Hillicon Valley: White House to host social media summit amid Trump attacks | Pelosi says Congress to get election security briefing in July | Senate GOP blocks election security bill | Pro-Trump forum 'quarantined' by Reddit | Democrats press Zuckerberg

Hillicon Valley: White House to host social media summit amid Trump attacks | Pelosi says Congress to get election security briefing in July | Senate GOP blocks election security bill | Pro-Trump forum 'quarantined' by Reddit | Democrats press Zuckerberg
© Aaron Schwartz

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 Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).


WHITE HOUSE 'SOCIAL MEDIA SUMMIT' COMIN' UP: The White House said on Wednesday that it will hold a social media summit next month amid President TrumpDonald TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE's fresh attacks against internet platforms over allegations of anti-conservative bias.

White House spokesman Judd Deere told The Hill in an email that the event is set for July 11.

"This event will bring together digital leaders for a robust conversation on the opportunities and challenges of today's online environment," Deere said.


It's unclear which leaders will be invited or who plans on attending.

Trump's attacks: Trump earlier Wednesday attacked Facebook, Google and Twitter, accusing them, without evidence, of opposing him politically and even trying to rig the election against him.

"These people are all Democrats," the president said in an interview with Fox Business.

"We should be suing Google and Facebook and all that, which perhaps we will," he added.

Trump also accused Twitter of censorship.

"I have millions and millions of followers, but I will tell you they make it very hard for people to join me on Twitter and they make it very much harder for me to get out the message," he said.

Facebook and Google declined to comment. A spokesman for Twitter pointed to a blog post that the company put out last year saying that some users could expect follower counts to drop as it purges fake accounts from the platform.

The companies have all denied that politics play any role in their decision-making when it comes to content moderation. None of the platforms' representatives would comment on the social media summit.

The Project Veritas video: And other GOP lawmakers have echoed the attacks and used them to push for changes to a law that shields websites from liability for content posted by their users.

Conservative lawmakers have in recent days used a video posted this week by the right-wing group Project Veritas as ammunition. The segment includes an undercover video of Jen Gennai, a Google executive, talking about mistakes the company made in 2016 that it is trying to avoid in 2020.

Project Veritas painted the recording as evidence of liberal bias, but Gennai responded saying that the group "selectively edited and spliced the video to distort my words and the actions of my employer."

"I was having a casual chat with someone at a restaurant and used some imprecise language. Project Veritas got me. Well done," Gennai wrote in a blog post.

Still, GOP leaders seized on the video, and its removal from the Google-owned YouTube due to a privacy claim, as evidence of a conspiracy against conservatives.

"Advocating violent acts and recruiting terrorists online is illegal. But expressing one's political views, however repugnant they may be, is protected under the First Amendment," Rep. Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersBiden seeks to walk fine line with Syria strike Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Overnight Defense: One-third of service members decline coronavirus vaccine | Biden to take executive action in response to Solar Winds hack | US, Japan reach cost sharing agreement MORE (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said on Wednesday during the panel's hearing with social media executives.

"I have serious questions about Google's ability to be fair and balanced when it appears to have colluded with YouTube to silence this negative press coverage," Rogers added.

Schatz fires back: Democrats, who are also becoming increasingly critical of the tech giants, have dismissed the bias allegations from conservatives as bad-faith attacks. At Wednesday's Commerce hearing, Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Little known Senate referee to play major role on Biden relief plan Bipartisan group of lawmakers proposes bill to lift rule putting major financial burden on USPS MORE (D-Hawaii), a vocal tech critic himself, called it "working the refs."

"There are members of Congress who use the working of the refs to terrify Facebook and Google and Twitter executives so that they don't take action in taking down extreme content, false content, polarizing content -- contra their own rules of engagement," he said.

Read more on the summit here. 


ELECTION SECURITY BRIEFING: Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMcCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 After vote against coronavirus relief package, Golden calls for more bipartisanship in Congress Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' MORE (D-Calif.) announced Wednesday that Congress will receive an election security briefing from administration officials next month, as Democrats put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe bizarre back story of the filibuster The Bible's wisdom about addressing our political tribalism Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' MORE (R-Ky.) to allow votes on election security bills.

"Next month we will take further steps to harden our democratic institutions against attacks, and on July 10 we will receive the all-member election security briefing we requested from the administration so we can continue to protect the American people," Pelosi said during a press conference.

The Democratic leader announced the date after McConnell told reporters earlier this month that a briefing would take place, while not giving any more details.

Pelosi was joined at the press conference Wednesday by Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerThe bizarre back story of the filibuster Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill MORE (D-N.Y.) and other congressional Democrats to promote passage of the Securing America's Federal Elections (SAFE) Act, which the House is set to vote on this week.

Schumer also criticized McConnell for "offering no good excuse for why the Senate can't have a debate on this bill and any of the others," adding that "we cannot let Leader McConnell bury this another election security bill in his legislative graveyard."

The SAFE Act, which Democrats have fast-tracked to the House floor after the House Administration Committee approved it last week in a party-line vote, would authorize $600 million for states to bolster election security, along with giving states $175 million biannually to help sustain election infrastructure. The legislation would also establish cybersecurity safeguards for voting machines to help prevent foreign interference.

McConnell has so far refused to allow votes on any election security bills, citing concerns that the measures could lead to states seeing their authority over elections being eroded.

Read more here. 


BLOCKED: Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked an attempt by Democrats to pass legislation aimed at bolstering the country's election infrastructure despite a stalemate in the chamber on the issue.

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharOpen-ended antitrust is an innovation killer FBI, DHS and Pentagon officials to testify on Capitol riot Five big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings MORE (Minn.), the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, tried to call up the Election Security Act, which would require backup paper ballots and provide election security grants to states, before it was blocked.

"We know there's a continued threat against our democracy. What we need to do now is address these facts with a common purpose, to protect our democracy, to make sure that our election systems are resilient against future attacks," Klobuchar said from the Senate floor.

Under the Senate's rules, any one senator can try to pass a bill or resolution by unanimous consent, but any one senator can also block that request.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordRepublicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March 11 GOP senators slam Biden pick for health secretary: 'No meaningful experience' MORE (R-Okla.) objected, arguing that he and Klobuchar were trying to draft separate legislation together and that he didn't want to see election security become a partisan issue.

"I find myself at odds today with a partner in this ... we have worked together in a very nonpartisan way to be able to resolve this issue. I think we still can resolve this and we can actually get a result, but a partisan proposal will not get us an end results where both parties come together and get to resolve this," Lankford said from the Senate floor.

Read more here. 


NSA AT IT AGAIN: The National Security Agency (NSA) improperly collected records on American phone calls and texts last year, according to new documents obtained and released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The error occurred between Oct. 3 and Oct. 12, the documents show, and had not been previously disclosed. The documents were obtained by the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The incident occurred four months after the NSA said it had deleted scores U.S. records that were collected since 2015 due to a separate error. The records contained details on the duration of U.S. phone calls but not the content of them.

The ACLU records show the agency also used improperly obtained information in February 2018, which likely led to the NSA's decision to purge millions of records a few months later in June. The agency allegedly used some of that improperly collected data to seek approval to spy on some targets, but the records do not indicate whether that information was ultimately used for those purposes.

The new disclosures come as part of the ACLU's ongoing lawsuit against the NSA over the call records program, which gathers metadata on domestic text messages and phone calls.

"The technical irregularities that led NSA to delete data last summer were identified and addressed," an NSA spokesman told The Hill in a statement Wednesday. "Since that time, NSA identified additional data integrity and compliance concerns caused by the unique complexities of using company-generated business records for intelligence purposes. Those data integrity and compliance concerns have also been addressed and reported to NSA's overseers, including the congressional oversight committees and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court."

The spokesman said the agency cannot comment further "on these concerns because they involve operational details of the program that remain classified." 

Read more here. 


KEEPIN' IT NEUTRAL: Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) on Tuesday signed a net neutrality bill into law.

The amended bill says that internet service providers receiving state funds must provide "net neutral service, which is defined as service provided without blocking lawful content, throttling or engaging in paid prioritization where some traffic is favored in exchange for payment. 

The law requires providers contracted by the state to abide by the 2015 Federal Communications Commission's Open Internet Order, which was repealed in 2017.

"The internet is a powerful economic and educational tool that can open doors of opportunity for Maine people and small businesses," Mills said in a statement from her office. "That potential should not be limited by internet service providers interested in increasing their profits."

Read more here. 


GET OUT: Scores of Google employees have sent an open letter to the organizers of San Francisco's annual Pride parade urging them to kick the company out as a sponsor and parade participant.

In a letter posted to Medium on Wednesday, the employees wrote of a work atmosphere where concerns from LGBTQ employees are regularly brushed aside.

"We have spent countless hours advocating for our company to improve policies and practices regarding the treatment of LGBTQ+ persons, the depiction of LGBTQ+ persons, and harassment and hate speech directed at LGBTQ+ persons, on YouTube and other Google products," the letter read.

"Whenever we press for change, we are told only that the company will 'take a hard look at these policies,' " the letter continued, adding: "But we are never given a commitment to improve, and when we ask when these improvements will be made, we are always told to be patient."

The letter asks organizers to drop Google as an official sponsor of the parade and prevent it from contributing a branded float.

Read more here.


ELECTION CYBER THREATS: Members of two House Science subcommittees drilled experts about the security of voting machines during a hearing Tuesday afternoon, putting the spotlight on election security as congressional Democrats continue to push for action on the issue. 

House members were given the chance to discuss the vulnerabilities of voting systems during a hearing held by the House Science subcommittees on investigations and oversight and on research and technology. While there was disagreement over specific Democratic-backed election security bills, subcommittee members seemed to come together over the need to address cybersecurity risks to voting machines.

"When it comes to cybersecurity, the threat is constantly changing," investigations subcommittee Chairwoman Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillTim Ryan: Prosecutors reviewing video of Capitol tours given by lawmakers before riot Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack Belfast's Troubles echo in today's Washington MORE (D-N.J.) said. "It is our responsibility in Congress to help states arm themselves with advanced, adaptive strategies to prevent, detect, and recover from intrusions."

Investigations subcommittee Ranking Member Ralph NormanRalph Warren NormanFallen Capitol Police officer to lie in honor in Rotunda Capitol Police back bill to allow officer to lie in honor Lawmakers seek approval for Capitol Police officer to lie in honor MORE (R-S.C.) said that the security of election systems is of "great importance," while research and technology subcommittee Chairwoman Haley StevensHaley Maria StevensIowa Democrat quarantining after staffer tests positive for COVID-19 Democrats condemn 'lawlessness' amid Capitol chaos Democrat Haley Stevens hangs on to Michigan House seat MORE (D-Mich.) said that "security must be a priority at every step of our cherished democratic process."

Research and technology subcommittee Ranking Member Jim BairdJames BairdREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Honoring service before self News outlets choose their darlings, ignore others' voices MORE (R-Ind.) referred to Russian interference in 2016, specifically its targeting of 21 states' voting systems, in noting "there is no doubt there is a need for improved security of our elections."

However, this bipartisan spirit broke down somewhat during times that members discussed the Securing America's Federal Elections (SAFE) Act, which the House is scheduled to vote on this week. The bill was approved along party lines by the House Administration Committee last week and fast tracked to the House floor for a vote. It would authorize millions in funding for states to address election security issues and establish cybersecurity standards for voting machines. 

Norman described the Democratic-backed SAFE Act on Tuesday as being sent to the floor "in order to satisfy far-left progressives with yet another messaging bill that thankfully has no chance of ever being considered by the Senate."

Read more here.


"R/THE_DONALD" QUARANTINED: Reddit on Wednesday "quarantined" one of the largest pro-Trump online communities on the web, saying its users threatened police and public officials.

When users try to enter the social media platform's r/The_Donald subreddit, they are now met with a warning asking, "Are you sure you want to view this community? This community is quarantined."

"It is restricted due to significant issues with reporting and addressing violations of the Reddit Content Policy," the warning reads. "Most recently the violations have included threats of violence against police and public officials."

Administrators in a note posted to the subreddit wrote that they have "observed repeated rule-breaking behavior in your community" over the past several months, citing content that encourages violence.

"Most recently, we have observed this behavior in the form of encouragement of violence towards police officers and public officials in Oregon," the note reads. "This is not only in violation of our site-wide policies, but also your own community rules."

The administrators are calling for r/The_Donald user moderators to emphasize that violent content is "unacceptable" and encourage users to report posts that violate Reddit's policies.

Reddit said it will consider an appeal to lift the quarantine after changes are made. 

"We are clear in our site-wide policies that posting content that encourages or threatens violence is not allowed on Reddit," a Reddit spokesperson said in a statement. "As we have shared, we are sensitive to what could be considered political speech, however, recent behaviors including threats against the police and public figures is content that is prohibited by our violence policy. As a result, we have actioned individual users and quarantined the subreddit."

Users have been encouraging one another to tweet at President Trump about the quarantine.

Reddit has long avoided taking action against the forum, which has 754,000 subscribers and is known for hosting bigoted and often threatening posts about minorities and women, in particular immigrants.

Read more here.


DEMS PRESS FACEBOOK OVER PELOSI VIDEO: A group of more than 25 Democrats on Wednesday accused Facebook of being "grossly unprepared" for disinformation on its platform ahead of the 2020 election, citing the company's response to the doctored video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Lawmakers for weeks have hammered Facebook and Twitter for allowing the video of Pelosi to remain online, though it has been flagged as misleading. The video has been slowed down to make Pelosi appear as though she is drunk or ill.

"We write to express our deep concerns about the doctored video of Speaker Pelosi that was posted on Facebook's platform last month and has been viewed by millions of people," the 27 lawmakers, all of whom sit on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wrote in a letter on Wednesday.

"Leading up to 2020 we know that combating misinformation is one of the most important things we can do," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement responding to the letter. "We continue to look at how we can improve our approach and the systems we've built."

"Part of that includes getting outside feedback from academics, experts and policymakers," the spokesperson added.

The lawmakers, including House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), raised concerns that "there may be a potential conflict of interest between Facebook's bottom line and immediately addressing political disinformation on your platform."

Critics have accused Facebook of putting profits over safety on its platform, alleging that Facebook makes money from posts that get a lot of engagement – which are often hyperbolic or incendiary.

They are asking Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFacebook touts benefits of personalized ads in new campaign Mellman: White working-class politics Hillicon Valley: Companies urge action at SolarWinds hearing | Facebook lifts Australian news ban | Biden to take action against Russia in 'weeks' MORE to answer a series of questions about its preparedness for 2020 and treatment of the Pelosi video, including whether Facebook gets "any revenue" for allowing the video to stay on the platform and how many staff the company has dedicated to dealing with disinformation.

Read more here. 


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Is Big Tech biased?





U.S. tech companies sidestep a Trump ban, to keep selling Huawei (The New York Times)

Hacker paid $490,000 in bitcoin for ransomware attack on Lake City (The Gainesville Times)

Canada teams up with tech giants to counter extremist content online. (Reuters) 

Google now lets you set a time limit to auto-delete location history and web activity data. (The Verge)