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Hillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel

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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 our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

WORK FROM HOME FOREVER: Tech companies are leading the way on making the transition to remote work brought about by the coronavirus pandemic permanent.

Mark Zuckerberg last week announced that up to half of Facebook’s employees could be working remotely in five to 10 years, while Jack Dorsey is giving Twitter and Square employees the option to work from home indefinitely. 

Facebook previously had extended the option for the vast majority of its employees to work remotely through the end of the year. But on Thursday, Zuckerberg went a step further in an internal employee town hall, saying that tens of thousands of employees can permanently work from home.

The company is going to aggressively scale up remote hiring and build out hiring hubs in Atlanta, Dallas and Denver, the CEO said.

As Facebook reopens buildings over the next several months, it plans to operate at around 25 percent capacity.

Smaller companies have followed moves by Twitter and other large tech companies.

While offices are unlikely to disappear from Silicon Valley all together, a significant shift toward remote working seems likely.

Early movers: Tech companies were some of the first to send workers home in March as the novel coronavirus spread on the West Coast and now they’re moving slower than most to bring employees back to offices.

Google has told all employees who can do their jobs remotely to plan on doing so until 2021, while Microsoft has made working from home optional until October.

Amazon’s white-collar employees will also not be expected to return to office until October, although warehouse and fulfillment facility staff have continued working throughout the pandemic and have been critical of the online retail giant for providing what they say are insufficient protections.

Apple has bucked the trend among major tech companies, reportedly asking some employees to return to offices. The Hill has reached out to the company for more details on the staggered return.

Read more about the trend here. 


MORE RESOURCES NEEDED: Cash-short state and local governments are pleading with Congress to send them funds to shore up their cybersecurity as hackers look to exploit the crisis by targeting overwhelmed government offices. 

Members of Congress have taken notice of cyber threats at the state and local level, both before and during the pandemic, and efforts are underway to address the challenges, though how much will be provided is uncertain amid a fight over the amount of additional coronavirus stimulus. 

For Atlanta’s top cybersecurity official, any funds cannot come soon enough. 

“We would love and welcome more funding from the federal government as our digital infrastructure is just expanding and it’s going to expand even more because of this,” Gary Brantley, the chief information officer for the city of Atlanta, told The Hill. 

Brantley said that coronavirus-related attacks have become an issue for his office, particularly those targeted at his office through malicious phishing emails. 

“We are seeing a lot more malicious activity, especially a lot of activity related to COVID-19,” Brantley said. “I know our phishing attacks are up tremendously across the city and attempts to confuse our user base are high.”

Prior to the pandemic, state and local governments were already plagued by cybersecurity threats. 

Ongoing attacks: Ransomware attacks, in which the attacker encrypts a system and demands money to unlock it, have increasingly hit government entities across the nation over the past two years. 

The city governments of New Orleans and Baltimore had their networks temporarily taken out by ransomware attacks last year, while a coordinated attack on almost two dozen Texas towns in August and attacks on multiple school districts in Louisiana also highlighted the threat.

Atlanta was another city that fell victim to a ransomware attack. The 2018 incident negatively impacted city networks for months, and forced residents to pay some bills by paper. The city spent millions to recover from the attack, and the Justice Department later indicted two Iranian nationals in connection to that attack. 

Brantley said lessons learned from the 2018 cyberattack helped prepare the city for new threats that have come up during the pandemic.

“We went from a computer virus to a human virus, and I just recall thinking we were focusing on the right thing, we didn’t expect this [the pandemic] to happen, but we were focusing on our business continuity plans,” Brantley said. “From a mobile workforce perspective, the one thing people don’t really take into consideration is strong IT.”

Critical time: But with states increasingly facing budget shortages and even potential bankruptcy from the impact of COVID-19 shutdowns, cybersecurity funding is uncertain at a time when more people are working from home and placing stress on systems and when hackers are zeroing in. 

Read more about state and local government needs here. 


ANTI-CONSERVATIVE BIAS PANEL: President Trump is considering creating a panel to oversee complaints of bias against conservatives by social media platforms in a move that would likely spark pushback from tech companies.

The plans are still being mulled, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal, but options could include the creation of a formal White House commission on the allegations.

“Left-wing bias in the tech world is a con­cern that definitely needs to be addressed from our vantage point, and at least exposed [so] that Americans have clear eyes about what we’re dealing with,” a White House official told The Journal. 

Trump has repeatedly railed against social media companies over allegations that they suppress conservative voices, an accusation the platforms protest. 

The president accused platforms in 2019 of “tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practiced by certain companies.”

“We will not let them get away with it much longer,” he tweeted.

Read more about Trump’s proposed panel here. 


PROTECTIONS FOR WEB BROWSING DATA: The House this week will consider an amendment to legislation reauthorizing surveillance programs that would block law enforcement from being able to access web browsing data without a warrant. 

The amendment will be brought by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), whose office confirmed Friday evening that a deal was struck with leadership to have the amendment considered. Politico first reported on the deal.

“I’m glad that we’ll get to vote on this important measure to protect Americans’ Third and Fourth Amendment rights,” Davidson said in a statement. “This reform — while just the tip of the iceberg — is a major step forward in protecting Americans’ right to privacy.”

The amendment will closely mirror the one brought by Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) during debate in the Senate on reauthorizing the USA Freedom Act.

That effort fell just one vote short of the 60 vote threshold needed to pass. Several senators who were expected to vote in favor, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), were not present for the session.

The version of the Senate bill without the Daines-Wyden amendment was approved 80-16 last week, sending it back to the House.

Pressure on the House to resurrect the failed amendment has been high, with major internet companies and privacy associations urging lawmakers to support it in a letter sent to House leadership Friday.

Read more about the amendment here. 



Tuesday, May 26: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosts a conversation with Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid on cybersecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Wednesday, May 27: The Atlantic Council hosts a discussion on drone attacks against critical infrastructure in the Middle East. 

Friday, May 29: The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts an event featuring Lieutenant General Jack Shanahan, the Director of the Department of Defense’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.


Lighter click: Gotta respect the honesty!

An op-ed to chew on: New York City will turn into a shell of its former self after coronavirus crisis


Desperate workers rush to delivery app jobs to find low pay and punishing rules (Washington Post / Nitasha Tiku)

The Drones Were Ready for This Moment (New York Times / Alex Williams)

Mike Bloomberg shakes up the digital shop that Joe Biden is thinking about hiring (Recode / Theodore Schleifer)

A feel-good ad from Facebook boasts a coronavirus group. But it’s not quite what it seems. (NBC News / Brandy Zadrozny)

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Joe Biden Mark Zuckerberg Ron Wyden Steve Daines Warren Davidson Zoe Lofgren

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