Hillicon Valley: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sits down with The Hill | Drama over naming DHS cyber office | Fallout over revoking Brennan's security clearance | Google workers protest censored search engine for China

Hillicon Valley: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sits down with The Hill | Drama over naming DHS cyber office | Fallout over revoking Brennan's security clearance | Google workers protest censored search engine for China
© Greg Nash

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.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Morgan Chalfant (@mchalfant16) and Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Ali Breland (@alibreland).

 

JACK WAS IN TOWN, SOMEONE SHOULD TELL ROSE: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey isn't sure if the timeout given to Alex Jones will convince the right-wing conspiracy theorist to "reconsider" his social media behavior.

But Dorsey, in an interview with The Hill the morning after his company handed down a seven-day suspension to Jones, says its enforcement actions are intended to promote better behavior from its users.

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"We're always trying to cultivate more of a learning mindset and help guide people back towards healthier behaviors and healthier public conversation," Twitter co-founder said. "We also think it's important to clarify what our principles are, which we haven't done a great job of in the past, and we need to take a step back and make sure that we are clearly articulating what those mean and what our objectives are."

Dorsey, wearing a black T-shirt that showed off a forearm tattoo unusual for a Washington, D.C., setting, spoke to The Hill Wednesday during a furious media tour that included interviews with NBC's Lester Holt and The Washington Post.

He's doing outreach amid stark criticism that Twitter has been too soft on Jones, the Infowars owner who has suggested the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was staged -- and that Twitter's content and behavior rules are unclear.

Apple, Facebook and Spotify are among the tech companies that have banned Jones and Infowars in the last 10 days, but Twitter argued Jones had not actually violated its content policies until a Tuesday tweet linking to a Periscope video in which he urged his followers to take up "battle rifles" in the crusade against censorship.

Dorsey said he wasn't involved in the decision to restrict the accounts and that he found out about it after the fact through a text from Twitter lead counsel Vijaya Gadde, who also attended the interview.

"We were getting a number of reports around the tweet and the Periscope that the content was inciting violence, which is against our terms of service, and we took action," Dorsey said.

For seven days, Jones's account will essentially be restricted to reading tweets and sending direct messages to his followers.

"The timeout, for instance, is something that we've built because research has shown that if you give people a break or pause they reconsider their behaviors and actions," Dorsey said.

Read The Hill's interview full here.

 

WHAT IS IN A NAME? THAT WHICH WE CALL A…WAIT HOLD ON: Trump administration officials are growing increasingly frustrated over stalled legislation concerning a key office responsible for combating cyber threats.

The Senate has failed to pass legislation that would rename a little-recognized office at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has become a leading player in the U.S. government's efforts to protect elections from Russian interference.

The bill in question, the product of a years-long effort by House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHillicon Valley: Manafort to cooperate with Mueller probe | North Korea blasts US over cyber complaint | Lawmakers grill Google over China censorship | Bezos to reveal HQ2 location by year's end Overnight Defense: Details on defense spending bill | NATO chief dismisses talk of renaming HQ for McCain | North Korea warns US over cyber allegations Bipartisan House group presses Google over China censorship MORE (R-Texas), easily passed the lower chamber in December.

But Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow House panel advances DHS cyber vulnerabilities bills MORE (R-Wis.), who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has so far been unable to shepherd it across the finish line in the upper chamber. The lack of progress has left Homeland Security officials and others on Capitol Hill baffled and frustrated.

"I think it's fair to say that there is some amount of frustration in the DHS team on the ability of the Senate to move important legislation to give DHS needed changes to its organizational structure in the cybersecurity space," a source close to the administration told The Hill. A Homeland Security spokesman declined to comment for this article.

The bill is straightforward, and not viewed as particularly contentious. The idea is to give the Homeland Security office responsible for securing federal networks and protecting U.S. critical infrastructure from cyber and physical sabotage – now called the National Protection and Programs Directorate, or NPPD – a more targeted name, and to restructure it into a full-fledged agency.

Under the bill, the office would be rebranded the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency – which proponents say would better communicate its mission to key industries and help them recruit and retain high-quality personnel.

Johnson's committee approved the provision in March as part of a broader package that would reauthorize the Department of Homeland Security. But, more than five months later, the provision has not reached the Senate floor for a vote, triggering worries it might not be passed before the legislative clock runs out.

Read more here.

 

FCC'S PAI SAYS WHITE HOUSE LAWYER CONTACTED HIM ABOUT SINCLAIR-TRIBUNE MERGER: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai on Thursday revealed that White House counsel Don McGahn called him about the merger between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media last month as the deal was imploding due to opposition from regulators.

Pai made the revelation during an oversight hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, saying that McGahn had been making a "status inquiry" and was not expressing a view about the transaction.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE has been a staunch defender of Sinclair and the broadcast giant has promoted the administration's talking points through "must-run" editorials distributed to its television stations around the country.

Pai has denied that the White House interfered in the proceeding.

The FCC chairman said the call came around July 16 or 17, right after he had announced that he "serious concerns" about the merger and would be referring it to an administrative law judge, a move that ultimately doomed the $3.9 billion deal.

Read more here.

 

SECURITY CLEARANCE DRAMA DAY 2:

Bipartisan fire is a blazin': President Trump drew criticism from both Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday for his decision to revoke former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanNew book: Putin tried to reinforce Trump’s belief in a ‘deep state’ undermining him Retired admiral resigned from Pentagon advisory committee after writing open letter to Trump Rand Paul ramps up his alliance with Trump MORE's security clearance.

Most Republican and Democratic lawmakers who balked at Trump's treatment of Brennan argued that former senior intelligence officials can provide useful guidance to current leaders based on their past experiences, and for that reason should keep their clearances as long as they don't improperly disclose information.

But some Republicans who defended the president said Brennan's recent behavior has been inappropriate for someone with such clearance. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsKavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week The Memo: Could Kavanaugh furor spark another ‘year of the woman’? Kavanaugh fight roils an already ugly political climate MORE (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Brennan "has been far too political in his comments" as a recently retired CIA chief but said that Trump went too far.

"Unless there was some disclosure of classified information of which I'm unaware, I don't see the grounds for revoking his security clearance," she said, calling Trump's decision "unwise." Asked if she was worried about the precedent, Collins said, "I think it's unwise because generally recently retired intelligence officials have a lot to contribute to the analysis that is being done."

But some Republicans defended Trump and even argued that he should have pulled Brennan's clearance months ago. "I'm surprised it didn't occur earlier," said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who frequently defends the president. "I have no problem with it whatsoever."

Read more here.

 

Burr says Trump had "full authority": Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrKey House Dem's objections stall intel bill as deadline looms Trump assures storm victims in Carolinas: 'We will be there 100 percent' Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas MORE (R-N.C.) in a statement Trump has "full authority" to revoke a security clearance over remarks that were "purely political and based on conjecture."

The statement came in response to a recent New York Times op-ed in which Brennan describes Trump's claims of "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia as "hogwash."

"Director Brennan's recent statements purport to know as fact that the Trump campaign colluded with a foreign power," Burr said Thursday, questioning why, if Brennan's assertion is based on actual intelligence, it was not included in the unclassified intelligence assessment released in early 2017.

Read more here.

 

GOOGLE EMPLOYEES MOBILIZE AGAINST CHINA CENSORSHIP PROJECT: Google employees are protesting the company's reported efforts to build a censored search service that would allow it to enter the Chinese market.

More than a thousand workers have signed a letter, obtained by The Hill, demanding greater transparency and ethical oversight within the company as well as more say in the projects that Google takes on.

The letter says that employees did not find out about the project, nicknamed Dragonfly, until The Intercept and other outlets reported its existence.

"Here, we address an underlying structural problem: currently, we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment," the letter reads.

"That the decision to build Dragonfly was made in secret, and progressed even with the AI Principles in place makes clear that the Principles alone are not enough," it continues. "We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we're building."

Read more here.

 

MORE DETAILS, LESS FACIAL RECOGNITION: A Democratic lawmaker is raising concerns about law enforcement's use of facial recognition technologies, saying it could pose issues for minority Americans and potentially be in violation of civil rights protections.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) in a letter Wednesday asked the head of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to investigate whether authorities' use of the software violates civil rights safeguards.

In a letter to Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore, Cleaver said while the technology could be useful, "if not appropriately implemented, use of the technology may threaten the life and liberty of Americans with crushing force."

The Democrat cited past concerns about Amazon's facial recognition software, known as Rekognition, after an American Civil Liberties Union report said that the software would disproportionately impact minority communities.

Read more here.

 

CHINESE HACKERS TARGET... ALASKA?: Security researchers have found that Chinese hackers examined government and businesses websites in Alaska for potential vulnerabilities in the weeks surrounding a state trade delegation's trip to China.

Researchers for the security firm Recorded Future said they found that hackers working out of China's Tsinghua University targeted energy and communications firms. The action took place in the weeks before and after state officials went on a trade mission to China in May, led by Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I).

The researchers said websites for Alaskan service providers and government offices were scanned by Chinese actors seeking possible vulnerabilities ahead of the trade trip. They added that flaws could allow them access to otherwise inaccessible and confidential systems.

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER TWITTER CLICK:

How to stop sophisticated spy tactics when they're observed in the wild

Thoughts on the MoviePass business model? Here's one way to think of it.

 

SOME OP-EDS TO CHEW ON:

With China, Google indeed must do the right thing.

Cybersecurity: Cause for optimism, need for continued vigilance.

 

ON TAP:

The House is still in recess and the Senate -- while in session -- will not be in tomorrow. But don't cry, Omarosa may still have more tapes. Here's the latest on that drama.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Who is Bruce Ohr? (The New York Times)

More U.S. states deploy technology to track election hacking attempts. (Reuters)

The Senate Commerce Committee has posted the questionnaire for Kelvin Droegemeier, Trump's nominee to lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

FBI chief Wray wants 'normalcy' in 'turbulent times.' (The Wall Street Journal)