Hillicon Valley: Russia 'amplifying' concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election | Facebook and Twitter take steps to limit Trump remarks on voting | Facebook to block political ads ahead of election

Hillicon Valley: Russia 'amplifying' concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election | Facebook and Twitter take steps to limit Trump remarks on voting | Facebook to block political ads ahead of election
© 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.

RUSSIA JUST WON’T QUIT: Russian media and other groups are intentionally “amplifying” concerns around mail-in voting in order to undermine the 2020 U.S. elections, according to a report compiled by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and made public Thursday. 


“We assess that Russia is likely to continue amplifying criticisms of vote-by-mail and shifting voting processes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine public trust in the electoral process,” DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) wrote in a bulletin sent to federal and state law enforcement partners. 

The findings were first reported on and made public by ABC News

The bulletin noted that the Russian influence efforts around mail-in voting have been going on since March, and that Russian state-controlled media and social media had been involved in this effort.

“Russian state media, proxies, and Russian-controlled social media trolls are likely to promote allegations of corruption, system failure, and foreign malign interference to sow distrust in democratic institutions and election outcomes,” the I&A wrote. 

Specific instances cited by analysts include Russian state media and proxy websites criticizing the integrity of the mail-in voting process throughout August, spreading claims in March that former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Scalise bringing Donna Brazile as guest to Biden inauguration Sidney Powell withdraws 'kraken' lawsuit in Georgia MORE became the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee due to a “back-room deal,” and that the February Iowa Caucuses were rigged to favor “establishment candidates.”

Read more here. 



FLAG ON THE POSTS: Facebook and Twitter both took steps Thursday to limit the spread of remarks by President TrumpDonald TrumpLil Wayne gets 11th hour Trump pardon Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Trump expected to pardon Bannon: reports MORE encouraging voters to test the system by voting twice — by mail and in person.

In a local TV interview in Wilmington, N.C., Wednesday, Trump suggested that people should vote twice, which is illegal. He then made similar remarks to a crowd of supporters at the Wilmington airport.

Facebook announced it would take down videos of the interview if the posts did not "correct the record" on voter fraud.

It also labeled a post from the president where he made a similar, although not identical, claim.

In the post, Trump said that voters should mail in ballots and then go to their polling location on Election Day and see whether or not the mail-in ballot has been tabulated.

"If it has you will not be able to Vote & the Mail In System worked properly," he wrote. "If it has not been Counted, VOTE (which is a citizen’s right to do)."

As part of the policy update that Facebook rolled out earlier Thursday, the post was appended with a label saying that according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, "voting by mail has a long history of trustworthiness in the US and the same is predicted this year."

The label links to Facebook's Voting Information Center, which contains information about elections from vetted sources.

Trump posted the same message on Twitter Thursday.

The tweets, encouraging people to vote twice, were determined to have violated the platform's rules about civic and election integrity.

Read more here.


FACEBOOK TO (TEMPORARILY) BAN POLITICAL ADS: Facebook on Thursday announced that it would ban new political advertisements from its platform in the week leading up to the November election as part of an effort to combat misinformation about voting. 

The step is one of a series of moves Facebook said it planned to take in order to "secure the integrity of this year's elections." The company additionally said it would remove posts falsely saying people can develop the coronavirus by voting and would attach "information labels" to other content attempting to delegitimize voting methods or the election's outcome.


And in the event that a candidate declares victory before the final results are in, the company will add labels to the posts directing people to authoritative information, Facebook said. 

"This election is not going to be business as usual," CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFacebook has no current plan to end the Trump suspension Ocasio-Cortez: Facebook, Zuckerberg 'bear partial responsibility' for insurrection 'Nationalize' Facebook and Twitter as public goods MORE said in a Facebook post. "We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy. That means helping people register and vote, clearing up confusion about how this election will work, and taking steps to reduce the chances of violence and unrest."

Facebook has faced continual scrutiny since the 2016 presidential election over how it is moderating misinformation and attempts to interfere in campaigning and elections. The company has also faced continued criticism from Democrats over its policy that exempts political ads from fact-checking. 

Joe Biden's presidential campaign in June called for Facebook to take a more aggressive approach to speech from politicians, including fact-checking political ads during the two weeks before Election Day. 

Read more here.


DEMS DEMAND RUSSIANS PAY: A group of leading Senate Democrats on Thursday called on the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Russians for recent efforts to interfere in the November U.S. elections.


The top Democrats on 10 Senate committees, along with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerNew York court worker arrested, accused of threats related to inauguration Schumer: Trump should not be eligible to run for office again McConnnell, McCarthy accept Biden invitation to pre-inauguration church service MORE (D-N.Y.), sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinTreasury imposes additional sanctions on Cuba over allegations of 'serious human rights abuse' Treasury Department sanctions inner circle of Russian agent Derkach for election interference Sanders defends push to impeach Trump: Insurrection won't be tolerated MORE urging him to impose sanctions on specific Kremlin-linked individuals.

“Congress mandated a broad range of sanctions tools, and it is long past time for the administration to send a direct message to President Putin: the U.S. will respond immediately and forcefully to continuing election interference by the government of the Russian Federation and its surrogates, to punish, deter and substantially increase the economic and political costs of such interference,” the Senate Democrats wrote.

The letter was signed by Schumer and Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownFacebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Biden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs Streamlining the process of prior authorization for medical and surgical procedures MORE (Ohio), Dick DurbinDick DurbinMcConnell keeps GOP guessing on Trump impeachment Officials brace for second Trump impeachment trial Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration MORE (Ill.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinJustice Dept. closes insider trading case against Burr without charges Senate Democrats call on Biden to immediately invoke Defense Production Act Barrett hears climate case against her father's ex-employer Shell MORE (Calif.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenate Democrats call on Biden to immediately invoke Defense Production Act Senate Democrats make democracy reform first bill of new majority Google completes Fitbit acquisition MORE (Minn.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPompeo's flurry of foreign policy moves hampers Biden start Senior Democrat says Hawley, Cruz should step down from Judiciary Congress unveils .3 trillion government spending and virus relief package MORE (Vt.), Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate presses Biden's pick for secretary of State on Iran, China, Russia and Yemen Year-end deal creates American Latino, women's history museums Lawmakers call for including creation of Latino, women's history museums in year-end spending deal MORE (N.J.), Gary PetersGary PetersTwo Senate committees vow probe of security failure during Capitol riots US government caught blindsided over sophisticated cyber hack, experts say Krebs emphasizes security of election as senators butt heads MORE (Mich.) and Jack ReedJack ReedAustin pledges to empower Pentagon civilians 15 former Defense officials back waiver for Austin to serve as Defense secretary What to watch for in Biden Defense pick's confirmation hearing MORE (R.I.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSocial media posts, cellphone data aid law enforcement investigations into riots 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Confirmation hearing for Biden's DNI pick postponed MORE (Va.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate Democrats call on Biden to immediately invoke Defense Production Act Yellen champions big spending at confirmation hearing Biden pick for Intel chief vows to release report on Khashoggi killing MORE (Ore.).

In their letter, the senators pointed to a recent analysis by William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, which concluded that Russia was attempting to interfere in the 2020 election in favor of President Trump, while Iranian and Chinese actors were interfering in favor of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Evanina wrote that "Kremlin-linked actors" were attempting to "boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television," and that "pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption" in regards to Biden. 

Read more here.



GEN Z HACKS AGAIN: A 16-year-old high school student was arrested Thursday for allegedly orchestrating multiple cyberattacks that disrupted virtual classes for the Miami-Dade County school district this week.

Law enforcement for the school district, which is the nation's fourth largest, made the arrest after tracing an IP address involved in the cyberattacks to the suspect, identified as a junior at South Miami Senior High School.

Authorities said the student admitted to orchestrating eight distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks aimed at the school system's online distance learning platform and other systems. The student was charged with computer use in an attempt to defraud and with interference with an educational institution.

DDoS attacks involve an attacker attempting to take down a server by overwhelming it with traffic.

The district has been targeted by more than a dozen cyberattacks since the school year began Monday, which combined with a software malfunction to severely inhibit the ability of more than 200,000 students in the district to attend virtual classes.

Miami-Dade Schools Police Department Chief Edwin Lopez said in a statement Thursday that his department had worked with the FBI, the Secret Service and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in investigating the attacks, noting that based on the investigation he believes “other attackers are out there.”

Read more here.


DNA AND THE IMMIGRATION PROCESS: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced this week that it will expand its use of biometric data and DNA to verify family relationships during the immigration process.

The department said this week it will soon publish a proposed rule establishing new biometric data use protocols. Under the proposal, DHS would have the authority to require biometrics for any application or petition, a DHS official told CNN on Wednesday. Under current DHS regulations, biometrics are required only for applications involving background checks.

The new rule would give DHS officials wider authority for expanding technologies, ranging from voiceprints to iris scans, as well as technologies still in development, according to CNN.

"As those technologies become available and can be incorporated as appropriate, it gives the agency the flexibility to utilize them. And then it also would give the agency the authority down the road, as new technologies become available and are reliable, secure, etc., to pivot to using those, as well," the official told the outlet.

The proposal would also eliminate any age restrictions for collecting biometrics. Under current regulations, collection is typically restricted to those 14 and older.

The department’s proposed rule would further allow DHS to collect DNA to confirm genetic relationships in cases where that is an eligibility requirement, CNN reported.

Read more here. 


COMING SOON: DOJ VS. GOOGLE: The Department of Justice plans to file antitrust charges against Google as soon as this month, The New York Times reported Thursday. 

Five people briefed on internal department conversations confirmed to the newspaper the timeline to file charges against Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube.

Three of these people said Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTwo-thirds say the election was fair: poll The Hill's Morning Report - An inauguration like no other Barr told Trump that theories about stolen election were 'bulls---': report MORE and other department officials have instructed lawyers involved in the case to finish their work by the end of September, despite lawyer arguments over needing more time. 

Most of the about 40 lawyers working on the case were against the deadline, prompting several to say they would not sign the complaint and others to leave the case in the past few months.

Many lawyers consider the specific case against Google’s search and advertising business to be strong, including more than a dozen hired during the Trump administration, but some are anxious that the case will be incomplete. 

Read more here. 


T-MOBILE CEO WEIGHS IN: T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert reportedly warned in a private Facebook post that Democrats risk losing the election to President Trump in November by embracing calls to defund police departments across the U.S.

Politico reported that Sievert wrote to friends and family in last week's post that if Democrats "want to LOSE THIS ELECTION, we should keep saying and repeating the phrase ‘Defund the Police’ and associate the phrase with our candidates."

“This phrase is a sure fire way to hand Donald Trump and many R’s in Congress another term," Sievert reportedly said.

Sievert declined to explain his views further to Politico when contacted, and T-Mobile did not return the news outlet's request for comment.

“[I]f the mantra becomes ‘Defund the Police’ or worse, if we start to riot and tear down buildings or incite violence in response, the other guy wins. THE OTHER GUY WINS,” Sievert reportedly added. “And the changes we want, and demand, don’t come about anytime soon."

Sievert took over as the company's CEO earlier this year after T-Mobile completed a merger with Sprint valued at $26 billion. The company also moved to stop ad placements on "Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonShep Smith on former employment at Fox News: 'I stuck with it for as long as I could' Can the GOP break its addiction to show biz? Fox's Brit Hume rips 'radioactive' Trump: 'Utter balderdash' was fed 'into the veins of his supporters' MORE Tonight" as advertisers fled the program earlier this year over comments Carlson made about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Read more here.


Lighter click: Nice :)

An op-ed to chew on: America has to invest in advanced chipmakers or lose battle to China


A futuristic data policing program is harassing Pasco County families (Tampa Bay Times / Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi)

How Facebook Failed Kenosha (BuzzFeed News / Ryan Mac and Craig Silverman)

We Read the Comments to the FCC in Favor of Trump's Mindless Order on Social Media so Ajit Pai Doesn't Have To (Gizmodo / Tom McKay)

A freelance writer learns he’s writing for the Russians (The New York Times / Sheera Frenkel)