Hillicon Valley: Coronavirus tracking sparks surveillance concerns | Target delivery workers plan Tuesday walkout | Federal agency expedites mail-in voting funds to states | YouTube cracks down on 5G conspiracy videos

Hillicon Valley: Coronavirus tracking sparks surveillance concerns | Target delivery workers plan Tuesday walkout | Federal agency expedites mail-in voting funds to states | YouTube cracks down on 5G conspiracy videos
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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. 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 reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

 

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CORONAVIRUS SURVEILLANCE CONCERNS: The portable supercomputers people carry around in their pockets may hold the key to stemming the coronavirus pandemic, some public health experts say.

In places such as South Korea, Singapore and China, governments are relying on phone location data to carry out extremely precise and targeted "contact tracing" for people who test positive for the virus.

Israel's domestic spy agency, the Shin Bet, tracks people's cellphone locations, allowing the government to text people who came in contact with a patient who has tested positive. Singapore is taking a similar approach. South Korea is using a mix of location data, digital records and camera footage to track where infected people have been.

In China, a mesh of overlapping systems track people as they move through public transport, taxis, commercial centers, and even specific neighborhoods and buildings, serving to both document where they have been and block potential carriers from moving about and further spreading the disease.

But in the United States, where individual liberty is culturally prized and privacy is enshrined in the Constitution, a tech-based approach faces serious obstacles.

"This is a crisis, and we need to look at everything at our disposal, but we also need to be careful about how we do so," said Jay Stanley, a privacy expert at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

"We do have privacy laws that constrain government access to data," he added.

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Gigi Sohn, a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy, put it more bluntly.

"If the government were to take on this kind of surveillance, I think it would be struck down for violating the Fourth Amendment," she said. 

Read more on the growing debate here.

 

SHIPT OUT: Workers at Target-owned grocery delivery company Shipt plan to walk off the job on Tuesday in protest of the company's handling of the novel coronavirus.

A group of workers released a new set of demands in a blog post Monday, including $5 of hazard pay per order, an expansion of the company's paid sick leave policy and a reversion to its original pay structure.

Willy Solis, a lead organizer of the walkout and a company shopper in the Dallas area, told The Hill that workers decided to follow in the footsteps of those at Instacart and Whole Foods by walking out after Shipt failed to provide sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves.

"We've been calling for PPE for several weeks now, through direct and indirect means, and our requests have been completely ignored," he said. "There's a sense of urgency in regards to protecting ourselves."

Shipt said in a blog post Monday that it will be coordinating with Target to provide a mask and glove set to shoppers within the next two weeks.

"While this is a start, it's not nearly enough," the Shipt workers said in response to that commitment.

Read more here.

 

FCC REJECTS CALL TO PROBE TRUMP BRIEFING BROADCASTS: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Monday rejected a petition from an advocacy group calling for an investigation into alleged misinformation being broadcast on news networks during President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice says it will recommend Trump veto FISA bill Fauci: Nominating conventions may be able to go on as planned Poll: Biden leads Trump by 11 points nationally MORE's daily briefings about the U.S. coronavirus response.

The group Free Press filed an emergency petition last month seeking a probe into the widespread broadcast of the White House briefings, claiming that it was responsible for the spread of false information about the novel coronavirus pandemic. The group specifically raised concerns over Trump's promotion of drug combination which includes an anti-malaria drug to treat the virus and alleged "disinformation that broadcast-radio personalities are spreading."

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Health officials have continually warned that not enough is known about the drugs to determine their efficacy, though it hasn't stopped Trump and his allies from regularly touting their potential.

Free Press asked for emergency guidance "recommending that broadcasters prominently disclose when information they air is false or scientifically suspect."

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai strongly rebuked the group's request, saying in a statement that the "federal government will not--and never should--investigate broadcasters for their editorial judgments simply because a special interest group is angry at the views being expressed on the air as well as those expressing them."

Read more here.

 

ZOOM IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetCongress headed toward unemployment showdown Fight emerges over unemployment benefits in next relief bill Job losses approach Depression territory as election looms MORE (D-Colo.) on Monday criticized video conferencing group Zoom for recent problems involving user privacy and security as people have increasingly flocked to the platform in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

In a letter to Zoom CEO Eric Yuan, Bennet pointed to a report from The Washington Post last week that thousands of recorded Zoom meetings were left exposed online for anyone to watch, along with consistent privacy issues involved in Zoom sharing user data with third parties. 

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"These revelations have forced technical and policy responses from the company, from strengthening password protection to expanding the 'waiting room' feature to block unauthorized participants," Bennet wrote. "In case after case, these issues consistently stem from Zoom's deliberate decision to emphasize ease of use over user privacy and safety."

Yuan announced last week that Zoom had seen a major spike in daily users, with the company reporting an average of 200 million daily users in March versus 10 million in December due to the coronavirus pandemic forcing both work and social meetings to move online. 

While the company's stock has skyrocketed, Zoom hit multiple roadblocks last week as new cyber and other security vulnerabilities came to light, including those that allowed a "Zoom bombing" phenomenon to take place. These incidents involve individuals accessing and disrupting ongoing meetings through screaming or writing offensive language.

Read more here.

 

SPIRIT OF BIPARTISANSHIP: Rep. Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump visits a ventilator plant in a battleground state The Hill to interview Mnuchin today and many other speakers The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga says supporting small business single most important thing we should do now; Teva's Brendan O'Grady says U.S. should stockpile strategic reserve in drugs like Strategic Oil Reserve MORE (R-Ill.) on Monday pushed for a bipartisan effort to provide states with the resources they need to put on elections during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as debate around moving to mail-in voting continues. 

Davis, who is the top Republican on the elections-focused House Administration Committee, sent a letter to committee Chairwoman Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenJustice says it will recommend Trump veto FISA bill McCarthy urges Democrats to pull surveillance bill FISA 'reform': Groundhog Day edition MORE (D-Calif.) urging her to work with him on providing states with election resources.

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Davis specifically outlined concerns listed in a separate letter from the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) sent to the House Administration Committee last week. NASS asked Lofgren and Davis to make changes to current election mandates to help states put on elections during the coronavirus pandemic. 

"I write to request that we work together to address the concerns outlined by these election officials, and that we do not implement a federalized approach that will hinder states from successfully executing our elections," Davis wrote to Lofgren. 

The NASS officials, led by NASS President and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, took issue with language in the recent $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill signed into law by President Trump last month that included $400 million in election funding for states.

The bill required states to match the federal funds by 20 percent and spend the money prior to the end of the year, along with requiring them to report to Congress on how they spent their portions of the funds within 20 days of the general election in November. 

The state secretaries saw those restrictions as problems, and they asked Lofgren and Davis to remedy them in the next coronavirus stimulus package that Congress is expected to take up later this month. 

Read more here.

 

FUNDING COMING SOON: The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is speeding up the process of sending recently appropriated funds to states to help bolster elections during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The EAC announced late last week that it planned to send funding to states that they can use for measures such as mail-in and absentee voting, along with hiring more poll workers and buying sanitization supplies, by the end of next week. 

The agency noted in its announcement that it is "moving as quickly as possible" to provide exact guidance to states on how they can use these funds. 

The funds sent to states will draw from the $400 million given to the EAC as part of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package signed into law by President Trump late last month. 

"State and local jurisdictions across the country are facing unexpected and rapidly increasing costs to mail ballots, move polling sites, and ensure the safety of voters, staff, and election workers," EAC Chairman Ben Hovland said in a statement. "I am thankful that Congress recognized the need to help support state and local election officials by offsetting some of the increased costs of administering elections during this challenging time."  

Read more here.

 

YOUTUBE STEPS IN: YouTube will take steps to reduce the spread of videos falsely tying the spread of the novel coronavirus to fifth-generation wireless technologies (5G), a conspiracy theory that has gained traction in recent weeks in some parts of the internet.

An official for the video streaming giant told The Hill on Monday that it has started reducing how often such videos, or what they define as "borderline content," show up in user recommendations.

"We're committed to providing timely and helpful information at this critical time, including raising authoritative content, reducing the spread of harmful misinformation and showing information panels, using data from WHO and other locally relevant authoritative organizations, to help combat misinformation," the official said.

"We have also begun reducing recommendations of borderline content such as conspiracy theories related to 5G and coronavirus, that could misinform users in harmful ways," the person added.

The theory that 5G somehow is responsible for the spread of coronavirus has been growing in popularity recently.

The conspiracies took on more attention last week when people in the United Kingdom started torching and vandalizing 5G towers.

Read more here.

 

SUSPICIOUS FLYING OBJECT: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating whether a drone filmed telling New Yorkers to socially distance over the weekend was violating aviation regulations, a spokesperson for the agency told The Hill Monday.

CBS News posted a video of the drone in question flying over a Manhattan park on Sunday.

"This is the Anti-COVID-19 volunteer drone task force," the drone blares over loudspeakers as people walk and bike by. "Please maintain a social distance of at least six feet. Again, please maintain social distancing."

The Hill was not able to determine whether such a "volunteer drone task force" exists, and it appears no party has come forward to claim responsibility.

A spokesperson for the New York Police Department told The Hill that it was not behind the drone.

They also noted that it is illegal to fly drones in NYC except for in a few areas authorized by the FAA.

Read more here.

 

APPLE LENDS A HAND: Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company has begun producing face shields for health workers as hospitals have reported shortages of critical supplies during the coronavirus outbreak.

Cook said in a video posted on Twitter on Sunday that the company has enlisted its product designers, engineering, operations and packaging teams, as well as its suppliers, to "design, produce and ship face shields for health workers."

Cook said in the video that the company's first shipment of shields was sent to Kaiser hospital facilities in Santa Clara Valley, Calif., last week. The feedback the company received from health officials about the shields "was very positive," he added.

Cook went on to hold up one of the shields in the video, which he said can be assembled in under two minutes and is "fully adjustable."

"We're sourcing materials and manufacturing in the U.S. and China," he said. "We plan to ship over one million by the end of this week, and over one million per week after that."

Cook said the company has been communicating with "medical professionals and government officials across the US to get these to where they're needed most urgently."

"We hope to quickly expand distribution beyond the U.S.," he also said.

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: It's been a day

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: When computer models create mayhem 

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

The internet is working thanks to the Cold War pioneers who designed it to handle almost anything (The Washington Post / Craig Timberg) 

Small business owners applying for federal coronavirus relief may have had personal information exposed (CyberScoop / Sean Lyngaas) 

Facebook hampers do-it-yourself mask efforts (The New York Times / Mike Issac) 

Tesla made a prototype ventilator with car parts (Motherboard / Jason Koebler)