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Hillicon Valley: Leadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns | Snapchat launches in-app video platform 'Spotlight' | Uber, Lyft awarded federal transportation contract

Hillicon Valley: Leadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns | Snapchat launches in-app video platform 'Spotlight' | Uber, Lyft awarded federal transportation contract
© Madeline Monroe

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 team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.

LEADERSHIP CHANGES RAISE SECURITY CONCERNS: The departure of the three of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) top cybersecurity officials over the past week is leading experts and officials to voice concerns that the United States has been left vulnerable to attacks in cyberspace, with national security potentially compromised. 

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The concerns come after President TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE fired Christopher Krebs, the director of DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and after both CISA Deputy Director Matthew Travis and top cybersecurity official Bryan Ware resigned following pressure from the White House.

These changes left the nation’s key cybersecurity agency without Senate-confirmed leadership in the last months of Trump’s presidency, amid a shakeup of major government officials following a contentious election.

“Today, cybersecurity and disinformation threats are among the most significant risks our nation confronts,” Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSocial media posts, cellphone data aid law enforcement investigations into riots 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Confirmation hearing for Biden's DNI pick postponed MORE (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Hill in a statement. “For that reason, it’s enormously disturbing that the president has paired an unwillingness to begin an orderly transition with a zeal to gut key national security agencies of their senior-most leadership.”

CISA, established by legislation signed into law by Trump in 2018, describes itself as "the nation’s risk advisor,” and leads efforts to secure critical infrastructure against foreign and domestic cyber threats. 

The agency was heavily involved in coordinating with state and local officials to shore up election security ahead of this year’s general election, and has spearheaded efforts to defend all sectors against attacks.

Read more here.

HOPPING ON THE BANDWAGON: Snapchat is launching a new feature to highlight user-created videos called Spotlight, signaling another competitor for the highly popular video sharing app TikTok.

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While Snapchat, unlike other social media platforms, has largely focused on peer-to-peer features, the new Spotlight announced on Monday will showcase user-generated content within the app and offer users a chance to be paid for top content. 

The content on Spotlight will also “become tailored to each” user over time, based on their “preferences and favorites,” Snapchat said. 

Spotlight was "designed to entertain the Snapchat community while living up to Snapchat’s values, with their well-being as a top priority," the company said in the announcement. 

Snapchat’s Spotlight rollout comes as TikTok's popularity has risen.

TikTok allows users to create 60-second videos. The platform’s main "For You Page" features content for users tailored to them based on posts with which they’ve engaged. 

Read more here.

UBER, LYFT GET GSA CONTRACT: Uber and Lyft have been awarded a federal contract estimated to be worth up to $810 million over five years to offer ride-sharing services to public agency workers.

The contract was awarded Monday by the General Services Administration (GSA), according to both companies.

A spokesperson for GSA did not immediately respond to a request for further details about the award.

The new contract will allow Uber and Lyft to formally launch their services within federal agencies.

“The expansion of our customer base to include government is a natural next step for us, and we’re proud to help federal agencies tackle some of the biggest administrative challenges they face,” Ronnie Gurion, global head of Uber for Business, said in a statement to The Hill.

A spokesperson for Lyft told The Hill that the company’s business line is “excited to expand our footprint to officially include federal agency employee travel programs.”

“Our strategy is to ensure that federal employees have the tools and ability to choose Lyft when they travel and that agencies can have visibility into their transportation programs,” they added.

Read more here.

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DEMOCRATS SLAM GSA FOR BIDEN TRANSITION DELAY: Democratic leaders of key House and Senate panels on Monday accused General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Emily Murphy of undermining national security with her refusal to certify President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenFear of insider attack prompts additional FBI screening of National Guard troops: AP Iran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries MORE as the winner of the presidential election.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffAngus King warns of 'grave danger' of Trump revealing classified information Schiff says 'massive intelligence and security failure' led to Capitol breach Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration MORE (D-Calif.), House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonNew coalition aims to combat growing wave of ransomware attacks Acting DHS chief Chad Wolf stepping down Security boosted for lawmakers' travel around inauguration: report MORE (D-Miss.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerPelosi names 9 impeachment managers Republicans gauge support for Trump impeachment Clyburn blasts DeVos and Chao for 'running away' from 25th Amendment fight MORE (D-N.Y.), and Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) all separately sent letters to Murphy underlining their concerns.

Murphy has come under fire from Democrats and some Republicans for so far not signing off on ascertaining Biden as president-elect, with Biden blocked from accessing federal resources and receiving intelligence briefings on threats to the nation until that step is taken.

Schiff heavily criticized Murphy for not moving forward with the process of certifying Biden as the winner, writing that “you bear enormous responsibility for the harmful effects that will flow from your inaction.”

“The threats our nation faces today are more urgent and complex than in 2000. Most alarming is the rising death total from the pandemic, but we must also confront the continuing dangers of domestic and international terrorism, a rising China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and more,” Schiff wrote in his letter to Murphy. “The risks of an abbreviated transition period with insufficient opportunity for the incoming Administration to fully prepare are manifest and potentially deadly.”

Read more here.

URGING FCC ASSISTANCE: The bipartisan leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Monday to take action to ensure telecommunications providers could begin ripping out and replacing potentially suspect network equipment. 

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The concerns come months after President Trump signed into law the Secure and Trusted Communications Act, which bans U.S. companies from using federal funds to purchase equipment from Chinese telecom groups Huawei and ZTE, citing national security concerns. 

The law, which was sponsored in the Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and ranking member Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHouse Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Energy issues rule allowing companies to develop own efficiency tests for products | GOP lawmakers push back on Federal Reserve's climate risk efforts Bipartisan fix for 'surprise' medical bills hits roadblock MORE (R-Ore.), among other sponsors from both parties, also established a $1 billion fund to help smaller telecom groups rip out and replace equipment that is deemed a threat. The fund is administered by the FCC. 

Pallone and Walden sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Monday emphasizing that while Congress had not yet fully funded this reimbursement program, the FCC should take a series of steps immediately to ensure the process of replacing potentially suspicious equipment could begin. 

“It is a top bipartisan, bicameral priority of the United States Congress to ensure that our nation’s communications networks are secure,” Pallone and Walden wrote. “The United States cannot allow the critical networks upon which consumers rely to be subject to espionage and malicious disruption by hostile foreign actors.”

Read more here.

ICMYI: BIDEN TO GET POTUS HANDLE: President-elect Joe Biden will receive the @POTUS Twitter handle as soon as he is inaugurated to the White House in January regardless of whether President Trump concedes before then, Twitter announced Friday. 

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed to The Hill that the tech giant is “actively preparing to support the transition of White House institutional Twitter accounts on January 20th, 2021,” which also includes @whitehouse, @VP, @FLOTUS, and a number of other official accounts. The process is being done in consultation with the National Archives and Records Administration.

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Twitter also confirmed that staffers will meet with representatives from the Biden-Harris transition team in the coming months to review how the new administration plans to use its government-related accounts. 

The @POTUS account has more than 32 million followers and will provide Biden with another way to communicate with the public while in office. The current tweets posted during the Trump administration will be archived, and the account will be reset to zero tweets. 

Read more here.

DOMINION SPOX WEIGHS IN: A spokesperson for Dominion Voting Systems on Sunday addressed conspiracy theories about the company on Fox News, saying it is “not physically possible” for its machines to change voter selections.

“This is a nonpartisan American company. It is not physically possible for our machines to switch votes from one candidate to the other,” Michael Steel said on Fox News’s “America’s News HQ.”

“Let's be very clear, our election system is run by local elected officials and nonpartisan poll watchers. We simply provide a tool to count the ballots and to print and count ballots,” he added. “There is no way such a massive fraud could have taken place and there are no connections between our company and Venezuela, Germany, Barcelona, Kathmandu, whatever the latest conspiracy theory is.”

Attorneys working for the Trump campaign laid baseless claims of voter fraud during a press conference last week that included allegations that Dominion had ties to Venezuela.

Pressed by Fox News’s Eric Shawn as to how he could be sure the voting machines were secure, Steel responded “When a voter votes on a Dominion machine, they fill out their ballot on the touchscreen, they are given a printed copy which they then give to a local election official for safekeeping.”

Read more here.

RUSSIA CHALLENGES GOOGLE: Russia said Monday that it opened a case against Google, alleging the U.S.-based tech giant did not comply with requirements to remove banned content. 

Communications watchdog Roskomnadzor said Google failed to remove search results from resources with information prohibited in Russia. 

Officials said Google did not remove up to 30 percent of what was deemed “dangerous” content, including sites with extremist, pornographic and suicidal content. 

Read more here.



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NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Biden’s DHS pick was a ‘quick study’ of cybersecurity issues as department’s deputy (CyberScoop / Sean Lyngaas and Tim Starks) 

What Happens When You Actually DM a ‘DM to Collab’ Instagram Scammer (OneZero / Zulie Rane)

Secret Amazon Reports Expose the Company’s Surveillance of Labor and Environmental Groups (Motherboard / Lauren Kaori Gurley)

Right-Wing Social Media Finalizes Its Divorce From Reality (The Atlantic / Renee DiResta)

How Misinformation ‘Superspreaders’ Seed False Election Theories (New York Times / Sheera Frenkel)