Hillicon Valley: Whistleblower alleges top DHS officials sought to alter intelligence products to fit Trump's comments | House panel details 'serious' concerns around elections in four states | Irish agency investigates Facebook's EU-US data transfer

Hillicon Valley: Whistleblower alleges top DHS officials sought to alter intelligence products to fit Trump's comments | House panel details 'serious' concerns around elections in four states | Irish agency investigates Facebook's EU-US data transfer
© Greg Nash

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.

BLOWING THE WHISTLE: A whistleblower is alleging that top leaders at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have politicized intelligence, with the political appointees pushing him to alter intelligence assessments to match President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE's public remarks.


The House Intelligence Committee announced Wednesday that it had received a whistleblower reprisal complaint from Brian Murphy, a career public servant and the former acting under secretary in DHS's Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

The complaint states that in several protected disclosures over the past two years, Murphy raised concern about "a repeated pattern of abuse of authority, attempted censorship of intelligence analysis and improper administration of an intelligence program related to Russian efforts to influence and undermine United States interests."

The complaint pointed to the actions of former DHS Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenDHS IG won't investigate after watchdog said Wolf, Cuccinelli appointments violated law Appeals court sides with Trump over drawdown of immigrant protections Democrats smell blood with new DHS whistleblower complaint MORE, now-acting DHS Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfSenate to hold nomination hearing for Wolf next week Hillicon Valley: FBI chief says Russia is trying to interfere in election to undermine Biden | Treasury Dept. sanctions Iranian government-backed hackers Democrats slam DHS chief for defying subpoena for testimony on worldwide threats MORE, DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, Miles Taylor, who served as Nielsen's chief of staff, and the acting deputy director for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Kash Patel.

Murphy alleges that he was instructed earlier this year to stop providing intelligence assessments about the threat of Russian interference, and to instead focus on the threats of China and Iran. The complaint says Wolf delivered the orders, but that they originated from White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien. Murphy said he did not comply.

The complaint also alleges that Wolf told Murphy in July that the intelligence notification on Russian disinformation efforts should be "'held’ because it ‘made the President look bad,'" but Murphy again refused and stated "that it was improper to hold a vetted intelligence product for reasons for political embarrassment."

The complaint, which was first reported by CNN, alleges that he then faced retaliation.

Read more here. 



FORMER OFFICIALS WEIGH IN: Three former heads of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are calling on the Trump administration to step up efforts to combat election security threats in the wake of reports on foreign interference.

Former DHS Secretaries Michael Chertoff, who served under former President George W. Bush, and Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson, who both served during the Obama administration, warned of threats posed by various countries at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council on Wednesday.

The former agency chiefs pointed to an assessment put out by a senior official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) last month -- which detailed evidence that Russia, China, and Iran are actively interfering in the 2020 U.S. elections -- in emphasizing the need for more federal action to counter election threats.

“ODNI has been telling us loud and clear that the Russians, and possibly others, are at it again in terms of trying to influence our democracy,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of bright lights blinking hot red right now, and that is where I believe the concern and the focus needs to be over the next couple weeks.”

Napolitano urged President Trump to take action against Moscow.

“One thing I’d like to hear more from the administration about is what they intend to do about the Russian interference in our elections,” Napolitano said. “The intelligence about this is quite clear, but what is not clear is what we intend to do about it by way of sanctions, by way of deterrence. And I believe we ought to be sending those messages, and those messages need to emanate from the White House.”

Read more here. 


FOUR STATES IN THE HOT SEAT: Democrats on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on Wednesday detailed “serious” concerns around the ability of Florida, Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin to hold safe and secure elections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a report published ahead of a hearing on ensuring free and fair elections, the subcommittee pointed to concerns around the lack of expansion of mail-in voting, poll worker shortages and the safety of polling places as being barriers for elections in those four states this year. 

“The Select Subcommittee’s investigation revealed that these states face the risk of serious problems in the general election, including inadequate polling places and shortages of poll workers,” the subcommittee wrote. “In some of these states, these risks are exacerbated by state policies restricting mail-in voting and early voting.”

In the course of its investigation, the subcommittee sent letters to the chief election administrators in all four states asking for details around their election plans.

Texas was of particular concern to the panel, with the state one of the six that has refused to expand mail-in voting to allow coronavirus concerns to count as a reason to vote absentee. The panel noted that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) had taken steps to sue counties trying to circumvent this. 


In addition, the subcommittee revealed that, according to documents obtained by the panel, previous poll workers in 127 out of 254 Texas counties do not plan to work elections this year, and that election officials have concerns around ensuring the safety of polling places and the ability to prevent long lines. 

“In effect, the state is forcing most voters to show up in person if they want to exercise their right to vote, which could lead to longer lines and more crowded polling sites on Election Day,” the subcommittee wrote. 

Read more here. 


IRISH AUTHORITIES ZERO IN ON FACEBOOK: The Irish Data Protection Commission has opened an inquiry into Facebook's handling of European user data, the platform confirmed Wednesday.

The regulator raised concerns that European user data – all of which goes through the company's operations in Ireland – transferred to the U.S. may not be protected sufficiently from American surveillance.

The inquiry, first reported on by the Wall Street Journal, could compel Facebook to overhaul its operations to keep European data within the Union's boundaries.


The investigation appears to be a direct result of a European Union high court decision earlier this summer that invalidated a data transfer deal between the EU and United States.

The agreement, known as the EU-US Privacy Shield, was set up in 2016 to create a framework that protected personal data when it was transferred to U.S. companies for commercial use and used by thousands of businesses.

The Court of Justice of the EU reached the ruling based on concerns that the U.S. could demand access to user data on national security grounds. 

Read more here. 


ACLU STEPS IN: The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday threw its weight behind a campaign aimed at pressuring tech companies to stop selling products to immigration enforcement agencies.

The No Tech For ICE campaign, led by progressive Latinx organization Mijente, pushes for the country's biggest tech companies and software providers to cut off ties with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP.)


The ACLU on Wednesday specifically highlighted Thomson Reuters and Reed Elsevier's data work with immigration agencies, given the group's reliance on their Westlaw and LexisNexis databases for their legal work.

"Thomson Reuters and Reed Elsevier embody the burgeoning contradictions of technology companies that, in the same breath, claim to be in the business of public service, while they are enabling government agencies to engage in wildly unconstitutional tactics to arrest and incarcerate people in deadly conditions," Vasudha Talla, the Immigrant's Rights program director at the ACLU of Northern California, wrote in a blog post.

"Conducting legal research that is critical to advancing our clients’ interests should be free of any concern that those tools are also being used to target, arrest, and subject our clients to life-threatening conditions."

Read more here. 


ZUCKERBERG PUSHES BACK: Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Trump's ban on TikTok, WeChat in spotlight | NASA targeted by foreign hackers | Instagram accused of spying in lawsuit The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Trump contradicts CDC director on vaccine, masks Hillicon Valley: DOJ indicts Chinese, Malaysian hackers accused of targeting over 100 organizations | GOP senators raise concerns over Oracle-TikTok deal | QAnon awareness jumps in new poll MORE said it’s “just wrong” to say that conservatives drive Facebook in an interview that aired Tuesday.

Zuckerberg denied on “Axios on HBO” that Facebook is a “right-wing echo chamber” though statistics that show Facebook’s most engaged content comes from conservative voices. 

During the interview, Axios’s Mike Allen identified the social media platform as a “real right-wing echo chamber,” saying “some of the loudest voices” are conservatives. 

“I think your characterization, frankly, is just wrong,” Zuckerberg replied. “I don't think that the service is ‘a right-wing echo chamber,’ to use your words.”

“I think that you know everyone can use their voice and can find media that they trust that reflects the opinions and the life experiences that they’re having,” he said, adding “It’s not clear to me that’s a bad thing.”

When asked about the high engagement with conservative posts, the CEO said "It's true that partisan content often has kind of a higher percent of people … engaging with it, commenting on it, liking it.”

"But I think it's important to differentiate that from, broadly, what people are seeing and reading and learning about on our service,” he added. 

Read more here. 


DRONE DELIVERY: Walmart announced on Wednesday it is launching a pilot project to test the delivery of some products from its stores using automated drones as it looks to expand on its distribution services. 

The company said it is rolling out the program in Fayetteville, N.C., to test the delivery of select grocery and household essential items using automated drones from the firm Flytrex. The drones are controlled over the cloud using a “smart and easy control dashboard” and will pick up and drop off items. 

“We know that it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone. That still feels like a bit of science fiction, but we’re at a point where we’re learning more and more about the technology that is available and how we can use it to make our customers’ lives easier,” Tom Ward, senior vice president, customer products, said in a statement

The drone program is just the latest effort from the retail behemoth to boost its pick-up and delivery services during the coronavirus pandemic as customers express concern over shopping in stores and opt instead for at-home delivery. 

Read more here. 


Lighter click: Perfect pronunciation

An op-ed to chew on: We should push for more progress in telehealth


Hacks, Bots, and the Pandemic Have Fueled a Racist Class War on Instacart (Motherboard / Lauren Kaori Gurley)

Second Florida county hacked in 2016 election identified in new Woodward book (StateScoop / Benjamin Freed) 

How Google and Microsoft teamed up to try to reinvent smartphones (Protocol / David Pierce)