Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets

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, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills)

 

GIVE ME THAT GREEN LIGHT: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday voted along party lines to approve the $26 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, the final move needed for the deal to secure the U.S. government's full blessing. 

Two sources familiar confirmed to The Hill that the merger has been approved, with the three Republicans on the commission voting in favor and the two Democrats dissenting. 

But the merger is still facing a significant obstacle as a group of 17 state attorneys general forge ahead in their lawsuit to block the deal. The multistate lawsuit, announced over the summer, claims that the combined telecom giant would ramp up prices for consumers and result in significant job losses. 

Democrats publicly oppose it: Both Democratic FCC commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks, said Wednesday that they voted against the deal, arguing that the merger will come at a steep price to consumers.

"In short, I believe that T-Mobile and Sprint have not proven that their merger will benefit the public interest," Starks said in a statement. "I hope for the sake of consumers that I am wrong. I fear that we will one day look back at this decision and recognize it as a moment that forever changed the U.S. wireless industry, and not for the better."

In an Atlantic op-ed on Wednesday morning, Rosenworcel announced her vote against the deal, saying she believes it will "end a golden age in wireless that helped bring to market lower prices and more innovative services." 

When we'll see the order: The FCC order has not yet been released publicly. According to a source familiar with the process, the commissioners still have time to finalize their statements and put together the final draft, meaning the order may not come out for another few weeks.

Read more on the merger here.

 

IS LIBRA SEASON OVER: Facebook's ambitious plan to launch a global virtual currency is faltering under growing skepticism from business partners, politicians and financial regulators.

As the founders of Project Libra move toward a planned 2020 launch, crucial financial industry backers have bailed on the cryptocurrency system as Facebook faces rising threats from Washington.

Facebook's critics across the political spectrum were elated after Mastercard, Visa, eBay, Stripe and PayPal all pulled out of the virtual currency project this month. The crushing departures occurred just days before the Libra Association formalized its structure in Geneva on Monday.

Several Trump administration officials and lawmakers have grown increasingly concerned with Facebook's immense market power and global reach. The project has also raised alarms among financial regulators, who urged the company to tread carefully or risk a federal crackdown.

While Libra's founders insist they will wait for Washington's green light before launching, the company's critics are pouncing to stop the project in its tracks.

Read more on the future of Libra here.

 

ZUCKERBERG ON FOX: Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg will appear on Fox News on Friday for an interview amid calls from Democrats for his platform to pull ads created by the Trump campaign targeting former Vice President Joe Biden.

Fox News representatives confirmed in a press release Wednesday evening that the Facebook CEO would make his first appearance on the network, where he is expected to address criticism of Facebook's policy allowing politicians to run ads on the platform that are found to be misleading.

More on Zuckerberg here.

 

SECTIONED OFF: Bipartisan lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday hit the Trump administration for including language from legal liability protections for internet companies in trade negotiations.

The protections from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives platforms legal immunity for content posted by third-party users while also giving them legal cover to take good-faith efforts to moderate their platforms, have been included in some way in both the U.S-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and pact with Japan signed earlier this month.

"I want to talk a bit about injecting 230 into trade agreements," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said during the hearing. "It seems to me that we've already seen that now in the Japan trade agreement and there is a real push to include that now in the [USMCA]. There is no place for that."

Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said he was "disappointed" U.S. trade representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer refused to participate in Wednesday's hearing.

Read more on the hearing here.

 

TAKING DOWN ONLINE EXTREMISM: Dozens of Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday pressed the State Department to designate three white supremacist groups as foreign terrorist organizations, arguing that reclassification could help the U.S. seriously confront the escalating crisis of white extremist violence.

In a letter led by Rep. Max Rose (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee's counterterrorism subpanel, the 39 lawmakers asked the State Department why they have not placed Ukraine's Azov Batalion, Finland's Nordic Resistance movement or the United Kingdom's National Action on the U.S. list of "foreign terrorist organizations" (FTOs). 

"Today, if an American citizen swears allegiance to the Islamic State (or another Foreign Terrorist Organization on the list) and spreads their message of terror, there are several resources available to the federal government to counter the threat," their letter reads.

"However, if that same American citizen swears allegiance to a violent white supremacist extremist group based overseas and spreads their message of terror, the Federal government does not have access to the same tools," it continues.

 

Removing neo-Nazis online: In a phone interview with The Hill, Rose said that designating more neo-Nazi groups as FTOs could help social media companies commit to driving them off the platform with the endorsement of the government.

"Right now, if you look at the way in which [the social media companies] measure their ability to remove terrorist content from their platforms, they are looking at the FTO list," Rose said. "So for us to put this on that list, I think takes a bold step forward in expanding what is expected of them." 

Shootings in Poway, Calif., and El Paso, Texas, over the past several months have also been perpetrated by extremists with anti-immigrant views, which they cultivated online. 

Rose called the letter a "first step" to dedicating the full breadth of government and private sector resources toward combatting the rise of white extremism. 

Read more on the effort here.

 

DRONING ON: Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on Wednesday introduced a bill to transfer authority over low-flying drones from the federal government to states, cities and Native American tribes.

The Drone Integration and Zoning Act would create a framework for drones up to 200 feet above the ground where local authorities determine what drones do in airspace over state- or local-owned land and property owners do the same over their own land.

"The FAA cannot feasibly or efficiently oversee millions of drones in every locality throughout the country," Lee said in a statement.

Read more here.

 

DEMS GO DEEP ON TECH AT DEBATE: The top Democratic presidential candidates on Tuesday night wrangled over their differing views on how to take on the unprecedented power of Big Tech, marking the first time the contenders have been asked to discuss the issue on the debate stage. 

Most of the candidates drew a contrast between their own views and those of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a top-tier hopeful who has called for breaking up top tech companies including Facebook, Google and Amazon. 

Walking a fine line: While other candidates, including former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, agreed the government should take on the large tech firms, they said they don't believe "breaking up" the companies will properly address issues including how they protect user data and consolidate market power.

Warren's defense: Warren defended her "break up Big Tech" plan, which was one of the first she offered after announcing her presidential candidacy and which quickly become one of her signature issues. She presented breaking up tech companies as one of the most powerful tools the government has for taking them on.

"I'm not willing to give up and let a handful of monopolists dominate our economy and our democracy," Warren said. "It's time to fight back." 

Read more on the Big Tech debate here.

 

HARRIS GOES AFTER WARREN AFTER TWITTER STANCE: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) on Tuesday night went after fellow 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) over her failure to get behind Harris's effort to pressure Twitter into deleting President Trump's account.

Over the past several weeks, Harris has launched a public campaign urging Twitter to delete Trump's controversial account, which the president regularly uses to lambast his critics and promote misinformation. Last week, Warren, one of the top tech antagonists in the Democratic presidential race, declined to back Harris's call. 

"I was surprised to hear that you did not agree with me that on this subject around what should be the rules on corporate responsibility," Harris said directly to Warren at the Democratic primary debate in Ohio. "When I called on Twitter to suspend Donald trump's account ... you did not agree."

"I would urge you to join me," Harris added. 

Warren retorted she doesn't agree with Harris's approach to taking on Big Tech. "I don't want to push Donald Trump off Twitter," Warren said. "I want to push him out of the White House." 

Read more here. 

 

Meanwhile on Twitter: Twitter is detailing its policies for world leaders as Democrats press the social media giant to take a tougher stance on President Trump's tweets.

In a statement Tuesday, Twitter said that tweets from leaders "are not above our policies entirely."

"When it comes to the actions of world leaders on Twitter, we recognize that this is largely new ground and unprecedented. We understand the desire for our decisions to be 'yes/no' binaries, but it's not that simple," the company said. "The actions we take and policies we develop will set precedent around online speech and we owe it to the people we serve to be deliberate and considered in what we do."

Read more on Twitter's rules here. 

 

ELECTION SECURITY AT THE DEBATE: Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang on Tuesday night said that the U.S. has "tampered with other elections" in calling for action to be taken to deter Russia from interfering in the 2020 election.

"We have to let Russia know, look, we get it, we've tampered with other elections, you've tampered with our elections, and now it has to stop, and if it does not stop we will take this as an act of hostility against the American people," Yang said during the Democratic primary debate.

Yang described Russian hacking efforts ahead of the 2016 U.S. elections as "an illustration of the 21st century threats" such as cybersecurity and climate change, vowing to help "pull us forward" in addressing these issues.

Democratic candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), one the main Senate Democrats to push for action on election security over the past several months, pushed back strongly against Yang's assertion that the U.S. and Russia were equal in terms of election interference against other nations.

"I don't see a moral equivalency between our country and Russia," Klobuchar said, adding that Russian interference in 2016 was "much more serious" than "meddling," and that Russia's actions constituted an "invasion" of U.S. elections.

Read more here.

 

AN EYE FOR AN EYE: The U.S. hit Iran with a secret cyberattack after a September strike on two Saudi oil facilities that Washington and Riyadh both blame on Tehran, according to Reuters.

Two U.S. officials told the news service that the operation, which took place late last month, targeted Tehran's ability to spread "propaganda." One of the officials said the attack hit physical hardware, but declined to provide further information. 

"They must have dreamt it," Iranian Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi responded, according to Iran's Fars news agency.

The U.S., Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and Germany have all publicly blamed the Sept. 14 strike against Saudi oil facilities on Iran, which denied any involvement in the attack. The Iran-aligned Houthi rebel group in Yemen claimed responsibility.

The Pentagon responded to the attack by sending thousands of additional troops and equipment to Saudi Arabia to help reinforce its defenses. 

Neither the White House nor the National Security Council immediately responded to requests for comment from The Hill regarding the cyberattack. 

Read more here. 

 

SUBPOENA AVERTED (FOR NOW): House lawmakers tasked with investigating the country's largest tech companies on Tuesday said they have received an initial round of documents from Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google's parent company Alphabet to aid their probe.

The announcement came on Oct. 15, the deadline lawmakers had set to receive the slew of documents they requested from the companies last month.

"We have received initial submissions from Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Facebook as part of our investigation," the lawmakers - including the top Democrat and Republican on the House Judiciary Committee - said in the statement.

The statement came from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) as well as the leaders of the panel's antitrust subcommittee, Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).

"The committee will review all of the information received from the companies in order to help inform next steps," they said. "We will hold additional hearings, discussions and roundtables as our investigation continues."

The House Judiciary Committee also requested documents from more than 80 other companies as part of its probe into the digital marketplace, a source familiar with the matter confirmed to The Hill. The committee has also asked for those documents by this week.

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Every single night.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Exporting US internet laws will help startups thrive.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

How a Facebook ad scam made billions (BuzzFeed News)

Accused Capital One hacker had as much as 30 terabytes of data, feds say (CyberScoop)

Fully automated ship being built to trace the voyage of the Mayflower (BBC News)

Zuckerberg meets with Rep. Maxine Waters ahead of hearing. (The Information)

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