earlier this month asking her to ensure the RNC “immediately” stopped sending these mailers.
Maloney said in a statement on Thursday that it was “unfortunate” that the legislation had to be introduced.
“I urge my Republican colleagues to join me to block deceptive mailers that could harm the accuracy of the census and hurt our communities for the next decade,” Maloney said. “We simply cannot afford to get this wrong. If people aren’t counted, then they are not represented.”
A second bill, the Honest Census Communications Act, was introduced in conjunction with Maloney’s bill on Thursday.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooBottom line Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter dismantle Russian interference campaign targeting African Americans | YouTube to allow ads on coronavirus videos | Trump signs law banning federal funds for Huawei equipment House Democrats introduce bills to penalize census misinformation MORE (D-Calif.), would outlaw census disinformation communicated on paper, over the phone, or online. Anyone who violated the law would be fined up to $11,000 per incident and face up to five years in prison.
YOUTUBE MOVES: YouTube will soon allow advertisements to run on videos that discuss the new coronavirus, reversing its previous policy that banned users from monetizing any coronavirus-related content.
The backtrack comes after swarms of YouTube creators complained about the policy barring ads on videos with anything more than “a passing mention” of the coronavirus, which they said unfairly kept money out of their hands as the disease becomes an increasingly pressing topic of conversation.
YouTube previously banned ads on videos that mentioned coronavirus due to its “sensitive events” policy, which bars monetization on videos about fast-evolving and delicate situations such as natural disasters and shootings.
But in a blog post on Wednesday, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said the platform will begin allowing ads on coronavirus-related videos again in order to ensure “news organizations and creators can continue producing quality videos in a sustainable way.”
“It’s becoming clear this issue is now an ongoing and important part of everyday conversation,” she wrote.
But the platform is still taking precautions; it will only allow ads on content discussing coronavirus if it is from particular news organizations or if the creators go through YouTube’s self-certification program.
“In the days ahead, we will enable ads for content discussing the coronavirus on a limited number of channels, including creators who accurately self-certify and a range of news partners,” Wojcicki wrote. “We’re preparing our policies and enforcement processes to expand monetization to more creators and news organizations in the coming weeks.”
TICKTOCK FOR TIKTOK: Sens. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyFive sticking points to a T coronavirus deal The Hill’s Morning Report — ,000,000,000,000: GOP unveils historic US rescue effort GOP senators raise concerns over smaller checks for lower earners MORE (R-Mo.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) on Thursday introduced legislation that would ban federal employees from using TikTok on government devices.
The No TikTok on Government Devices Act comes after the departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security each voluntarily instituted bans on the popular Chinese-owned short-form video platform.
Scrutiny on the social media app’s ownership, Chinese company ByteDance, has risen in lockstep with its skyrocketing popularity — it has been downloaded over 123 million times in the U.S.
The concern is largely tied to a 2017 Chinese law that requires Chinese companies to comply with data requests for state intelligence work.
“TikTok is owned by a Chinese company that includes Chinese Communist Party members on its board, and it is required by law to share user data with Beijing,” Hawley said in a statement. “As many of our federal agencies have already recognized, TikTok is a major security risk to the United States, and it has no place on government devices.”
Scott added that continued use of TikTok by government officials “is a risk to our network and a threat to our national security.”
“We should all be very concerned about the threat of Communist China, and I hope my colleagues will join me to implement this ban immediately and protect our national security,” he said in a statement.
TikTok has continually rebuffed claims from lawmakers that the company presents a security risk, and there is no public evidence to suggest that the Chinese government has any access to the data of U.S. users.
FREEZE THEM OUT: Lawmakers in the House and Senate on Thursday introduced legislation to effectively freeze out Chinese telecom group Huawei from the U.S. financial system.
The Networks Act would require the president to add foreign 5G equipment manufacturers to the Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list if the companies engage in espionage against the U.S. sanctions violations.
The primary concern cited by lawmakers around Huawei has been a 2017 Chinese intelligence law that requires Chinese companies and citizens to participate in state espionage activities if requested. American prosecutors also recently charged Huawei with conspiracy to commit racketeering, which followed previous charges of stealing intellectual property, wire fraud and obstruction of justice.
Placing a company on the SDN list effectively freezes it out from accessing the American financial system. Companies and individuals currently on the list include Iranian banks, Russian oligarchs and drug traffickers.
Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Tensions flare with senators deadlocked over stimulus Hispanic Democrats demand funding for multilingual coronavirus messaging Sticking points force stimulus package talks to spill into Sunday MORE (D-N.Y.), one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement that “China-based companies like Huawei cooperate heavily with the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government in political and economic espionage.”
“Allowing China to dominate global 5G networks threatens America’s national security,” Schumer added. “It is time for the Trump administration to take swift and forceful action to block Huawei from accessing the U.S. financial system.”
The legislation would also limit the ability of U.S. companies to do business with or interact with Huawei. Transactions with Huawei involving existing equipment for 3G or 4G networks would be exempt from the limitations so as not to interfere with telecom networks.
ACLU SUES DHS: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Thursday sued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for information on how it has used facial-recognition technology.
The ACLU said it filed the lawsuit in the Southern District Court of New York after DHS and its sub-agencies — Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
The ACLU is requesting an injunction requiring the agencies to process its FOIA requests immediately.
“Unlike other ways of verifying a person’s identity, face recognition technology can enable persistent government surveillance on a massive scale,” Ashley Gorski, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement.
“The public has a right to know when, where, and how the government is using face recognition, and what safeguards, if any, are in place to protect our rights,” Gorski added. “This unregulated surveillance technology threatens to fundamentally alter our free society and is in urgent need of democratic oversight.”
CBP and TSA in recent years have begun to integrate facial-recognition technology, which scans faces for the purpose of identifying individuals, at points of entry to the United States.
CBP has used the technology since 2017 to check travelers coming in and out of the U.S., although U.S. citizens have been allowed to opt out.
In 2019, DHS floated a plan to implement facial-recognition checkpoints for all airline travelers in the U.S., but pulled it back after outcry from lawmakers.
TAKEDOWN: The website for a local Illinois health agency was taken down by a cyberattack this week, creating difficulties in distributing accurate information on the coronavirus outbreak.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District announced on Facebook on Tuesday that their website was “down,” giving people in their district a phone number and email address to contact the agency for any coronavirus concerns.
On Thursday, the agency wrote in a separate Facebook post that it was still “working to get our website up and running.” The agency set up a new website to allow for access to information on coronavirus.
According to Mother Jones, the website was taken down by a ransomware attack and will likely be down for the next week or two. These attacks involve hackers accessing the system, encrypting it, and asking for money to give users access again, though often with no guarantee that users will get all their data back.
Julie Pryde, the chief administrator of the health district, told Mother Jones that the cyberattack was “inconvenient,” but that the district had put in place a “robust continuity of action plan.” Pryde did not comment on what data was lost or what data was accessed by hackers.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District serves over 200,000 people, including students at the University of Illinois. The university announced Wednesday that it would move to online classes due to coronavirus concerns.
GOP PRIVACY PUSH: When negotiations between the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee over the country’s first online privacy bill broke down late last year, two other lawmakers on the committee pledged to forge ahead with their own separate effort, reminding their colleagues that any successful privacy legislation will need bipartisan support to gain traction in the Senate.
Now, those talks — between Sens. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranRand Paul’s coronavirus diagnosis sends shockwaves through Senate Sinema criticizes Paul for alleged behavior ahead of coronavirus test results: ‘Absolutely irresponsible’ Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter dismantle Russian interference campaign targeting African Americans | YouTube to allow ads on coronavirus videos | Trump signs law banning federal funds for Huawei equipment MORE (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) — have fractured, as well, with both senators conceding that their disagreements over the federal privacy bill were insurmountable after months of negotiations.
Moran on Thursday introduced his privacy bill, the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act, which would create new safeguards around how tech companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter are allowed to collect and use the personal information of their billions of users. And it would require those companies to protect that data from hacks and breaches.
“It is clear that Congress needs to act to provide consumers and companies with a clear federal standard that lays out robust protections for consumers’ personal data,” Moran said in a statement, “and I encourage my colleagues to support the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act as the federal standard for comprehensive privacy legislation.”
Moran’s bill includes provisions that would protect users’ privacy as well as keep their data secure from intrusion. The legislation would allow people to access, correct and erase the personal data companies have collected about them, and require businesses to take “precautionary steps” to protect that information.
It would also offer the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general new resources to enforce those privacy standards.
A spokesman for Moran told The Hill that Blumenthal and Moran agreed on a “significant portion of the substantive consumer protections that a federal privacy framework would contain,” but they ultimately disagreed over how to enforce those standards.
“There were potentially harmful provisions pertaining to enforcement that the senators could not agree upon,” the spokesman said. “Sen. Moran believes the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act is a comprehensive bill that should receive support from both sides of the aisle.”
Meanwhile, Blumenthal said the senators “always knew these issues would be tough to solve.”
VERMONT SUES CLEARVIEW: Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan is suing Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition technology company, over allegations that the firm illegally scraped photos of billions of people from the Internet without their consent, in violation of the law.
The lawsuit is only the latest in a string of legal rebukes and condemnations against Clearview AI, a mysterious facial recognition company that created a widely-used tool to identify people based on images of their faces — without their knowledge.
“I am disturbed by this practice, particularly the practice of collecting and selling children’s facial recognition data,” Donovan said in a statement. “This practice is unscrupulous, unethical, and contrary to public policy. I will continue to fight for the privacy of Vermonters, particularly our most vulnerable.”
Donovan is alleging that Clearview AI violates Vermont’s Consumer Protection Act by collecting images of Vermont residents without their consent. He also claims that Clearview could be in violation of Vermont’s Data Broker Law.
The complaint was filed in the Chittenden Superior Court.
Clearview AI has partnered with hundreds of law enforcement agencies and police departments across the country, touting its technology as a top-notch crime-fighting tool. But reports by Buzzfeed News have found that Clearview’s customer list is much broader, including government bodies like Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a former Trump staffer, Republican lawmakers and more.
Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube and Microsoft have all sent cease-and-desist letters to Clearview, demanding that the company stop using photos and images plucked from their platforms.
A LIGHTER CLICK: How AI sees coronavirus
AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Candidates want data privacy rules, except for their own campaigns
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
Trump administration wants hundreds of thousands of federal workers to be ready to telework full time (Washington Post / Lisa Rein)
Election commission hires cybersecurity expert to help states protect elections (CyberScoop / Sean Lyngaas)
Coronavirus divides tech workers into the ‘unworthy’ and the ‘worthy” (The Guardian / Julia Carrie Wong)