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Hillicon Valley: House panel unveils draft of privacy bill | Senate committee approves bill to sanction Russia | Dems ask HUD to review use of facial recognition | Uber settles sexual harassment charges for $4.4M

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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).

 

HOUSE DROPS (DRAFT) PRIVACY BILL: A key House committee on Wednesday unveiled a first draft of a bipartisan federal privacy bill, bringing Congress one step closer to passing a law to rein in the tech industry’s unregulated collection of personal information on its millions of U.S. users.

A new hope: The House bill offers new hope for industry watchers who have been rooting for Congress to work up the country’s first comprehensive privacy bill, which will draw new safeguards around how companies are allowed to collect and use reams of data about the people who use their services.  

Staffers on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the internet, sent the draft legislation to stakeholders on Wednesday. They’re currently seeking comments from the many privacy groups, companies and trade groups that have been watching the bill negotiations closely for nearly a year. 

“Committee staff have circulated a bipartisan staff discussion draft of comprehensive federal privacy legislation,” an Energy and Commerce spokesperson said. “This draft seeks to protect consumers while also giving data collectors clear rules of the road. It reflects many months of hard work and close collaboration between Democratic and Republican Committee staff.”

How it compares: On many issues, the House’s privacy bill discussion draft hews closely to the legislation recently offered by the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee.

But…: The bill, however, side-steps several of the most divisive issues on the table, including whether any federal law will override incoming state privacy laws and whether individuals should be empowered to sue companies over privacy violations. 

Those two divisive issues have led to months of stalled negotiations on the Senate Commerce Committee, where Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) have been held up for months as they try to break the impasse. 

What the members are saying: The top Republican who has been working on the bill, Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.), in a statement emphasized that the draft is unfinished. She has been working alongside Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a key Democrat on the committee. 

“This staff draft is not a finished product but will serve as an important step in the process for us to solicit feedback and continue to negotiate a final bill,” McMorris-Rodgers said. “I’m appreciative of the bipartisan staff work that has gone into this and am committed to continue working with Chair Schakowsky towards a bipartisan privacy bill.” 

Schakowsky called the draft a “significant step towards establishing critical privacy protections.” 

“We look forward to receiving feedback from public interest groups, industry, academics, and anyone else who wishes to provide feedback over the coming weeks,” Schakowsky said in a statement. “Based on that input, we will decide timing on next steps.” 

Read more on the bill here.

 

CLAP BACK: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday voted to approve and send to the full Senate a bill that would impose sanctions on Russia for interference efforts in democratic institutions and push forward international cybersecurity efforts. 

The committee approved the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) by a vote of 17-5 during a markup on Wednesday. 

The bill would impose wide-ranging sanctions on Russia for interference efforts, including sanctioning Russian banks that support Russian efforts to undermine foreign democratic institutions, and sanctioning relatives and associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin who solicit “illicit and corrupt activities” on behalf of Putin.

In addition, the bill would sanction both Russia’s cyber industry and target its sovereign debt. 

Despite the committee vote in support, Foreign Relations Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) voted against it, saying he was skeptical about the bill’s future, while telling The Hill that “I do not think this is going to be heard” in the full Senate. 

Risch pointed to “fatal flaws” involving sanctions in the legislation, saying that sanctions have the potential to “hurt American enterprise and the American people.”

“In order to see that that doesn’t happen, you have to have flexible waivers in there, and this bill doesn’t,” Risch said. “I don’t think any president, Republican or Democrat, is going to sign a sanctions bill that doesn’t give the administration the flexibility that they need to administer the law.”

Read more here.

 

UBER SETTLES WITH EEOC: Uber has agreed to set aside $4.4 million to compensate women who were harassed or faced retaliation during their time at the company, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced on Wednesday. 

Uber agreed to create the fund after an extensive EEOC investigation this week concluded that Uber had enabled and fostered a culture of sexual harassment and gender discrimination over the course of several years. 

The investigation and settlement strikes at the heart of one of Uber’s longest-standing issues, both internally and in the court of public opinion: whether it mistreats female employees, drivers and passengers. For years, Uber has struggled to shrug off intense criticism of its male-dominated workforce and concerns around whether it does enough to protect female riders from being sexually assaulted.

EEOC said it found “reasonable cause” to believe that Uber had permitted a culture of “sexual harassment and retaliation against individuals who complained about such harassment,” a violation of decades-old civil rights laws. 

“We’ve worked hard to ensure that all employees can thrive at Uber by putting fairness and accountability at the heart of who we are and what we do,” said Uber’s Chief Legal Officer Tony West. “I am extremely pleased that we were able to work jointly with the EEOC in continuing to strengthen these efforts.”

Read more on the settlement here.

 

NEW CYBER DIRECTOR: President Trump on Wednesday formally submitted the nomination for a new assistant director of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), one of the top-ranking cyber officials at the agency.

Trump nominated Bryan Ware to take over the position from Jeanette Manfra, who last month announced she would step down at the end of the year.

Ware will be in charge of leading DHS efforts, as part of its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), to defend and strengthen critical infrastructure against cyberattacks.

Ware currently serves as the DHS assistant secretary for cyber, infrastructure, and resilience policy, where, according to the White House, he is in charge of “leading department-wide efforts to reduce national risks, with a focus on critical infrastructure, cybersecurity, federal network security, countering cyber-crime, and improving the security and resilience of the global cyber ecosystem.”

Prior to serving at DHS, Ware founded and led an artificial intelligence company that was acquired by security analytics group Haystax in 2013. According to the White House, Ware has also been issued multiple patents on artificial intelligence and mobile technology.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told The Hill in a statement on Wednesday that Ware was taking on “an enormous task.”

Read more here.

 

HOLD UP: A group of Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to review the use of facial recognition in federally assisted housing amid concerns the technology amplifies existing biases.

The lawmakers cited reports of public and federal housing administrators installing facial recognition technology, which scans faces for the purposes of identifying individuals, in buildings.

“[HUD] is responsible for creating and ensuring discrimination-free practices in all communities,” the Democratic lawmakers, including Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), wrote in a letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

“However, as numerous civil rights experts have pointed out, when public housing and federally assisted property owners install facial recognition security camera systems, they could be used to enable invasive, unnecessary and harmful government surveillance of their residents,” the continued. “Those who cannot afford more do not deserve less in basic privacy and protections. They should not have to compromise their civil rights and liberties nor accept the condition of indiscriminate, sweeping government surveillance to find an affordable place to live.” 

Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) also signed onto the letter.

Read more here.

 

CHILD LABOR CONCERNS: A lawsuit filed this week in Washington, D.C., alleges that some of the world’s largest technology firms knowingly engaged in the usage of child labor in Africa’s cobalt mines.

The suit was filed by nongovernmental organization International Rights Advocates and mentions Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Tesla and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, USA Today reports.

Cobalt is an essential part of rechargeable lithium batteries that power many of the electronic devices that the listed companies sell. 

According to the suit, two mining companies — British company Glencore and Chinese company Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt — supplied cobalt to all of the defendants.

Because of this, the suit asserts, the named tech giants are “aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children” in the mines that are located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Dell told The Hill that it “never knowingly sourced operations using any form of involuntary labor, fraudulent recruiting practices or child labor.”

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Congress in a nutshell

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: The Space Force has gone from joke to reality

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Census Bureau working to combat disinformation ahead of 2020 count (The Wall Street Journal / Sarah Needleman)

Alienated, alone and angry: what the digital revolution really did to us (BuzzFeed News / Joseph Bernstein)

Google’s Larry Page gave $400 million in Christmas donations. Not a penny went straight to charity (Recode / Theodore Schleifer)

DOJ official told Dish to enlist senators in T-Mobile deal (Bloomberg News / Erik Larson)

Tags Ayanna Pressley Ben Carson Bennie Thompson Cory Booker Donald Trump Ed Markey Jan Schakowsky Maria Cantwell Rashida Tlaib Roger Wicker Ron Wyden Sherrod Brown Vladimir Putin Yvette Clarke

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