Hillicon Valley: Mueller indicts Russians for DNC hack | US officially lifts ZTE ban | AT&T CEO downplays merger challenge | Microsoft asks for rules on facial recognition technology | Dems want probe into smart TVs

Hillicon Valley: Mueller indicts Russians for DNC hack | US officially lifts ZTE ban | AT&T CEO downplays merger challenge | Microsoft asks for rules on facial recognition technology | Dems want probe into smart TVs
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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.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Morgan Chalfant (@mchalfant16), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Ali Breland (@alibreland).

 

MUELLER INDICTS 12 RUSSIANS IN 2016 ELECTION HACKS: Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE has indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinOnly courts can rein in 'King Rosenstein' Five things to know about Bruce Ohr, the DOJ official under fire from Trump Preet Bharara: ‘God bless the Deep State’ if it’s people who care about the law MORE announced the long-awaited indictment Friday at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

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"The indictment charges 12 Russian military officers by name for conspiring to interfere with the 2016 presidential election," Rosenstein said.

Rosenstein said that the Justice Department intends to transfer this specific case to the department's national security division from the special counsel's office -- meaning that the case will remain open even if Mueller's investigation is shut down.

Who? All 12 of the defendants are members of the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency. Eleven are charged with conspiring to hack into networks used by the DNC as well as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

The twelfth individual is charged with conspiring to hack into systems used to administer elections -- including hacking into a website of a state elections board and sending spear-phishing emails to state elections officials.

How the White House is reacting: "Today's charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result. This is consistent with what we have been saying all along," White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.

Interesting timing ... Friday's indictment was unsealed a mere two days before Trump is poised to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin face-to-face in Helsinki. Russia has repeatedly denied meddling in the election.

Rosenstein said he had briefed Trump on the allegations "earlier this week."

"The president is fully aware of today's actions by the department," he said.

Read more on the long-awaited indictment here. And read the actual indictment here.

 

MEANWHILE, EARLIER IN THE DAY … TRUMP SAID HE'LL BRING UP ELECTION INTERFERENCE IN PUTIN FACE-TO-FACE: President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump threatens ex-intel official's clearance, citing comments on CNN Protesters topple Confederate monument on UNC campus Man wanted for threatening to shoot Trump spotted in Maryland MORE on Friday said he would "firmly" press Russian President Vladimir Putin about Moscow's alleged interference in the 2016 election when they meet face-to-face early next week.

He indicated that he doesn't expect any breakthroughs on the matter – Russia has repeatedly denied it meddled in the U.S. presidential election – but he pledged to "absolutely firmly ask the question."

"I know you'll ask, 'Will we be talking about 'meddling,'?" Trump said at a press conference Friday in Britain alongside Prime Minister Theresa May. "I will absolutely bring that up. I don't think you'll have any 'Gee, I did it, I did it, you got me.' There won't be a Perry Mason here."

"But you never know what happens, right?" he added.

Why we care: The issue came up during a November meeting between Trump and Putin, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders' Meeting in Vietnam.

Trump sparked a media frenzy after the meeting when he indicated that he believed Putin's denial of election meddling. Trump later backtracked on those comments.

Read more here, and be sure to keep up with our coverage of the highly anticipated meeting on Monday.

 

AT&T CEO DOWNPLAYS MERGER CHALLENGE: AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said on Friday that he's not concerned about the government's new challenge to his company's $85 billion merger with Time Warner.

In an interview with CNBC Friday morning, Stephenson said that AT&T was not surprised that the Justice Department appealed a federal judge's decision last month to let the merger move forward.

"This changes nothing I'm doing today, except talking about this issue on camera," Stephenson said. "This changes nothing we'll be doing over the next 30 days or 12 months. We think the likelihood of this thing being overturned or reversed is remote."

The government filed its appeal on Thursday, a month after U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said that prosecutors had failed to prove the merger would hurt competition and consumers.

The Justice Department has not yet revealed the basis for its appeal, but it argued in court that the merger is anticompetitive because it would allow AT&T to use its control over Time Warner's entertainment offerings to raise prices and put the squeeze on competitors.

Meanwhile, AT&T argued that it wanted to make Time Warner content like CNN and HBO as widely available as possible in order to compete for online targeted advertising revenue.

Read more here.

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM THE WILD, 10-HOUR HEARING WITH FBI AGENT STRZOK: This bombshell hearing didn't wrap until 8 p.m. last night, so we're bringing you our big takeaways today, in case you missed it (no, we don't expect you to sit through 10 hours of congressional testimony -- that's why we're here).

Peter Strzok faced a fierce public grilling from House Republicans who view the controversial FBI counterintelligence agent as the key to exposing what they say was systemic bias by top government officials against Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The joint hearing before the House Judiciary and House Oversight and Government Reform committees ran close to 10 hours, with Republicans unleashing on Strzok in what was, from the beginning, a rancorous, partisan cage match.

During the hearing, GOP lawmakers repeatedly scrutinized the details of Strzok's extramarital affair with former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, with whom he exchanged text messages criticizing Trump and other political figures during the campaign.

Republicans also repeatedly clashed with their Democratic colleagues, who accused them of political theater and claimed they are seeking to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation examining possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Here are our five key takeaways from Thursday's chaotic hearing.

 

US OFFICIALLY LIFTS ZTE BAN: The Trump administration on Friday officially lifted the ban on U.S. companies selling to Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE after it reached an agreement to revive the business.

That agreement came amid a wave of criticism from Republican lawmakers and followed years of warnings about ZTE from the intelligence community.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossJuan Williams: Trump weaves web of corruption An even bigger China shock Judge says California lawsuit challenging census question can proceed MORE insisted that the lifting of the ban only came after severe sanctions.

"While we lifted the ban on ZTE, the Department will remain vigilant as we closely monitor ZTE's actions to ensure compliance with all U.S. laws and regulations," Ross said in a statement.

Read more here.

 

MICROSOFT PRESIDENT WANTS FACE TECH REGULATED: Microsoft CEO Brad Smith is calling for government regulations on facial recognition technology.

In a blog post, Smith didn't detail specific rules but did urge the creation of a "bipartisan and expert commission" to draft policy recommendations.

"In a democratic republic, there is no substitute for decision making by our elected representatives regarding the issues that require the balancing of public safety with the essence of our democratic freedoms," Smith wrote. "Facial recognition will require the public and private sectors alike to step up – and to act."

Currently, facial recognition technology and its controversial use by law enforcement and government agencies faces little regulation or oversight.

Important to note: Smith's call for government regulation of such technology comes as employees at technology companies have been calling on corporate leadership to stop contracting such technology and services to government agencies, particularly law enforcement.

Read more here.

 

DEMS WANT FTC PROBE OF SMART TVS: Two Democratic senators are pushing the Federal Trade Commission to probe smart TVs over concerns about data privacy.

Sens. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyTo make the House of Representatives work again, make it bigger Dems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints Make the moon a refueling station — then head to Mars MORE (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) expressed concern that the technology can be tracking user behavior without a consumer knowing, in a letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons.

"Regrettably, smart TV users may not be aware of the extent to which their televisions are collecting sensitive information about their viewing habits," Markey and Blumenthal wrote.

"Televisions have entered a new era, but that does not mean that users' sensitive information no longer deserves protection."

The senators cited a New York Times report detailing the practices of San Francisco–based software company Samba TV, which said it had collected viewing data from more than 13 million smart TVs.

Read more here.

 

APPLE LAUNCHES CLEAN ENERGY FUND IN CHINA: Apple Inc. is launching a $300 million partnership in China to bring renewable energy to the country, the company announced late Thursday.

The China Clean Energy Fund, which Apples claims is a first-of-its-kind fund, will invest in clean energy projects throughout the country, with a goal of generating more than 1 gigawatt of renewable energy over four years, enough to power nearly 1 million homes.

China is the largest source of carbon pollution, and the investment is intended to help the country with its climate issues.

 

OBAMA LOSES MORE THAN 2 MILLION FOLLOWERS: Former President Obama lost more than 2 million followers on Twitter this week as the social platform removed inactive and locked accounts from follower counts, according to a preliminary review by The Hill.

Obama, who had 104 million Twitter followers prior to the crackdown, had roughly 101 million as of Thursday afternoon. Still, the former president remains the third most-followed person on the platform behind Katy Perry and Justin Bieber.

 

ON TAP:

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to meet Monday in Helsinki, Finland. Click here for more on the anticipation and anxiety over the sit-down.

 

A LIGHTER TWITTER CLICK: Not exactly spearphishing, but...Oops, he did it again.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON:

2018 is the year India, China and Israel go to the moon. (The Hill)

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

U.S. intel chief warns of devastating cyber threat to infrastructure (Reuters)

Jared Kushner's clearance level prevents him from viewing the most classified information. (The Washington Post)

Meet the tech workers trying to get Democrats elected. (The New York Times)

"Timeline: How Russian agents allegedly hacked the DNC and Clinton's campaign." (The Washington Post)

Who wants to be a billionaire? Not Elon Musk. (The Guardian)

All EFF'd up. (The Baffler)