Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech

Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech
© Getty Images

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).

 

LAWMAKERS BRACE FOR MUELLER REPORT: Democrats and Republicans are preparing their arguments and talking points ahead of Thursday's release of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE's report -- before the contents of the roughly 400-page report are even known.

Democrats are poised to go after Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrBarr tells prosecutors to consider coronavirus risk when determining bail: report Decentralized leadership raises questions about Trump coronavirus response Feds distributing masks, other gear seized in price-gouging investigation to NY, NJ health care workers MORE over expected redactions, suggesting they will subpoena the Justice Department if they think too much information is left out of the document.

ADVERTISEMENT

President TrumpDonald John TrumpOvernight Health Care: US hits 10,000 coronavirus deaths | Trump touts 'friendly' talk with Biden on response | Trump dismisses report on hospital shortages as 'just wrong' | Cuomo sees possible signs of curve flattening in NY We need to be 'One America,' the polling says — and the politicians should listen Barr tells prosecutors to consider coronavirus risk when determining bail: report MORE and his conservative allies on Capitol Hill are expected to point back to the core conclusions of Mueller's report -- as described by Barr -- to argue Trump has been exonerated and that the investigation should no longer be an issue.

The president's team is also crafting its counterattack on the report. Trump attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiGiuliani touts experimental coronavirus treatment in private conversations with Trump Trump team picks fight with Twitter, TV networks over political speech Sunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in MORE told Politico on Tuesday that the president's legal team is preparing a roughly 35-page "counterreport," meant to be released at the same time as Mueller's findings.

But with Trump's attorneys not knowing what exactly will be in the Mueller report, it's unlikely to rebuff each of the matters raised by the special counsel.

What Democrats are saying: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse Judiciary Committee postpones hearing with Barr amid coronavirus outbreak House Democrats plead with key committee chairman to allow remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic Pelosi rejects calls to shutter Capitol: 'We are the captains of this ship' MORE (N.Y.) and other Democrats on his panel are threatening that anything short of the full, unredacted report coming to Congress is simply unacceptable.

"To deny the Judiciary Committee and the Congress the knowledge of what's in parts of the Mueller report is not proper," Nadler said during a Sunday appearance on CNN's "State of the Union."

Democratic strategist Basil Smikle told The Hill that he believes Democrats are "behaving exactly as they should be" in calling for the full report's release, considering the voters from both parties have expressed widespread interest in seeing the entirety of Mueller's findings.

He added the report could fuel Democrats' arguments about Trump's fitness to serve, offering a helping hand to any impeachment proceedings or opposition to future Trump appointees down the line.

What Republicans are saying: Congress won't be able to immediately take action on the report, as they are in recess until the end of the month. But Republicans are already looking to dampen the arrival of the widely anticipated report.

GOP lawmakers say the Mueller report will offer few details beyond what was offered up in Barr's four-page summary of the special counsel's conclusions.

They say it's time to focus on other congressional priorities, while at the same time dubbing Democrats as "radical" leftist crusaders seeking to tear down the Trump presidency any way they can.

GOP strategist Ford O'Connell said Republicans believe they can leverage the Mueller report to their advantage in 2020 by using Democratic calls for transparency to fuel their efforts to investigate the individuals who launched the counterintelligence probe into Russia's election interference.

"You are in a messaging battle where the Democrats are trying to look for anything to hold onto this line of questioning and attacks on the president, but it seems to be their hand is getting weaker and weaker by the day," O'Connell said. "It is quite clear the Democrats are going to scream bloody murder no matter what, and the White House knows this. It almost doesn't matter what is in the report. The White House knows which way the Democrats are going to go."

What they're all saying: There is at least one topic that's getting bipartisan support -- both sides have indicated an interest in hearing from Mueller after Barr testifies.

Read more on the preparations for the Mueller report here.

 

WHAT TO WATCH -- BARR TO HOLD THURSDAY MORNING PRESSER: Attorney General William Barr will hold a press conference Thursday morning on the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Wednesday.

Both Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinFull appeals court to rehear case over McGahn subpoena Graham starts closed-door depositions in FISA probe Attorney General Barr is in a mess — and has no one to blame but himself MORE, who previously oversaw the Mueller probe, will be at the press conference, scheduled for 9:30 a.m.

A DOJ spokesperson said earlier this week that Mueller's highly anticipated -- and redacted -- report would be released Thursday morning.

 

A-I-A-I – OH: Lawmakers in recent months have offered a slew of bills to oversee the use of artificial intelligence (AI) amid worries about the potential discriminatory effects of the technology.

Those efforts have been hailed by civil rights groups who say the government should provide more oversight of AI technology. But any legislation faces an uphill battle with tech companies eager to avoid more government regulation.

"What we've seen from a lot of companies is that they're trying to get out in front of it," Jameson Spivack, a policy associate with Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology, told The Hill. "They're recognizing popular sentiment is turning against them."

Congress is paying more attention to the issue of technology and discrimination. Lawmakers in recent months have introduced first-of-their-kind bills on topics such as the use of facial recognition technology and safeguards to prevent biased algorithms.

Silicon Valley, though, is working overtime to make sure the industry has a seat at the table as those efforts advance.

The big question: Whether Congress and the tech industry can work together on crafting rules or whether they will be at odds remains to be seen.

"The internet industry is committed to working with policymakers and other stakeholders to ensure new technologies are not creating or reinforcing unfair bias," Sean Perryman, the Internet Association's director of diversity and inclusion policy, told The Hill in a statement.

The Internet Association, a tech industry trade group, represents companies at the forefront of AI including Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Facebook.

In the House: The Internet Association earlier this year supported a resolution introduced by Reps. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaDemocrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus Defense Production Act urgently needed for critical medical gear 20 House Dems call on Trump to issue two-week, nationwide shelter-in-place order MORE (D-Calif.) and Brenda LawrenceBrenda Lulenar LawrenceSanders looks to regain momentum in must-win Michigan Wheeler faces questions over Pruitt spending Democratic congresswomen wear white to Trump's address in honor of suffrage movement MORE (D-Mich.), which called for the "ethical development" of artificial intelligence technology.

The resolution, which was light on specifics, called for the creation of AI ethics guidelines that would "empower women and underrepresented or marginalized populations" and offer "accountability and oversight for all automated decisionmaking." It attracted endorsements from tech companies, including IBM and Facebook.

Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley, told The Hill that he and Lawrence are now working to assemble a group of stakeholders in the AI ethics debate -- including academics, civil rights advocates and tech companies -- to develop a framework that will guide any legislation he introduces on the issue.

"Congress doesn't have the expertise to address this within our own building," Khanna said. "We need to go outside to the academics, to thinkers in this space, to people who really understand what is happening and have their expertise. Then we can debate the appropriate framework."

In the Senate: As Lawrence and Khanna work with industry to assemble a group of AI experts, other members of Congress though are barreling ahead with legislation around biased algorithms and facial recognition technology.

A bill introduced last week by a group of Democrats from both chambers, including Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Democrats say more unemployment benefits needed in wake of record unemployment claims Democrats fear coronavirus impact on November turnout MORE (D-Ore.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerEnlisting tech to fight coronavirus sparks surveillance fears Democrats urge administration to automatically issue coronavirus checks to more people Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus MORE (D-N.J.), a 2020 presidential candidate, would require companies to review their computer algorithms for "unfair, biased or discriminatory" decisionmaking. The Federal Trade Commission would enforce and oversee those assessments.

Lawmakers have also increasingly called for regulations on facial recognition technology, which analyzes human faces for the purpose of identifying them. Last month, Sens. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Dybul interview; Boris Johnson update Lawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act Trump faces mounting pressure to unleash Defense Production Act MORE (D-Hawaii) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus Five things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike MORE (R-Mo.) introduced a first-of-its-kind bill that would require third-party testing and human review of facial recognition technologies before they are made widely available.

What's next: Lawrence told The Hill that, as it stands, the tech industry is the "Wild West" and she believes there must be adequate regulations to keep up with changes.

"I think that any legislation needs to recognize that while these technologies affect everyone, they disproportionately affect vulnerable people," Spivack said.

Read more about the debate here.

 

MORE AI -- TECHNOLOGY FACES DIVERSITY 'CRISIS': The AI industry is facing a diversity "crisis," and the mostly-white and mostly-male workforce could be creating AI products that perpetuate discrimination, according to a new study published on Tuesday.

Researchers with New York University's AI Now Institute found that the industry faces a dearth of women, and employs even fewer people of color. Only 15 percent of the AI research staff at Facebook are women, and only 10 percent of the staff at Google. And only 2.5 percent of Google's workforce is black, compared to 4 percent at Facebook and Microsoft.

"To date, the diversity problems of the AI industry and the issues of bias in the systems it builds have tended to be considered separately," the researchers wrote. "But we suggest that these are two versions of the same problem: issues of discrimination in the workforce and in system building are deeply intertwined."

The study published Tuesday was the result of a year of research by AI Now Institute's Sarah Myers West, Meredith Whittaker and Kate Crawford.

Their research emerges as the tech industry increasingly contends with the issue of AI's potentially discriminatory effects. In recent years, research has shown that everything from algorithms on Facebook to facial recognition technology produced by Amazon can discriminate against minorities, women and other protected groups.

The researchers with AI Now are arguing that the field must funnel resources into attracting a more diverse workforce, or else they could perpetuate the biases of the mostly white, mostly male researchers behind the sensitive technologies produced at Google, Microsoft, Facebook and universities around the world.

"Despite many decades of 'pipeline studies' that assess the flow of diverse job candidates from school to industry, there has been no substantial progress in diversity in the AI industry," they wrote.

Listing a few of the examples of potentially biased AI, the researchers named instances in which sentencing algorithms recommended harsher sentences for black defendants, online robots began using "racist and misogynistic language," and Uber's facial recognition technology failed to work for trans drivers.

They noted that there is currently no data about the gender identity of AI researchers.

The researchers issued a series of recommendations to contend with the AI field's diversity "crisis," including publicizing more information about AI systems, which are notoriously opaque; rigorously testing all AI technology for bias; and even assessing whether some technologies should be produced at all.

Read more on diversity in AI here.

 

ACCESS DENIED: Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), announced his opposition Wednesday to allowing state-backed Chinese telecommunications company China Mobile to enter the U.S. market.

Pai cited national security concerns in his statement, saying he believes China Mobile's application to provide telecommunications services in the U.S. "raises substantial and serious national security and law enforcement risks" and is not in the public's interest.

"I hope that my colleagues will join me in voting to reject China Mobile's application," he said in a statement.

The chairman's decision on Wednesday comes months after the Trump administration last year recommended that the FCC block China Mobile's application.

The FCC will vote on China Mobile's application to enter U.S. markets next month. The rest of the commissioners will have time to review Pai's recommendation and suggest edits to it before they vote on May 9.

Pai says he will seek to block China Mobile's application, which it submitted in 2011, to provide services for phone calls between the U.S. and other countries.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said in a press release last July that China Mobile posed too many national security risks to be allowed to enter the U.S. market.

China Mobile in 2011 applied to provide services from within the United States. Seven years later, in 2018, multiple executive agencies recommended that the FCC deny China Mobile's application.

China Mobile, with almost 900 million subscribers, is one of the largest mobile phone operators in the world.

FCC officials during a phone call with reporters on Wednesday said the commission believes China Mobile could commit espionage against U.S. consumers. The concerns stem from China Mobile's ties to the Chinese government rather than specific activities by the company itself.

An FCC official told reporters on Wednesday that the concerns raised about China Mobile apply to all Chinese state-owned companies.

Read more about Pai's decision here.

 

DEMS OFFER BILL ON 'DIGITAL DIVIDE': A group of Democratic senators, including 2020 contender Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharBiden hosts potential VP pick Gretchen Whitmer on podcast Why Gretchen Whitmer's stock is rising with Team Biden Biden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats MORE (D-Minn.), on Wednesday introduced a bill that would fund state and local projects aimed at tackling the "digital divide."

Klobuchar in a statement said the bill would help "bring high-speed internet to communities across the county."

The Digital Equity Act of 2019 would create two new grant programs for efforts promoting access to information and telecommunications technologies.

It would create a $120 million grant program to fund the creation and implementation of "comprehensive digital equity plans" in all U.S. states, as well as a $120 million grant program to support projects undertaken by individuals and groups.

The bill would also task the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with evaluating and providing guidance on digital equity projects.

Who is on board: The legislation was introduced by Sens. Klobuchar, Tina SmithTina Flint SmithDemocrats call for pollution reduction requirements in any aid for airlines, cruises Democratic Senators introduce bill to provide free coronavirus testing Democratic senators ask prison operators for answers on coronavirus plans MORE (D-Minn.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTrump administration issues guidance scaling back paid leave requirement for small business employees Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday Senate Democrats propose canceling student loan payments during coronavirus MORE (D-Wash.) and co-sponsored by Sens. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoOvernight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill Democratic senators want probe into change of national stockpile description Democratic senators ask IRS to extend tax filing deadline amid coronavirus outbreak MORE (D-Hawaii), Angus KingAngus KingWe weren't ready for a pandemic — imagine a crippling cyberattack Senators offer bill to extend tax filing deadline Russia using coronavirus fears to spread misinformation in Western countries MORE (D-Maine), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Overnight Energy: Coronavirus package punts on environmental fights | Court sides with tribes in Dakota Access Pipeline case | Trump officials walk away from ethanol court fight Coronavirus package punts on environmental fights MORE (D-R.I.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). A companion bill is set to be introduced in the House.

More on the legislation here.

 

MICROSOFT TAKES A HARD PASS: Microsoft's president said Tuesday that the company turned down a request from a California law enforcement agency to install the company's facial recognition technology in officers' cars and body cameras because of human rights concerns.

Microsoft President Brad Smith, speaking at a Stanford University conference on artificial intelligence technology, said the company based its decision on the fact that the artificial intelligence technology has primarily been trained on white and male images, sparking concerns the technology could lead to disproportionate targeting of women and minorities, according to Reuters.

Smith added that the unspecified agency wanted to run a facial scan "anytime they pulled anyone over," according to Reuters. Microsoft considered the request and "we said this technology is not your answer," Smith said.

The company also walked away from a deal to add the technology to surveillance cameras in an unnamed country's capital city, citing its poor ratings from the nonprofit Freedom House, which monitors civil liberties.

Microsoft did agree to provide the facial recognition technology to an unnamed American prison after determining its use would be limited and would improve safety in the facility.

Smith has said facial recognition technology needs stricter regulations, warning Tuesday that without them, developing the technology will become a "race to the bottom," according to Reuters.

Read more on Smith's stance here.

 

GOOGLE WARNS EMPLOYEES ABOUT MEASLES CASE: Google reportedly warned its employees this week that at least one person has been diagnosed with measles at the company's Silicon Valley headquarters.

The measles diagnosis, first reported by BuzzFeed News, comes as Google's search engine and its video streaming platform YouTube face scrutiny for promoting anti-vaccine content.

The highly contagious disease has seen a resurgence in the U.S. this year after it was eliminated almost 20 years ago. Experts have attributed the recent outbreak in part to the spread of anti-vaccine misinformation proliferating online on sites like YouTube, which is owned by Google.

"This note is just a precaution," Google's occupational medicine physician David Kaye wrote in an email to some employees, according to BuzzFeed, which obtained a copy of the message. "A Googler who was in Charleston 1295 [a Google office] on Thursday, April 4, has been diagnosed with measles."

"We have been working with the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and they would like us to share this measles advisory, which contains information on measles, exposure risks and actions to be taken," Kaye wrote. 

Read more here.

 

WISCONSIN LOOKS TO RENEGOTIATE FOXCONN CONTRACT: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) said Wednesday that he plans to renegotiate the state's contract with Chinese company Foxconn because it will not be able to deliver on its promise to create the 13,000 jobs in the state initially agreed upon.

Evers told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the "deal that was struck is no longer in play," adding that he will work with the company and the local economic development board to "figure out how a new set of parameters should be negotiated."

The Journal Sentinel reported that, under existing deals, state and local governments offered Foxconn up to $4 billion to build a facility in Racine County that would employ up to 13,000 people.

More here.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: The world is skipping its way to the surveillance state, with our help.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: "Beep boop."

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Cyberspies hijacked the Internet domains of entire countries. (Wired)

Samsung's $2,000 folding phone is breaking for some users after two days. (CNBC)

TSA agents say they're not discriminating against black women, but their body scanners might be. (ProPublica)

The most measured person in tech is running the most chaotic place on the Internet. (The New York Times)