Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill

Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill
© Getty Images

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).

 

ADVERTISEMENT

NEW FEARS OVER SAUDI HACKING: The alleged hacking of Amazon CEO Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosHillicon Valley: Trump adviser presses House to make Bezos testify | GOP senator offers bill to restrict US sales to Huawei | Facebook to let campaigns use paid influencers On The Money: Trump adviser presses House to make Bezos testify | Kudlow says tax-cut proposal coming this fall | NY Fed says Boeing woes could hurt GDP | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline Trump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify MORE's phone by Saudi Arabia's crown prince has alarmed members of Congress and experts, raising fresh concerns about the kingdom's cyberspace powers.

It is also bringing new questions over the U.S. security relationship with the Saudis, a relationship that has already been strained by the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

What lawmakers are saying... "If true, those are genuinely stunning allegations," Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters Thursday. Coons called the killing of Khashoggi the "most grave challenge" the relationship between the two countries in a long time. "If true, these allegations would present a fundamental challenge to the continuation of that relationship," he added about the hack.

"I think if true it's remarkably serious," Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerUS prosecutors bring new charges against China's Huawei Lawmakers grill Census Bureau officials after report on cybersecurity issues Senate GOP blocks three election security bills MORE (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Thursday. "There are intel ramifications when we think about Americans prominent or otherwise, campaigns prominent or otherwise, that are subject to foreign based attacks."

Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that "it's just a different world" when it comes to cyber operations by foreign governments.

"I think that what this indicates is that people use tools that are available to them, and that's the world we live in today, people really need to be cautious with the cyber stuff," Risch said.

But there are also questions about the incident... Bruce Riedel, the director of the Intelligence Project at Brookings Institution and a former senior advisor to four presidents on the National Security Council, urged Congress to investigate how much the U.S. intelligence community knew about the alleged hacking incident.

ADVERTISEMENT

"The Saudis are certain to have hacked many more phones to obtain compromising information on their critics, Americans as well as Saudis," Riedel told The Hill.

More here on the hack and how it's raising fears.

 

 

HOLD UP: Amazon on Wednesday asked a U.S. federal court to stop Microsoft from working with the Pentagon to implement a $10 billion cloud-computing contract, arguing that the project should be put on hold until the courts work out whether Microsoft deserved to receive the lucrative deal. 

Amazon is suing the Department of Defense (DOD) over allegations that it allowed President TrumpDonald John TrumpChanges in policies, not personalities, will improve perception of corruption in the US Union leader: Bloomberg can go all the way Pelosi: 'I'm not counting Joe Biden out' MORE to exert "improper influence" over the contract process, ultimately steering the cloud-computing project away from the online retail giant and towards Microsoft. Amazon was seen as the clear front-runner in the competition before Trump began intervening in the process over the summer. 

Even as Amazon sues in federal court, Microsoft and the Pentagon have been forging ahead to lay the groundwork for the enormous cloud-computing project. But Amazon says it's improper for the deal to move forward until the U.S. Court of Federal Claims makes the final call.

"It is common practice to stay contract performance while a protest is pending and it's important that the numerous evaluation errors and blatant political interference that impacted the JEDI award decision be reviewed," an Amazon Web Services spokesperson said late Wednesday night, adding the company "is absolutely committed to supporting the DoD's modernization efforts and to an expeditious legal process that resolves this matter as quickly as possible." 

Read more here.

 

NEW SURVEILLANCE REFORM BILL: A group of privacy-focused lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation to reform a set of controversial surveillance authorities that are slated to expire in March, setting up ambitious goalposts in the upcoming battle over whether Congress should pare down the government's ability to spy on people in the U.S. 

The bill, from a bipartisan and bicameral coalition, would narrow down the kinds of information the government is allowed to collect without a warrant and officially shut down its ability to collect phone records on millions of Americans.

And it would reform a secretive court that President Trump and Republican allies have bitterly criticized in the wake of a critical inspector general report last year. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The Safeguarding Americans' Private Records Act seeks to capitalize on a wave of renewed bipartisan interest in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court), an instrumental part of the country's intelligence-gathering and national security operations. 

"Liberty and security aren't mutually exclusive, and they aren't partisan either," Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign Overnight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case Harris, Castro introduce resolution condemning Trump aide Stephen Miller MORE (D-Ore.), who has long called for surveillance reform, said in a statement. "I'm proud our bipartisan coalition is standing up for Americans' rights and commonsense reforms to protect our people against unnecessary government surveillance." 

Read more here.

 

MARKEY HAS SOME QUESTIONS: Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOvernight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Senate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign Delta commits to becoming world's first carbon neutral airline MORE (D-Mass.) on Thursday sent a series of questions to the CEO of Clearview AI after reports that the company has been selling facial recognition software with an expansive database to law enforcement.

The New York Times first reported over the weekend that more than 600 law enforcement agencies have started working with Clearview, which claims to have a database of more than 3 billion photos, in the last year.

"Any technology with the ability to collect and analyze individuals' biometric information has alarming potential to impinge on the public's civil liberties and privacy," Markey wrote in the letter to CEO Hoan Ton-That.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Clearview's product appears to pose particularly chilling privacy risks, and I am deeply concerned that it is capable of fundamentally dismantling Americans' expectation that they can move, assemble, or simply appear in public without being identified," he continued.

According to the Times, Clearview has built its software by scraping major social media platforms and allowing users to upload photos of strangers. The pool of pictures that has been built using the system dwarfs those put together by Silicon Valley companies or the U.S. government.

Read more here.

 

And Clearview is in hot water with Twitter too...

 

PLEASE DO NOT DO THAT: Twitter is demanding an AI company stop collecting data from the social media platform for its facial recognition database.

ADVERTISEMENT

In a cease-and-desist letter sent this week, Twitter told Clearview AI it is violating its policies by collecting data for its facial recognition software, a Twitter spokesperson confirmed to The Hill Thursday. 

The development was first reported by The New York Times

The cease and desist letter calls on Clearview AI to stop taking data from Twitter "for any reason" and delete any that was previously collected. 

Twitter prohibits users from using its platform for "facial recognition," on its restricted uses page. 

Read more on the letter here.

 

AMBITIOUS COLLAB: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey declined to host a fundraiser for presidential candidate Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardSanders leads Biden in latest Nevada poll Yang: NYC should implement universal basic income The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE late last year, claiming that he's hesitant to publicly back particular candidates, according to a new report from Recode

Gabbard, a vocal critic of large tech corporations including Twitter, reportedly asked Dorsey to fundraise for her last December, a few months after Dorsey maxed out donations to the controversial Hawaii Democrat's presidential bid.

At first, Dorsey said he was interested in co-hosting a fundraiser for her with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, one source told Recode. But Dorsey said he was no longer interested in holding the fundraiser, shortly after Gabbard declined to vote in favor of impeaching President Trump, the tech news outlet reported.

Dorsey donated $2,800 to Gabbard's 2020 campaign last June, according to a Federal Election Commission (FEC) filing. He also contributed $1,000 to former tech executive Andrew Yang in March. 

After Dorsey received criticism for his donations to obscure candidates – particularly Gabbard, who is known for bucking the party line and advancing controversial opinions – he defended himself on Twitter.  

"I've made personal contributions because I appreciate Andrew's focus on the coming displacement of work due to AI and automation, and Tulsi's strong anti-war stance," he tweeted. "Along with systematically addressing climate change and economic injustice, these are the key issues of global consequence I want to see considered and discussed more."

Gabbard has been among those advocating to break up Big Tech.

Last July, when a reporter asked Gabbard about Dorsey's donation, she said she had never met him. 

"I had not met or spoken to him," Gabbard said. "I saw that the contribution was made and reached out and said 'thank you so much,' and he expressed his support for my candidacy." 

"Nothing changes my position," she said. 

Twitter and Gabbard's campaign did not immediately respond to The Hill's requests for comment.

Read more here.

 

 

KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON: Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinGOP senators offering bill to cement business provision in Trump tax law On The Money: Deficit spikes 25 percent through January | Mnuchin declines to say why Trump pulled Treasury nominee who oversaw Roger Stone case | Lawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts Mnuchin defends Treasury regulations on GOP tax law MORE urged the United Kingdom to ban equipment made by Chinese telecommunications company Huawei from its networks as the U.K. inches closer to a deadline to make a decision on the issue.

Mnuchin said Thursday that he would meet with the British finance minister this weekend to discuss banning Huawei equipment, Reuters reported, something the U.S. has been pushing its allies to do over the past year.

"Let me just say again, it's a complicated issue," Mnuchin said, according to Reuters. "We've made very clear that it relates to all of the critical areas that we have significant concerns. But again, there's ongoing discussion on these issues."

The comments come as the U.S. has heavily encouraged allied nations to cut Huawei out of their networks, citing concerns over a Chinese intelligence law that requires Huawei to help with state intelligence work.

Read more here.

 

APPLE PUSHES BACK ON 'COMMON CHARGER': Apple is pushing back against the European Union's calls to require one charger that works for every phone, arguing that such a move could stifle innovation and harm consumers around the world.

The company's statement on Thursday marks its first public response to an EU campaign to mandate a "common charger," which would require smartphone makers to produce one charger for all mobile devices in the region. 

"We believe regulation that forces conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphones stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, and would harm consumers in Europe and the economy as a whole," Apple said in a statement. 

The proposal would specifically hit Apple's Lightning connector, which powers most Apple products including the iPhone. If the EU takes concrete regulatory action, Apple could be forced to stop selling and relying on the Lightning connector. 

Read more here.

 

STREAM THE NEWS: ABC News is adding more live news programming to their online streaming services.

The company will be launching "ABC News Live," according to a report from The Associated Press.

The network plans to hire about 50 journalists and increase the hours of live news programming it broadcasts on its website and mobile apps.

The service will begin with ABC correspondents Tom Llamas and Linsey Davis covering breaking news from the Iowa caucuses as well as hosting separate newscasts.

"I think this is the moment of greatest transformation for ABC News since the time of Roone Arledge," said ABC News President James Goldston, according to the AP, referencing the iconic network executive. "You will see a transformation that will be like the birth of cable."

ABC will face tough competition from cable news networks that have their own apps, as well as newer online outlets such as Cheddar, the report notes.

Read more here.

 

ONLINE VOTING TEST: An election for a Seattle-area board of volunteers will be the first official election in the country where votes will be cast online, according to organizers.

The Seattle Times reported Wednesday that the election beginning Wednesday for the King Conservation District Board of Supervisors will be handled entirely by an online portal set up by state organizers in conjunction with Tusk Philanthropies, which told the Times that the election is the first ever in the U.S. to be entirely handled online.

Election officials will download electronic ballots submitted by voters, before printing out the ballots and checking signatures against those on file. The countywide election previously saw such low turnout that voters would have to request a paper ballot by mail via an online system in order to participate, the Seattle Times reported.

"This election could be a key step in moving toward electronic access and return for voters across the region," King County Director of Elections Julie Wise told the newspaper. "My role here is to remove barriers to voting."

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: How is this even possible?? 

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: The nation's digital future is being led by tech finance in New York 

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

The big questions from FTI's report on the Bezos hack (CyberScoop / Shannon Vavra)

Glenn Greenwald weighs in on Brazilian charges against him (The Washington Post / Joseph Marks) 

Tech companies volunteer to beef up campaign cybersecurity (The Wall Street Journal / Alexa Corse)