Overnight Cybersecurity

Hillicon Valley: Senior intelligence official warns Russia, Iran and China targeting elections | Trump says he ‘often’ regrets his tweets | Tech CEO hearing postponed for John Lewis services

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Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

FOREIGN INTERFERENCE CONTINUES: A senior intelligence official within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on Friday warned that Russia, Iran and China are attempting to sway the 2020 elections.

William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), noted that the ODNI had been regularly briefing members of Congress, presidential campaigns and political committees on these foreign threats to elections “in recent months.”

“Foreign nations continue to use influence measures in social and traditional media in an effort to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives, to shift U.S. policies, to increase discord and to undermine confidence in our democratic process,” Evanina said in a statement on Friday. “The coronavirus pandemic and recent protests, for instance, continue to serve as fodder for foreign influence and disinformation efforts in America.”

He warned that “at this time, we’re primarily concerned with China, Russia and Iran — although other nation states and non-state actors could also do harm to our electoral process. Our insights and judgments will evolve as the election season progresses.”

Evanina said that China is using influence efforts to “shape the policy environment” in the United States, and was conscious that these efforts could “affect the presidential race.”

He warned that both Russia and Iran by contrast are deliberately seeking to weaken U.S. democratic institutions, including elections, with Russia using “internet trolls and proxies” to spread disinformation to undermine elections, and Iran circulating “anti-U.S. content” online through separate disinformation efforts. 

Among other concerns were attempts by foreign adversaries to gain access to election infrastructure, including through targeting campaign communications and federal networks. 

“Our adversaries also seek to compromise our election infrastructure, and we continue to monitor malicious cyber actors trying to gain access to U.S. state and federal networks, including those responsible for managing elections,” Evanina said. 

Read more about the intelligence assessment here.

NOT ENOUGH DETAILS? Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other key Democratic leaders in Congress condemned the intelligence assessment as “not going nearly far enough.”

“The statement just released by NCSC Director William Evanina does not go nearly far enough in arming the American people with the knowledge they need about how foreign powers are seeking to influence our political process,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.).

“The statement gives a false sense of equivalence to the actions of foreign adversaries by listing three countries of unequal intent, motivation and capability together,” the Democratic leaders said.

“The statement, moreover, fails to fully delineate the goal, nature, scope and capacity to influence our election, information the American people must have as we go into November.”

The Democratic leaders, who have all been briefed in recent years on election threats against the U.S., had particular concerns around how Evanina described Russian interference efforts.

The top intelligence community official had warned that Russia was spreading “disinformation in the U.S. that is designed to undermine confidence in our democratic process and denigrate what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment’ in America.” 

The Democratic leaders described that statement as “almost meaningless,” adding that it “omits much on a subject of immense importance.”

Read more about their concerns here.


TRUMP HAS REGRETS: President Trump acknowledged in an interview released Friday that he “often” regrets his tweets and retweets.

“It used to be in the old days before this, you’d write a letter and you’d say, ‘this letter is really bad,’ you put it on your desk and you go back tomorrow and you say, ‘oh, I’m glad I didn’t send it,’” Trump told Barstool Sports’ founder Dave Portnoy.

“But we don’t do that with Twitter. We put it out instantaneously, we feel great, and then you start getting phone calls, ‘Did you really say this?’ I say, ‘What’s wrong with that?’ And you find a lot of things,” continued the president, who is often the subject of criticism over his use of his Twitter account. “You know what I find? It’s not the tweets, it’s the retweets that get you in trouble.”

Trump went on to say he doesn’t always look closely at the tweets that he shares from his Twitter account, which has 84 million followers.

He had similarly said that some of his tweets create problems for the White House in an interview last year.

Trump also told Portnoy he believed Twitter to be a powerful messaging tool, explaining that he uses it to cut against “fake news” — a phrase he often uses in deriding critical press coverage of his administration.

Trump has a long track record of tweeting or retweeting controversial messages, including recently sharing a tweet of a video showing an apparent Trump supporter yelling “white power” in response to protesters. Trump later deleted the tweet, and the White House said the president had not heard the racist phrase when he shared it.

Read more about the interview here.


RAINCHECK FOR TECH CEOS: The much-anticipated antitrust hearing featuring the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google scheduled for Monday will be postponed for the late Rep. John Lewis‘s (D-Ga.) memorial service, a source familiar with the matter confirmed to The Hill.

It is not yet clear when the hearing in front of the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust will ultimately take place.

The hearing will mark the first time that Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai, the leaders of the four companies, appear before Congress together.

It’s likely the hearing would have already taken place given the strong desires of lawmakers to schedule it, but the coronavirus pandemic has also complicated efforts.

The hearing is aimed at gathering information for the subcommittee’s report on competition in digital markets set to be released later this year. 

Read more about the hearing here.


KAVANAUGH CONCERNS: A coalition of progressive groups is calling on Justice Brett Kavanaugh to recuse himself from a case against Facebook because of his ties with the platform’s chief of policy, Joel Kaplan.

Kaplan, a former member of the George W. Bush administration, appeared behind Kavanaugh during his contentious Senate confirmation hearings and played a role in ushering him through the process.

After the hearing, Kaplan called Kavanaugh and his wife his “closest friends in D.C.”

The groups, including the American Economic Liberties Project, Blue Future and Demand Progress, say that friendship means the justice should recuse himself from a class action case against Facebook scheduled for the Supreme Court’s next term.

“Brett Kavanaugh must recuse himself from this case based on his deep, personal connections to the top leadership at Facebook,” the groups said in a statement Friday.

“The top lobbyist at Facebook called Kavanaugh his ‘closest friend in Washington’ and even hosted a private celebration for Kavanaugh at his home after he was confirmed despite multiple, credible allegations of sexual assault. Brett Kavanaugh cannot possibly claim to be neutral in this case.”

The case is asking what should be considered an “autodialer” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

The plaintiff in the case, Noah Duguid, claims Facebook used an autodialer to warn him via text that someone accessed his account, although he does not have one.

Duguid claims he was unable to unsubscribe from the messages.

There is precedent for justices recusing themselves from cases involving friends.

Read more about the case here.


FACEBOOK OFFERS TO PAY UP: Facebook has offered $650 million to pay a long-running class-action lawsuit about the use of facial-scanning technology. 

The final offer is $100 million more than the initial settlement, according to USA Today, and follows a rejection of the initial amount by a U.S. district judge earlier this year

“We are focused on settling as it is in the best interest of our community and our shareholders to move past this matter,” Facebook said in a statement.

The case centers around three Illinois residents who sued the social media company under a state law called the Biometric Information Privacy Act, permitting residents to sue if their faces have been scanned for data without written consent.

The residents claim that Facebook’s built-in feature — which suggests people and friends’ names in users’ photos automatically — is a violation of the privacy act.

In January, the initial settlement offer was set at $550 million and would have resulted in payouts of $150 to $300 per person in Illinois that is affected by the facial recognition technology. However, California U.S. District Judge James Donato said the payment was incredibly underwhelming. 

Read more about the lawsuit here.


HOUSE COMMITTEE CLAPS BACK: The House Ways and Means Committee shot back at Elon Musk on Friday after he criticized Congress’s attempt to pass another round of coronavirus relief legislation. 

“Another government stimulus package is not in the best interests of the people [in my opinion],” the Tesla CEO tweeted earlier Friday.

In response, the Democratic-controlled committee tweeted a popular meme format that reads “Thanks Billionaire, your opinion is noted.”

A new stimulus package has been the main focus for Senate Republicans since the chamber returned to session this week, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled on Thursday that the bill wouldn’t be introduced until next week.

“The administration has requested additional time to review the fine details, but we will be laying down this proposal early next week. We have an agreement in principle on the shape of this package,” McConnell said from the Senate floor.

Read more here.

Lighter click: This is true

An op-ed to chew on: America has to be ready for mail voting to avert an election crisis


How a Tech-Funded Think Tank Influences Global Antitrust Regulators (New York Times / Daisuke Wakabayashi)

Google Ad Portal Equated “Black Girls” with Porn (The Markup / Leon Yin and Aaron Sankin)

Clear usually helps people speed past the TSA line. Now it’s offering a Covid-19 screening service (Recode / Rebecca Heilweil)

Amid antitrust scrutiny, Apple makes quiet power moves over developers (Washington Post / Reed Albergotti)

Tags Adam Schiff Brett Kavanaugh Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Elon Musk Jeff Bezos John Lewis Mark Warner Mark Zuckerberg Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi

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