Hillicon Valley: House Dems release Russia-linked Facebook ads | Bill would block feds from mandating encryption 'back doors' | AT&T hired Cohen for advice on Time Warner merger | FCC hands down record robocall fine | White House launches AI panel

Hillicon Valley: House Dems release Russia-linked Facebook ads | Bill would block feds from mandating encryption 'back doors' | AT&T hired Cohen for advice on Time Warner merger | FCC hands down record robocall fine | White House launches AI panel
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Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's comprehensive newsletter with all you need to know about tech and cybersecurity from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley.


Welcome! Follow the tech team, Ali Breland (@alibreland) and Harper Neidig (@hneidig), and the cyber team, Morgan Chalfant (@mchalfant16) and Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers), on Twitter. Scoops/tips/comments/compliments? Please reach out to us.




First up, Facebook ads. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday released thousands of copies of Kremlin-linked Facebook advertisements used during the 2016 presidential election, a data dump that provides a greater understanding of a Russian company's disinformation campaign across social media. The lawmakers released more than 3,500 Facebook ads purchased by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian firm with ties to the Kremlin. Over 11.4 million American users were exposed to these ads between 2015 and 2017.

"There's no question that Russia sought to weaponize social media platforms to drive a wedge between Americans, and in an attempt to sway the 2016 election," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, said in a statement. "They did this by creating fake accounts, pages and communities to push divisive online content and videos, and to mobilize real Americans, unwittingly, to sign online petitions and join rallies and protests."

 An NBC news report highlighted a number of the ads in the release, noting that ads targeted a wide audience including fans of conservative Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, fans of the Black Lives Matter movement and those interested in LGBT-centric topics.

To read more of our piece, click here.



Meanwhile, Republicans are pressing on with their request for DOJ records. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is backing the latest efforts of House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to obtain classified documents from the Department of Justice (DOJ) as it relates to the federal investigation into Russian election meddling. "I think this request is wholly appropriate and is completely within the scope of the investigation that has been ongoing for awhile with respect to [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]," Ryan said Thursday during his weekly press conference.  "I actually think this is something that should have been answered a while ago," he added.

The precise nature of the information Nunes is pursuing remains unclear but Ryan said he arrived at this conclusion after talking to the key players involved in the matter, including Nunes, House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Nunes and Gowdy are expected to visit the DOJ on Thursday afternoon to receive a briefing about the request, Fox News reported Thursday. To read more of our piece, click here.



Lawmakers unveil encryption bill. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers have introduced legislation that would block the federal government from requiring technology companies to design devices with so-called "back doors" to allow law enforcement to access them.

The bill represents the latest effort by lawmakers in Congress to wade into the battle between federal law enforcement officials and tech companies over encryption, which reached a boiling point in 2015 as the FBI tussled with Apple over a locked iPhone linked to the San Bernardino terror attack case.

Some context: Top FBI and Justice Department officials have repeatedly complained that they have been unable to access devices for ongoing criminal investigations because of encryption. FBI Director Christopher Wray has suggested that devices could be designed to allow investigators to access them, though he insists the bureau is not looking for a "back door."

What's in the bill? The bipartisan bill introduced Thursday would prohibit federal agencies from requiring or requesting that firms "design or alter the security functions in its product or service to allow the surveillance of any user of such product or service, or to allow the physical search of such product" by the government.

The bill would also block courts from issuing an order to compel companies to design products with "back doors" to allow for surveillance or law enforcement searches.

The legislation makes an exception for mandates, requests or court orders that are authorized under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, a 1994 law requiring telephone companies to make changes to their network design in order to make it easier for the government to wiretap phone calls.

Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenBusiness groups start gaming out a Biden administration Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence DHS opens probe into allegations at Georgia ICE facility MORE (D-Calif.) introduced the legislation along with Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Jerry NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDemocrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court Schumer: 'Nothing is off the table' if GOP moves forward with Ginsburg replacement Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence MORE (D-N.Y.), Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzFlorida attorney general scrutinizing Bloomberg paying fines for felons to vote Lara Trump campaigns with far-right activist candidate Laura Loomer in Florida House to vote on removing cannabis from list of controlled substances MORE (R-Fla.), Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieGOP lawmaker praises Kyle Rittenhouse's 'restraint' for not emptying magazine during shooting Rep. Dan Meuser tests positive for COVID-19 Liz Cheney wins Wyoming GOP primary in reelection bid MORE (R-Ky.) and Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeSheila Jackson Lee tops colleagues in House floor speaking days over past decade Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Texas New Members 2019 MORE (R-Texas).

Also noteworthy: The bill's introduction comes the same week that Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGOP set to release controversial Biden report Trump's policies on refugees are as simple as ABCs Ocasio-Cortez, Velázquez call for convention to decide Puerto Rico status MORE said Congress may ultimately need to "take action" to solve the encryption problem. He and other officials have said the FBI was unable to break into thousands of devices last year despite having a warrant to probe them.

To read more, click here.



NET NEUTRALITY IS DEAD NEXT MONTH: Net neutrality rules in the U.S. are set to end in June, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced Thursday. The FCC confirmed during its monthly open meeting that it has set the end date for the rules as June 11.

The FCC voted 3-2 along party lines late last year to scrap its 2015 Open Internet Order, despite backlash from Democrats and protesters calling for an open internet. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has argued the agency overstepped when it imposed the restrictions.

Critics though say repealing the rules would allow for major internet companies, such as Comcast or Verizon, to abuse their powers as internet gatekeepers and drive up the costs of internet use.

The decision led to multiple lawsuits to save net neutrality and has prompted lawmakers to introduce legislation that would reinstate the rules.

Don't forget: On Wednesday, Senate Democrats officially began their push to force a vote on net neutrality under the Congressional Review Act. If the resolution is passed by Congress and signed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Romney: 'Unthinkable and unacceptable' to not commit to peaceful transition of power Two Louisville police officers shot amid Breonna Taylor grand jury protests MORE it would reverse the repeal of net neutrality measures. That's highly unlikely though. Check out our piece here.


TOP WHITE HOUSE CYBERSECURITY ROLE IN DANGER? Politico has a story this week that has many cybersecurity experts worried. National security adviser John Bolton is said to be considering doing away with the cybersecurity coordinator position at the White House.


The role is currently held by Rob Joyce, who revealed last month that he had decided to return to his post at the National Security Agency rather than continuing in his post at the White House. Joyce, who led the NSA's elite Tailored Access Operations unit, was on detail from the agency to the White House.

In response to Politico's report, one of the more cyber-focused lawmakers in the House, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said eliminating the cyber role would "endanger our economy, critical infrastructure, and possibly American lives."

"This is yet another example of the Trump Administration talking a big game on national security but taking steps that directly undermine our ability to combat emerging threats," Lieu said. "At a time when terror groups and nation states are beefing up their cyber capabilities, the Administration has signaled that it's apparently time to weaken our defenses."

Check out Politico's story here.


RECORD ROBOCALL FINE: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday announced that it had issued a $120 million fine to a man in Florida for making millions of robocalls.

The FCC said on Thursday that it formally handed Adrian Abramovich the record fine for making almost 100 million robocalls in three months. The agency had previously proposed the fine in 2017 but is now coming through on its promise to reprimand Abramovich.


"Tough enforcement is a key part of the FCC's robust strategy for combating illegal robocalls."

But it's not quite that clear cut. The FCC has a complicated relationship with robocalls. Chairman Ajit Pai has delivered tough talk on robocalls, which are universally unpopular. But he's also been reluctant to draft new, stronger regulations to address the problem.

Read more here.


WHITE HOUSE HAS NEW ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE PANEL: The White House announced Thursday that it will establish a panel of federal government officials to look at issues dealing with artificial intelligence (AI).

The Trump administration announced the new Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence on the same day that it held a major AI summit with business leaders in Washington.

The AI panel will include officials from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The committee's representatives will also include officials from the National Security Council (NSC), the Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

--It's about time... is what the technology is secretly thinking about this after pushing the White House to get more involved in artificial intelligence.


R. KELLY IS OFF SPOTIFY PLAYLISTS: Spotify is removing R. Kelly's music from its algorithmic and curated playlists under its new hate content and hateful conduct policy.

The music-streaming service told Billboard that, in addition to removing Kelly's songs from Spotify-operated playlists, it would no longer promote the R&B artist's music.

"We are removing R. Kelly's music from all Spotify owned and operated playlists and algorithmic recommendations such as Discover Weekly," Spotify said.

Read more here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: 50 Cent has thoughts about Instagram's content enforcement practices.



A lawsuit challenging warrantless phone searches at the border is allowed to proceed. (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Lawmakers approved a pilot program allowing the military to support cyber critical infrastructure protection as part of an annual defense policy bill. (NextGov)

Trump thinks Comcast is "public enemy number 1," according to a Trump friend. (Fox Business News)

The hidden threat of Siri that you didn't know about. (The New York Times)

Can Snapchat survive the redesign everyone hates? (Vanity Fair)

Apple is reportedly working with Goldman Sachs to create a joint credit card. (The Hill)