Hillicon Valley: Deepfakes pose 2020 test for media | States beg Congress for more election security funds | Experts worry campaigns falling short on cybersecurity | Trump officials urge reauthorization of NSA surveillance program

Hillicon Valley: Deepfakes pose 2020 test for media | States beg Congress for more election security funds | Experts worry campaigns falling short on cybersecurity | Trump officials urge reauthorization of NSA surveillance program
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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).

 

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AN UNWITTING ALLY FOR DEEPFAKES? Deepfake videos are likely to pose a grave threat to the 2020 election, unless the media adopts stringent policies to distinguish real videos from sophisticated forgeries, experts say.

"The press is going to have to resist the urge to get the scoop by talking about something that may not be true before they can validate it," said Amy Zegart, co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.

"That's going to require some technical skills and it's going to require some patience," she continued. "And that's a hard thing, given the pressure for the news media to be first to the story."

Whether the press will be willing or able to do that in a competitive 24/7 news cycle that rewards breaking news is an open question.

But journalism ethics and advocacy groups say the media will have to contain their competitive jockeying as deepfakes grow more prevalent and realistic. Some warn of a repeat of the harmful disinformation campaigns from 2016 if the press and public are not cautious. 

"You know that these technologies exist to make sophisticated deepfakes and you know that people are motivated to get those scripts out there to pollute our information environments, so there's no better time than now to slow down," said Kathleen Culver, director for the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

It is unclear if newsrooms are prepared to confront the technological advances in deceptive content ahead of 2020. CNN, Fox News and MSNBC did not reply to requests for comment when asked about their processes and procedures for determining whether a video is a deepfake. Some experts doubt the media is.

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"I think they are not at all prepared to deal with this for a whole variety of reasons," said Amy Zegart, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. "These policy teams are having to grapple with where the boundaries are and what the policy should be in real time, so they're making monumental decisions that affect our political life."

Read more here.

OUT WITH THE OLD: A federal judge on Thursday ruled that the state of Georgia may not use direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines in any election after 2019, but stopped short of mandating that the state switch to paper ballots.

In addition, the ruling from U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg in Georgia also requires the state to develop contingency measures should the rollout of machines with paper records not be complete by March 2020.

The nonprofit organization Coalition for Good Governance, along with a group of Georgia citizens, had filed suit against the state to mandate that only paper ballots be used in future elections, citing election security concerns stemming from the use of outdated machines.

"The long and twisting saga of Georgia's non-auditable DRE/GEMS voting system -- running on software of almost two decades vintage with well-known flaws and vulnerabilities and limited cybersecurity -- is finally headed towards its conclusion," Totenberg, an Obama appointee, wrote in the ruling.

The decision comes amid a fiery debate at the national level over next steps on election security, with Republicans and Democrats disagreeing over what, if anything, the federal government should do ahead of the 2020 election.

Read more here.

 

WE GOT 2020 PROBLEMS AND CYBERSECURITY IS ONE: Democratic 2020 presidential campaigns say they are working to boost their cybersecurity, but experts worry those efforts may not be enough.

Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell told The Hill he worries there is a "void" and that campaigns need outside help to fully address the issue.

"There is not a lot of initial thought given to cybersecurity," Morell said about the campaigns.

Several campaigns insist they have prioritized the issue. 

Chris Meagher, the spokesman for South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegThe media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Tulsi Gabbard reacts to Afghanistan report, calls out Pete Buttigieg's McKinsey work Buttigieg surrogate on candidate's past consulting work: 'I don't think it matters' MORE's campaign, told The Hill that "our campaign is committed to digital security," noting the hiring of a full-time chief information security officer (CISO), Mick Baccio, last week.

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"Hiring a full-time CISO is one way we are protecting against cyberattacks," Meagher added.

A spokesperson for the presidential campaign of former Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeButtigieg picks up third congressional endorsement from New York lawmaker Klobuchar hires staff in Nevada Deval Patrick enters 2020 race MORE (D-Texas) told The Hill they are "actively engaged in defending our operation from disinformation and other cyberattacks."

But many campaigns have said little on their cyber efforts.

Read more here.

 

ALL THIS TALK OF 2020 SECURITY? IT COMES WITH A COST: The secretaries of state for Connecticut and Louisiana on Thursday called on Congress to appropriate more funding to boost election security heading into 2020.

Speaking at a forum hosted by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin (R) and Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill (D) said additional federal funding is the best way Congress can help states shore up election security and ward off cyberattacks.

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"Resources are always helpful and necessary," Ardoin said. "We all have the same expectation, which is a secure environment for our elections, and that every vote is accurately counted and everybody gets to participate who wishes to participate."

He added that secretaries of state are "constantly asking for additional resources to fend off cybersecurity issues, to update equipment, and to do what is necessary to secure our elections and offer our people the right to vote."

Congress appropriated $380 million to the EAC last year to distribute to states ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. The funding came two years after Russia's efforts to interfere in the presidential election.

Democrats have pushed for more state money, but Republicans have argued that Congress should respect state jurisdiction over elections, while noting that not all of the $380 million has been spent.

Read more here.

 

INTEL CHIEF SAYS BRING FETCH BACK... AND NSA'S PHONE RECORD COLLECTION: The Trump administration is urging Congress to reauthorize the National Security Agency's (NSA) authority to collect phone record information on millions of Americans, according to a letter obtained by The Hill.

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Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer US intel official says Trump would often push back in briefings Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter MORE, the departing director of national intelligence (DNI), in a letter to senators dated Wednesday urged Congress to reauthorize all provisions in the USA Freedom Act, a controversial law that is set to expire later this year.

Top Republicans on the key committees overseeing the reauthorization of the law are likely to follow DNI's lead.

"I write to express the support of the Intelligence Community (IC) and Administration for the permanent reauthorization of the provisions of the USA Freedom Act of 2015 that are currently set to expire in December," Coats wrote in the letter, which was addressed to the top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee.

"These provisions provide the [intelligence community] with key national security authorities, and we look forward to working with the Congress on their permanent reauthorization," Coats added.

The administration's input comes as Congress braces for a battle over the reauthorization of the USA Freedom Act, which gives the government a broad range of surveillance authorities.

In the letter, Coats confirmed that the NSA has shuttered the call records program, the most contested provision of the law. But he said the government should retain its authority to restart the program if needed.

Read more here.

 

WARREN WANTS MEDIA MERGERS TO BE SCRUTINIZED: Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Buttigieg surrogate on candidate's past consulting work: 'I don't think it matters' Steyer rolls out 5B plan to invest in historically black colleges MORE (D-Mass.), who is running for president, is calling for federal regulators to look more closely at a wave of mergers involving entertainment giants.

"First Disney acquired 21st Century Fox. Now CBS and Viacom are merging. Consolidation raises serious concerns for consumers, employees, and the entire sector. The Department of Justice should be paying close attention," Warren tweeted Thursday.

The planned CBS-Viacom merger, announced Tuesday, would result in an entertainment conglomerate bringing in more than $28 billion in revenue.

In another high-profile merger earlier this month, Gannett and Gatehouse, the two largest newspaper companies in the nation, announced they would combine.

Warren has frequently warned that consolidation among America's biggest companies that may run afoul of antitrust laws, often specifically addressing the tech sector.

Read more here.

 

988: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is moving forward with a proposal to create a three-digit, nationwide suicide prevention and mental health hotline, the agency announced Thursday.

The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau and Office of Economics and Analytics submitted a joint report to Congress on Wednesday laying out its recommendation for the new hotline to be designated 988.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he intends to act on the recommendation and move forward with rulemaking.

"There is a suicide epidemic in this country, and it is disproportionately affecting at-risk populations, including our Veterans and LGBTQ youth," Pai said in a statement. "Crisis call centers have been shown to save lives. This report recommends using a three-digit number to make it easier to access the critical suicide prevention and mental health services these call centers provide."

A year ago, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate US sending 20,000 troops to Europe for largest exercises since Cold War Barr criticizes FBI, says it's possible agents acted in 'bad faith' in Trump probe MORE signed the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, a law that directs the FCC to begin creating the new line, similar to a nationwide 311 or 911.

The number for the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

Read more here.

GOOGLE UP IN AIRS: Hundreds of Google employees have signed a petition calling for the company to pledge it will not launch a bid for U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) enormous cloud computing contract.

As of Thursday morning, more than 650 Google workers had signed the petition vowing they would "refuse to be complicit" in the creation of cloud computing infrastructure for CBP, which they claimed would help facilitate "human rights abuses" at the border.

The petition is continuing to circulate internally at Google.

CBP in a filing last month said it is looking for companies to provide the agency with cloud services as part of the government's efforts to improve its technology infrastructure.

The Google workers are asking the company to disavow any future ties to CBP, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

"We demand that Google publicly commit not to support CBP, ICE, or ORR with any infrastructure, funding, or engineering resources, directly or indirectly, until they stop engaging in human rights abuses," the workers wrote.

Google has a growing cloud computing business, though it lags behind Amazon Web Services and Microsoft's Azure.

Google's workforce has been rocked by internal protests over the past several years, including several specifically targeting Google's work with the government.

Read more here.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Social media never intended to be in the news business -- but just wait till AI takes over.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: A honeypot has to try, amiright?

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

The NSA also uses an off-the-shelf version of Slack to communicate. (Vice News)

Facebook expands third-party fact-checking operation, flagging of suspicious Instagram posts. (Poynter)

Amazon uses Twitter army of employees to fight criticism of warehouses. (The New York Times)

YouTube's LGBTQ problem is a business-model problem. (OneZero)