Hillicon Valley: US threatens to hold intel from Germany over Huawei | GOP senator targets FTC over privacy | Bipartisan bill would beef up 'internet of things' security | Privacy groups seize on suspended NSA program | Tesla makes U-turn

Hillicon Valley: US threatens to hold intel from Germany over Huawei | GOP senator targets FTC over privacy | Bipartisan bill would beef up 'internet of things' security | Privacy groups seize on suspended NSA program | Tesla makes U-turn
© Getty Images

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 the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).

 

HUA-WOAH: The Trump administration is threatening to withhold intelligence from Germany if the country does not drop a potential contract with Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei.

The Wall Street Journal obtained a letter dated Friday from U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell to Germany's economics minister saying that intelligence sharing would be limited if Huawei or other Chinese vendors are allowed to participate in building Germany's 5G network.

ADVERTISEMENT

The U.S. has been urging allies to drop Huawei for months. Intelligence officials have expressed concerns that the telecommunications giant is spying on behalf of the Chinese government.

The push comes as many countries begin adopting the next-generation wireless technology known as 5G. With people becoming increasingly dependent on the internet, U.S. officials are increasingly sounding the alarm over the potential for Chinese spying.

According to the Journal, Germany says it has seen no evidence that Huawei had or could use its equipment to spy on its users and that it should be allowed to bid for the country's 5G network if it meets security criteria.

Patrick Berger, spokesman for Huawei in Germany, declined to comment to the Journal on the U.S. letter but said the company welcomes new security requirements put forth by the Germany's telecom regulator.

Read more on the controversy here.

 

CALL THE TOOTH FAIRY: Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyOvernight Defense: GOP wary of action on Iran | Pence says US 'locked and loaded' to defend allies | Iran's leader rules out talks with US GOP lawmaker: US shouldn't attack anybody on behalf of Saudi Arabia GOP senator calls Google antitrust probe 'great progress' MORE (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Monday slammed the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) response to privacy scandals at Google and Facebook as "toothless" in a letter to the agency's chairman.

Hawley, a freshman, has made his mark as one of the Republican Party's most vocal tech critics since he started in Congress. His letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons comes one day before the Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on data privacy.

"Any robust definition of consumer welfare must acknowledge that [Google and Facebook] have harmed consumers by conditioning participation ... on giving away enormous -- and growing -- amounts of personal information," Hawley wrote. "Yet the approach the FTC has taken to these issues has been toothless."

Lawmakers and consumer advocates have increasingly placed a spotlight on the FTC in recent years, slamming the agency's failure to rein in the tech giants' data-collection practices. The agency is tasked with probing whether tech companies adhere to their own privacy policies, but FTC regulators are unable to fine companies for first-time offenses.

Even Simons, the Republican FTC chairman, in a New York Times interview last week criticized the FTC's authority as overly narrow, saying legislators who outlined its powers 100 years ago "were not thinking about data security and privacy issues."

Read more on the criticism over the FTC here.

 

IOT? MORE LIKE BYE-OT: A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday unveiled legislation that would create cybersecurity standards for internet-connected devices, often known as the "internet of things."

The bill, introduced in the Senate by Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerCalifornia Law to rebuild middle class shows need for congressional action Hillicon Valley: FCC approves Nexstar-Tribune merger | Top Democrat seeks answers on security of biometric data | 2020 Democrats take on Chinese IP theft | How Google, Facebook probes are testing century-old antitrust laws Top Democrat demands answers from CBP on security of biometric data MORE (D-Va.) and Cory GardnerCory Scott Gardner The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Bolton returns to political group after exiting administration The Hill's Morning Report — Trump's hurricane forecast controversy won't go away MORE (R-Colo.) and in the House by Reps. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdGOP struggles with retirement wave Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Pelosi: GOP retirements indicate they'll be in the minority, with Democrat in the White House MORE (R-Texas) and Robin KellyRobin Lynne KellyTo combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks Democratic lawmakers support Bustos after DCCC resignations Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment MORE (D-Ill.), would require established standards for government use of the devices.

Internet of things devices can open the door to a host of potential security issues. Hackers who are able to access one device can sometimes find a way to manipulate other connected items. They can also infiltrate networks or systems linked to the devices.

Government officials, lawmakers and security researchers have pointed to the vulnerabilities created by the interconnected nature of the devices -- which can include products from ranging from vehicles to home appliances like doorbells -- as a major cybersecurity concern.

Gardner and Warner introduced a different version of the bill in the 115th Congress, but the measure did not advance.

More on what's in the bill here.

 

YELP FOR SAFE SPACES: A new app launched this month to help conservatives find "safe" restaurants and other businesses where they won't be harassed for supporting President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE.

The 63red Safe app, described as "Yelp for conservatives," was created in response to reports of Trump administration officials and Trump supporters being asked to leave restaurants.

App creator Scott Wallace on Monday said on "Fox & Friends" that his aim was to get "politics out of local businesses [and] local restaurants."

"We wanted to make sure that people could let others know what restaurants may have a political bent," he said. "We're not looking to try and find restaurants that are 'conservative' or 'pro-Trump.' "

"We want businesses to understand that there's no money in politics," he said. "We want to make sure everyone's safe out there."

Read more on the app here.

 

PRIVACY GROUPS EMBOLDENED OVER NSA PROGRAM: The potential end to a controversial National Security Agency phone records collection program is energizing privacy groups and lawmakers who have long called for stricter limits on domestic surveillance powers.

A top national security aide to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyGOP struggles with retirement wave Trump touts Washington Post story on GOP support Pence extends olive branch to Cummings after Trump's Baltimore attacks MORE (R-Calif.) recently revealed on a podcast that, for the past six months, the spy agency hasn't used a program that gathers metadata on domestic text messages and phone calls. He predicted that the Trump administration might not ask to renew the program, which is set to expire this year.

The aide's remarks were followed by reports from The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal that the NSA is in the process of shuttering the program.

Some privacy activists say these recent developments have strengthened their hand as they prepare to make their case on Capitol Hill, where they'll argue that elements of the USA Freedom Act -- Congress's response to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's bombshell disclosures in 2013 -- should not be reauthorized.

"[Privacy activists] always have thought that the program should end, that there was no basis for it, but it's even easier to make that decision because it's been defunct for the past six months," Daniel Schuman, policy director at privacy group Demand Progress, told The Hill.

If Congress allows for the expiration of the surveillance program's legal authority, often referred to as Section 215, it would likely defuse what many predicted would be a major congressional battle heading into a pivotal election year.

How privacy groups are making their case: Representatives of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group, began meeting with congressional offices this past week to argue that the call-detail records program should be allowed to sunset, while pushing for other surveillance reforms as well.

And at a congressional briefing this month, online civil liberties group Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) called on House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerLewandowski says he's under no obligation to speak truthfully to the media Katie Pavlich: The Democrats' desperate do-overs Lewandowski refuses to say whether Trump has offered him a pardon MORE (D-N.Y.) and other lawmakers to end the program.

"It was fortuitously timed to come right after the disclosure that this program hadn't been used," Chris Calabrese, CDT's vice president of policy, told The Hill.

A coalition of more than 30 advocacy groups on Wednesday penned an open letter requesting that Congress refuse to reauthorize the wide-ranging surveillance authority, which allows for the gathering of phone records, as well as the warrantless collection of other records deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation.

What lawmakers are saying: Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats press for action on election security Interior gains new watchdog On The Money: NY prosecutors subpoena eight years of Trump tax returns | Senators struggle to get spending bills off ground as shutdown looms | Progressive tax-the-rich push gains momentum | Trump faces dwindling leverage with China MORE (D-Ore.), an outspoken surveillance critic and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said this past week that he will oppose reauthorization.

"It is increasingly clear to me that the NSA's implementation of reforms to the phone records dragnet has been fundamentally flawed," Wyden said. "In my view, the administration must permanently end the phone records program and Congress should refuse to reauthorize it later this year."

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRepublicans wary of US action on Iran EXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns Rand Paul: Almost every mass shooter 'is sending off signals' MORE (R-Ky.), another staunch critic of surveillance, told The Hill that the program's apparent end is "great news."

"I think that Americans shouldn't have their privacy invaded by the government without a warrant," he said.

And Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierDemocrats call on House committees to probe Epstein's 2008 'sweetheart deal,' suicide Scaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' Epstein death sparks questions for federal government MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, indicated she might support the end of Section 215.

"I don't want to have the phone records of people being reviewed by NSA unless they have a warrant," Speier told The Hill.

What's next: Some national security hawks acknowledged that the program's reported end could alter the reauthorization fight.

"With the recent reports that the NSA is no longer utilizing the 'Section 215' program, Congress and the administration must assess its necessity going forward," Rep. Jim SensenbrennerFrank (Jim) James SensenbrennerHere are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea Trump calls on House Republicans to let committee chairs stay on the job longer MORE (R-Wis.), one of the authors of the Patriot Act and the subsequent Freedom Act, said in a statement to The Hill.

Read more on what the reauthorization battle could look like here.

 

TESLA MAKES A U-TURN: Tesla on Sunday announced that it will raise the prices of some of its vehicles after deciding to keep more retail stores open than previously planned.

The electric car manufacturer said in a statement that its high-end models would see a 3 percent price hike after the company decided to "keep significantly more stores open than previously announced as we continue to evaluate them over the course of several months."

The company said that its lowest priced and newest car, the $35,000 Model 3, will not experience a price increase.

Tesla had announced last month that it would be moving sales online and shuttering most of its retail locations in order to keep the Model 3 price low, but they are now backtracking on that strategy.

More on the change here.

 

DISTURBING REPORT ON AMAZON WORKERS: Emergency workers were summoned to U.S. Amazon warehouses 189 times for Amazon employees' suicidal attempts and mental breakdowns over the last five years, according to a new Daily Beast report.

The suicide attempts and emotional breakdowns reported by The Daily Beast spanned 46 warehouses in 17 states, comprising about a quarter of the company's centers in the United States.

"It's this isolating colony of hell where people having breakdowns is a regular occurrence," Jace Crouch, a former warehouse employee from Florida, told The Daily Beast, adding it is "mentally taxing to do the same task super fast for 10-hour shifts, four or five days a week."

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE (I-Vt.), one of the company's strongest critics in Congress, responded to The Daily Beast's new reporting by calling on Amazon to "recognize that workers' rights don't stop at the minimum wage."

"Amazon must significantly improve working conditions at its warehouses and respect the constitutional right of its employees to form a union and bargain collectively for a better life," Sanders tweeted on Monday.  

One former worker, Nick Veasley, described experiencing suicidal thoughts that intensified as he worked for Amazon. He said the job caused enormous physical pain and took a serious emotional toll, as managers cultivated a "crack the whip, crack the whip, crack the whip" atmosphere.

"That place screwed me up so much it put me into a depression where I was actually on a 72-hour hold in a psych ward," Veasley told The Daily Beast.

Amazon in a statement to the outlet described Veasley's reaction as "unfortunate."

Read more on The Daily Beast's report here.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Rural America will fall further behind without all-fiber broadband infrastructure investment.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: The discourse.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

John Oliver takes on the FCC over robocalls. (YouTube)

Top universities join to push 'public interest technology.' (The New York Times)

What Google knows about you -- and what you can do about it. (Axios)

New net neutrality campaign targets Dem senator. (Fight for the Future)