Hillicon Valley: Dems ready to subpoena Trump Tower meeting phone records | Dems, Whitaker in standoff over testimony | Bezos accuses National Enquirer of 'extortion' | Amazon offers rules for facial recognition | Apple releases FaceTime fix

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. If you don't already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).


SIREN -- HOUSE INTEL TO SUBPOENA TRUMP TOWER PHONE RECORDS: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are preparing to issue a subpoena as soon as Thursday to obtain phone records linked to the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer, two sources familiar with the matter tell The Hill.

The subpoena will be the first order Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffWhite House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team Trump knocks authors of 'A Very Stable Genius': 'Two stone cold losers from Amazon WP' Democrats push back on White House impeachment claims, saying Trump believes he is above the law MORE (D-Calif.) will issue as Democratic chairman, and the process of preparing the order came one day after the committee became formally constituted.


Details about the specifics of the subpoena remain unclear, but the order goes to the heart of the committee's plan to investigate ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The Trump Tower meeting in particular has come under scrutiny after Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpComedians post fake Army recruitment posters featuring Trump Jr. Trump Jr., Ivanka garner support in hypothetical 2024 poll FWS: There's 'no basis' to investigate Trump Jr.'s Mongolian hunting trip MORE, the president's son in law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerDOJ releases new tranche of Mueller witness documents Jared Kushner's sister-in-law Karlie Kloss says she will vote against Trump in 2020 The Hill's 12:30 Report: Senate receives impeachment articles as trial opens MORE and then-White House campaign manager Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDOJ releases new tranche of Mueller witness documents Treasury adviser pleads guilty to making unauthorized disclosures in case involving Manafort DOJ argues Democrats no longer need Mueller documents after impeachment vote MORE met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the 2016 election in an effort to obtain dirt on the Clinton campaign.

For months, questions have swirled about who Trump Jr. talked to on a blocked number ahead of the meeting.

CNN reported earlier this month that the Senate investigators have learned that Trump Jr.'s phone calls were not made to his father.

Sources told the outlet that Senate Intelligence Committee had received records that Trump Jr. talked to two of his business associates in that phone call. Read more here.


WHITAKER WHIPLASH: Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is threatening to not testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday after Democrats on the panel voted to authorize the use of a subpoena against him if he did not attend or refused to answer certain questions.

Whitaker said in a statement Thursday that the Democratic-led panel "has deviated from historic practice and protocol and taken the unnecessary and premature step of authorizing a subpoena to the me [sic], the acting attorney general, even though I had agreed to voluntarily appear."

"Such unprecedented action breaches our prior agreement and circumvents the constitutionally required accommodation process. Based upon today's action, it is apparent that the Committee's true intention is not to discuss the great work of the Department of Justice, but to create a public spectacle. Political theater is not the purpose of an oversight hearing, and I will not allow that to be the case," he said.

"Consistent with longstanding practice, I remain willing to appear to testify tomorrow, provided that the Chairman assures me that the Committee will not issue a subpoena today or tomorrow, and that the Committee will engage in good faith negotiations before taking such a step down the road."

Whitaker gave Democrats a deadline of 6 p.m. Thursday to respond about their threat to subpoena him. Read more here.


SCHIFF'S PICKINGS: The head of the House Intelligence Committee is defending his decision to hire former administration staffers to serve on the panel, saying it is part of a long tradition to hire from the intelligence community.

Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) offered the remarks amid a deepening feud with President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Democrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' MORE, who earlier in the day tweeted that Schiff was "stealing people who work at the White House" to work on his "witch hunt."

"We have a long tradition of hiring out of the intelligence community, the National Security Council (NSC)," Schiff said. "And if the president is worried about our hiring any former administration people, maybe he should work on being a better employer."

A congressional source told The Hill that the committee has hired Abigail Grace, a former NSC staffer.

Grace has a background in examining China-related matters, such as Beijing's approach to foreign policy and multilateralism, according to her biography at the Center for New American Security.

The biography says Grace served as a member of the NSC staff from 2016-2018, which spans across both the Obama and Trump administrations.

It's unclear whether she is the only person Intelligence has hired who previously had been in the Trump administration. Read more here.


JEFF BEZOS ACCUSES THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER OF BLACKMAIL: Amazon CEO and The Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos on Thursday accused the company that publishes the National Enquirer of blackmailing him over a series of revealing photos the tabloid allegedly obtained.

"Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I've decided to publish exactly what [American Media Inc. (AMI)] sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten," Bezos wrote in a lengthy Medium post.

Bezos said AMI, which owns the National Enquirer and other publications, had obtained revealing text messages and photos tied to him, including what was referred to in an email exchange as a "d*ck pick."

The exchange came not long after the Enquirer had published text messages shared between Bezos and his mistress, which led Bezos to commission an investigation into how the tabloid acquired them.

According to Bezos, news of the investigation infuriated AMI chief David Pecker, whose close ties to President Trump have led to scrutiny over his role in the payments between Trump's team and multiple women who say they had affairs with Trump. Bezos also suggested in his blog post that The Washington Post's coverage of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has upset Pecker.

Bezos said he and his lawyer "were approached, verbally at first, with an offer. They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn't stop our investigation."

The Amazon CEO said the company threatened to publish the new photos and text messages if he did not stop his investigation into AMI.

More on Bezos's allegations here.


AMAZON FACES THE FIRE: Amazon unveiled new proposed guidelines on Thursday for any national legislation regulating facial recognition technology following months of scrutiny over Rekognition, the tech giant's facial recognition software.

Progressive lawmakers, civil rights groups and privacy advocates throughout last year criticized Amazon's Rekognition contracts with law enforcement agencies, pointing out that the technology has misidentified people of color and, during one test, wrongly identified members of Congress as criminals.

Amazon previously has responded by insisting that researchers had used technology incorrectly, a point reiterated in the guidelines posted on its blog Thursday. The blog post marks the most extensive response yet by Amazon to such criticisms.

"In the two-plus years we've been offering Amazon Rekognition, we have not received a single report of misuse by law enforcement," Amazon said in its post. "Even with this strong track record to date, we understand why people want there to be oversight and guidelines put in place to make sure facial recognition technology cannot be used to discriminate."

The proposals from Amazon focus mainly on ensuring that law enforcement uses the technology effectively and without discriminating against minorities.

"New technology should not be banned or condemned because of its potential misuse," Amazon said in the post. "Instead, there should be open, honest, and earnest dialogue among all parties involved to ensure that the technology is applied appropriately and is continuously enhanced."

Amazon said any national legislation should ensure facial recognition technology avoids the potential for discrimination, in part, by requiring human reviewers to provide oversight of law enforcement agencies using the products. Amazon is calling for similar technologies used by law enforcement to meet a "99% confidence score."

"We support the calls for an appropriate national legislative framework that protects individual civil rights and ensures that governments are transparent in their use of facial recognition technology," the post reads.

The guidelines also call for "transparency" from law enforcement agencies using facial recognition technology, which could include a mandate that requires law enforcement to disclose when they are using it in connection with video surveillance in public places.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) senior legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani called Amazon's framework "weak" and "hollow" in a statement Thursday. She pointed out that law enforcement has previously raised concerns about the facial recognition technology, and has declined to share information on the products with Congress.

More on Amazon's guidelines here.


FACE-TIOUS: Amazon may be using facial recognition software to verify the identity of online sellers, BuzzFeed News reported Wednesday.

The news outlet reported that an individual based in Vietnam who sells goods through the retail giant was prompted to record a five-second video of his face in order to sign up for a seller profile.

Consultants told BuzzFeed that the process may reflect a push for Amazon to use facial recognition software to prevent the creation of duplicate seller profiles, which would cut down on fake accounts.

"We always experiment with new ways to verify the information sellers provide us in order to protect our store from bad actors," Amazon said in a statement to The Hill. "Seller identification information is securely stored and used only for identify verification."

The unidentified seller, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from Amazon, told the outlet that he was not presented with an option to decline submitting a video of his face in signing up for a profile.

More on Amazon's facial recognition issues here.


NET NEUTRALITY BACK ON THE AGENDA: Lawmakers are signaling the possibility of a bipartisan bill to replace the Obama-era net neutrality rules repealed in 2017 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), though broad disagreement between the parties appears to remain an obstacle.

Top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee suggested during a hearing on Thursday that they were open to working with Republicans on open internet legislation.

"Until strong open internet protections are enacted, our only hope is the millions of Americans who are fed up will hold Congress accountable for passing strong net neutrality laws," said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch MORE (D-N.J.), the committee's chairman. "And I look forward to working in a bipartisan manner to return strong safeguards to the internet."

Democrats had been reluctant to legislate on net neutrality in the year since the FCC voted along party lines to repeal the rules out of concern that a bill would not be able to match the strength of the 2015 regulations. Advocates have also been hoping that a federal appeals court would strike down the 2017 repeal order.

Thursday's contentious hearing on the net neutrality repeal showed that there's still a broad partisan divide that will have to be bridged on the issue in order to come up with workable legislation. More here.


EMOJI RIGHTS: Apple proposed about a dozen new emojis representing people with disabilities that have been approved to appear on devices later this year.

The new emoji portray a prosthetic arm and leg, a person using a wheelchair, a deaf person and a person using a white cane, among others.

In a letter last March to the Unicode Consortium, the global organization that develops standards for the widely-used icons, Apple called for the addition of the new emoji to help "foster a diverse culture that is inclusive of disability." Unicode announced the new emoji on Tuesday.

"Currently, emoji provide a wide range of options, but may not represent the experiences of those with disabilities," Apple wrote in March. "Diversifying the options available helps fill a significant gap and provides a more inclusive experience for all."

Apple worked with disability rights organizations including the American Council of the Blind and the National Association of the Deaf to develop the emoji, according to USA Today.

Emoji representing guide dogs, manual and motorized wheelchairs and an ear with a hearing aid are also among the new icons.

The new emoji are part of a group of 230 variations of new icons approved for 2019 by the Unicode Consortium, a group that also includes emoji for interracial couples, a juice box, a Hindu temple and a drop of blood, meant to represent menstruation.

The dating app Tinder advocated for the development of interracial couple emoji, saying they "believe that no one should ever feel unrepresented or unseen."

See the emojis here.  


DEUTSCHLAND DIGS IN: Germany on Thursday ordered Facebook to heavily restrict its data-gathering practices, ruling that the social media giant has abused its market dominance as it collects data on individual users without their explicit consent.

Germany's antitrust watchdog, the Bundeskartellamt, after a lengthy investigation, issued the landmark ruling that the social media giant must obtain voluntary consent before they collect data from users of Facebook-owned services WhatsApp and Instagram, as well as third-party websites.

"If consent is not given for data from Facebook-owned services and third party websites, Facebook will have to substantially restrict its collection and combining of data," the Bundeskartellamt said in a press release. Facebook has been given four months to develop solutions to the concerns raised in the order.

The tech powerhouse has said that it plans to appeal the order within the month.

"The Bundeskartellamt underestimates the fierce competition we face in Germany, misinterprets our compliance with [European privacy rules] and undermines the mechanisms European law provides for ensuring consistent data protection standards across the EU," Facebook said on Thursday.

If Facebook does not comply with the ruling, the Bundeskartellamt could impose fines of up to 10 percent of the company's annual global revenues.

More on the Bundeskartellamt order.


BUG OFF: Apple released an iPhone update Thursday to fix a bug in its FaceTime app that allowed callers to eavesdrop on other devices.

The repair is included in the latest update to Apple's iOS 12 system available Thursday, according to The Associated Press.

Apple had temporarily shut down the group feature of the popular app while it worked to develop a permanent fix to the bug.

"We sincerely apologize to our customers who were affected and all who were concerned about this security issue," the company said in a statement last week. "We appreciate everyone's patience as we complete this process."


& LAWMAKERS WEIGHED IN: Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyHouse Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't Lawmaker calls for hearing into MLB cheating scandal Big Pharma looks to stem losses after trade deal defeat MORE (D-Ill.), who leads the panel's consumer protection subcommittee, demanded answers from Apple CEO Ti9m Cook over the bug this week.

"As such, we are writing to better understand when Apple first learned of this security flaw, the extent to which the flaw has compromised consumers' privacy, and whether there are other undisclosed bugs that currently exist and have not been addressed," they wrote to Cook on Tuesday.

Pallone and Schakowsky also sent a list of questions to Apple, asking when the company first became aware of the bug, demanding a full timeline of the incident and inquiring if there have been any other bugs that were not disclosed.

More on Apple's bug problem here.


OH CANADA: Microsoft has expanded a cybersecurity program meant to protect political candidates and groups to Canada, the company announced Thursday.

AccountGuard, which is included in Microsoft's Defending Democracy program, is now available to think tanks, political groups and candidates, the president of Microsoft Canada Kevin Peesker wrote in a post.

The program offers free cybersecurity protections for users with existing Microsoft Office 365 products, including monitoring for potential hacking attempts by nation-state actors.


The service is already offered to similar groups in the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Peekser wrote in his post that "threats to the democratic process have become a critical concern around the world and it is clear that the tech sector will need to do more to help protect the democratic process."

Microsoft is among several tech firms offering free cybersecurity products to campaigns and political groups, in the wake of the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Read more here.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Self-driving cars: Let's master walking before we try to run


A LIGHTER CLICK: Password safety.



Apple tells app developers to disclose or remove screen recording code. (TechCrunch)

Hundreds of bounty hunters had access to AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint customer location data for years. (Motherboard)

Twitter reveals its daily active user numbers for the first time. (The Washington Post)

"Down the rabbit hole I go": How a young woman followed two hackers' lies to her death. (Buzzfeed)