Hillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020

Hillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020
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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).

 

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UNVERIFIED: Twitter has pledged to proactively verify new candidates' accounts this election cycle, but an analysis by The Hill shows that effort falling short.

Nearly 90 primary candidates in the five states holding congressional and gubernatorial primaries on Super Tuesday still have not received the company's coveted "blue check," with only a week until the vote.

Twitter in December promised it would attempt to level the playing field between little-known challengers and established incumbents by verifying all House, Senate or gubernatorial candidates who qualify for primaries in 2020.

Why it matters: Twitter verification can be a vital asset to upstart political candidates seeking to oust established politicians, many of whom come into the race with significant social media followings and treasure troves of funding. Those who are verified receive a blue check mark on their profiles and receive better visibility on Twitter, a powerful network with 330 million users. 

The platform has verified nearly 1,000 contenders so far, but The Hill's analysis of contests for next week shows that the platform has fallen well short of its promise.

In the 130 House, Senate and gubernatorial primaries scheduled for March 3 in Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina and Texas, The Hill found 89 candidates on official ballots with Twitter accounts that are not verified. 

Of those candidates, 31 are Democrats and 55 are Republicans. The other three are from third parties with contested primaries.

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Candidates are frustrated: "This has been a huge problem," John Anthony Castro, a Republican running against Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting Lawmakers ask for briefings on Chinese targeting of coronavirus research Tensions flare over GOP's Obama probes MORE (R-Texas), said in a phone interview. "They're definitely not living up to their promise." Castro said he has been regularly reaching out to Twitter about receiving a verification badge for months and has not received any reply. 

A muddied process: While Twitter has taken meaningful steps toward fulfilling its original pledge -- it says it has verified nearly 1,000 accounts since announcing the policy -- the process has been inconsistent and frustrating for many of the candidates. One of the unverified candidates described his efforts to communicate with Twitter as a "nightmare." 

Frances Yasmeen Motiwalla, a progressive Democrat running in California against Rep. Jimmy GomezJimmy GomezHouse Democrat reintroduces bill to reduce lobbyist influence John Kerry: GOP lawmaker against coronavirus package 'tested positive for being an ---hole' Lawmakers highlight flights back to DC for huge coronavirus vote MORE (D), said she has reached out to Twitter to verify her active account with hundreds of followers multiple times, "with no response."

"The lack of transparency in this process has been extremely frustrating to me," Motiwalla said in an email to The Hill. "Given their influence in our political discourse, Twitter has a responsibility to treat all candidates fairly."   

Twitter says there is a lag time because it is working to ensure all of the candidates it is verifying are real.

"The process we implemented is rigorous in order to ensure that we accurately identify and verify candidates' legitimate Twitter accounts," a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill.

The exceptions: Twitter does not verify accounts that have never tweeted or that do not have profile pictures of the person's face, for example. These carve outs were not made public, meaning many candidates may not have known they had to change their profiles to be verified. Twitter says it contacts candidates to tell them to update their profiles if they want to be verified.

But The Hill's analysis found dozens of active candidates with profile pictures who tweeted about their campaigns who remained unverified. Over the past several months, several candidates only received verification after launching public pressure campaigns or after journalists inquired about their status.

Read more on the unverified candidates here.

 

BARR NONE: Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrSenate Democrats call on Trump administration to let Planned Parenthood centers keep PPP loans Senate Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Planned Parenthood loans FBI director Wray orders internal review of Flynn case MORE told Senate Republicans during a closed-door caucus lunch Tuesday that he wants to make changes to the shadowy court process at the center of a damning watchdog report on surveillance efforts involving the Trump campaign in 2016. 

Barr told GOP senators that he wants to use the regulatory process to make changes to the court associated with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), according to several who attended the meeting.

"He went over his recommendations and some internal reforms about FISA warrant application and surveillance technology being used," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate confirms Ratcliffe to be Trump's spy chief Abrams announces endorsements in 7 Senate races Schumer dubs GOP 'conspiracy caucus' amid Obama-era probes MORE (R-S.C.). "He's going to do some things that he can do." 

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerTrump tries to soothe anxious GOP senators Trump cites 'Obamagate' in urging GOP to get 'tough' on Democrats Obama tweets 'vote' after Trump promotes 'Obamagate' MORE (R-N.D.) added that Barr "talked about things he would ... like to make through regulation."

The discussion on making reforms to the FISA court comes after Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a damning report on the FBI's warrant application process involving former Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

Horowitz found a total of 17 "significant inaccuracies and omissions" in the applications to monitor Page, taking particular issue with applications to renew the FISA warrant and chastising the FBI for a lack of satisfactory explanations for those mistakes.

"I think he's going to take a lot of what Horowitz did and add his own stamp to it," Graham said Tuesday, referring to Barr.

Justice Department spokespeople didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about what changes the attorney general would like to enact.

Congress has until March 15 to reauthorize a handful of provisions under the USA Freedom Act.

Read more on Barr's meeting here.

 

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OOPS: Christopher Krebs, the first director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), is zeroing in on elections ahead of November.

CISA was created out of the former National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) and signed into law by President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump in new ad: 'The death toll is still rising.' 'The president is playing golf' Brazil surpasses Russia with second-highest coronavirus case count in the world Trump slams Sessions: 'You had no courage & ruined many lives' MORE in late 2018. It is one of the primary federal agencies tasked with assisting state and local officials in bolstering election security.

"I spend at this point 40 to 50 percent of my time on election security issues," Krebs told The Hill during an interview at CISA headquarters this month. "A top priority for us right now is protecting 2020."

During the 2018 midterm elections, CISA hosted a situational awareness room on Election Day to continuously monitor threats across the country and worked closely with regional officials to address cyber vulnerabilities. Krebs said he saw getting through the midterms "unscathed" as part of his legacy as the first director of CISA, the newest agency in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

"I'm not looking at 2020 as a metric or some sort of legacy mark, but what I want my legacy to be -- and I hope to be here for longer -- is that CISA is a meaningful player in the national and international stage," Krebs said. 

With the 2020 elections looming, Krebs said he hopes this will be "the year of CISA."

"We took 2019 to figure out, OK we go from NPPD to CISA, what does that process look like?" Krebs said. "It's not just as simple as you slap a name on the building and issue new business cards and some T-shirts and socks and you're good to go; it's much more the internal realignments we had to make."

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Krebs's career experience helped prepare him for the multiple roles CISA plays, which run from assisting with federal agency cybersecurity to protecting soft targets such as the Super Bowl from attacks. 

Krebs served as a DHS adviser during the George W. Bush administration, working on issues including defending Defense Department networks against foreign threats, and then moved over to Microsoft to lead its policy work on cybersecurity and technology issues. 

He returned to DHS in 2017, initially to serve as an adviser to former Homeland Security Secretary John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE. Following Kelly's departure and the promotion of Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenHillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Sen. Kennedy slams acting DHS secretary for lack of coronavirus answers The 'accidental director' on the front line of the fight for election security MORE to the secretary position, Krebs became what he described as the "accidental director" first of NPPD, then the newly formed CISA, with the Senate voting to confirm him in 2018. 

"I didn't anticipate necessarily being in this role, I didn't necessarily anticipate the agency being here. I just wanted to come in and make a difference," Krebs said. 

Read more here.

 

ASSUAGING ASSANGE: Julian AssangeJulian Paul AssangeFBI releases documents showing Roger Stone, Julian Assange communications Judge orders Chelsea Manning's release from jail Lawyers: Chelsea Manning recovering after suicide attempt MORE's legal counsel argued in his London extradition hearing Tuesday that Assange tried to contact then-Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump escalates fight against mail-in voting Sunday shows preview: States begin to reopen even as some areas in US see case counts increase The Electoral College is not democratic — nor should it be MORE after he realized that unredacted U.S. diplomatic documents were going to be leaked on the internet almost a decade ago.

Mark Summers, Assange's lawyer, told the London court that Assange called the State Department shortly before the documents were released in 2011 and said, "Unless we do something, people's lives are put at risk."

According to Summers, the State Department directed Assange to call back "in a couple of hours," Reuters reports

The U.S. is seeking to extradite the 48-year-old Assange on 18 counts of hacking U.S. government computers and an espionage offense. Assange allegedly worked with former U.S. soldier Chelsea ManningChelsea Elizabeth ManningOvernight Defense: National Guard activated to fight coronavirus | Pentagon 'fairly certain' North Korea has cases | General says Iran threat remains 'very high' after US strikes The Hill's Morning Report — Coronavirus tests a partisan Washington Judge orders Chelsea Manning's release from jail MORE -- known then as Bradley ManningChelsea Elizabeth ManningOvernight Defense: National Guard activated to fight coronavirus | Pentagon 'fairly certain' North Korea has cases | General says Iran threat remains 'very high' after US strikes The Hill's Morning Report — Coronavirus tests a partisan Washington Judge orders Chelsea Manning's release from jail MORE -- to release 250,000 pages of classified communique. 

Summers described the allegations against Assange as "lies, lies and more lies."

Read more here.

 

GOOD TIMING: A National Security Agency surveillance program that accessed American citizens' domestic phone calls and text messages resulted in only one investigation between 2015 and 2019 despite costing $100 million, a newly declassified study found.

The report, which was produced by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and briefed to Congress on Tuesday, also found that the program only yielded information the FBI did not already have on two occasions during that four-year period.

"Based on one report, F.B.I. vetted an individual, but, after vetting, determined that no further action was warranted," the report said, according to the New York Times. "The second report provided unique information about a telephone number, previously known to U.S. authorities, which led to the opening of a foreign intelligence investigation."

The report contains no further details of the investigation in question or its outcome. The USA Freedom Act of 2015, the law that authorized the program, is set to expire March 15, but the Trump administration has asked Congress to extend it.

The House Judiciary Committee is set to consider a bill that would end the program's authorization on Wednesday. 

The NSA's decision last year to suspend the program "shows a lot of judgment to acknowledge that something that consumed a lot of resources and time did not yield the value anticipated," Adam I. Klein, chairman of the board, which was established on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, told the Times.

Read more here.

  

GETTING GROCERIES: Amazon has opened its first-ever full-size, "cashierless" grocery store, providing shoppers an experience that does not require any human interaction.

The project, called Amazon Go Grocery, has been in development for five years. Starting Tuesday, customers can scan a QR code from Amazon's mobile app, walk into the Seattle store, take any item they want to purchase and walk out without paying at a cashier station.

Amazon said it is employing technology that senses when a product is taken from or returned to a shelf and keeps track of items in a virtual cart. When a customer leaves, they are sent a receipt and their Amazon account is charged.

The first and so far only Amazon Go Grocery store sits at 10,400 square feet, while a typical grocery store averages 40,000 square feet, CNBC reported.

The new store contains nearly 5,000 items, including produce, dairy, packaged seafood, meats, baked goods, meal kits, household items and a full liquor selection.

It includes some items sourced from Whole Foods providers, though an executive told CNBC that the Amazon Go Grocery story aims to complement brands that can be found at Whole Foods.

Read more here.

 

WARNING SHOT: Amazon has reportedly sent warnings to sellers of medical face masks on its platform who it says are not in compliance with its policies, warning that price gouging will result in their removal from the marketplace.

Emails obtained by Wired show that the company has warned sellers against gouging prices on the items amid the outbreak of a novel form of coronavirus from China, which has led to a global spike in purchases of face masks.

The company has also deleted some listings of the items that were sharply raised in price amid the outbreak, a company consultant told Wired. Amazon representatives did not immediately return a request for comment from The Hill.

"If you price gouge -- charge too much for these masks, they sometimes take you down," said the consultant, Ed Rosenberg.

"This is a hard one for Amazon, because they do not want its customers to be taken advantage of," he added. "But there is also supply and demand, and sellers should be able to charge more if they pay more and demand is high."

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Fast pig

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: What to do about artificially intelligent government

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Oracle reveals it's funding dark money group that's fighting Big Tech (Bloomberg / Naomi Nix, Joe Light) 

Judge says Instacart misclassified its California workers (Motherboard / Lauren Kaori Gurley) 

Tech workers lean left, but their companies' PACs play both sides (Protocol / Joanna Pearlstein) 

U.S. Congress should not override California privacy law: state attorney general (Reuters / Nandita Boss)