Hillicon Valley: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos open to testifying before Congress | Former eBay staffers charged with aggressively cyberstalking couple behind critical newsletter | Senators call for making telehealth expansion permanent after COVID-19
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BEZOS TO TESTIFY (MAYBE): Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos will be available to testify in a House antitrust investigation into major tech companies, according to a letter from a lawyer representing the company obtained by The Hill on Monday.
The e-commerce giant had previously resisted making its CEO available for a House Judiciary Committee hearing, prompting threats of legal action by the lawmakers.
Testimony coming soon: The letter, sent by Robert Kelner of the Covington & Burling law firm and provided to The Hill by a source familiar with negotiations over the appearance, says that Amazon would make Bezos available to testify at a hearing “with the other CEOs this summer.”
Kelner said that the executive would only appear after some issues on timing, format and questions about the committee’s request for internal documents are resolved.
An Amazon spokesperson confirmed the offer in the letter for Bezos to testify along with other CEOs this summer.
The House Judiciary Committee formally called on Bezos to testify in May related to reports suggesting that his deputies may have misled Congress in testimony about their use of data from third-party sellers.
Concerns about Amazon potentially abusing its position as both the operator of the e-commerce platform and a seller of its own line of products have been raised in antitrust cases abroad and could be part of the committee’s broader digital marketplace investigation.
House lawmakers have recently dialed up the pressure on the country’s biggest tech companies — Amazon, Facebook, Facebook and Google’s parent company Alphabet — to make their CEOs available to testify as part of the probe, Axios reported Sunday.
EBAY INSANITY: Six former eBay senior staffers are accused of extensively cyberstalking and harassing a couple behind a newsletter critical of the online marketplace, the Justice Department announced Monday.
The Justice Department alleges the former staffers sent the couple anonymous threatening messages, conducted a sweeping surveillance campaign and shipped them items including a box of live cockroaches, a funeral wreath and a bloody pig mask to intimidate them.
All six were charged with cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and could face up to five years in prison each and individual fines of up to $250,000.
Arrests made: James Baugh, eBay’s former senior director of safety and security, and David Harville, its former director of global resiliency, were both arrested Monday morning as part of the charges.
The four other defendants are Stephanie Popp, eBay’s former senior manager of global intelligence, Stephanie Stockwell, the former manager of eBay’s Global Intelligence Center (GIC), Veronica Zea, a former eBay contractor who worked as an intelligence analyst in the GIC, and Brian Gilbert, the former senior manager of special operations for eBay’s Global Security Team.
The alleged victims were a couple based in Natick, Mass., who are the editor and publisher of an online newsletter covering e-commerce companies.
The Justice Department says that after the newsletter published a critical story about eBay in August 2019, the former staffers exchanged text messages discussing the idea of “taking down” its editor.
They then launched a three-part harassment campaign against the couple, including attempts to break into the couple’s car to install a GPS tracking system, sending private threatening tweets and then publicly tweeting the couple’s address, as well as sending disturbing deliveries to the couple’s home, according to the Justice Department.
Very questionable deliveries: These deliveries included a preserved fetal pig, a book on surviving the loss of a spouse and pornography, the Justice Department said.
ELECTION SECURITY ALARMS GO OFF: Multiple lawmakers on Monday warned that without boosting mail-in voting and taking steps to shore up election security, chaos could ensue during the November presidential election.
“If Congress and states don’t act immediately, our country could face an electoral Chernobyl this fall,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote in a Medium post on Monday.
Wyden, who has been one of the key supporters in the Senate for increasing mail-in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, pointed to chaos at the polls in Georgia’s primaries last week as an example of what could happen if officials fail to address coronavirus-related election challenges.
Voters in certain Atlanta precincts faced hours-long lines due to malfunctioning machines, fewer polling places and poll workers due to COVID-19 shutdowns, as well as confusion over mail-in ballots. These issues came two months after voters in Wisconsin faced similar long lines during their state’s primary election, with dozens of coronavirus cases traced to the elections in the weeks following.
Wyden emphasized Monday that states should “prepare aggressively for a huge increase” of mail-in ballots, and to prepare from staffing shortages stemming from older poll workers being unwilling to assist during the pandemic.
“A prerequisite to gaining the faith of the people for these solutions is free and fair elections where every eligible American can cast a ballot,” Wyden wrote. “If Americans see a repeat of what happened in Georgia across the country, many will rightfully question whether the results — and by extension, the government itself — are truly legitimate.”
Wyden was not the only lawmaker to warn Monday of potential election challenges in the coming months.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said during a virtual event hosted by think tank New America that he was “very worried” about the November elections.
TELEHEALTH FOREVER: A group of 30 senators from both sides of the aisle on Monday urged leadership to make permanent the expansion of telehealth services that has been undertaken during the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) calls for provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act included in previous COVID-19 legislation be extended after the public health emergency is over.
“Americans have benefited significantly from this expansion of telehealth and have come to rely on its availability,” said the lawmakers led by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). “Congress should expand access to telehealth services on a permanent basis so that telehealth remains an option for all Medicare beneficiaries both now and after the pandemic.”
Telehealth has grown in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic as a safer alternative to in-person visits.
The services help doctors work with patients diagnosed with COVID-19 without putting themselves at risk.
THE CASE AGAINST STUN GUNS: People killed by police use of stun guns are disproportionately African American, a Reuters analysis of fatalities through 2018 found.
The news service analyzed 1,081 cases in which people died after police shocked them with a stun gun, the majority occurring after 2000, when the weapon came into widespread usage by police departments. The analysis found that the plurality of deaths — at least 32 percent — were African American, compared to at least 29 percent white. African Americans comprise about 14 percent of the U.S. population.
Thirteen percent of deaths were listed as involving Hispanic people but did not list race, while another 26 percent listed neither race nor ethnicity, according to Reuters.
“These racial disparities in Taser deaths are horrifying but unsurprising,” Carl Takei, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the news service. “Police violence is a leading cause of death for black people in America, in large part because over-policing of black and brown communities results in unnecessary police contacts and unnecessary use of force.”
While stun guns have frequently been promoted as a nonlethal method of subduing suspects, officers are reportedly often not properly trained on their use. About 94 percent, or just under 17,000, of the nation’s 18,000 police departments issue stun guns.
“This is a dangerous weapon,” Michael Leonesio, a retired police officer who oversaw the Oakland, Calif., Police Department’s Taser program and who has served as an expert witness in lawsuits against Taser manufacturer Axon, told Reuters. “The more it’s used, the more people are going to die.”
Lighter click: Teens remain terrifying
An op-ed to chew on: Who’s balancing privacy against public health and everything else?
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
The economy is reeling. The tech giants spy opportunity. (New York Times / Mike Isaac)
Former Pinterest employees say they were victims of racism and discrimination (Protocol / Emily Birnbaum)
How protesters are turning the tables on police surveillance (Recode / Sara Morrison and Adam Clark Estes)
Activists are using traffic cameras to track police brutality (Motherboard / Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai)