Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down

Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down
© 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 our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

FACIAL RECOGNITION ROADBLOCK: A group of Democratic lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation that would ban the federal government from using facial recognition technology.

ADVERTISEMENT

The legislation was rolled out following weeks of criticism after the technology was used during protests over the death of George Floyd. 

The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act would prohibit the use of facial recognition technologies by all federal groups, a ban that could only be lifted by an act of Congress. This ban would extend to other biometric surveillance systems, including voice recognition tools and any other technology that used physical characteristics to identify an individual.  

The bill would also withhold federal funding from state and local governmental groups, including law enforcement, that failed to ban the use of facial recognition technologies. Any information collected through the use of facial recognition or biometric technologies that violated the proposed bill would not be admissible in court. 

The proposed legislation was rolled out after weeks of protest over the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police, during which concerns over law enforcement use of facial recognition were raised.

Advocates against the use of facial recognition are concerned that the technologies pose greater risks to non-white individuals. 

The backlash against facial recognition systems forced groups including Amazon, IBM and Microsoft to roll back facial recognition work with law enforcement in recent weeks, and the Boston City Council on Wednesday unanimously voted to ban government groups from using these technologies in the city. 

The bill was introduced by Sens. Edward MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySens. Markey, Cruz clash over coronavirus relief: 'It's not a goddamn joke Ted' Sanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE (D-Mass.) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Merkley, Sanders introduce bill limiting corporate facial recognition MORE (D-Ore.) in the Senate, and by Reps. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyIt's past time to be rid of the legacy of Jesse Helms Minneapolis Star Tribune endorses Ilhan Omar's primary challenger Tlaib wins Michigan Democratic primary MORE (D-Mass.) and Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalSanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Matt Stoller: Big tech House grilling the most important hearing on corporate power since the 1930s Hillicon Valley: House panel grills tech CEOs during much anticipated antitrust hearing | TikTok to make code public as it pushes back against 'misinformation' | House Intel panel expands access to foreign disinformation evidence MORE (D-Wash.) in the House. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Read more about the proposed legislation here.

TAKING CHARGE IN CYBERSPACE: A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation in the House that would establish a “national cybersecurity director” to lead government efforts on cybersecurity.

The National Cyber Director Act would establish the position within the White House, with the director meant to serve as the president’s key adviser on cybersecurity and other emerging technology issues. 

The individual filling the position would be nominated by the president and then Senate-confirmed, and would be responsible for overseeing the creation and implementation of a national cybersecurity strategy to address security risks to the U.S. in cyberspace. 

The position would take over many of the responsibilities of the White House cybersecurity coordinator, a position that was eliminated in 2018 by former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonEx-Trump adviser, impeachment witness Fiona Hill gets book deal Hannity's first book in 10 years debuts at No. 1 on Amazon Congress has a shot at correcting Trump's central mistake on cybersecurity MORE following the departure of former cybersecurity coordinator Rob Joyce. 

The creation of a national cyber director was one of the key recommendations made by the Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC) as part of its report rolled out in March on how to protect the nation from cybersecurity threats. The CSC was established by Congress and is made up of members of Congress, top federal officials and industry representatives. 

Rep. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherCongress has a shot at correcting Trump's central mistake on cybersecurity Cheney battle raises questions about House GOP's future House-passed defense spending bill includes provision establishing White House cyber czar MORE (R-Wis.), the co-chairman of the CSC, and CSC member Rep. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinCongress has a shot at correcting Trump's central mistake on cybersecurity House-passed defense spending bill includes provision establishing White House cyber czar Overnight Defense: Space Force chooses 2,410 airmen to join ranks | Fire aboard Navy ship extinguished | Congress backs push for national cyber czar MORE (D-R.I.) are among the sponsors of the bill.  

Langevin said in a statement that “complicated” cybersecurity policy necessitates a national leader on the issue. 

“Only within the White House can we cohesively develop and implement a truly whole-of-nation cyber strategy that is commensurate with the threats we face,” Langevin said. “By establishing a National Cyber Director with the policy and budgetary authority to reach across government, we can better address cybersecurity vulnerabilities and gaps holistically and prevent catastrophic cyber incidents.”

Read more about the legislation here.

TOP IT OFFICIAL STEPPING DOWN: The White House announced Thursday that the Trump administration's top IT official, Suzette Kent, will step down from her position in July.

Kent, who was appointed Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill FDA head pledges 'we will not cut corners' on coronavirus vaccine Let our values drive COVID-19 liability protection MORE in early 2018, announced her departure during a team meeting on Thursday. The position heads the Office of E-Government and Information Technology, part of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

In the position, Kent was responsible for developing guidance on the use of internet-connected technology, along with streamlining digital interaction between the federal government and U.S. citizens and businesses and overseeing some cybersecurity initiatives.

During her tenure, a new cloud computing initiative was launched, along with rolling out updated policies around how federal agencies can secure their networks. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Kent said in a statement that it had been “an honor and a privilege to serve our nation.”

“My commitment was to give 100 percent to improving government technology and citizen services,” Kent said. “It is my hope that the outcomes achieved stand in evidence to that commitment.”

She noted that she had “confidence” in the abilities of other top OMB leaders, including Deputy Federal CIO Maria Roat, and added she had “great pride in results delivered” while serving at OMB.

Roat will likely step into the position of federal CIO on an acting basis, but the White House has not commented officially on who will take over.

Read more here.

MAIL-IN VOTING GAINS SUPPORT: A coalition of Black female celebrities, including singer Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, as well as mothers of Black Americans killed by law enforcement urged the Senate on Thursday to pass legislation to boost mail-in voting and increase equality at the polls. 

The Black female celebrities and leaders sent a letter to Senate leaders urging passage of the $3 trillion HEROES Act, which was passed by the House in May and included $3.6 billion to help states address election challenges. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill No signs of breakthrough for stalemated coronavirus talks State aid emerges as major hurdle to reviving COVID-19 talks MORE (R-Ky.) has opposed the overall bill, describing it as a “liberal wish list.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The women, led by Tina Knowles-Lawson and members of Mothers of the Movement, pointed to recent disenfranchisement of Americans at polls in Wisconsin and Georgia due to long lines, fewer polling stations, confusion over mail-in voting and malfunctioning voting machines as underlining the critical nature of passing the HEROES Act.

“This is modern-day voter suppression plain and simple,” the women wrote. “Voters in all these states risked their health, and that of their communities, simply to make their voices heard. People should be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote and stay healthy, even during a pandemic. We should not have to choose between public health and a functioning democracy.”

Individuals who signed the letter also included the mothers of Black victims of police, including the mothers of Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner. 

Other celebrities who signed on included actresses Octavia Spencer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kerry Washington and Taraji P. Henson, along with singers Solange Knowles, Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland.  

“In passing this legislation, you will take an affirmative step toward declaring the Black lives matter,” the coalition of Black women wrote. “You will build an America as good as its ideals. And you will lead the country — thanks to the creation of a more accountable democracy in which all Americans’ voices are heard — towards a long-sought moment in which no mother need wonder: Will my son or daughter not make it home tonight because of the color of their skin?”

Congress already appropriated $400 million to states as part of the CARES Act signed into law by President Trump in March, but experts have estimated states will need $4 billion to address new election challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mail-in voting has become a heated topic of debate, with many Republicans including President Trump pushing back against the idea based on concerns around increased voter fraud and federalizing elections. 

ADVERTISEMENT

A group of former Republican officials and conservative-leaning leaders led by the R Street Institute on Thursday pushed back against concerns around mail-in voting, sending a separate letter to the leaders of both the House and the Senate asking Congress to send states federal election funding.  

Read more about mail-in voting support here.

GOP LEADERS MIGRATE TO PARLER: A group of Republican lawmakers and allies of President Trump are joining Parler, a social media app that bills itself as an "unbiased" alternative to platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and urging their followers to do the same. 

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSens. Markey, Cruz clash over coronavirus relief: 'It's not a goddamn joke Ted' China sanctioning Rubio, Cruz in retaliatory move over Hong Kong The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Negotiators signal relief bill stuck, not dead MORE (R-Texas) became the latest prominent Republican to announce the move on Thursday, saying in a video shared on Twitter and YouTube that he was "proud" to join a platform that "gets what free speech is all about." 

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump-backed Hagerty wins Tennessee GOP Senate primary Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus MORE (R-Ky.) and Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesSunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief The Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Negotiators 'far apart' as talks yield little ahead of deadline MORE (R-Calif.) have also shared tweets about their move to Parler. In a tweet shared Wednesday, the same day a judge ruled Nunes could not sue Twitter over content posted by its users, the congressman described Twitter as "hell" and said, "Parler is open for business!"

Trump campaign manager Brad ParscaleBradley (Brad) James ParscaleMORE, Donald Trump Jr., Eric TrumpEric Frederick TrumpSunday shows preview: White House, Democratic leaders struggle for deal on coronavirus bill Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down GOP lawmakers join social media app billed as alternative to Big Tech MORE, Lara TrumpLara Lea TrumpWhen will telling the truth in politics matter again? Trump: Election results could be delayed by months Maine brewery cancels Women for Trump event, claims it was misled by campaign MORE and Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiCoronavirus concerns emerge around debates Giuliani says Black Lives Matter is 'domestic terrorist' group Commission on Presidential Debates rejects Trump campaign call for earlier debate MORE are among the prominent conservatives that have joined the social network, according to The Hollywood Reporter

"Big Tech is out of control, filled with hubris and flagrantly silencing those with whom they disagree, from conservative media organizations to the president of the United States," Cruz said.

The move to the alternative platform comes as Republican lawmakers ramp up their attacks on major tech companies over alleged bias against conservatives.

Read more about the new app here.

CRYPTOCURRENCY CONSPIRACY: Jack Abramoff, the former lobbyist who was convicted of various corruption charges in the 2000s, has been charged in a cryptocurrency case, a U.S. prosecutor said Thursday.

San Francisco U.S. Attorney David Anderson said at a press conference that Abramoff was charged with a criminal conspiracy to make false and misleading statements to potential buyers of cryptocurrency, Bloomberg News reported. The prosecutor said Abramoff agreed to plead guilty and could face up to five years in prison.

In a separate suit, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued Abramoff, asserting he participated in a fraudulent and unregistered offer and sale of digital asset securities. 

The SEC claims the sale occurred through NAC Foundation, a company that was creating a blockchain-based digital token called AML BitCoin, which the defendants claimed was “a new and improved version of bitcoin.”

The chief executive of the NAC Foundation, Rowland Marcus Andrade, was also indicted this week and will plead not guilty to his charges, Anderson said. The SEC said Andrade allegedly raised at least $5.6 million from more than 2,400 investors by selling tokens to later be transferred to AML BitCoin.

The commission also alleged both men claimed they were on the verge of advertising AML BitCoin during the SuperBowl, but the foundation couldn’t afford an ad at the time. 

Read more about the case here.

THAT’S OLD NEWS: Facebook is launching a new feature to warn users if they’re about to share a news article that is more than 90 days old, the social media platform announced Thursday. 

Facebook said the feature is aimed at helping users have “the context they need to make informed decisions” about what to share on the platform. 

“Over the past several months, our internal research found that the timeliness of an article is an important piece of context that helps people decide what to read, trust and share,” Facebook said in the announcement. “News publishers in particular have expressed concerns about older stories being shared on social media as current news, which can misconstrue the state of current events.”

With the new feature, a notification will pop up with a warning before people share an old article. The platform will still allow people to continue sharing the old article “if they decide an article is still relevant.” 

Facebook said it will also be testing other notification screens, including potentially adding a notification for links mentioning COVID-19. 

Read more here.

PAY UP: Google announced Thursday that it will begin paying some news publishers for their content.

Its new licensing program will pay publishers for "high-quality content" to post on a news service set to launch later this year.

The program will initially include Germany’s Der Spiegel, Australia’s InQueensland and InDaily and Brazil’s Diarios Associados. 

“We are currently engaged in discussions with many more partners and plan to sign more in the coming months,” Brad Bender, Google News’s vice president of product management, said in a blog post.

The new program is a change of direction from Google, which has been under increasing antitrust scrutiny over its ad revenue dominance.

Google and Facebook together made up nearly 60 percent of the internet ad market in 2018, a dominant position that critics say has siphoned profits away from traditional news outlets.

Regulators in France and Australia have both called on Google to pay for news content.

Read more here.

ANOTHER NEW GOOGLE FEATURE: Google announced Wednesday that it will begin automatically deleting location history and web activity after 18 months for newly created accounts.

The change comes after the search giant began offering an automatic deletion feature for web searches, virtual assistant requests and location history to all users.

While new accounts will have the deletion feature by default, existing accounts will not have their settings changed.

The shift comes amid criticism of Google's data collection, which the company says it uses to make its user experience better.

"We believe that products should keep your information for only as long as it's useful and helpful to you— whether that’s being able to find your favorite destinations in Maps or getting recommendations for what to watch on YouTube," Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a blog post.

Read more about the new policy here.

Lighter click: The best apology ever

An op-ed to chew on: In our post-COVID world, science must be our new frontier

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

Tesla gave workers permission to stay home rather than risk getting COVID-19. Then it sent termination notices (The Washington Post / Faiz Siddiqui) 

Barr’s interest in Google’s antitrust case keeps it moving swiftly (The New York Times / David McCabe and Cecilia King) 

Is it time for a ‘Digital New Deal’ to rein in Big Tech? (Protocol / Emily Birnbaum) 

Space satellite data reveals the pandemic’s effects on Earth (Nextgov / Brandi Vincent)