Hillicon Valley: Crackdown on election meddling stalls in Congress | Senators ramp up privacy bill work | T-Mobile, Sprint deal faces fresh uncertainty | More than 1,000 Google employees join sit-in

Hillicon Valley: Crackdown on election meddling stalls in Congress | Senators ramp up privacy bill work | T-Mobile, Sprint deal faces fresh uncertainty | More than 1,000 Google employees join sit-in
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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).

 

RUSSIA-ING TO NOWHERE: Efforts to combat election meddling in the aftermath of the Mueller report are running into steep political headwinds on Capitol Hill.

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions Trump: Democrats just want Mueller to testify for a 'do-over' Graham: Mueller investigation a 'political rectal exam' MORE's sprawling 448-page report detailed Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and sparked fresh calls for tougher sanctions against Moscow or new election security measures.

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But any initial boost of momentum is now hitting roadblocks with top GOP senators and stalemated partisan standoffs, underscoring the uphill battle for a legislative push leading to the 2020 election.

"I think there's a lot we can do without passing new legislation," said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump goes scorched earth against impeachment talk The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Bipartisan House bill calls for strategy to protect 5G networks from foreign threats MORE (R-Texas), a member of GOP leadership and the Senate Intelligence Committee. "The House has taken more of an attitude of: Don't let a crisis go to waste."

Asked about the chances of passing sanctions or election security legislation, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFrustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment Senate passes anti-robocall bill MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said, "We'll see."

"Some of our members are talking about more sanctions. We'll see where it goes," he said. "On the election security stuff ... I think we feel confident based on the fact that our elections in this country are basically local, that ...  it ensures a certain amount of accountability."

Lawmakers have raised concerns about Russia's election meddling for years, but Mueller's findings put the spotlight on what, if any, steps Congress will take in response.

The special counsel dedicated roughly 200 pages of his report to detailing Russia's hacking attempts, social media activities and contacts with the Trump campaign, while noting that "the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government."

Read more on the stalemate here.

 

ANY DAY NOW: Senators are looking to intensify their work on drafting the nation's first consumer privacy bill, amid doubts they are any closer to a breakthrough after months of talks.

At a hearing Wednesday, consumer advocates testified before the Senate Commerce Committee to offer their input on a potential federal privacy framework.

And a day before, lawmakers in a bipartisan working group met behind closed doors to push ahead with negotiations over a bill. The four-member group was joined by two more lawmakers, Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellData privacy: Consumers want it, businesses need it — it's time our government delivers it Don't revive logging in national forests Top Finance Dem offers bill to help those repaying student loans save for retirement MORE (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee.

"Data privacy should never become a partisan issue," Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick Wicker2020 Democrats target federal ban on abortion funding Data privacy: Consumers want it, businesses need it — it's time our government delivers it Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment MORE (R-Miss.), the chairman of the Commerce Committee, said in a statement to The Hill. "Over the past year, this working group has put a tremendous amount of work into data privacy legislation.

"Having Senators Cantwell and Thune join us in this bipartisan effort will help us develop the consensus needed to move this legislation forward in the coming months," he added.

But the effort faces persistent skepticism that lawmakers are no closer to bridging many of the big divides on privacy policy even after nearly a year of negotiations among the working group.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that the two sides are struggling to come to an agreement and that a timetable to release a draft bill by the end of May would likely have to be pushed back.

At Wednesday's hearing, lawmakers from both parties laid out their priorities for the draft legislation and laid bare the areas of contention.

Read more on the hearing here.

 

OFFICIAL SACKED OVER HUAWEI LEAK: Britain's defense secretary has been ousted following an inquiry into how information about the United Kingdom's 5G network was leaked from the government's National Security Council.

Prime Minister Theresa MayTheresa Mary MayThe end of May — another Brexit victim Why history will be kinder to Theresa May than her critics Trump to meet with Prince Harry during UK visit MORE indicated in a statement released by Downing Street that she had lost confidence in Defense Minister Gavin Williamson, The Guardian reported.

The defense chief was removed despite him denying being the source of the leak about Chinese telecom giant Huawei's involvement in the U.K.'s 5G network.

"The prime minister has this evening asked Gavin Williamson to leave the government, having lost confidence in his ability to serve in the role of defence secretary and as a member of her cabinet," read the statement.

The Guardian reported that the prime minister's office also released a letter from May to Williamson indicating that the firing came due to an unwillingness to fully comply with the government's inquiry.

Read more here.

 

DEAR BIG BROTHER: A coalition of more than 100 civil society groups on Wednesday urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to end its alleged surveillance of activists and journalists, calling the department's tracking a threat to the First Amendment.

The open letter, signed by a range of civil liberties and civil rights groups, comes days The Intercept reported that DHS used a private intelligence firm to track the hundreds of protests over the summer against the Trump administration's so-called zero-tolerance immigration policy.

It also comes two months after the DHS inspector general launched an investigation into whether immigration officials acted improperly when they created a list of journalists, attorneys and activists targeted for increased screening at the border.

The coalition in the letter accuses DHS of engaging in a pattern of tracking activists, journalists and immigration lawyers engaged in work at the border and at protests across the country.

The groups are demanding that DHS "cease any targeting and monitoring of activists, journalists, and lawyers--including through social media--based upon their First Amendment-protected speech and associational activities."

Read more here.

 

MERGER WATCH: T-Mobile and Sprint are facing growing uncertainty about the fate of their $26 billion merger a year after the deal was first announced.

On Monday, the anniversary of the proposal, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, who leads the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Antitrust Division, said that he's still undecided about the merger.

"I have not made up my mind," Delrahim told CNBC. "The investigation continues. We've requested some data from the companies that will be forthcoming. We don't have a set number of meetings or, necessarily, a timeline."

Delrahim's comments come two weeks after The Wall Street Journal reported that his staff had major qualms with the merger. According to the Journal, DOJ staffers told the two companies that their tie-up is unlikely to be approved under the structure they had proposed.

T-Mobile pushed back on the report after it ran.

"The premise of this story, as summarized in the first paragraph, is simply untrue," T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in a tweet. "Out of respect for the process, we have no further comment. This continues to be our policy since we announced our merger last year."

On Monday, though, the two companies, for the second time, postponed their deadline for completing the merger.

The deal has generated significant concern from public interest groups and many Democrats, and the delay of approval has given critics more time to fire away at the deal. Opponents worry about the prospect of further consolidating the wireless market from four national operators to three.

Read more here.

 

NO MINIMUM WAGE FOR YOU: A Trump administration decision identifying gig economy workers at one company as "independent contractors" rather than "employees" could have massive implications for the tech industry.

The Labor Department, in an opinion letter released Monday, said the unidentified company, a "smart-phone based" business that connects consumers with service providers, does not have to provide benefits to its workers, including the federal minimum wage or overtime, because they are independent contractors rather than employees.

The opinion is not legally binding and only applies to one company, but it could bolster tech companies' arguments in court in the future as they push to classify their workers as contractors.

The decision is likely to come under fire from labor advocates and 2020 Democrats who have raised questions about how businesses deal with the growing number of gig economy workers. According to some estimates, there are between 1 million and 5 million people participating in the online gig economy, which includes companies such as Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Angie's List and TaskRabbit.

"We reject the use of 21st century breakthroughs as an excuse for 19th century labor practices," Carolyn Bobb, a spokeswoman for one of the country's leading unions, AFL-CIO, said in a statement to The Hill. She said it is the union's stance that many gig economy workers are "misclassified."

It's an issue with big stakes for the tech industry. Tech companies that offer services through apps, like ride-sharing apps Uber and Lyft and online home services company Handy, have fought efforts across the country to force them to offer full benefits to their workers.

Read more here.

 

WHERE ARE YOU GOING: A Democrat on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is demanding information from wireless companies about their location data practices.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel sent letters to AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile on Wednesday, a year after the GOP-led agency first launched an investigation into the industry's sharing of consumers' location data.

"The FCC needs to do more to protect the privacy and security of American consumers," Rosenworcel said in a statement. "It needs to do more to provide the public with basic information about what is happening with their real-time location information. That's why I'm taking steps to ensure for the public that carriers are living up to their commitments to protect their customers' most sensitive information, because this agency has failed to do so to date."

A spokesperson for Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in an email, "The investigation is active and ongoing." 

Over the past year, investigative reporters have shined a light on the industry's sharing of location data with third-party brokers, and how easy it is to obtain that data.

Earlier this year Motherboard was able to track a cell phone's location by giving a bounty hunter the phone number and $300 to purchase the information off a data broker.

All of the major providers have vowed to end their partnerships with data brokers.

Read more on Rosenworcel's letter here.

 

SIT DOWN, STAND UP: More than 1,000 Google employees participated in a sit-in on Wednesday protesting the company's alleged retaliation against workers who have spoken up critically against the tech giant, a Google employee told The Hill.

Google employees in 15 offices around the world – including in New York, California and London – participated in the organized action, which involved a sit-in as well as employees calling in sick to protest.

More international offices are planning their own sit-in protests for after May 1.

"Today, Googlers from around the world are gathering at ... to sit together and show retaliation is #NotOkGoogle," the group organizing the protests, Google Walkout for Real Change, tweeted on Wednesday. "The stories we've been collecting will be shared, our demands will be read, and all will be in solidarity with those withstanding this chilling practice."

Some employees set their "out of office" email replies to provide details about Google's alleged retaliation against its workers, and others set their profile picture to display support for the protest.

A Google employee told The Hill that management was "tentatively supportive" of the sit-in, with some managers explicitly telling their teams to attend.

A company spokeswoman declined to comment on the protest directly on Tuesday, saying in a statement that it does not condone retaliation in the workplace.

The sit-in comes six months after more than 20,000 Google workers participated in walkouts at offices around the world, organized to protest the company's handling of sexual harassment as well as general working conditions.

Now, an increasingly vocal group of Google employees who helped organize and facilitate the walkouts say the company is retaliating against them.

The sit-in participants on Wednesday presented a list of "retaliation demands" to management, including a call for a "transparent, open investigation" of Google's human resources department and its "abysmal handling of employee complaints related to working conditions, discrimination, harassment and retaliation," according to a copy of the demands obtained by The Hill.

The organizers are also demanding that Google meet the list of demands that protesters presented during the Google walkouts months ago.

Read more here on the protest here.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: A 'fair-trade data' standard for AI.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Things you can't forget.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Qualcomm sees up to $4.7 billion payment from Apple. (Bloomberg News)

An Apple lobbyist just sneakily pushed California to postpone its right-to-repair bill. (The Verge)

Why Congress needs the Office of Technology Assessment more than ever. (TechDirt)

'Striding across the Pacific:' Huawei's identity problem. (The New York Times)