Hillicon Valley: Dems cancel surveillance vote after pushback to amendments | Facebook to ban certain coronavirus ads | Lawmakers grill online ticketing execs | Hacker accessed facial recognition company's database

Hillicon Valley: Dems cancel surveillance vote after pushback to amendments | Facebook to ban certain coronavirus ads | Lawmakers grill online ticketing execs | Hacker accessed facial recognition company's database
© Greg Nash

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SURVEILLANCE VOTE CANCELLED: The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday canceled a planned vote to reauthorize a set of controversial government surveillance programs over concerns that a slew of privacy-focused amendments from Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenBusiness groups start gaming out a Biden administration Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence DHS opens probe into allegations at Georgia ICE facility MORE (D-Calif.) would tank the bill in the House, sources confirmed to The Hill. 

The eleventh-hour switch up comes after staff with the Judiciary Committee negotiated with the House Intelligence Committee for months to produce a bill that reformed several expiring surveillance provisions originally spelled out in the Patriot Act. The provisions are set to sunset on March 15.

Ultimately, the reforms in the reauthorization bill offered by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDemocrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court Schumer: 'Nothing is off the table' if GOP moves forward with Ginsburg replacement Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence MORE (D-N.Y.) and Intelligence Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffPelosi, Democrats unveil bills to rein in alleged White House abuses of power Chris Matthews ripped for complimenting Trump's 'true presidential behavior' on Ginsburg Trump casts doubt on Ginsburg statement, wonders if it was written by Schiff, Pelosi or Schumer MORE (D-Calif.) did not go far enough to satisfy key civil liberties advocates and privacy hawks in Congress, who were hoping for more sweeping changes to the government's spying authorities. 

Lofgren, a longtime proponent of overhauling the country's intelligence-gathering efforts to better protect privacy, told the Judiciary Committee staff on Tuesday that she would offer amendments to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, or FISA, court, which has come under bipartisan scrutiny over its role in the FBI's surveillance of a Trump campaign associate.  

Lofgren originally planned to introduce seven amendments, but cut those down to five after negotiations, a Democratic aide told The Hill.

Read more about the last minute change.



TICKET MARKETPLACES UNDER FIRE: House lawmakers on Wednesday grilled executives at some of the country's top online ticketing companies, including Ticketmaster and StubHub, over the industry's practices.

The members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations sought answers on how the companies make decisions on setting prices and availability for tickets sold online.

"Unfortunately, the industry's online financial success has often been at the expense of the consumer," subcommittee Chairwoman Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGette87 lawmakers ask EPA to reverse course after rescinding methane regulations Overnight Health Care: Supreme Court to hear ObamaCare arguments 1 week after election | NYC positive COVID-19 tests hit record low With Biden, advocates sense momentum for lifting abortion funding ban MORE (D-Colo.) said during her opening remarks.

"While it is certainly easier to buy tickets to live events today, online ticketing sales have led to anti-consumer practices across the industry," she continued.

Wednesday's hearing with executives from six major ticketing companies follows years of frustration among lawmakers and the general public with online ticketing, with complaints of high prices or fees and often scarce tickets to events.

DeGette cited reports from the New York state attorney general and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), both from prior years. The New York attorney general report from 2016 found several cases of ticket brokers making massive profits by buying and reselling coveted tickets to big events. The 2018 GAO report, meanwhile, found that more than 25 percent of ticket prices online are frequently not visible until consumers are late in the buying process.

DeGette highlighted five issues in the industry: high hidden fees, restrictions on transferring tickets, the lack of transparency on how many tickets are available, fraudulent "white label" websites and speculative ticket sales.

Amy Howe, the chief operating officer of ticketing giant Ticketmaster, said she shared those concerns, but told lawmakers her company is intent on addressing them. Howe also shifted some of the blame to bad actors, including bots which quickly buy up tickets, and what she called a difficult market, where many consumers were chasing too few tickets.

Read more about the hearing.


FACEBOOK BANS CORONAVIRUS ADS: Facebook has increased restrictions on advertisements on its platform that reference the coronavirus in an effort to limit the spread of misinformation about the virus.

The social media giant said Wednesday it will ban ads that reference alleged cures or create a sense of urgency around the situation.

"We recently implemented a policy to prohibit ads that refer to the coronavirus and create a sense of urgency, like implying a limited supply, or guaranteeing a cure or prevention," a company spokesperson told Business Insider. "We also have policies for surfaces like Marketplace that prohibit similar behavior."

The Hill has reached out to Facebook for further details on the policy change.


As of Wednesday, the total number of coronavirus cases around the world had reached about 81,000, with more than 2,700 deaths reported.

As the disease has spread, social media companies have faced increasing pressure to stem misinformation about the virus.

Read more on Facebook here.


CLEARVIEW HACKED: Clearview AI, a tech startup that has compiled billions of photos for facial recognition software, announced Wednesday that it had lost its entire client list to a data breach.

The Daily Beast obtained a statement that the startup sent to its customers which said that someone had "gained unauthorized access" to its customer database.

Clearview AI has contracts with numerous law enforcement agencies and police departments.


"Security is Clearview's top priority," Tor Ekeland, a company attorney, told The Daily Beast.

"Unfortunately, data breaches are part of life in the 21st century. Our servers were never accessed. We patched the flaw, and continue to work to strengthen our security," he added.

The firm saw significant criticism in January when The New York Times reported on the company's contracts with law enforcement agencies. According to the Times, Clearview AI has mined more than 3 billions photos from the internet, including from popular social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. These photos reportedly stay within the company's database even after they've been deleted by the original user. 

Read more on the hack here.


HUAWEI IN THE DEM DEBATE: Three candidates in Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary debate in Charleston, S.C., said they would not allow Chinese companies to build critical infrastructure in the U.S.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Democratic groups using Bloomberg money to launch M in Spanish language ads in Florida Harris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle MORE, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDimon: Wealth tax 'almost impossible to do' CNN's Don Lemon: 'Blow up the entire system' remark taken out of context Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court MORE (Mass.) all said yes when they were asked by the CBS News moderators if they would bar Chinese companies from building critical infrastructure, although the discussion moved quickly into releasing tax returns.


Sixteen infrastructure sectors are classified as critical by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act of 2018, including energy, financial services and communications.

Although the Democratic White House hopefuls didn't highlight a specific sector, Congress and the White House have been actively debating how to deal with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

The company, which is the world's largest producer of telecom equipment, is heavily involved in the worldwide move to fifth generation (5G) wireless technologies.

Read more here.


USDA SNAFU: A group of bipartisan senators is urging the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to open up its rural broadband funding program to more states suffering from a lack of internet connectivity. 

In a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue on Wednesday, the senators, led by Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats call for declassifying election threats after briefing by Trump officials Read Democrats' report countering Republicans' Biden investigation Top GOP senators say Hunter Biden's work 'cast a shadow' over Obama Ukraine policy MORE (D-Ore.), accused the agriculture agency of placing arbitrary limitations around which rural areas are eligible to receive some of the USDA's $500 million rural broadband fund, called ReConnect. 

As it stands, the USDA program says certain rural areas cannot qualify for the fund if they previously received money from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for satellite service. But the senators say satellite service is not enough to fix the issue of the "digital divide," and the USDA's funds could have life-saving impacts for areas that do not have good Internet access. 

"USDA can, and should, fix this," the senators, including Sens. John Barasso (R-Wyo.) and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinSenators introduce bipartisan bill to mandate digital apps disclose country of origin Keep teachers in the classroom Cher raised million for Biden campaign at LGBTQ-themed fundraiser MORE (D-Wis.), wrote. "USDA is neither statutorily required to eliminate FCC grant recipients from ReConnect eligibility." 

Congress established the USDA's ReConnect Program, which furnishes loans and grants to improve broadband services in rural areas, in 2018. The senators pointed out that the USDA's restrictions are "not required by law."

USDA did not respond to The Hill's request for comment.

Read more here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: Jeff, please


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: How to save America with artificial intelligence



ICE has run facial-recognition searches on millions of Maryland drivers (Washington Post / Drew Harwell and Erin Cox)

Everyone hates California's self-driving car reports (Verge / Andrew Hawkins)

How delivery apps are eating up your budget (New York Times / Brian Chen)

Apple, Facebook, and Google stocks are falling after surge in coronavirus cases (Recode / Shirin Ghaffary and Rani Molla)