Hillicon Valley: Facebook facility evacuated after sarin scare | Warren, Jayapal question FCC over industry influence | 2020 Dems take on election security | Border Patrol to investigate Facebook group with racist, sexist posts

Hillicon Valley: Facebook facility evacuated after sarin scare | Warren, Jayapal question FCC over industry influence | 2020 Dems take on election security | Border Patrol to investigate Facebook group with racist, sexist posts
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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).


FACEBOOK SARIN SCARE: A mailing facility in Menlo Park, Calif., owned by Facebook was evacuated Monday after the nerve agent sarin was reportedly detected.

Facebook spokesman Anthony Harrison said the incident began in the morning when a package in the mail room was "deemed suspicious."

"We evacuated four buildings and are conducting a thorough investigation in coordination with local authorities," Harrison said. "Authorities have not yet identified the substance found. As of now, three of the evacuated buildings have been cleared for repopulation."


A local ABC affiliate reported that the FBI and National Guard were called in to assist.

According to the outlet, fire officials said that everyone in the facility was safe, but two people were being examined for possible exposure.

It's still unclear whether the substance was actually sarin. Fire officials told ABC News that a second test had come back negative.

Read more here and check The Hill for more on this developing story.


2020 DEMS PUSH TO SECURE ELECTIONS: Democratic presidential candidates are seizing on election security to attack Republicans for not doing enough to safeguard the country against foreign interference.

The attacks were part of last week's Democratic debates, when a few candidates cited the threat posed by Russia, including their interference in the 2016 election as spelled out in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE's report released earlier this year. 

The calls for action come as Mueller prepares to testify before Congress next month and as Democrats' push for enhanced election security has stalled because of Republican opposition.

What they're saying: Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharManchin 'can't imagine' supporting change to filibuster for voting rights Hillicon Valley: Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation | Amazon fined 6M by EU regulators Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation MORE (D-Minn.), at the Democratic debate on Wednesday, blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Manchin 'can't imagine' supporting change to filibuster for voting rights Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet MORE (R-Ky.) for preventing passage of election security legislation.

"We let the Republicans run our elections, and if we do not do something about Russian interference in the election, and we let Mitch McConnell stop all the back-up paper ballots, then we are not going to get to do what we want to do," Klobuchar said.

McConnell has consistently refused to allow Senate floor votes on a number of election security bills in recent weeks, citing concerns that these bills would federalize elections and take oversight away from states.

On Thursday night's debate, technology entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangPoll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Kings launch voting rights effort honoring John Lewis Eric Adams to meet with Biden on curbing gun violence MORE echoed Klobuchar's concerns about foreign interference in elections, naming Russia as the greatest geopolitical threat to the United States, while noting the country "has been hacking our democracy successfully."

"They've been laughing their asses off about it for years," Yang added. "We should focus on that before we start worrying about other threats."

Similarly, Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetLawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals How Sen. Graham can help fix the labor shortage with commonsense immigration reform For true American prosperity, make the child tax credit permanent MORE (D-Colo.) said during the debate that Russia poses a greater threat to the U.S. than China "because of what they've done with our election."

Beyond the debates: Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCalifornia Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election Pelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election MORE (D-Mass.) released a plan on how she will address the topic if elected president. The proposal came the day before she appeared on the debate stage on Wednesday.

House vs. Senate: This week, the House approved the fiscal 2020 Financial Services and General Government funding bill with a provision granting the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) $600 million that would be handed over to states to shore up their voting infrastructure.

The bill comes after Congress appropriated $380 million to the EAC last year for the same purpose.

However, this year's bill has little chance of being approved by the Senate. Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over this funding bill, told reporters this week that he is "very, very skeptical about the wisdom of including" the $600 million in funding to states.

"I admire their zeal, but I'm not certain about their wisdom," Kennedy said of House efforts to pass election security funding.

Read more here.


NOT A GREAT (FACE)LOOK: Nonprofit news organization ProPublica published a report Monday uncovering a Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents filled with derogatory posts targeting migrants and lawmakers.

Created in August 2016, the Facebook group is called "I'm 10-15," referring to the code for "aliens in custody," and boasts roughly 9,500 members from across the country.

The group is described as secret, and it is not immediately clear whether ProPublica was able to verify how many of the members are actually current or former agents.

At least some of the posters were verified to be agents by ProPublica.

In one post, group members reportedly joked about a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died in May while in custody at a Border Patrol station in Weslaco, Texas.

Another post included a photo illustration of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who has been bombarded with sexist and racist comments since being elected last year, engaged in oral sex with a detained migrant.

Another post included an illustration of a smiling President Trump forcing Ocasio-Cortez's head toward his crotch. The agent who posted the image commented: "That's right bitches. The masses have spoken and today democracy won."

Read more here.


CBP SAYS THEY'LL LOOK INTO IT: Border Patrol on Monday afternoon launched an investigation into the racist and sexist posts uncovered by ProPublica.

While Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not respond to multiple requests for comment before the ProPublica story went up, the agency on Monday said it has informed its watchdog of the posts and initiated a probe into the situation.

"Today, U.S. Customs and Border Protection was made aware of disturbing social media activity hosted on a private Facebook group that may include a number of CBP employees," Matthew Klein, assistant commissioner of the Office of Professional Responsibility, said in a statement released by CBP.

"CBP immediately informed DHS [Department of Homeland Security] Office of the Inspector General and initiated an investigation," he said, noting that the conduct reported violates CBP's standards of conduct.

CBP chief Carla Provost condemned the posts, calling them "completely inappropriate."

"Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable," she said in a statement.

The CBP statement came after multiple Democratic lawmakers Monday condemned the agency, saying the posts were rooted in a larger culture of bigotry.

Read more here.


A HELPING HAND? The Russian troll farms that carried out a sophisticated disinformation campaign on U.S. social media platforms in 2016 may have influenced President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Gosar's siblings pen op-ed urging for his resignation: 'You are immune to shame' Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate MORE's standing in public opinion polls during the campaign, according to a new study released Monday.

Researchers at the University of Tennessee said that for every 25,000 retweets each week by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), Trump's poll numbers would gain an increase of about 1 percent.

"We find that changes in opinion poll numbers for one of the candidates were consistently preceded by corresponding changes in IRA re-tweet volume, at an optimum interval of one week before," the researchers wrote, referring to Trump. "As these tweets were part of a larger, multimedia campaign, it is plausible that the IRA was successful in influencing U.S. public opinion in 2016."

Researchers said that as the IRA ramped up its activity, there was a measurable change in opinion polling for Trump.

"As the popularity of presidential candidates ebbed and flowed during the 2016 campaign, changes in opinion poll numbers for Trump were consistently preceded by corresponding changes in IRA re-tweet volume, at an optimum interval of one week before.

While retweets and likes-per-tweet were followed by polling increases for Trump, the same online activity did not predict changes in public opinion for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE, according to the study.

Read more here.


ALL IN: The head of the House Oversight and Reform Committee is expanding their investigation into whether White House officials used personal email accounts to conduct official business, while also blasting the Trump administration for failing to provide a single requested record so far.

Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee Five big questions about the Jan. 6 select committee MORE (D-Md.) in a letter on Monday asked the White House to turn over copies of all emails and other communications in which administration officials may have violated federal law as well as the White House's records policy.

"[T]he Committee is now expanding its request to seek copies of all communications sent or received in violation of federal law and the White House's own records policy," the letter reads.

The expansion comes amid what Cummings described as blatant stonewalling by the administration as the committee seeks to conduct its oversight probe.

In December, Cummings asked for records on President Trump's top advisers, including Ivanka TrumpIvanka TrumpKushner launching investment firm in move away from politics: report Washington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 Jill Biden takes starring role at difficult Olympics MORE and Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerBlack community group loses bid to acquire downtown LA Mall despite highest offer Kushner launching investment firm in move away from politics: report Washington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 MORE as well as any other non-career officials.

Now Cummings says he wants that previously requested information as well as "all presidential records sent or received by non-career officials at the White House using non-official electronic messaging accounts," all documents related to allegations or evidence of misuse and all communications in which White House employees discussed the possibility of non-career officials sending messages that could've included classified information from their personal email accounts.

Under the Presidential Records Act, White House employees are not allowed to create or send a record "using a non-official electronic message account." If they do, they must forward complete copies of such communications to their official account.

A GOP spokesperson for Oversight described Cummings' latest letter as "yet another example of Democrats' obsession with finding some rationale to impeach the President."

Read more here.


INDUSTRY COMPLEX: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Angst grips America's most liberal city Congress must lower the Medicare Age to save the lives of older Americans MORE (D-Wash.) are questioning the private sector's influence over the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) decisionmaking when it comes to network security.

Warren and Jayapal asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, about an advisory committee that is dominated by members affiliated with industry groups or companies in a letter released Monday.

"Having the FCC's policy-making process rely on input from individuals employed by, or affiliated with, the corporations that it is tasked with overseeing is the very definition of regulatory capture," the progressive lawmakers wrote. "The FCC should be working on behalf of American consumers, not giant telecommunications companies."

The letter, dated last Thursday, cites reporting by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a nonpartisan watchdog group, that alleges that private interests have come to dominate the FCC's Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC).

The CSRIC is made up of appointees chosen by the FCC chairman to advise the agency on cybersecurity decisions related to the nation's communications infrastructure.

POGO charted how recent iterations of the panel have been increasingly dominated by the private sector. The current makeup of CSRIC's 22 members consists of 15 seats held by people affiliated with private companies or industry groups, six held by government officials and just one occupied by a representative from a civil society group.

In their letter, Warren and Jayapal asked Pai to explain how the makeup of the board is consistent with its charter and the law, both of which require it to represent the public interest.

A spokeswoman for the FCC declined to comment.

Read more on the letter here.


DEFENDING THE CENSUS: Facebook is working to get ahead of efforts to deter people in the U.S. from filling out the 2020 census, according to a civil rights report and blog post released Sunday.

The company is planning to ban users from spreading disinformation around the census, as well as to create a team dedicated to staving off any efforts by bad actors to interfere in the demographics survey.

Facebook will also begin training employees in how to spot census suppression and bring on outside experts to consult with as the census gets closer.

"The census is a constitutional requirement that serves as the foundation for allocating federal benefits and electoral representation," Laura Murphy, a top civil rights attorney who is leading Facebook's ongoing civil rights audit, wrote in her latest report released Sunday.

According to Murphy, Facebook has committed to prioritizing preventing census misinformation as well as voter suppression ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg in a blog post on Sunday said Facebook will "treat next year's Census like an election – with people, policies, and technology in place to protect against Census interference."

Read more on Facebook's plans here.


FACEBOOK CIVIL RIGHTS AUDIT: Facebook on Sunday released the latest findings from its ongoing civil rights audit, including a series of pledges to better deal with harassment against activists and people of color, as well as how it plans to contain political misinformation ahead of the 2020 presidential election and census.

Facebook over the past year has been undergoing a civil rights audit led by Laura Murphy, a top civil rights attorney. Since last year, Murphy has conferred with more than 90 civil rights organizations about their concerns over how the platform can be abused to discriminate against minorities and other marginalized groups.

Sunday's report marked the second installment of the audit and includes insight into the pilot programs and policy changes Facebook is considering in order to address the struggles raised by people of color on the platform.

New task force: To emphasize that such work is ongoing, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a blog post that the tech giant will launch a formalized civil rights task force that will exist even after the audit ends later this year.

"[T]oday we're announcing plans to build greater awareness about civil rights on Facebook and long-term accountability across the company," Sandberg wrote. "Since the first audit update in December, I created a civil rights task force made up of senior leaders across key areas of the company. Today, we're going one step further and formalizing this task force so it lives on after the audit is finished."

The task force, which will include top executives from across the company, will listen to and seek to address civil rights concerns from outside groups and employees. Facebook has also agreed to institute civil rights training for some employees and bring on outside experts in issues like voter suppression.

Advocates push back: Muslim Advocates, one of the organizations that has been instrumental in pushing Facebook toward a civil rights advocate, said in a statement that the task force "will not result in meaningful change."

"Facebook's announcement that it will convert an ad hoc, interdepartmental collaboration of current staff tasked with addressing civil rights concerns into a permanent configuration will not result in meaningful change," Muslim Advocates wrote. "It is clear that Facebook's leadership continues to fail on this front."

The group is calling for CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergDemocrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation Activists protest Facebook's 'failure' on disinformation with body bags outside DC office Budowsky: How Biden can defeat COVID-19 for good MORE and Sandberg to step down from the board, to increase diversity on the board and for a top-level civil rights expert and ombudsman.

More from the audit: Murphy in her report said she believes Facebook is taking civil rights issues more seriously than ever before, particularly following reports that Russian trolls used the platform to intensify and exacerbate racial divisions in the U.S. in 2016.

Pilot programs: According to Murphy's report, Facebook is testing a host of policy changes that could address some of Facebook's issues with hate speech, harassment and voter suppression, as well as ongoing complaints from civil rights activists that their posts are taken down even when they condemn bigoted content.

When it comes to hateful and bigoted content, Facebook is piloting a program that would assign some content moderators to hate speech only, meaning they could focus more attention and get more training on the issue of what defines "hate speech" specifically.

What's next: The next phase of the audit is expected to address more specifically harassment and content moderation appeals and penalty systems, according to Murphy.

Read more on what activists have to say about the audit here. 


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Latin America needs more tech in government to counter graft.


A LIGHTER CLICK: What you sound like after walking up a flight of stairs in the summer heat.



A Democratic candidate keeps mixing the facts of a 2018 story when calling for election security. (Motherboard)

How Europe's smallest nations are battling Russia's cyberattacks. (Yahoo News)

How protestors in Hong Kong are using online apps to fuel their movement. (The New York Times)

China cracks down on music and podcast apps. (TechCrunch)

Amazon's warehouses are back under scrutiny. (Geekwire)