Hillicon Valley: New FTC chief eyes shake up of tech regulation | Lawmakers target Google, Huawei partnership | Microsoft employees voice anger over ICE contract

Hillicon Valley: New FTC chief eyes shake up of tech regulation | Lawmakers target Google, Huawei partnership | Microsoft employees voice anger over ICE contract
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The Cyber and Tech overnights have joined forces to give you Hillicon Valley, The Hill's comprehensive newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Morgan Chalfant (@mchalfant16), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Ali Breland (@alibreland), on Twitter. Send us your scoops, tips and hot NBA trade rumors.


FTC TAKING NEW LOOK AT TECH: FTC Chairman Joseph Simons convened reporters on Wednesday to announce that the agency will hold a series of public hearings to examine whether it needs to adjust its enforcement policies in order to effectively police internet platform companies.

Simons, a Republican who was sworn in as chairman last month, promised "vigorous enforcement" of Silicon Valley and other industries.


The announcement comes as companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook are facing increasing scrutiny for how they wield their market dominance and the FTC is facing pressure to check their power over competitors and user data.

"Every so often there's some very disruptive thing that happens in the economy, and we want to take a look and see what does that mean for antitrust enforcement," Simons said Wednesday.

Simons wouldn't comment on any individual cases before the FTC, but said that his concerns about tech platforms preceded the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

"It's the network effects," Simons said. "It's the fact that they're a two-sided platform. It's the interaction between privacy and competition. And it's all new so it makes it very appropriate to have this be the subject of hearings and get input on that."

What about net neutrality? Simons promised reporters that the agency would not shirk its newfound responsibility to make sure internet service providers aren't abusing their power over the internet in the wake of the FCC's repeal of its net neutrality rules.

"We're actively looking, and if it turns out that some of the broadband providers are engaged in anticompetitive activities we will be all over it," he said.

We've got more on his remarks here.


LAWMAKERS GRILL GOOGLE ON HUAWEI PARTNERSHIP: A group of lawmakers sent a letter to Google on Wednesday expressing concerns over its partnership with the Chinese telecom Huawei, which U.S. officials have deemed a national security threat.

The group noted that the company had decided to drop out of work it was doing for the Pentagon after an internal rift over the nature of the project.

"While we regret that Google did not want to continue a long and fruitful tradition of collaboration between the military and technology companies we are even more disappointed that Google apparently is more willing to support the Chinese Communist Party than the U.S.," they wrote.

The lawmakers who signed the letter addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai included Reps. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayThompson named top Republican on Agriculture Bottom line House Republican introduces amendment to include farm aid in stopgap funding bill MORE (R-Texas), Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyGOP divided over Liz Cheney's future The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history GOP in bind over Trump as corporate donations freeze MORE (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Dutch RuppersbergerCharles (Dutch) Albert RuppersbergerHillicon Valley: House panel says Intelligence Community not equipped to address Chinese threats | House approves bill to send cyber resources to state, local governments House approves legislation to send cybersecurity resources to state, local governments Hillicon Valley: 'Fortnite' owner sues Apple after game is removed from App Store | Federal agencies seize, dismantle cryptocurrency campaigns of major terrorist organizations MORE (D-Md.) as well as Sens. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump's growing isolation as administration comes to an end MORE (R-Ark.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioFlorida Republicans close ranks with Trump after Capitol siege Confirmation hearing for Biden's DNI pick postponed McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time MORE (R-Fla.).

More on the controversy here.


MICROSOFT RESPONDS TO EMPLOYEE BACKLASH OVER ICE CONTRACT: Microsoft executives are rushing to contain employee backlash over the company's contracts with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

After more than 100 Microsoft employees signed and posted a letter to a message board demanding the company cut ties with ICE, CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith issued public statements asserting the company's commitment to immigrants.

"Microsoft is a company of immigrants in a nation of immigrants," Smith wrote late Tuesday in a blog post discussing immigration and the separation of families at the border. Smith did not directly mention the company's contracts with ICE.

In an all-staff email, Nadella addressed the controversy head on, downplaying the company's involvement in the "zero tolerance" policy leading to the separation of families at the border.


BUT EMPLOYEES ARE STILL MAD: Some Microsoft employees are frustrated with the company's response about its contracts with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and say that they're planning to press the company harder.

Two employees that The Hill spoke with on Wednesday said that they intend to take further action following CEO Satya Nadella's all-staff email to employees on Tuesday night about the company's $19.4 million ICE contract. The letter came in response to an open letter from Microsoft employees urging Microsoft to end its contract with ICE and institute a policy against working with clients that break international human rights law.

In his email, Nadella said that Microsoft opposed ICE's practice of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border, but did not say that the company would end the contract.

"The response was empty. It was shallow. He just said 'we denounce it.' It didn't do anything," said one of the employees who was involved in creating the open letter urging Microsoft to drop the contract.


OK, BUT WHAT DOES IT DO? A closely watched new health care company from Amazon, JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway on Wednesday named Atul Gawande, a surgeon famous for his writing and ideas on health care, as its CEO.

The new venture from three of the country's most prominent companies has been the subject of much talk in the health-care industry because of its potential to shake up the system and change the way it operates.

However, one thing is unclear so far ... what exactly the new company will do.


EU ADVANCES CONTROVERSIAL COPYRIGHT LEGISLATION: A European Union committee voted on Wednesday in favor of a controversial piece of legislation meant to crack down on copyright infringement.

The legislation, called the Copyright Directive, passed its first hurdle when the EU's Legal Affairs Committee voted in favor of the measure.

The measure includes two controversial provisions that critics say will have a devastating effect on the internet.


FACEBOOK GROUP RAISES $8 MILLION FOR DETAINED IMMIGRANTS: A fundraising campaign on Facebook has raised more than $8 million for a Texas legal defense fund aimed at parents and children who have been separated after crossing the border illegally.

The "Reunite an immigrant parent with their child" Facebook campaign is the single largest fundraiser on the social media site to date.

It was launched by Charlotte and Dave Willner, early employees of Facebook who now work for Pinterest and Airbnb.

The couple, who have a two-year-old daughter, began the campaign after being moved by images they saw in coverage of family separations at the border, which are the result of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy.


TOP OBAMA OFFICIALS TESTIFY ABOUT RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE: The Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday hosted a hearing to review the Obama administration's response to Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential race, hashing out whether enough measures taken were enough to protect the election.

Although a lot of the hearing rehashed much of what has already been reported, the testimonies of Ambassador Victoria Nuland, former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and Michael Daniel, former Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for the White House offered new insight into their knowledge of Russian meddling.

Nuland and Daniel both warned that Russia's disinformation campaign in the U.S. has served as a model for other foreign nations.

"Other countries and malign actors are now adapting and improving on Russia's methodology, notably including China which now runs disinformation campaigns and influence operations in Taiwan, Australia, and other neighboring countries and is working to acquire information technology assets and data sets across Asia, Europe, and the United States," Nuland told the committee during her opening remarks.

"Now that the Russians have proven that cyber means can be used to engage in election interference in the U.S. we should expect that they will continue to engage in such activities and that other actors will follow their lead including non-nation state actors," Daniel said during his opening remarks.

Nuland emphasized that Putin was not deterred during the 2016 election, leading him to seize the opportunity to continue cyber operations in the U.S.

"This Kremlin is highly opportunistic," she said, noting that they will target former Soviet blocs like Ukraine to larger developed countries like the U.K. and U.S.

If the government doesn't make Russian President Vladimir Putin and his circle directly pay for these attacks, then he will keep pushing, Nuland said.

Daniel, when asked, noted it is "highly likely" that Russia scanned the election systems of all 50 states during the 2016 presidential race. He said it was more likely the federal government had not detected such efforts rather than that they didn't occur.

Jeanette Manfra, a top official at Department of Homeland Security (DHS), acknowledged earlier this year that DHS only had enough "visibility" to confirm that Russia targeted 21 states because of sensors in place in the state systems and information provided by the intelligence community.


ALSO: The Senate Intelligence Committee has sent letters requesting testimony from both former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyComey: Biden should consider pardoning Trump Comey: 'Greatest punishment' for Trump after Capitol riot is to 'move past' his presidency Comey argues Trump shouldn't be prosecuted after leaving Oval Office MORE and former deputy director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeCarter Page sues over surveillance related to Russia probe McCabe defends investigation of Trump before Senate committee: We had 'many reasons' The Hill's 12:30 Report: What to know about the Pfizer vaccine announcement MORE, Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrOfficials discussing 25th Amendment for Trump following violence at Capitol GOP senator says Trump 'bears responsibility' for Capitol riot Republican infighting on election intensifies MORE (R-N.C.) told reporters on Wednesday.

Click here for more on that.


MEANWHILE, ON THE HOUSE SIDE: The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee has invited FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok to appear before the panel.

Strzok has faced a barrage of attacks from President TrumpDonald TrumpFacebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Section 230 worked after the insurrection, but not before: How to regulate social media MORE and conservatives after an internal investigation revealed he had been sending messages critical of the then-Republican candidate during the 2016 presidential race to FBI lawyer Lisa Page.

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSunday shows preview: Washington prepares for an inauguration and impeachment; coronavirus surges across the US What our kids should know after the Capitol Hill riot  Pelosi names 9 impeachment managers MORE (D-Calif.) said Strzok, who has offered to appear voluntarily before the House Judiciary Committee, would be able to "address directly allegations about his conduct and activities" as well as share his knowledge of Russia's attempts to interfere in the election.

"We would like to extend an invitation to Mr. Strzok to appear for a voluntary interview as part of our ongoing probe into Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. election," Schiff wrote in a Tuesday letter to Strzok's lawyer, Aitan Goelman.

To read more click here.


EYE ON THE SKY: A China-based cyber group is carrying out an extensive hacking campaign by targeting satellite, telecom and defense companies in the United States and Southeast Asia, a U.S. cybersecurity firm warned this week.

The motive of the hacking group, known as "Thrip," is likely national cyber espionage, security researchers at Symantec Corp. said on Tuesday.

"Thrip's attack on telecoms and satellite operators exposes the possibility that the attackers could intercept or even alter communications traffic from enterprises and consumers," Symantec said in a statement, adding that the most disturbing discovery is an attempt to control satellites by infecting linked computers with malware.

"The attack group seemed to be particularly interested in the operational side of the company, looking for and infecting computers running software that monitors and controls satellites. This suggests to us that Thrip's motives go beyond spying and may also include disruption," Symantec wrote in a separate blog post.

Satellites play a central role in telecommunications, receiving and transmitting phone and internet signals as well as mapping and geolocation data.

Symantec said in Tuesday's statement that it has tracked Thrip since 2013 and recently observed that the cyber group appears to have "discovered new tools and techniques used by the group in this most recent set of attacks."

The threat of the improved hacking toolbox is further compounded by Thrip's ability to stay well hidden.

More on the new threat here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: Lawmakers, they are just like us.



The American Antitrust Institute will hold its annual conference featuring remarks by Department of Justice Antitrust Chief Makan Delrahim at 8:30 a.m.

The American Enterprise Institute will host a discussion on patent issues, featuring Patent and Trademark Office Director Andrei Iancu at 9:00 a.m.



How tech companies conquered America's cities. (The New York Times)

How Amazon became one of Washington's most powerful players. (Wall Street Journal)

Disney tops Comcast in new $71 billion Fox bid. (The Verge)

White House trying to coordinate online privacy plan. (Axios)