Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Biden to appoint Big Tech critic to DOJ antitrust role | House passes host of bills to strengthen cybersecurity in wake of attacks | Bezos returns from flight to space

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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 by clicking HERE. 

Welcome and Happy Tuesday! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@millsrodrigo) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage. 

President Biden on Tuesday declared his intent to nominate an individual to lead the Department of Justice’s antitrust division that has the backing of organizations looking to crackdown on anticompetitive behavior among Big Tech companies. Meanwhile, cybersecurity continues to be a hot topic in the nation’s capital, with the House approving a raft of bills Tuesday intended to shore up critical infrastructure against attacks, and the Transportation Security Administration putting out a new directive to protect pipelines from hackers. Outside of the beltway, Amazon founder and former CEO Jeff Bezos blasted off to the edge of space, drawing criticism from some officials for how funding was obtained. 


BIG TECH TRIO:  President Biden plans to appoint lawyer Jonathan Kanter as the head of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) antitrust division, the White House announced Tuesday, another sign of the administration’s intention to take on Big Tech. 

Kanter has been a favorite pick of progressive organizations pushing for the DOJ and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to do more to crack down on anti-competitive conduct, especially in the tech industry.

Kanter, who started his own law firm last year, has represented companies seeking to push antitrust enforcers into suing Google. If confirmed he would hold the position of assistant attorney general for the antitrust division.

Kanter would join FTC chair Lina Khan and White House economic adviser Tim Wu in a growing group of outspoken Big Tech critics in the Biden administration.

Read more reactions.


HOUSE GOES WILD ON CYBER: The House on Tuesday approved five bipartisan measures designed to enhance various aspects of the nation’s cybersecurity following recent major cyberattacks. 

The cyber-related package passed in a 319-105 vote. It included measures to fund cybersecurity at the state and local level, bolster reporting requirements and test critical infrastructure.

Read about the bills approved here.


BEZOS BLASTS OFF: Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder and former CEO of Amazon, successfully returned to Earth from his trip to the edge of space on Tuesday morning, touching down at around 9:22 a.m. ET.

Bezos launched into space aboard a rocket and capsule that was developed by his spaceflight company, Blue Origin. 

The flight lasted roughly 11 minutes. It took off from a site in the West Texas desert.

Read more about the launch


Congress weighs in: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday lashed out at Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, alluding to poor conditions for his employees after he thanked workers and customers upon return from space launch.

“Yes, Amazon workers did pay for this,” she said. “With lower wages, union busting, a frenzied and inhumane workplace, and delivery drivers not having health insurance during a pandemic.”

And Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a senior member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said Tuesday that he is planning to introduce legislation that would establish excise taxes on commercial space flights with human passengers that aren’t focused on scientific research.

Read more about Ocasio-Cortez’s comments and Blumenauer’s proposal


NO MORE TESTS: Amazon is ending its coronavirus testing at warehouses at the end of July.

An internal memo sent to employees on Monday said Amazon will end its testing program at its warehouses on July 30. The news was first reported by tech publication The Information.

Amazon says the testing program could resume immediately depending on local and national guidance. 

In the memo, the company cited the broader availability of testing and the fact employees “have many options available to them, including through health providers and public testing sites” for the reason to end the program.

Read more here


PROTECT THE PIPELINES: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on Tuesday issued a second security directive meant to strengthen critical pipelines against cyberattacks in the wake of the crippling ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline earlier this year. 

Under the directive, owners and operators of critical pipelines transporting gasoline or other hazardous liquids are required to take specific security measures to protect against ransomware attacks, develop recovery plans in the event of an attack and review their existing cybersecurity plans.

The first security directive was issued by TSA, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in May, and required pipeline companies to report cybersecurity incidents within 12 hours to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

Read more about the directives here.


EXTREMELY CONCERNING IN RETROSPECT: The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) disclosed Tuesday that multiple U.S. natural gas and oil pipeline companies were successfully breached by Chinese hackers for two years beginning in 2011. 

The agencies outlined the campaign, which ended in 2013, in a joint cybersecurity advisory released Tuesday. The agencies noted that 13 companies were successfully breached, three were described as “near misses” and eight others were subject to an “unknown depth of intrusion.”

CISA and the FBI attributed the incidents to Chinese state-sponsored hackers and noted in the advisory that it was a targeted attack likely designed to further develop China’s cyber capabilities.

Read more about the intrusions here.


INCOMING INVESTIGATION: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) on Tuesday announced the launch of a bipartisan investigation into the recent string of debilitating ransomware attacks against U.S. companies. 

The investigation will examine how cryptocurrencies are used in ransomware attacks to exploit victims. Ransoms are often demanded in the form of cryptocurrency, which is harder to trace. 

“The increased use of cryptocurrencies as the preferred method of payment in ransomware attacks shows that cybercriminals believe they can commit attacks without being held accountable,” Peters said in a statement Tuesday. “These attacks can have a devastating effect on Americans’ lives and livelihoods, and we must do everything we can to deter them – including understanding what additional regulations, actions and reforms are needed to adequately tackle complicated cybersecurity threats.”

Read more about the investigation here.


A WIN FOR THE FTC: The House passed a bill Tuesday that would revive the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) authority to return money to constituents harmed by companies found to engage in deceptive practices. 

The Consumer Protection and Recovery Act passed in a 220-203 vote, with two Republicans joining Democrats in favor of passing the bill. 

The bill comes after the Supreme Court unanimously ruled earlier this year that the agency did not have authority under a provision known as Section 13(b) to obtain equitable monetary relief. 

Read more here

What we’re watching this week:

-The House Small Business Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on strengthening the cybersecurity of small businesses.

-The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday to examine cybersecurity vulnerabilities impacting critical infrastructure. 


An op-ed to chew on: As talks on infrastructure continue, Congress must invest in the workers who will build it

Lighter click: Define ‘extended’



Amazon Denied a Worker Pregnancy Accommodations. Then She Miscarried. (Vice News / Lauren Kaori Gurley)

 U.S. Military Bought Cameras In Violation Of America’s Own China Sanctions (The Intercept / Sam Biddle) 

Beijing’s costly plans for cybersecurity ‘self-sufficiency’ (Protocol / Dave Yin)

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Earl Blumenauer Gary Peters Jeff Bezos Joe Biden Lina Khan

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