Hillicon Valley: Mueller remarks put spotlight on election security bills | US to ask visa applicants for social media info | Tech blasts Trump tariffs on Mexico

Hillicon Valley: Mueller remarks put spotlight on election security bills | US to ask visa applicants for social media info | Tech blasts Trump tariffs on Mexico
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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).

 

SPOTLIGHT ON ELECTION SECURITY: Legislation aimed at securing U.S. elections got an unexpected shot in the arm this week when Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE devoted a fair share of his first remarks on the Russia probe to the threat posed by foreign actors seeking to undermine democracy at the ballot box.

Mueller emphasized that "the central allegation of our indictments" was "there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election."

He ended his 10-minute statement by saying this "deserves the attention of every American."

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The problem: Election security bills have been languishing in Congress for months, due in large part to Republicans who do not want to shine a light on Russia's actions and risk the fury of President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE.

Democrats have made it a major focus, with lawmakers introducing several bills designed to combat foreign interference.

However, most legislation has been at a standstill following Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat Democrats should say about guns This week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller MORE's (R-Ky.) "case closed" comments earlier this month regarding Mueller's Russia investigation.

McConnell has instead highlighted the work put into securing election systems during the 2018 midterm elections by the Department of Homeland Security and the Trump administration, saying that combating threats "requires serious work."

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP balks at White House push for standalone vote on debt ceiling Republicans say they're satisfied with 2020 election security after classified briefings GOP senators decline to criticize Acosta after new Epstein charges MORE (R-Mo.), a member of Senate GOP leadership and chairman of the Rules Committee, said during a hearing this month that "the majority leader is of the view that this debate reaches no conclusion" on the topic of election security legislation. Blunt added that he was not planning on scheduling any markups of election security legislation because "at this point I don't see any likelihood that these bills would get to the floor."

Latest from Trump: The president weighed in on the issue Thursday, telling reporters that "we are doing a lot, and we are trying to do paper ballots as a backup system as much as possible, because going to good old-fashioned paper in this modern age is the best way to do it."

Those remarks came after he said Russia did not help him secure the presidency -- his first on-camera response to Mueller's comments, though he tweeted earlier in the day that Russia helped him win the election.

But at least one election security bill has the potential for movement: Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordOvernight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran Senators urge Trump to sanction Turkey for accepting Russian missile shipment Acosta on shaky ground as GOP support wavers MORE (R-Okla.) told The Hill on Thursday that he plans to reintroduce the Secure Elections Act next week. The measure stalled during the previous Congress due to a lack of GOP support in the Rules Committee but was one of the election security bills with the highest profiles in Congress.

While Lankford said there will be some changes to the bill text, the underlying legislation would strengthen cybersecurity information sharing between the federal government and state and local election officials, while also requiring all jurisdictions perform post-election audits to verify Election Day results.

He said the new version of the bill will not include funding for states to improve their election security practices but will require all jurisdictions to implement audits if they want any future funding.

Would Trump, McConnell be on board? Lankford added that his office has been working closely with the White House counsel on the bill's language but did not go so far as to say whether Trump would support the legislation.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

It also remains unclear whether McConnell will support the GOP bill when it is reintroduced.

Read more here.

 

TOUGHER VETTING OF SOCIAL MEDIA: The Trump administration will implement a new policy Friday asking most applicants for U.S. visas to provide information on their use of social media, a U.S. Department of State official tells Hill.TV

Most visa applicants, including temporary visitors, will be required to list their social media identifiers in a drop-down menu along with other personal information.

Applicants will have the option to say that they do not use social media if that is the case. The official noted that if a visa applicant lies about social media use that they could face "serious immigration consequences" as a result.

For now, the drop-down menu only includes major social media websites, but the official said applicants soon will be able to list all sites that they use.

"This is a critical step forward in establishing enhanced vetting of foreign nationals seeking entry into the United States," the official told Hill.TV. "As we've seen around the world in recent years, social media can be a major forum for terrorist sentiment and activity. This will be a vital tool to screen out terrorists, public safety threats, and other dangerous individuals from gaining immigration benefits and setting foot on U.S. soil."

The social media identifiers will be incorporated into a background check review against watchlists generated by the U.S. government.

Applicants will also be required in the future to turn more extensive information on their travel history.

The policy stems from a March 2017 executive order issued by President Trump intended to put "extreme vetting" into place.

Read more on the scoop here.  

 

CHINA STRIKES BACK: China is set to establish an "unreliable entity list" of foreign companies and individuals that "seriously damage" Chinese enterprises, a spokesperson for China's Commerce Ministry announced Friday.

The move is seen as retaliation against efforts by the Trump administration to block Chinese telecom company Huawei from doing business in the U.S.

"Foreign enterprises, organizations or individuals that fail to comply with market rules, deviate from the spirit of the contract, and impost a blockade or confiscation of Chinese enterprises for non-commercial purposes, which seriously damage the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese enterprises, will be included in the list of 'unreliable entities,'" the spokesperson said, adding that "specific measures will be announced in the near future."

President Trump signed an executive order earlier this month that allows his administration to block foreign tech companies from doing business in the U.S. if they are deemed a national security threat.

Shortly after, the U.S. Department of Commerce added Huawei to its "entity list," effectively banning the company from buying components from American companies without government approval.

The spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Commerce stressed that its list is being created because of an increase in "unilateralism and trade protectionism," in what appeared to be a reference to the United States.

Read more here.

 

TECH LOBBY FIGHTS MEXICO TARIFFS: The Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the largest tech lobbying association by member count, on Friday slammed President Trump's new tariffs on Mexico, saying they are "potentially devastating" to the technology sector.

CTA has been lobbying against Trump's tariff policies for months, warning that they could force tech companies to raise the price of their products or severely harm their bottom lines.

On Friday, CTA argued that Mexico is vital to the consumer technology industry and any retaliatory tariffs could ravage the trade partnership.

"Mexico is not only one of our top trading partners, it's the number one export market for American consumer technology sector products," Gary Shapiro, CTA's president and CEO, said in a statement.

"'If Mexico reciprocates with tariffs of its own, our country's employers and workers will end up paying twice over for the administration's misguided trade policies," Shapiro added.

Trump late on Thursday announced he would impose tariffs on Mexico to pressure the country into staving off the flow of migrants into the U.S. through the southern border. The president said the U.S. will impose a 5 percent tariff on "all goods" coming into the U.S. from Mexico starting June 10.

The White House distributed a statement saying that tariffs would increase by 5 percent each month until they reach 25 percent "unless and until Mexico substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory."

Read more here.

 

NEW US WARNINGS ON HUAWEI: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump's Iran policy proves the primacy of US power — but to what end? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke State Department raises concerns about Sweden's treatment of detained American rapper MORE reportedly warned German authorities on Friday that the U.S. could withhold some information related to national security if the country adopts 5G wireless networks run by Chinese firm Huawei.

Pompeo told reporters after a meeting with Germany's foreign minister that it was "not possible" to mitigate the risk that the Chinese government would be able to obtain data in Huawei's networks, Reuters reported.

"They [Germany] will take their own sovereign decisions, [but we] will speak to them openly about the risks ... and in the case of Huawei the concern is it is not possible to mitigate those anywhere inside of a 5G network," Pompeo said.

The Trump administration has actively urged European nations against adopting Huawei technology in recent months, amid worries about security. The U.S. intelligence community says the company's technology and data could be accessed by the Chinese government, claims Huawei denies.

The Trump administration moved this month to ban U.S. companies from doing business with the Chinese tech firm. But that decision was later delayed by 90 days, even as some companies, including Google, began breaking off business ties with Huawei.

"We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications," a Google spokesperson told The Hill.

Read more on the Huawei tension here.

 

A DIFFERENT SECURITY ISSUE FOR FACEBOOK:  Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergBorder Patrol chief was member of secret Facebook group for agents: report Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak urges Facebook users to delete their accounts Trump's legal battles over census go public MORE's personal security chief has been placed on administrative leave after two former employees of Zuckerberg's household staff accused him of sexual harassment and inappropriate workplace conduct.

A spokesperson for Zuckerberg's family office confirmed in a statement that Liam Booth, the Facebook CEO's personal security chief, is on administrative leave pending the end of an investigation into the allegations against him.

Business Insider on Thursday reported that two former members of Zuckerberg's household staff had made accusations against Booth in legal letters.

"The family office takes complaints of workplace misconduct very seriously and our human resources team promptly investigates all such matters," Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the Zuckerberg family office, said in a statement.

LaBolt said the Zuckerberg family was made aware of the allegations after the former staff members "engaged legal counsel" with The Bloom Firm.

"The allegations against Liam Booth were brought to the office's attention for the first time by The Bloom Firm after both former employees had left employment by the family office and engaged legal counsel," LaBolt said in the statement. "As soon as The Bloom Firm presented these allegations, the family office engaged Munger, Tolles & Olson, an outside law firm, to conduct an investigation of all allegations made by The Bloom Firm to determine whether the claims have merit."

"The investigation is ongoing," he said. "Mr. Booth is on administrative leave pending the completion of this investigation."

According to reports, Booth has been accused of making racist and homophobic remarks about Priscilla Chan, Zuckerberg's wife, and members of Zuckerberg's staff.

Booth is a former Secret Service agent and has been working for Zuckerberg since 2017.

Read more on the accusations here.

 

THE END OF AN ERA: BlackBerry is ending its Messenger service Friday after failing to turn around the long-struggling product.

The company introduced Messenger, also known as BBM, in 2005, one of the first instant messaging services. At the time, Blackberry held a dominant position in the market for smartphones. But over time it failed to compete with other rival products, such as iPhones and Android phones or social media platforms that offered their own messaging tools.

The company had first announced its plans to shutter the service in April.

"We poured our hearts into making this a reality, and we are proud of what we have built to date," Blackberry said in an announcement at the time. "The technology industry however, is very fluid, and in spite of our substantial efforts, users have moved on to other platforms, while new users proved difficult to sign on.

"Though we are sad to say goodbye, the time has come to sunset the BBM consumer service, and for us to move on," the statement added.

The BlackBerry Messenger service is being removed from iPhone and Android devices. But it will be remain on the company's on phones as a business or enterprise version.

"Since 2016 we have tried our best to compete in this market and launch many new features and content that we had hoped would grow the BBM user base. Despite all of our efforts, we found that the network effect of the market leaders is getting stronger and we have been squeezed out of user preferences," the company said in a FAQ page about the tool's removal.

Read more here.

 

NOT SO FAST: A coalition of business groups is rallying against a proposal at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would allow phone carriers to block certain calls by default, an effort to crack down on illegal robocalls.

The group – which includes health care providers, pharmacies and collection agencies – is arguing that the proposal in its current form could make it harder for legitimate businesses to contact their customers using robocalls. In a filing with the FCC on Thursday, they argued the proposal could block "legal" robocalls as well as those that are fraudulent or from scammers.

"Public safety alerts, fraud alerts, data security breach notifications, product recall notices, healthcare and prescription reminders, and power outage updates all could be inadvertently blocked under the draft Declaratory Order, among other time-sensitive calls," the groups wrote in the filing. 

The FCC is slated to vote on the anti-robocall proposal next week. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced the plan earlier this month, saying it will put teeth behind the commission's efforts to stave off the scourge of billions of robocalls dialing U.S. consumers every year.

Pai said his proposal would clarify the FCC's rules to let carriers filter out robocalls or scam calls from fraudulent numbers.

The groups mobilizing against the proposal include the American Bankers Association, the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management, the Credit Union National Association, the National Retail Federation and many others. Over the past week, businesses who rely on robocalling have been asking the FCC to put off voting on the proposal in various filings. 

They have asked the commission to open up the proposal to comment, in order to allow the businesses and industry groups to address the sections that they believe will sweep up legal robocalls.

Read more on the brewing fight here.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: News industry struggles to meet its challenges and find new talent.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Some people just don't got it.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

European court to hear landmark Facebook privacy case (NBC News)

Cuba legalizes private WiFi and importing of routers (ABC)

DOE, utilities seek the ultimate shield against hackers (E&E)

AI can now compose pop music and even symphonies (NBC News)