Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Schiff presses intel chief on staff changes | Warren offers plan to secure elections | Twitter’s Jack Dorsey to donate $1B to coronavirus fight | WhatsApp takes steps to counter virus misinformation

Greg Nash

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SCHIFF VS. INTEL CHIEF: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) sharply rebuked acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell on Tuesday for his management changes to the intelligence community and demanded that he address some of Schiff’s concerns. 

In a letter to Grenell, Schiff laid out his concerns that Grenell’s changes were made without consulting Congress and that he was restricting intelligence on election security that members of Congress should be aware of. 

“I am writing to express my concern that you are pursuing organizational and personnel changes at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) without consulting and seeking authorization from Congress and in a manner that undermines critical intelligence functions,” Schiff wrote. 

One major issue Schiff expressed concern over was President Trump’s decision last week to fire Michael Atkinson, the now-former inspector general for the intelligence community. Atkinson alerted Congress to the anonymous whistleblower complaint around Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that ultimately kicked off the impeachment investigation into Trump. 

“The Committee is reviewing the circumstances of Mr. Atkinson’s dismissal, including whether his termination was intended to curb any ongoing investigations or reviews being undertaken by his office,” Schiff wrote. 

Schiff asked Grenell to provide a written certification to his committee that he would not interfere with the work of future officials in that role and that he certify he has never interfered in the work of Thomas Monheim, now the acting inspector general of the intelligence community. 

Schiff also pointed to concerns that Congress did not approve recent reductions in staffing for the National Counterterrorism Center and condemned the removal or departure of every Senate-confirmed official at the ODNI, along with other senior officials in acting capacities. 

Election security is an issue that both the House and Senate intelligence committees have examined since Russian interfered in the 2016 presidential election. 

Read more about Schiff’s concerns here.


WARREN HAS A PLAN FOR THAT: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) released a plan Tuesday intended to secure elections during the coronavirus pandemic through mail-in voting and increasing online voter registration.

The plan, first reported by Mother Jones, calls on states to ensure every eligible American has the ability to vote by mail, sending voters a ballot with prepaid postage. 

Warren urged Congress to pass a bill proposed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) last month intended to ensure mail-in voting during the pandemic. 

Warren also advocated for Congress to send states $4 billion to address election needs, a major increase from the $400 million appropriated by Congress in March as part of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package. Warren described the current amount available to states for elections during the coronavirus pandemic as a “fraction” of what was needed. 

“Protecting our elections during this public health emergency will require billions in funding, not millions,” Warren wrote. 

Other issues Warren advocated for included giving the U.S. Postal Service funding to enable it to continue operations through the summer, taking steps to counter disinformation around elections, continuing to guard against foreign interference and compensating every poll worker with hazard pay. 

Read more here.


DORSEY DONATION: Twitter founder Jack Dorsey announced Tuesday that he would transfer $1 billion of his equity in Square to a new foundation that will support coronavirus relief efforts before transitioning later to focus on other causes.

In a Twitter thread, the billionaire CEO explained that the newly-founded Start Small Foundation would support “global COVID-19 relief” efforts before transitioning after the pandemic’s resolution to focus on supporting universal basic income (UBI) experiments as well as health and education efforts targeting young women.

“After we disarm this pandemic, the focus will shift to girl’s health and education, and UBI,” Dorsey wrote.

“Why UBI and girl’s health and education? I believe they represent the best long-term solutions to the existential problems facing the world. UBI is a great idea needing experimentation. Girl’s health and education is critical to balance,” he added.

Read more here.


GOOGLE PRIVACY PROBLEMS?: Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) raised concerns on Tuesday around potential privacy violations involved in Google’s decision last week to share anonymized location data to help track movement during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The senators sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai questioning the company’s new COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports program, which involves the publication of anonymized and aggregated location data for individuals in 131 countries and regions to show movement trends. 

Blumenthal and Markey were skeptical that the program would be able to fully ensure the privacy of user data, particularly in light of location data often revealing other personal data, such as home addresses, places of work, and religious affiliations. 

“Location data sharing carries with it myriad risks, and while we commend Google’s efforts to assist in combating the coronavirus pandemic, we caution you against steps that risk undermining your users’ privacy,” the senators wrote. 

The senators questioned Pichai around whether Google planned to share the personal data with specific governments or research groups, if Google planned to describe the data in more detail than just the country it was from, and what guidance the company had provided to healthcare providers on how to interpret the data. 

“Access to this type of information can pose risks to both individuals’ civil liberties and their physical safety,” the senators wrote. “No one should fear that their phone is monitoring their every step.”

The senators gave Pichai until April 14 to respond to their questions. Google did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the letter. 

Google said in announcing the sharing of location data that it would provide “insights at the regional level” wherever possible, and that the company made the decision to share the data following input from health providers that could be helpful.

Read more here.


WHATSAPP STEPS UP: WhatsApp announced Tuesday it will limit users’s ability to forward messages in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus misinformation.

Last year, the Facebook-owned service marked messages that had been forwarded several times with two arrows, denoting that they were less personal compared to others.

On Tuesday, it introduced a new limit on such messages, making it so they can only be forwarded to one chat at a time.

“Is all forwarding bad? Certainly not,” WhatsApp said in a blog post.

“However, we’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of forwarding which users have told us can feel overwhelming and can contribute to the spread of misinformation. We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation,” the company wrote.

WhatsApp also announced Tuesday that it is working with the World Health Organization and national governments to boost the visibility of vetted information about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The policy change comes after a group of Democratic senators sent a letter to Facebook about misinformation on WhatsApp.

“With over 2 billion users worldwide and widespread use of the app in the United States – particularly among the immigrant community – it is imperative that Facebook act to stop the spread of factually-inaccurate and outright dangerous information about the coronavirus via WhatsApp,” Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote to Mark Zuckerberg.

Read more here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: Try not to tear up


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Why we must learn to make technology a choice



The far-right helped create the world’s most powerful facial recognition technology (HuffPost / Luke O’Brien) 

Passover goes on, with screens (The New York Times / Shira Ovide) 

Taiwan tells agencies not to use Zoom due to security concerns (Reuters / Supantha Mukherjee and Ben Blanchard) 

What it’s like to livestream a funeral (Motherboard / Eleanor Cummins) 

Tags Adam Schiff Amy Klobuchar Bob Menendez Dick Durbin Donald Trump Edward Markey Elizabeth Warren Mark Zuckerberg Mazie Hirono Ron Wyden

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