Hillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council

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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).



PAYBACK TIME?: A congressional push to examine the threat of so-called deepfake videos was derailed last year after a key House lawmaker blocked a measure that would have provided government funding to study the insidious technology.

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers -- Reps. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyWhy it's time for a majority female Cabinet Democrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise Bank lobbying group launches ad backing Collins reelection bid MORE (D-Fla.), Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellJuan Williams: Defeated Trump is in legal peril Taylor Swift allows song to be used in campaign ad Graham says SC people of color can go anywhere in the state but 'need to be conservative, not liberal' MORE (D-Calif.) and now-former Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloHouse Hispanic Republicans welcome four new members House adjusts format for dinner with new members after criticism Former GOP congressman calls for Biden to receive presidential briefings MORE (R-Fla.) -- sought to add an amendment to the 2019 Intelligence Authorization Act that would have allowed the use of federal funds to research the threat posed by fake but believable content.

The amendment would have required the director of national intelligence to submit a written report to congressional intelligence panels detailing the impact deepfake technology could have on national security, as well as technologies that could effectively deter or detect such technology, according to a copy of the text obtained by The Hill.

But the amendment was unexpectedly killed by then-House Rules Committee Chairman Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsWhy Trump's defeat is bittersweet for Texas Democrats Bottom line Texas Democrat Colin Allred beats back GOP challenger MORE (R-Texas) for reasons that are unclear.

The allegations: Murphy and two GOP sources familiar with the matter now allege that Sessions, who lost his bid for reelection in the 2018 midterms, spiked the amendment out of political consideration and loyalty to his friend, former Rep. John MicaJohn Luigi MicaHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure GOP chairman slams ‘pitiful’ FEMA response in Louisiana MORE (R-Fla.), who was defeated by Murphy in 2016.

"I found it unconscionable that he would punish a friend's rival," Murphy told The Hill, calling it a "serious mistake."

"Obviously, I was disappointed to see politics play a role in national security," she added.


Murphy claims Sessions killed the bill either on Mica's behalf or because he didn't want to let her have a "win."

"That kind of retribution is what makes this environment so partisan and toxic," Murphy said.

Sessions' side: Sessions described things differently.

"We don't take amendments just because you present them," Sessions told The Hill, while noting he does not recall Murphy's amendment. "It is a process. You need to work the dang thing, especially with Intel."

He said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle need to fight for their amendments and testify before the Rules Committee to make their case.

"I'm not challenging Stephanie," he said. "I found in several instances she did not come to the committee or did not work it, and you have to do both."

Sessions defended his six-year tenure as committee chairman, saying he conducted the process in a "fair" and "straight-up way" for both Democrats and Republicans.

He also rejected Murphy's claims that he killed her amendment for political purposes, noting that Mica is not running for the seat again.

"I don't think that is a fair characterization for her to blame somebody for her own frailties," Sessions said. "If she came up and worked it, that is different. But otherwise, that is a cheap shot."

The top Democrat and Republican on the Rules Committee both acknowledged that politics plays a role in the panel's decisions, but each said they don't know the specifics about the deepfakes amendment.

Read more on the political tug-of-war here.





BIG TECH TO TESTIFY AT CENSORSHIP HEARING: Tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Google are sending company representatives to testify at a Senate hearing next week about big tech's alleged "censorship" of conservative voices.

Facebook said public policy director Neil Potts will provide testimony at a Wednesday hearing titled "Stifling Free Speech: Technological Censorship and the Public Discourse," held by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.

A source familiar with the matter told The Hill that Twitter and Google are also sending representatives to the hearing and said there will be a second panel.

The subcommittee is chaired by tech critic Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzMcSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview Republican senators urge Trump to label West Bank goods as 'Made in Israel' MORE (R-Texas), who has alleged that Silicon Valley's largest companies -- Google and Facebook -- are biased against conservatives and routinely censor right-wing voices.

Both companies have pushed back against those accusations, arguing there is little evidence to back up those charges.

But conservatives, including President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE, in recent weeks have ramped up their criticisms of social media companies. Trump in a tweet last month accused Facebook, Google and Twitter of being "on the side of the Radical Left Democrats."


Potts and a representative from Google are also scheduled to testify at a House Judiciary Committee on white nationalism on Tuesday.

Read more on the hearing here.


GOOGLE DISBANDS AI ETHICS PANEL: Google on Thursday announced that it opted to disband its newly-formed artificial intelligence (AI) ethics council following aggressive pushback from more than 2,000 Google employee over one of the panel's members.

A Google spokesperson in a statement said Google is "going back to the drawing board."

"It's become clear that in the current environment, [Advanced Technology External Advisory Council] ATEAC can't function as we wanted," the spokesperson said. "So we're ending the council and going back to the drawing board."

Google announced its new AI ethics board last week.


The board was immediately met with controversy as thousands of Google employees and hundreds of external petitioners took issue with one of the board's members, who they said had an "anti-trans" and "anti-immigrant" record.

More than 2,380 Google employees signed onto a petition asking the company to remove Kay Coles James, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, from the panel. They said James's positions on transgender and immigrant rights should have disqualified her from weighing in on AI ethics.  

Reaction: The group of protesting Google employees, who organized under the title "Googlers Against Transphobia and Hate," on Thursday evening celebrated the AI panel's dissolution.

"ATEAC is over, and we did this together," the Googlers Against Transphobia account tweeted. "So many people (over 2300 Googlers & over 300 supporters from industry, academia and civil society) answered the call to #StandAgainstTransphobia. We thank you for your support & unwillingness to compromise on hate."

The Google spokesperson on Thursday night said the company will "continue to be responsible in our work on the important issues that AI raises, and will find different ways of getting outside opinions on these topics."

Read more here.


FACE-CROOK: Facebook took down a batch of more than 70 groups dedicated to cybercrime after they were flagged by researchers, according to a report published Friday.

Researchers at intelligence firm Cisco Talos tracked 74 cybercrime Facebook groups over the course of several months last year. Researchers Jon Munshaw and Jaeson Schultz in a post on Friday wrote that the groups frequently hosted "shady (at best) and illegal (at worst) activities," including users that sold stolen bank and credit card information, stole account credentials from other websites, and promoted email spamming tools.

Facebook confirmed that it took down the cybercrime groups after Talos reported them.

"These Groups violated our policies against spam and financial fraud and we removed them," a Facebook spokesperson said. "We know we need to be more vigilant and we're investing heavily to fight this type of activity."

Facebook reviewed the groups submitted by Talos and removed them once they determined they were violating Facebook's policies.

The accounts who ran the groups have also been blocked and should be unable to create new groups.

The Talos researchers found the groups through searches for simple cybercrime keywords including "spam," "carding" or "CVV." Once they joined those groups, they wrote, Facebook began recommending other hacking groups for them to join.

"Facebook's own algorithms will often suggest similar groups, making new criminal hangouts even easier to find," they wrote.

The groups had hundreds of thousands of members, and some of them had been up for over eight years by the time Facebook took them down. Most of the groups were created last year, however.

The users who participated in the groups often did nothing to mask their criminal activity. "Selling CVV fresh," one user wrote, naming their price for credit card information.

Read more Facebook's struggles with cyber-fraud here.



Learn how a National Spectrum Strategy will create millions of jobs, add billions to our economy and ensure U.S. 5G leadership.


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A LIGHTER CLICK: The case for prenups.



Facebook Irish privacy probe outcome possible within months. (Bloomberg Law)

The golden age of YouTube is over. (The Verge)

Could we blow up the Internet? (Motherboard)

Trump's moonshot: The next giant leap or another empty promise? (The Washington Post)