Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers press officials on 2020 election security | T-Mobile, Sprint execs defend merger before Congress | Officials charge alleged Iranian spy | Senate panel kicks off talks on data security bill

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 the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).

 

IS IT 2020 ALREADY?: Lawmakers questioned officials over the importance of passing election security measures ahead of the 2020 presidential contest during a hearing Thursday.

Christopher Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in the Department of Homeland Security, testified during the House Homeland Security Committee hearing Tuesday that the federal government is “light years ahead” of where it was in 2016 when it comes to communicating with state and local officials.

However, he said that improving outreach and communication with those officials is a top priority for his department ahead of the 2020 election.

And Krebs said that being able to audit elections is also a pressing issue for his agency. He said that records of votes, like a paper trail, will help officials confirm the results of elections.

The DHS official also said that basic cyber hygiene for election officials remains a crucial issue, adding that he fears those gaps could expose vulnerabilities in systems that could be abused by bad actors. Read more here.

DEMS GRILL T-MOBILE, SPRINT EXECS: House Democrats on Wednesday pressed executives for T-Mobile and Sprint about their proposed $26 billion merger for the two wireless carriers, raising concerns about the impact on workers and consumers.

In the hearing before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, T-Mobile CEO John Legere and Sprint executive chairman Marcelo Claure tried to convince Democrats of the benefits of the deal, which would combine two of the country’s four largest wireless operators. But lawmakers were skeptical of their pitch.

“I appreciate both executives’ statements that they believe that this merger will benefit consumers and result in lower prices — and their commitments to an accelerated deployment of 5G and promises of expanded rural broadband,” said Rep. Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleHouse members hint at bipartisan net neutrality bill Hillicon Valley: Dems pounce on Trump fight with intel leaders | FBI taps new counterintelligence chief | T-Mobile, Sprint tap former FCC Dem commish to sell merger | Dem bill would crack down on robocalls | Family sues over Uber self-driving fatality House Democrats demand FCC documents MORE (D-Pa.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

“However, I’ve seen a lot of mergers in this industry and others, and it’s hard to think of one where consolidation didn’t result in people losing their jobs, prices going up and innovation being stifled,” Doyle continued.

When asked by Doyle what was different about this merger, Legere argued that the “complementary nature” of the two networks will help expand access and lower prices.

“This is a unique merger where the outcome of this merger will be a significant increase in supply in the form of eight times the capacity that our network will make available,” Legere said. We’ve got more from the contentious hearing here.

 

SPYING SPIES WHO SPY: The Trump administration on Wednesday unveiled criminal charges against a former Air Force intelligence specialist who was allegedly recruited by the Iranian government to spy on the United States.

The indictment unsealed Wednesday charges Monica Witt, who officials say worked for a U.S. defense contractor after leaving the Air Force and handled highly classified information, with two counts of delivering national defense information to a foreign government and one count of conspiracy. Witt is accused of revealing a top-secret U.S. intelligence program to Iran, as well as disclosing the identity of a U.S. counterintelligence agent.

The indictment also charges four of Witt’s alleged Iranian co-conspirators with cyber crimes for targeting Witt’s former U.S. government colleagues on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Officials with the Justice Department, FBI and Air Force announced the charges Wednesday in Washington, describing them as a result of a years-long investigation.

“This case underscores the dangers to our intelligence professionals and the lengths our adversaries will go to identify them, expose them, target them, and, in a few rare cases, ultimately turn them against the nation they swore to protect,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said. Read more here.

 

TEEING UP THE PRIVACY DEBATE: A House panel will hold a hearing later this month on data privacy legislation, set to take place one day before the Senate holds a hearing on the same topic.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) on Wednesday announced that the consumer protection subcommittee will hold the hearing on Feb. 26.  

The committee has not yet announced witnesses for the hearing.

The Senate Commerce Committee is set to hold a similar hearing titled “Policy Principles for a Federal Data Privacy Framework in the United States” a day later on Feb. 27.

Along with the hearing announcement, Pallone released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that suggests Congress should consider “developing comprehensive legislation on Internet privacy that would enhance consumer protections and provide flexibility to address a rapidly evolving Internet environment.”

“Since I requested this report, the need for comprehensive data privacy and security legislation at the federal level has only become more apparent,” Pallone said in a statement. “From the Cambridge Analytica scandal to the unauthorized disclosures of real-time location data, consumers’ privacy is being violated online and offline in alarming and dangerous ways.” More on the upcoming hearings here.

 

SAY CHEESE: Family entertainment chain Chuck E. Cheese’s in a statement on Tuesday denied a conspiracy theory amplified on YouTube this week.

Chuck E. Cheese’s is responding after mega-popular YouTuber Shane Dawson mentioned the conspiracy theory – which claims Chuck E. Cheese’s serves reheated leftover pizza – in a video on Monday.

“The claims made in this video about Chuck E. Cheese’s and our pizza are unequivocally false,” a spokesperson for the company said in a statement to The Hill. “No conspiracies here – our pizzas are made to order and we prepare our dough fresh in restaurant, which means that they’re not always perfectly uniform in shape, but always delicious.”

Dawson is one of YouTube’s most popular creators, boasting a devoted fanbase and more than 20 million followers. The video about conspiracy theories by Tuesday had accrued more than 10 million views.

Following the release of Dawson’s video, “Chuck E. Cheese’s” became a top-searched phrase on Google, with hundreds of thousands of people seeking more information about the theory.

YouTube in recent weeks has been seeking to fight the rapid-fire spread of conspiracy theories on its platform. The Google-owned company at the end of January announced that it will no longer recommend videos that promote conspiracy theories, or “content that could misinform users in harmful ways.” More on YouTube’s fight against conspiracy theories here.

 

BLOCKING OUT THE HATERS: The majority of respondents to a new poll released Wednesday said they experienced hate and harassment online in 2018.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a nonprofit that tracks and fights anti-Semitism, found that 53 percent of respondents had experienced some sort of harassment on the internet last year. Thirty-seven percent reported severe attacks, like sexual harassment or stalking.

“It’s deeply disturbing to see how prevalent online hate is, and how it affects so many Americans,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

“Cyberhate is not limited to what’s solely behind a screen; it can have grave effects on the quality of everyday lives – both online and offline. People are experiencing hate and harassment online every day and some are even changing their habits to avoid contact with their harassers.”

Fifty-six percent of those were said they had been harassed said at least some of it occurred on Facebook. Nineteen percent experienced harassment or hate on Twitter, 17 percent on Youtube and 16 percent on Instagram.

ADL said they oversampled respondents who identified as Jewish, Muslim, African American, Asian American or LGBTQ to understand experiences of people who might be “especially targeted because of their group identity.”

More here. And click here for the actual survey.

 

BACK TO THE ADVISORY BOARD: The heads of Apple, IBM and Walmart are among the new members of a White House advisory board on workforce issues, the Commerce Department announced Wednesday.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossSupreme Court’s ‘10th justice’ favors unusual tactic for Trump cases Judge doesn’t accept privacy as reason to immediately block census citizenship question Univision joins lawsuit against 2020 census citizenship question MORE and White House adviser Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpGillibrand offers to ‘sit down’ with Trump to discuss family leave On The Money: Lawmakers wait for Trump verdict on border deal | Trump touts deal as offering B for security | McConnell presses Trump to sign off | National debt tops T | Watchdog details IRS shutdown woes Ivanka Trump to meet with GOP senators to discuss paid family leave legislation MORE named the 25 presidents and CEOs of major corporations joining the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board. The list includes Apple’s Tim Cook, IBM’s Ginni Rometty and Walmart’s Doug McMillon.

The board, co-chaired by Ross and Trump, is tasked with working alongside the National Council for the American Worker to develop a “21st century workforce” plan that’s likely to include technology skills training.

Rometty, IBM’s CEO and president, said in a statement that “emerging technologies like artificial intelligence will change the way every job is done.”

The president has had a rocky past with previous business councils.

Almost a dozen CEOs dropped out of two advisory business panels in 2017 after Trump said there were “fine people” on “both sides” of the Charlottesville, Va., white supremacist rally that left one counterprotester dead.

Trump abruptly disbanded the forums following the exodus and said he was ending the two councils in order to relieve the business leaders from the intense public pressure.

More on the workforce panel here.

GOOGLE KEEPS GETTING BIGGER: Tech giant Google will invest $13 billion in data centers and offices in the United States over the course of 2019 as the company expands its U.S. operations and breaks ground for the first time in four states.

In a blog post Wednesday Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote that the investments would include “major expansions in 14 states” including Ohio, Texas, Nebraska, and Nevada, which CNBC reports will be the first time the company has built facilities in those states.

The company will have a presence of some type in 24 states following the expansion, according to Google’s blog, and will be upgrading and expanding facilities in Virginia, where the company will double its workforce according to CNBC.

Read more here.

 

NO MORE OPPORTUNITY: NASA on Wednesday declared that its Opportunity rover, one of its missions to explore Mars, is officially over.

NASA hasn’t been able to contact Opportunity since June of last year and declared the mission dead after making a final attempt on Tuesday, the space agency said in a statement.

The mission lasted more than 15 years after it initially landed on Mars in January 2004 NASA said the rover was originally expected to explore the planet for 90 days.

NASA Administrator Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineGreen New Deal will only happen if we go back to the moon What is SpaceX doing in South Texas? The Hill’s 12:30 Report — Cohen gets three years in prison | Fallout from Oval Office clash | House GOP eyes vote on B for wall MORE said in a statement that it is “because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity” that astronauts will one day be able to travel to Mars.

More on commemorating Opportunity here.

 

BANKING PANEL TAKING ON PRIVACY: The leaders of the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday kicked off a push to write stricter data collection and security standards for financial institutions.

Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoDeutsche Bank turned Trump down for loan in 2016: report Overnight Health Care: HHS chief refuses to testify on family separations | Grassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices | PhRMA spends record on lobbying in 2018 Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (R-Idaho), the panel’s chairman, and Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownMidwest Dems hinge 2020 runs on winning back Rust Belt Hillicon Valley: House panel takes on election security | DOJ watchdog eyes employee texts | Senate Dems urge regulators to block T-Mobile, Sprint deal | ‘Romance scams’ cost victims 3M in 2018 On The Money: Lawmakers wait for Trump verdict on border deal | Trump touts deal as offering B for security | McConnell presses Trump to sign off | National debt tops T | Watchdog details IRS shutdown woes MORE (Ohio), the ranking Democrat, on Wednesday asked for input on ways to give consumers more control of personally identifiable information collected by financial firms and regulators.

Data security, privacy and collection issues are among the top bipartisan priorities for the Banking Committee, which has broad oversight over U.S. banks, lenders, insurers, traders and credit reporting agencies.

Crapo and Brown’s call for feedback is one of the first steps toward proposing a bipartisan bill to address those concerns.

Crapo said he’s focused on “what data is contained in modern consumer reports, how the information is gathered, who compiles it, how it is protected, how consumers can access it and correct it, and how privacy is respected.”

The Banking panel first seized on the issue in the wake of the Equifax data breach in 2017, when the credit company revealed that hackers accessed the personal information of 143 million Americans.

Read more here.

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Countering China’s tech assault: Trump could learn from Sun Tzu.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: I wish I had died on Mars.

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

The White House released the American Broadband Initiative Milestones Report. (NTIA)

Why Amazon is caught in an unexpected brawl in New York. (The New York Times)

Pope discusses ethics of artificial intelligence with Microsoft chief. (Reuters)

NASA is saying goodbye to its Opportunity rover on Mars after eight months of radio silence. (The Verge)

Facebook’s most intriguing new hires aren’t in Silicon Valley — they’re in Washington. (Gizmodo)

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