Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Twitter chief faces GOP anger over bias | DOJ convenes meeting on bias claims | Rubio clashes with Alex Jones | DHS chief urges lawmakers to pass cyber bill | Sanders bill takes aim at Amazon

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, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Ali Breland (@alibreland).

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LONG DAY FOR DORSEY: House Republicans grilled Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Wednesday during a hearing on alleged bias against conservatives in social media, capping a marathon day of testimony for the Silicon Valley executive.

Dorsey told lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee that Twitter did not intentionally censor conservative voices and that any problems with their algorithms were not the result of political bias.

"I want to start by making something clear: we don't consider political viewpoints, perspectives, or party affiliation in any of our policies or enforcement decisions. Period. Impartiality is our guiding principle," Dorsey said, reading his statement from his phone.

But those denials did little to assuage GOP concerns and Republicans used the hearing to directly confront Dorsey about their allegations.

"It should now be quite clear that even well-intentioned algorithms can have unintended consequences," said House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

"Prominent Republicans, including multiple Members of Congress and the chairwoman of the Republican Party have seen their Twitter presences temporarily minimized in recent months, due to what you have claimed was a mistake in the algorithm," he continued.

Dorsey testified at two back-to-back hearings Wednesday, first before the Senate Intelligence Committee alongside Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg on foreign influence operations, and then before the House panel on bias.

The hearings come as Republicans are stepping up their attacks on Silicon Valley over what they see as efforts to silence conservative viewpoints.

The allegations about anti-conservative bias have yet to be proven, but the attacks have rattled Silicon Valley over the prospect of new regulatory actions.

Read more here.

 

DOJ SET SIGHTS ON SILICON VALLEY: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has scheduled a meeting with state attorneys general in September to discuss a "growing concern" that tech companies may be "intentionally stifling" the free flow of ideas on their platforms.

In a statement issued right after executives from Facebook and Twitter finished testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Department of Justice (DOJ) also suggested that the platforms were running afoul of antitrust laws.

"The Attorney General has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms," DOJ spokesman Devin O'Malley said in a statement issued near the end of the congressional hearing.

President Trump and conservative House Republicans have repeatedly aired complaints about bias against conservatives on Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social media platforms. Those companies though have denied censoring conservative speech.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday morning on efforts to combat foreign influence operations on their platforms. Dorsey later testified before a House panel on the claims of anti-conservative bias.

Read more here.

 

MORE FROM OUR COVERAGE OF TODAY'S HEARINGS:

-Rubio, Alex Jones clash: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Alex Jones clashed Wednesday outside a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, with Rubio threatening to take care of Jones after the Infowars host touched his shoulder.

When Jones reached out to touch Rubio's shoulder, the senator glared at Jones, warning him not to touch him again in front of a gaggle of reporters with cameras and notebooks.

Read more here.

 

-Lawmakers throw shade at Google: Lawmakers on Wednesday grilled top executives from Facebook and Twitter about their efforts to prevent foreign governments from influencing U.S. politics, but they saved their harshest criticism for Google and its decision not to send a top representative to testify on Capitol Hill.

"I'm deeply disappointed that Google - one of the most influential digital platforms in the world - chose not to send its own top corporate leadership to engage this committee," said Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which hosted Wednesday's hearing. "Because I know our members have a series of difficult questions about structural vulnerabilities on a number of Google's platforms that we will need answered."

Read more here.

 

-Conservatives lash out at McCarthy: House conservatives are blaming Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for Twitter's decision to have its founder publicly testify before the Energy and Commerce Committee instead of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where a number of conservative members sit.

The conservative Freedom Caucus and its allies argued that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was likely to get a more favorable reception from the Energy and Commerce panel in comparison to Oversight, which counts Freedom Caucus leaders Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) among its members.

"The majority leader talks tough on tech then sends [Dorsey] to the friendly confines of the industry-friendly Energy & Commerce Committee," Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who says he has been unfairly censored on social media, told The Hill.

Read more here.

 

HITTING BACK HARDER: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen issued a warning on cyber threats from foreign countries on Wednesday, saying the U.S.'s response to actors needs to be "more than commensurate."

"By the time that a country is attacking civilian networks, civilian assets, it's not a fair fight," Nielsen said during an event at George Washington University. "It's not how the international world has created norms and standards. And I don't think that it should be commensurate, I think it should be more."

The Department of Homeland Security chief added that the federal government has to move to attribute cyberattacks faster in order to hand down retribution, noting that the actions could be public or "unseen."

Nielsen also said during prepared remarks that the U.S. "will no long naively assume that a nation state with cyber capabilities chooses not to use them."

"We will no longer tolerate the threat of our data. We will no longer stand idly by while our networks are penetrated exploited or held hostage," she said. "Instead we will respond, and we will respond decisively." 

Read more here.

 

A CYBERATTACK PANDEMIC: Nielsen also urged lawmakers to pass legislation to reorganize a DHS cyber division as a full-fledged agency as the measure struggles to gain support in the Senate.

Nielsen said that cyber threats have moved from an "epidemic" to a "pandemic," and called on Congress to pass legislation to rename DHS's National Protection and Programs Directorate, or NPPD, as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Nielsen said that DHS lacks the ability to organize itself to fully respond to those seeking assistance or to collaborate on a variety of cyber issues.

"We have to get it done," she said, adding that DHS "wasn't built for a digital pandemic." Read more here.

 

SANDERS INTRODUCES STOP BEZOS ACT: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is escalating his feud with Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos, introducing a new bill that would charge big companies for the federal welfare programs that support their low-wage workers.

Sanders on Wednesday introduced the bill, which is named the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act, or Stop BEZOS Act.

"At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, when the 3 wealthiest people in America own more wealth than the bottom 50 percent and when 52 percent of all new income goes to the top one percent, the American people are tired of subsidizing multi-billionaires who own some of the largest and most profitable corporations in America," Sanders said in a statement.

Sanders cited a report by the nonprofit New Food Economy suggesting that a third of Amazon employees in Arizona -- and thousands in other states -- rely on food stamps. R Read more here.

 

HOUSE TAKES ON CYBER: The House passed a pair of cybersecurity bills on Tuesday, including bipartisan legislation to codify a key cybersecurity program at DHS.

The bill grants Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen the ability to establish the Continuous Diagnostics Mitigation (CDM) program at the agency. The program aims to protect federal networks from cyberattacks.

This bill would bring CDM into the second of its four phases of implementation, after DHS officials spent the past few years looking at the software utilized on federal networks and looking for potential vulnerabilities.

DHS initially started the CDM program in 2012 in an effort to better protect federal networks from cyberattacks.

Lawmakers also approved a bill that would allow the Homeland Security secretary to block the agency from working with foreign tech companies whose products or services are believed to pose a potential threat to the U.S.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), would give the DHS chief the authority to review and ban agreements with foreign contractors over supply chain concerns. Lawmakers and experts fear that the technology or software included in the imported products could be manipulated by hackers for future cyberattacks.

The agency would typically be required to notify contractors about a ban, and give them the opportunity to object to the measure or make changes to address DHS's concerns. However, that requirement would be dropped if the contractor was believed to pose a significant enough threat.

The measure comes after federal officials banned or raised concerns over products from foreign firms like Russia's Kaspersky Labs and China's ZTE and Huawei.

 

NAME AND SHAME: The House also signed off on a bill Wednesday that would implement government-wide rules to name and sanction actors who assist with nation-state-sponsored cyberattacks against the U.S.

The legislation, which passed by a voice vote, would direct President Trump to implement sanctions against those who assist in carrying out cyberattacks on the U.S. The measure would allow him to skip out on the sanctions if doing so is in the country's best interest.

According to the legislation, the president would be required to label foreign individuals or entities who have "knowingly materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support" in cyberattacks targeting the U.S. as critical cyber threat actors.

Trump would be directed to publish the threat actors in the federal register, with the exception of those determined to remain secret for national security or law enforcement purposes. The names would still be shared with Congress.

The president would also be required to slap sanctions on those threat actors under the new legislation, which features a list of possible economic penalties that could be imposed. 

Read more here.

 

TECH FILLS IN ELECTION SECURITY GAP: Private companies are stepping up to offer cybersecurity programs for midterm campaigns as Congress stalls on passing election security legislation.

Microsoft is the most prominent name, unveiling a free cybersecurity program in August after the company revealed it had detected Russian hackers who appeared to target a pair of conservative think tanks.

The company is joining a broad list of firms providing free or discounted security services, such as McAfee, Cloudflare and most recently Valimail, which is offering its anti-fraud email service to campaigns.

Officials at companies said they felt obligated to step up to the plate and offer services that election officials or campaigns might otherwise not have access to -- shortcomings that have been widely highlighted ahead of November's midterm elections.

Microsoft President Brad Smith cited the importance of protecting the democratic process in a blog post announcing the companies' free election-security programs in August.

"While cybersecurity starts with Microsoft and other companies in the tech sector, it's ultimately a shared responsibility with customers and governments around the world," Smith wrote. 

Read more here.

 

ICYMI:

Twitter said President Trump isn't exempt from being banned from the site.

Jeff Bezos made his first major political contribution to a super PAC promoting military veteran candidates

Scandal-ridden Theranos announced that it will formally dissolve

 

A LIGHTER TWITTER CLICK: Today in a nutshell.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Trump should look local to close the skills gap.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

New report calls fake check scams an "exploding epidemic" (CBS News)

Alex Jones said bans would strengthen him. He was wrong. (The New York Times)

This group posed as Russian trolls and bought political ads on Google. It was easy. (BuzzFeed News)

Google researchers say the tech industry has contributed to an 'attention crisis.' (The Washington Post)

Sweden's official Twitter account will no longer be run by random Swedes (The Verge)

Pew's new study on American's relationship with Facebook. (Pew)

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