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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills).
HUAWEI WARNING: A group of senators from both parties on Thursday urged the Trump administration to stop issuing licenses for U.S. companies to do business with Chinese telecom giant Huawei, warning that even limited business with Huawei could pose a national security risk.
In a letter to President Trump, the group of 15 senators wrote they are dismayed the Commerce Department has started issuing licenses to U.S. firms that conduct business with Huawei.
"Given the security risks posed by Huawei's operations in the U.S., we request that you take immediate action to suspend the approval of such licenses and ensure Congress is appropriately informed about the license approval process and related national security implications going forward," Sens. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden's Supreme Court commission ends not with a bang but a whimper Hispanic organizations call for Latino climate justice in reconciliation Senate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act MORE (D-N.Y.) and Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - House debt vote today; Biden struggles to unite Arkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike MORE (R-Ark.) wrote in the bipartisan letter.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossBannon's subpoena snub sets up big decision for Biden DOJ House panel, Commerce Department reach agreement on census documents China sanctions Wilbur Ross, others after US warns of doing business in Hong Kong MORE this week said the Trump administration has started to issue licenses to some of the U.S. companies that requested special permission to conduct business with Huawei after the company was blacklisted in May.
The licenses started to emerge after the Commerce Department announced Monday that the temporary license permitting some companies to work with Huawei has been extended 90 days, in the third deadline extension since the company was blacklisted.
On Thursday, the senators wrote to Trump, "You have said yourself that you did not want the U.S. doing business with Huawei."
They asked the Commerce Department to stop granting licenses to U.S. companies until it provides Congress with a "report outlining specific criteria for determining whether or not the approval of any license poses a national security threat."
ZUCK FOR DINNER: Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenAmerica can end poverty among its elderly citizens Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Misguided recusal rules lock valuable leaders out of the Pentagon MORE (D-Mass.), a 2020 White House hopeful, on Thursday called a newly revealed dinner between Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark ZuckerbergEx-Facebook data scientist to testify before British lawmakers A defense for Facebook and global free speech Senate Democrat calls on Facebook to preserve documents related to whistleblower testimony MORE and President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump goes after Cassidy after saying he wouldn't support him for president in 2024 Jan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups MORE at the White House "corruption, plain and simple."
"Amid antitrust scrutiny, Facebook is going on a charm offensive with Republican lawmakers," Warren tweeted.
"And now, Mark Zuckerberg and one of Facebook's board members--a major Trump donor--had a secret dinner with Trump."
NBC News first reported the dinner, which occurred in October, on Wednesday.
Zuckerberg and Facebook board member Peter Thiel, a staunch Trump supporter and donor, met with the president and first lady Melania Trump at the White House while the CEO was in town to testify about Facebook's new cryptocurrency, Libra.
A spokesperson for Facebook confirmed the meeting in a statement to The Hill.
"As is normal for a CEO of a major US company, Mark accepted an invitation to have dinner with the President and First Lady at the White House," they said.
STEPPING DOWN: Jeanette Manfra, a top official within the Department of Homeland Security's cyber agency, announced Thursday that she will leave her position at the end of the year.
Manfra, who serves as the assistant director for Cybersecurity and Communications within the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), tweeted that stepping down was "not an easy decision."
"After 12 years at DHS, I'll be leaving @CISAgov at the end of this year," Manfra wrote. "This is not an easy decision, as it's been one of my greatest honors to work alongside such a remarkable team on this incredibly important mission."
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonJan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Trump sues Jan. 6 panel to block records This week: Democrats confront gridlock over Biden spending plan MORE (D-Miss.) and cybersecurity subcommittee Chairman Cedric RichmondCedric RichmondBiden to meet with business leaders amid debt ceiling pressure campaign on GOP Bottom line The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Democrats to scale back agenda MORE (D-La.) praised Manfra in a joint statement on Thursday, specifically highlighting her efforts to improve election security and advance the cybersecurity of federal networks.
"She served as a steady hand through CISA's transition to become an operational component, staying above the political fray to work with Members on both sides of the aisle to ensure CISA will be well-positioned to carry out its critical cybersecurity mission as cyber threats continue to evolve," Thompson and Richmond said.
A BILL TO TAKE ON LIBRA: A pair of lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation that would place stringent government oversight on Facebook's incoming digital currency and similar projects.
The bill from Reps. Sylvia GarciaSylvia GarciaDemocrats want to bolster working women, but face tortuous choices The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Gears begin to shift in Congress on stalled Biden agenda Proposed Texas map adds two new congressional districts to Austin, Houston MORE (D-Texas) and Lance GoodenLance GoodenWatchdog: 7 members of Congress allegedly failed to disclose stock trades GOP lawmakers demand answers on withheld restitution following Nassar revelation Hillicon Valley: Biden: Social media platforms 'killing people' | Tech executives increased political donations amid lobbying push | Top House antitrust Republican forms 'Freedom from Big Tech Caucus' MORE (R-Texas) would place the Libra digital coin squarely under the Securities and Exchange Commission's jurisdiction, a move that would subject the cryptocurrency to a set of extensive and well-established regulations.
Facebook has denied that the Libra coin is a security. But lawmakers have struggled to understand how to classify the ambitious Libra project because the U.S. government has not yet defined which federal agencies will be in charge of regulating cryptocurrencies.
"Managed stablecoins, such as the proposed Libra, are clearly securities under existing law," Garcia said in a statement. "This legislation simply clarifies the statute to remove any ambiguity. Bringing clarity to the regulatory structure of these digital assets protects consumers and ensures proper government oversight going forward."
Gooden said it is Congress's role to "clarify the regulatory framework" for digital currencies like Libra, which will likely be pegged to government-backed currencies like the dollar. The Libra coin has been classified as a "stablecoin," meaning it is backed by a basket of currencies held in a reserve.
"It's the responsibility of Congress to clarify the regulatory framework that will apply to stablecoins, especially now that mainstream institutions are offering them to consumers," Gooden said.
David Marcus, who heads Facebook's involvement in the project, told reporters earlier this year that it strongly opposes defining the Libra as a security.
"We strongly believe it's [not a security] and we have good legal opinion that confirms in the view of the outside counsels we've ... consulted," Marcus said.
GOOGLE WORKER PROTEST: Google workers are planning to hold a rally on Friday in support of two colleagues who they say have faced "retaliation" by management at the company, according to an email sent to reporters from organizing workers.
Google has said the two workers -- identified publicly as Laurence Berland and Rebecca Rivers -- are under investigation for violating company policies. But workers have pushed back against those allegations, calling it a "brute force intimidation attempt to silence workers." They are asking for Berland and Rivers to be reinstated immediately.
More than 100 Google workers are expected to attend the rally and accompanying press conference at the company's San Francisco offices. The two workers are slated to speak to reporters about their experiences.
The public event marks an escalation of internal efforts to push back against the company's decision to place the two workers on indefinite administrative leave, and it comes amid escalating tensions between workers and management at the tech giant.
"Without workers, users, creators, and our communities, Google would not be making over $20 billion in profits a year," reads the email from Google workers. "The attack on Rebecca Rivers and Laurence Berland is an attack on all people who care about transparency and accountability for tech."
A Google spokesperson told The Hill that one of the workers was put on leave while the company investigates why the employee accessed and disseminated confidential documents outside the scope of their job. The other employee was placed on leave after they tracked staff calendars in a way that made other workers feel unsafe, according to Google.
But the workers say the allegations are a front for retaliating against two activist employees.
RIGHT TO PRIVACY: Amnesty International said Thursday that the amount of information controlled by Google and Facebook, along with other tech companies, was a threat to privacy rights around the world.
A report published by the human rights watchdog described the two companies as dominant over much of the Western world's online habits, which amount to much of Americans' daily lives.
"Google and Facebook dominate our modern lives -- amassing unparalleled power over the digital world by harvesting and monetizing the personal data of billions of people. Their insidious control of our digital lives undermines the very essence of privacy and is one of the defining human rights challenges of our era," Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International's secretary general, said in a press release.
"To protect our core human values in the digital age -- dignity, autonomy, privacy -- there needs to be a radical overhaul of the way Big Tech operates, and to move to an internet that has human rights at its core," he said.
The report described massive data breaches that have affected major tech companies -- such as Facebook's admission surrounding the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which tens of millions of user accounts were affected -- as an innate part of the normal functions of such companies.
"The abuse of privacy that is core to Facebook and Google's surveillance-based business model is starkly demonstrated by the companies' long history of privacy scandals," the report reads.
OBAMA WEIGHS IN: Former President Obama on Thursday cautioned an audience at a technology conference in California about the dangers he believes new and emerging tech platforms can pose.
Speaking to Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at the company's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco Thursday, Obama spoke at length about technology and social media and its role in society.
"When you have big disruptive internet tech, it can be a dangerous moment," he said, according to Fortune. "Part of what happens is people don't know what's true and what's not."
The former president didn't completely speak negatively about social platforms and big tech, saying he still believes "the internet could be a powerful tool for us to see each other and unify us."
"But right now, it's splintering," Obama said.
Obama suggested that social media and technology are helping to drive misplaced desires.
"In part fed by social media and technology, we're chasing after the wrong things, we want the wrong things," Obama noted. "So much of the anger and frustration has to do with issues of status."
MORE BAD NEWS AT WEWORK: Office-sharing company WeWork announced Thursday it is laying off about 2,400 employees worldwide, as the company looks to cut costs and stabilize its business model.
Layoffs had been expected following Japanese technology investment company SoftBank's announcement that it would extend a $9.5 billion lifeline to WeWork that will lead to SoftBank owning nearly 80 percent of the company's shares.
"As part of our renewed focus on the core WeWork business, and as we have previously shared with employees, the company is making necessary layoffs to create a more efficient organization," a WeWork spokesperson said in a statement provided to The Hill. "This workforce reduction affects approximately 2,400 employees globally, who will receive severance, continued benefits, and other forms of assistance to aid in their career transition."
As of June 30, the New York-based company had 12,500 employees.
ELECTION SECURITY UPDATE: The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) cybersecurity agency announced Thursday it would partner with election officials and private sector groups to develop an election auditing tool that can be used to help ensure the accuracy of votes in 2020.
DHS' Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is partnering with non-profit group VotingWorks on an open-source software tool known as Arlo, which is provided to state and local election officials for free.
According to CISA, Arlo conducts an audit of votes by selecting how many ballots and which ballots to audit and comparing the audited votes to the original count.
The tool has already been used to conduct post-election audits across the country, including during the recent 2019 elections. Election officials in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, Ohio, and Georgia have signed on to partner with CISA on Arlo, with more officials expected to join.
A LIGHTER CLICK: Bye bye Bei Bei
AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: 'Technology unions' could be unions of conscience for Big Tech
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
When things go wrong for blind users on Facebook, they go really wrong (Slate)
Google wants to do business with the military--many of its employees don't (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Google's new political ad rules unite Democratic and Republican campaigns in opposition (Washington Post)