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Hillicon Valley: Barr offers principles to prevent online child exploitation | Facebook removes misleading Trump census ads | House passes bill banning TSA use of TikTok

Hillicon Valley: Barr offers principles to prevent online child exploitation | Facebook removes misleading Trump census ads | House passes bill banning TSA use of TikTok
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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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BARR TARGETS ONLINE CHILD EXPLOITATION: Attorney General William BarrBill BarrPolice accountability board concludes that Seattle police officers used excessive force during encounters with protesters Trump hasn't asked Barr to open investigation into Bidens, McEnany says Seattle, Portland, NYC sue Trump administration over threat to pull federal money MORE and representatives from the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing network on Thursday introduced a set of voluntary principles aimed at combating online child sexual exploitation.

The 11 recommendations, co-announced with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, includes reporting cases to relevant authorities, proactive identification of grooming and publishing data on efforts to curb content.

"For the first time, the Five Countries are collaborating with tech companies to protect children against online sexual exploitation," Barr said in a statement. "We hope the Voluntary Principles will spur collective action on the part of industry to stop one of the most horrendous crimes impacting some of the most vulnerable members of society."

In a press conference announcing the principles, Barr said that the internet has amplified the reach and damage of child sexual exploitation content, noting that people can film and disseminate it more easily.

Reports of suspected child sexual abuse material to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children tip line have spiked in the last few years, with more than 69 million photos, videos and files flagged in 2019.

Many of the officials noted that the internet has made child sexual exploitation a borderless problem.

"This global outrage requires a comprehensive global response," United Kingdom Security Minister James Brokenshire said.

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Read more here.

 

OVER IN THE SENATE...: A powerful coalition of senators on Thursday introduced a highly anticipated bill that would hold tech companies accountable for the millions of images and videos of children being sexually abused spreading across their platforms, a proposal that has already riled up the tech industry and its most adamant supporters.

The EARN IT Act, introduced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLate donor surges push election spending projections to new heights Pence seeks to lift GOP in battle for Senate Wall Street backed Biden campaign with million in 2020 cycle: report MORE (R-S.C.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) alongside several top members of the committee, is one of the most significant congressional threats yet to the tech industry's valuable liability shield, which allows companies such as Facebook and Google to avoid lawsuits over what people say and post on their platforms. 

The bill, which was met with a sea of opposition Thursday from tech trade groups as well as the privacy-focused American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), would establish a government-backed commission to recommend "best practices" around identifying and reporting online child sexual exploitation.

The EARN IT Act received endorsements from more than 70 groups, including top victim's rights advocacy organizations.  

"I appreciate my colleagues working with me on this bill to ensure tech companies are using best business practices to prevent child exploitation online," Graham said in a statement. "This bill is a major first step. For the first time, you will have to earn blanket liability protection when it comes to protecting minors."

Read more here.

 

CENSUS CONFUSION: Facebook will remove misleading "census" ads from President TrumpDonald John TrumpHillary Clinton responds to Chrissy Teigen tweet: 'I love you back' Police called after Florida moms refuse to wear face masks at school board meeting about mask policy Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline MORE's reelection campaign after criticism, a spokesperson told The Hill on Thursday.

"There are policies in place to prevent confusion around the official U.S. Census and this is an example of those being enforced," the spokesperson said.

The ads, run more than a thousand times on Trump's and Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceWashington, Oregon, Nevada join California plan to review COVID-19 vaccine CNN host presses Trump spokesman: 'Do you think the pandemic has ended?' Swastika painted on Biden-Harris campaign sign in Iowa MORE's accounts, urge supporters to fill out an "Official 2020 Congressional District Census." The link attached to the post redirects users to the Trump campaign website, where they are asked to take a survey and then make a donation.

Facebook came under fire Thursday from Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Trump should accept election results 'like a man' The spectre of pension failures haunts this election Microsoft: Iranian hacking group targeting attendees of major international security conferences MORE (D-Calif.) and one of the architects of the platform's policy designed to combat census misinformation for permitting the ads.

Read more here.

 

More on Pelosi's response... House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday slammed Facebook for allowing President Trump's reelection campaign to run misleading advertisements about the census.

In more than a thousand ads running on the Facebook pages of Trump and Vice President Pence, the campaign is urging supporters to fill out an "Official 2020 Congressional District Census." The link attached to the post redirects users to the Trump campaign website, where they are asked to take a survey, then make a donation.

The ads were first reported by political newsletter Popular Information.

"This is, on the part of Facebook, a robust unacceptable interference in the census," Pelosi said at a press conference Thursday on the census.

"I know the profit motive is their business model, but it should not come at the cost of counting who is in our country so that we can provide the services. The beautiful diversity of America is what this administration fears, they want it undercounted. They're misrepresenting on Facebook and Facebook is saying that this misrepresentation is consistent with their policies."

Facebook in December announced it would ban all posts including misleading information about the U.S. census.

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The policy also bans ads that "portray census participation as useless or meaningless or advise people not to participate in the census," even if they come from political figures, which are normally exempt from ad fact-checking. 

Read more here.

 

THE RUSSIANS ARE HERE: Social media accounts linked to the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) began spreading "brazen" misinformation connected to the 2020 election last year, New York University's Brennan Center for Justice said in a report released Thursday. 

The report was based on "coordinated inauthentic behavior" originating in Russia that was removed by Facebook from its platform and from Instagram in October. 

The researchers tied that information to the IRA, a St. Petersburg-based state-sponsored group that, according to U.S. intelligence agencies and former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE, was primarily responsible for pushing disinformation to sow division and promote the campaign of now-President Trump during the 2016 elections. 

The data removed by Facebook -- which the company at the time noted showed "some links" to the IRA -- included around 75,000 posts from one IRA-linked Facebook account and 50 IRA-linked Instagram accounts. 

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"Russia's trolls pretended to be American people, including political groups and candidates," Brennan Center-affiliated Professor Young Mie Kim wrote of the data removed in 2019. "They tried to sow division by targeting both the left and right with posts to foment outrage, fear, and hostility. Much of their activity seemed designed to discourage certain people from voting. And they focused on swing states." 

She concluded that, based on the data analyzed, "it is very clear that as of September 2019, the IRA-linked groups already have begun a systematic campaign operation to influence the 2020 elections on Facebook and Instagram."

Kim in the report also said that the IRA's approach to election disinformation was "evolving," pointing to improvements made at impersonating candidates and mimicking campaign logos. 

Read more here.

 

WATCH OUT: Lawmakers on Thursday called on Americans to "wake up" to what they say are the dangers posed by Chinese-owned and manufactured rail cars and buses, citing cyber and national security concerns.

The latest pushback comes in the wake of agreements between two Chinese groups and multiple U.S. cities to build public transit systems, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle warning that such deals could compromise the security of transportation system data.

"The potential for an adversarial state actor to monitor the movements of American citizens, hack personal or government-issued devices, and collect intelligence on our military is a major security concern," Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCook moves Texas to 'toss-up' Biden pushes into Trump territory Cruz: Hunter Biden attacks don't move 'a single voter' MORE (R-Texas) said at a Senate Banking Committee hearing on threats posed by state-owned and operated transportation services.

"Allowing American trains and buses to become Trojan horses for these technologies on American soil is unacceptable," Cornyn added.

Cornyn was one of the sponsors of a bill signed into law in December as part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that bans the use of federal funds to purchase passenger rail cars or buses from state-owned or controlled groups. 

However, a clause was included for the law to not take effect for two years, a provision Cornyn opposed.

Read more here.

 

MORE BAD NEWS FOR TIKTOK: The House on Thursday approved a bill that would ban Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials from downloading social media app TikTok onto government-issued devices.

The ban was approved as part of the Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act, which a bipartisan majority of the House passed by a vote of 230-171. The ban on TikTok, which is owned by Chinese group ByteDance, was added to the bill by an amendment approved unanimously. 

Rep. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerDemocrats seek wave to bolster House majority During pandemic, 'telehealth' emerging as important lifeline to connect patients with caregivers Chamber-backed Democrats embrace endorsements in final stretch MORE (D-Va.), the lead sponsor of the amendment, said on the House floor ahead of the vote that TikTok "presents a significant counterintelligence threat."

Concerns around TikTok and other Chinese tech groups, such as telecom giant Huawei, have largely stemmed from a 2017 Chinese intelligence law that requires Chinese companies to participate in state intelligence work and turn over information and data if requested.

"There are real concerns that this app could also collect information on users in the United States to advance Chinese counterintelligence efforts," Spanberger said. "Because it could become a tool for surveilling U.S. citizens or federal personnel, TikTok has no business being on U.S. government-issued devices."

A spokesperson for TikTok told The Hill that the company saw lawmaker concerns over TikTok as "unfounded."

Read more here.

 

FLEETING TWEETS: Twitter is testing a new feature called "fleets," which are intended to disappear after 24 hours, the company announced Wednesday. 

The social media mogul will begin its test this week for Android and iOS users in Brazil, which it designated as one of its "most conversational countries" in a release, but it may expand to other countries depending on the results of the test. 

Fleets, named after their "fleeting" nature, cannot be retweeted, liked or replied to publicly. 

They will appear at the top of the screen once a user clicks another user's avatar, similar to how Instagram and Facebook stories work. If a user replies to a fleet, the reply will appear as a direct message, similar to responding to an Instagram story. 

Read more here.

 

VOTER TURNOUT GETS A BOOST: Turnout for a local Seattle-area election for members of an all-volunteer board nearly doubled in 2020 after an electronic mobile voting system was implemented by state officials.

Data from the King County Elections Office indicated that 6,280 voters participated in an election between Jan. 22 and Feb. 11 to name members of the King Conservation District's Board of Supervisors, a board of volunteers that directs conservation efforts in the county.

That amount was almost twice as many as the 3,241 voters who participated last year, a surge coinciding with the district's first-ever use of electronic ballots that voters could fill out and submit electronically or in the mail from home.

An analysis of the votes conducted by the National Cybersecurity Center indicated that 94 percent of voters in 2020 elected to use the new electronic submission method for their ballots, even when presented with the option of verifying the ballot by printing it out and mailing it.

"The successful King Conservation District election demonstrates that with top-notch platform development, effective election official training and voter education, mobile voting can be accomplished securely," Forrest Senti, the National Cybersecurity Center's director of business and government initiatives, said in a statement to The Hill.

Read more here.

 

ICYMI: AMAZON IN THE HOT SEAT: Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyTech CEOs clash with lawmakers in contentious hearing OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump strips protections for Tongass forest, opening it to logging | Interior 'propaganda' video and tweets may violate ethics laws, experts say | Democrats see Green New Deal yielding gains despite GOP attacks Democrats see Green New Deal yielding gains despite GOP attacks MORE (D-Mass.) is asking Amazon for answers on price gouging on its platform amid reports of some items facing up to 2,000 percent markups as the coronavirus spreads globally.

Markey, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosBlue Origin takes one small step toward being a competitor to SpaceX Democrats question Amazon over reported interference of workers' rights to organize Hillicon Valley: Twitter lacked adequate cybersecurity protection ahead of July hacks, regulator says | Twitter, Facebook clamp down on New York Post article about Hunter Biden | YouTube bans COVID-19 vaccine misinformation MORE on Wednesday calling on the company to respond to the reported price gouging on items such as masks and hand sanitizer. 

"No one should be allowed to reap a windfall from fear and human suffering," Markey wrote. "Internet-based retailers such as Amazon.com have a particular responsibility to guard against price gouging in current circumstances as consumers -- who are finding the shelves of local brick-and-mortar stores bare, and who may wish to avoid venturing into crowded stores and shopping malls -- turn to the internet."

An Amazon spokesperson told The Hill the company is monitoring its online store and removing offers for attempted price gouging. 

"We agree with Senator Markey--there is no place for price gouging on Amazon and that's why our teams are monitoring our store 24/7 and have already removed tens of thousands of offers for attempted price gouging," the spokesperson said. "We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to take advantage of this global health crisis and, in addition to removing these offers, we are terminating accounts."

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: glug glug

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: FAA should incentivize voluntary adoption of remote ID to help expand safe and secure drone operations

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Senators introduce bill to ensure trade agreements protect telecom networks (Rebecca Kern / Bloomberg Government) 

A tech billionaire spent millions to elect his granddaughter. It's working. (Recode / Theodore Schleifer)

Through apps, not warrants, 'Locate X' allows federal law enforcement to track phones (Protocol / Charles Levinson)

Why TikTok and Huawei are in lawmakers' sights (Axios / Kyle Daly)