Hillicon Valley: House panel takes on election security | DOJ watchdog eyes employee texts | Senate Dems urge regulators to block T-Mobile, Sprint deal | 'Romance scams' cost victims $143M in 2018

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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).


ELECTION SECURITY IS UP TO BAT: The House Homeland Security Committee is hosting this Congress's first hearing on election security tomorrow, featuring DHS's top cyber official Christopher Krebs and the Election Assistance Commission's Thomas Hicks.


Following the officials will be a panel of other election security experts, including California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) and Alabama's Secretary of State John Merrill (R), who's there at the invitation of the panel's ranking member Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersThe Hill's Campaign Report: Red-state governors races pose test for Trump Trump takes pulse of GOP on Alabama Senate race Overnight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid MORE (R-Ala.).

"Election security should not be a partisan issue, but Congress has done far too little to prevent foreign election meddling after Russia interfered in the 2016 election," Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonDemocratic lawmaker introduces bill to tackle online terrorist activity Top House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments Bipartisan bill to secure election tech advances to House floor MORE (D-Miss.) said in a statement. "Leading on this issue for the past two years, Democrats have promised the American people that securing our voting systems and democratic institutions would continue to be a priority this Congress. Holding oversight hearings on potential legislation is making good on this promise."

One of the witnesses testifying, Jake Braun, is a former DHS official and the head of the University of Chicago's Cyber Policy Initiative. 

Braun told The Hill that he hopes the hearing will serve as an opportunity for election officials to work alongside ethical hackers to expose the flaws in election security.

"My main point is the need to look at this as a national security problem, not as an election administration one," he said in an interview ahead of tomorrow's hearing.


LEAVE THOSE READ RECEIPTS ON: The Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General issued recommendations in a report Tuesday aimed at ensuring that all text messages sent from DOJ-administered devices are collected and retained, after controversy surrounding anti-Trump texts sent by a pair of FBI staffers.

The office said, after finding current procedures fail to properly retain all texts sent from FBI-administered devices, that it is recommending that current agency policy be amended "to formally designate an entity to be responsible for text message collection and retention."

It also called for all current and future message collection tools to be studied for any potential flaws that prevented some texts from being retained, and that any collected data be "saved to a secure or encrypted location."

"Current and future mobile devices and data collection and preservation tools should be tested for security vulnerabilities in order to ensure the security of the devices and the safekeeping of the sensitive data therein," the report states.

The recommendations were issued as part of the probe into text messages exchanged between former FBI agent Peter Strzok and ex-agency lawyer Lisa Page. Some of the messages expressed sentiments against President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE.

Not all of the two agents' texts were retained as part of the agency's text message collection system, leaving a gap that fueled theories from some conservatives about what else the pair may have discussed and how the texts went missing.

Read more here.


MERGER CATCHES EYE OF 2020-ERS: A group of eight senators on Tuesday sent lengthy letters to the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice (DOJ) spelling out the reasons why they want regulators to reject the proposed $26 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint.

The senators sent the 6,000-word letters one day before the House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce committees are set to hold hearings examining the proposed merger, which has divided Democrats and aggravated antitrust advocates.

The letters raise concerns that the merger, which would combine two of the nation's four largest mobile carriers, could harm consumers and workers by decreasing competition and creating higher costs for customers.

"For more than 30 years, our enforcers have understood that fostering robust competition in telecommunications markets is the best way to provide every American with access to high-quality, cutting-edge communications at a reasonable price," the senators wrote. "This merger will turn the clock back, returning Americans to the dark days of heavily consolidated markets and less competition, with all of the resulting harms.

The initiative was led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Commerce committee.

Four of the eight senators who signed onto the letter have announced 2020 Democratic presidential bids – Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandMaloney primary challenger calls on her to return, donate previous campaign donations from Trump Senate confirms controversial circuit court nominee She Should Run launches initiative to expand number of women in political process MORE (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE (D-Mass.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE (D-Minn.), and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE (D-N.J.) – while two have said they are eyeing bids – Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE (I-Vt.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHillicon Valley: Commerce extends Huawei waiver | Senate Dems unveil privacy bill priorities | House funding measure extends surveillance program | Trump to tour Apple factory | GOP bill would restrict US data going to China Senate Democrats unveil priorities for federal privacy bill On The Money: Trump asks Supreme Court to block Dem subpoena for financial records | Kudlow 'very optimistic' for new NAFTA deal | House passes Ex-Im Bank bill opposed by Trump, McConnell MORE (D-Ohio). The other signatories are Senate Commerce Committee members Sens. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallBureau of Land Management staff face relocation or resignation as agency moves west Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Hillicon Valley: Twitter to refuse all political ads | Trump camp blasts 'very dumb' decision | Ocasio-Cortez hails move | Zuckerberg doubles down on Facebook's ad policies | GOP senator blocks sweeping election reform bill MORE (D-N.M.) and Edward MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySenators grill safety regulator over self-driving cars Hillicon Valley: Twitter shares more details on political ad rules | Supreme Court takes up Google-Oracle fight | Pentagon chief defends Microsoft cloud contract House, Senate announce agreement on anti-robocall bill MORE (D-Mass.).

Read more here.


CYBER EXCHANGE >> FOREIGN EXCHANGE: Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenators grill safety regulator over self-driving cars Tensions rise in Senate's legislative 'graveyard' Overnight Health Care: GOP senator says drug price action unlikely this year | House panel weighs ban on flavored e-cigs | New York sues Juul MORE (R-S.D.) on Monday introduced a bipartisan bill to create an exchange program between the federal government and private firms aimed at bringing more cybersecurity expertise to the federal workforce.

The legislation, known as the "Cyber Security Exchange Act," provides a path for cyber experts at private firms or academia to work for federal agencies for up to two years.

At the same time, federal workers would be given a chance to work in the private sector to brush up on the latest in cybersecurity practices.

Klobuchar -- who announced over the weekend that she is seeking the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential race -- said in a statement that the government "needs additional cyber security experts to ensure we are not vulnerable to attacks from adversaries and cybercriminals."

And Thune called the bill "a great opportunity for federal government agencies to tap into the vast cybersecurity resources that exist in the private sector and academia, as well as bolster the capabilities of their counterparts."

Read more here.


WYDEN ASKS "WHY": Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Democrats raise privacy concerns over Amazon home security system Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny MORE (D-Ore.) is calling on tech giants Apple and Google to remove a Saudi government app that allows men to put limits on women's travel.

Wyden, an outspoken critic of big tech who frequently aligns with human rights groups, said Monday in a letter addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

"I write to ask that you immediately remove from your app stores the Saudi government's Absher app, which enables Saudi men to track and control the movements of Saudi women," Wyden wrote.  

Business Insider last week published a report about the Saudi government's Absher app, which includes a feature that allows male guardians to prevent their female dependents from traveling abroad.

All women in Saudi Arabia are required to have a male guardian under current laws. Guardians are tasked with permitting their female dependents to travel abroad, obtain a passport, get married and other basic activities.

Using the Absher app, male guardians can set limits on when women are allowed to travel abroad, where they are allowed to go and whether they can leave the country at all.

Both Google Play and Apple's App Store host Absher. The companies did not respond to The Hill's requests for comment.

"Apps like this can facilitate human rights abuses, including discrimination against women," Rothna Begum, a senior women's rights researcher with Human Rights Watch, told The Hill. She added that Apple and Google should be "evaluating" whether apps should be allowed to enable these kinds of limitations.

Apple and Google have rules against apps that facilitate harassment, but the Absher app remains available more than a week after the report.

More on the Saudi app here.

More than 21,000 Americans told the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) they fell victim to romance-related scams in 2018, losing a total of $143 million, the agency says.

The FTC said Tuesday it received more reports of "romance scams" than other consumer-facing fraud last year and that schemes involving dating or courtship are quickly rising in popularity.

Romance-related schemes involve an alleged scammer setting up a fake personal profile on social media or dating websites to woo potential victims. Scammers then ask their smitten targets to send them money for fake emergencies or other major expenses.


"Once these fraudsters have people by the heartstrings, they say they need money, often for a medical emergency or some other misfortune," the FTC wrote in a report released days before Valentine's Day.

"They often claim to be in the military and stationed abroad, which explains why they can't meet in person. Pretending to need help with travel costs for a long-awaited visit is another common ruse."

Read more on the schemes here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: The plot thickens.



Russia is considering an experiment to disconnect from the internet. (NPR)

Dunkin' Donuts accounts compromised in second credential stuffing attack in three months. (ZDNet)

Apple fails to block porn & gambling "Enterprise" apps. (TechCrunch)

T-Mobile and Sprint stay quiet on DACA as merger deal sits in review. (The Verge)

How YouTube drives Shane Dawson and other creators to conspiracy theories. (Motherboard)