Hillicon Valley: Experts worry U.S. elections vulnerable due to COVID-19 | Report finds states need more federal election funds | Republican senators to introduce coronavirus-related privacy bill

Hillicon Valley: Experts worry U.S. elections vulnerable due to COVID-19 | Report finds states need more federal election funds | Republican senators to introduce coronavirus-related privacy bill
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ELECTION SECURITY AT RISK: Cybersecurity experts are increasingly worried that U.S. elections are growing even more vulnerable to outside interference because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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They say funds to prevent interference and ensure people can vote safely are running thin, despite the fact that Congress has passed $825 million in funding for election security since December.

The chaos caused by COVID-19, which has forced states to delay or cancel primary elections and move toward allowing residents to vote absentee, has presented a new array of challenges for states that had already been focused on election security.

EAC chairman weighs in: “Certainly we are in an unprecedented time and these are unprecedented challenges, and these are challenges created at the intersection of these two issues,” said Benjamin Hovland, the chairman of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). “The challenges of disinformation and misinformation is one of the biggest areas of concern.”

Paul Rosenzweig, a resident senior fellow for national security and cybersecurity at nonprofit group the R Street Institute, told The Hill he also was concerned the pandemic could increase disinformation efforts.

Foreign powers likely to interfere: “I have absolutely no reason to think that the virus will in any way stop Russia from its activities, or China or Iran for that matter, in fact to the contrary it seems to have given them yet another way of pressing on the polarized splits in America’s body politic,” Rosenzweig said. 

If there are fewer people staffing polling spots because of health concerns and social distancing, or if more voters cast votes by mail, it will also create security concerns, Hovland and Rosenzweig said.

Rosenzweig said machines used to count mailed-in paper ballots could become a problem. 

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“I think most people don’t realize that to count vote-by-mail ballots, most states are likely going to use machines,” Rosenzweig said. “The machine security is going to be the same, with the added problem that there will be a lot fewer observers, so tactical level fraud will be possible when there are only two guys working a machine.”

Read more about election concerns here. 

 

BRING IN THE FEDERAL FUNDS: Five key states will need millions more in federal funding in order to move forward with this year's elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, research released Thursday found. 

According to a report spearheaded by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, current federal election funds will cover less than 20 percent of the costs required for mail-in voting and other election changes in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Missouri. 

The report, which was also put together by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, the R Street Institute and the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security, examined the impact of the $400 million in election funds sent to states as part of last month’s $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill.

States most at-risk: Georgia faces the biggest pitfall in funding, with the report finding that the $10.8 million the state received will only address around 10 percent of its election needs. This is primarily because mail-in voting has been historically low in the state, and now the state is funding the mailing of absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter. 

The more than $11 million given to Michigan only covers 12 percent of their estimated election costs this year, while the $7.6 million Missouri received will only cover up to 13 percent of costs. 

Ohio and Pennsylvania will fare slightly better, with the funding each state received able to cover between 16 and 18 percent of estimated election costs. 

Areas where more funds are needed include securing online election systems, sending out and processing mail-in ballots, and educating the public about changes to elections. 

Read more about the report here. 

 

NEW PRIVACY BILL: A group of key Republican senators announced Thursday they intend to introduce legislation aimed at protecting consumer data privacy during the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act would require companies to have consumers opt in before having their data used to track the spread of coronavirus and allow them to opt out at any point.

The legislation would also direct companies to tell consumers how their data would be used, to whom it might be transferred and for how long it would be held.

The legislation would also have companies publicly share transparency reports on how they use data to combat coronavirus and delete personally identifiable information once it's no longer needed for the public health emergency.

The legislation is set to be jointly introduced by Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: DOJ indicts Chinese, Malaysian hackers accused of targeting over 100 organizations | GOP senators raise concerns over Oracle-TikTok deal | QAnon awareness jumps in new poll Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' Republican Senators raise concerns over Oracle-TikTok deal MORE (R-Miss.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and relevant subcommittee chairmen John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneWhat Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Don't expect a government check anytime soon The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Trump contradicts CDC director on vaccine, masks MORE (R-S.D.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranLobbying world This World Suicide Prevention Day, let's recommit to protecting the lives of our veterans Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg acknowledges failure to take down Kenosha military group despite warnings | Election officials push back against concerns over mail-in voting, drop boxes MORE (R-Kan.), as well as Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnDemocrats smell blood with new DHS whistleblower complaint Hillicon Valley: Election officials prepare for new Russian interference battle | 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy | GOP senators unveil bill to update tech liability protections GOP senators unveil new bill to update tech liability protections MORE (R-Tenn.), a key player in past data privacy negotiations.

“As the coronavirus continues to take a heavy toll on our economy and American life, government officials and health-care professionals have rightly turned to data to help fight this global pandemic,” Wicker said in statement.

Read more about the new legislation here. 

 

NEW BILL TO BOOST INTERNET ACCESS: Four Senate Democrats on Thursday announced their intentions to introduce legislation aimed at ensuring that K-12 students have access to the internet amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced schools across the country to pivot to online learning. 

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The Emergency Educational Connections Act would create a special $4 billion fund for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to disburse to schools and libraries to buy Wi-Fi hotspots, routers and internet-connected devices.

The legislation will be introduced by Sens. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySchumer: 'Nothing is off the table' if GOP moves forward with Ginsburg replacement Democrats see fundraising spike following Ginsburg death Democratic senator calls for eliminating filibuster, expanding Supreme Court if GOP fills vacancy MORE (D-Mass.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate Mid-Atlantic states sue EPA over Chesapeake Bay pollution Trump payroll-tax deferral for federal workers sparks backlash MORE (D-Md.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Next crisis, keep people working and give them raises MORE (D-Colo.) and Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanCongress needs to prioritize government digital service delivery Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Hillicon Valley: Feds warn hackers targeting critical infrastructure | Twitter exploring subscription service | Bill would give DHS cyber agency subpoena power MORE (D-N.H.) when the Senate returns to Washington next week.

The bill will act as companion legislation Rep. Grace MengGrace MengHouse passes resolution condemning anti-Asian discrimination relating to coronavirus Clark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race This week: House returns for pre-election sprint MORE's (D-N.Y.) proposal in the House earlier this month, with the change of increasing the appropriation from $2 billion to $4 billion.

“The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated our existing ‘homework gap’ and spurred a growing ‘learning gap’ that will have a lasting impact on America’s children,” said the senators in a joint statement Thursday.

“Given the magnitude of this pandemic and its effects on teaching, we must increase our investment beyond $2 billion to $4 billion," they continued. "Our students come first, and we cannot allow any of them to fall behind as a result of this crisis. We are proud to enjoy the support of more than 50 organizations that focus every day on educating and protecting our nation’s youth.”

The legislation comes as schools across the country remain shuttered in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Read more about the bill here. 

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NEW ANTI-CHINA BILL: Republican Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzMurkowski: Supreme Court nominee should not be taken up before election Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight Sunday shows - Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death dominates MORE (Texas) and Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyRenewed focus on Trump's Supreme Court list after Ginsburg's death What Facebook's planned change to its terms of service means for the Section 230 debate Republican Senators raise concerns over Oracle-TikTok deal MORE (Mo.) announced their intention on Thursday to introduce a bill that would ban U.S. officials from using products from Chinese companies deemed national security threats, such as telecom groups Huawei and ZTE. 

The Countering Chinese Attempts at Snooping Act would prohibit federal employees from conducting official business through technology from companies deemed by the State Department to be under the control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

The bill would require the State Department to create a list of CCP-supported companies that could pose a threat, particularly those that could be conducting espionage. 

In announcing the legislation, the senators specifically pointed to concerns around use of platforms run by Huawei and ZTE, which produce 5G wireless equipment, and by Chinese media conglomerate Tencent. 

“Companies like Tencent and Huawei are espionage operations for the Chinese Communist party, masquerading as telecom companies for the 21st century,” Cruz said in a statement. “Prohibiting the use of these platforms and stopping taxpayer dollars from being used to capitalize Chinese espionage infrastructure are common sense measures to protect American national security.”

Cruz noted that “these are just some of the measures we will have to take as the United States reevaluates its relationship with China and the CCP.” 

Hawley was also critical of the Chinese groups, calling Tencent a “glorified surveillance arm” of the CCP.  

Read more about the legislation here. 

 

‘PERSONAL VENDETTA’: Amazon is hitting the Trump administration after some of its foreign websites were included in an annual report on “notorious markets” for counterfeit foreign goods.

A spokesperson for the online retail giant said in a statement to The Hill on Thursday that its inclusion on the U.S. Trade Representative's (USTR) list is a "purely political act" and another example "of the Administration using the U.S. government to advance a personal vendetta against Amazon."

The inclusion of Amazon's sites on the list released Wednesday is the first time that an American company’s overseas operations have been listed.

There is no financial penalty or regulatory oversight from being placed on the list, but it could harm Amazon’s reputation by putting it side-by-side notorious counterfeit-friendly websites.

The list is meant to highlight "prominent and illustrative examples of online and physical markets that reportedly engage in or facilitate substantial piracy or counterfeiting," according to the USTR's report.

This year's listing of Amazon's Canadian, German, British and Indian sites was in response to a request last year from the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

"One submission specifically highlighted examples of the challenges right holders face with alleged high levels of counterfeit goods on the e-commerce platforms," the USTR wrote.

Read about the fight here. 

 

ZUCKERBERG HAS SOME CONCERNS: Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Trump's ban on TikTok, WeChat in spotlight | NASA targeted by foreign hackers | Instagram accused of spying in lawsuit The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Trump contradicts CDC director on vaccine, masks Hillicon Valley: DOJ indicts Chinese, Malaysian hackers accused of targeting over 100 organizations | GOP senators raise concerns over Oracle-TikTok deal | QAnon awareness jumps in new poll MORE warned Wednesday about moving too quickly to reopen parts of the country, saying that it could "almost guarantee future outbreaks" of the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 1 million people in the U.S. and caused roughly 60,000 deaths.

“While there are massive societal costs from the current shelter in place restrictions, I worry that reopening certain places too quickly, before infection rates have been reduced to very minimal levels, will almost guarantee future outbreaks and even worse economic outcomes,” Zuckerberg said during a call in which Facebook reported an 18 percent increase in first-quarter revenue, according to The Washington Post.

“I am very concerned that this health emergency and therefore the economic fallout will last longer than people are currently anticipating," added Zuckerberg, who with his wife Priscilla Chan runs the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic effort focused on combating disease.

His comments came the same day that President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Trump dismisses climate change role in fires, says Newsom needs to manage forest better Jimmy Kimmel hits Trump for rallies while hosting Emmy Awards MORE announced that the administration's social-distancing guidelines would begin "fading out" and as some states start to lift certain restrictions on nonessential businesses. They also contrasted with Tesla CEO Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskThe pandemic showed states that businesses don't need special favors Would becoming one of the first people to settle Mars be worth dying for? Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump campaign tweet of Biden clip as manipulated media | Democrats demand in-person election security briefings resume | Proposed rules to protect power grid raise concerns MORE's view of stay-at-home orders. 

During a call with investors on Wednesday, Musk reportedly said that the quarantine measures were akin to "forcibly imprisoning people in their homes against all their constitutional rights." Earlier this month, Musk's Silicon Valley-based electric car company announced it would slash pay for salaried employees and furlough all hourly workers.

Read more here. 

 

Lighter click: The weather has gone to the dogs

An op-ed to chew on: COVID-19 crisis: Wake-up call for the world to go digital

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

Amazon is cracking down on internal communication after a surge in worker activism (Recode /  Shirin Ghaffary and Jason Del Rey)

Trump’s Disinfectant Talk Trips Up Sites’ Vows Against Misinformation (New York Times / Sheera Frenkel and Davey Alba)

Elon Musk mobilizes tech elites behind reopening society (Washington Post / Faiz Siddiqui and Nitasha Tiku)

Past Coronavirus Research Grants Are Being Used To Smear Anthony FauciAnthony FauciNorth Carolina couple married 50 years dies minutes apart of coronavirus holding hands As virus pummels US, Europe sees its own spike Democratic chairman says White House blocked FDA commissioner from testifying MORE (BuzzFeed News / Jane Lytvynenko)