Hillicon Valley: Spending deal includes $425M for election security | House passes bill to bar use of funds for Huawei | Top White House telecom advisor steps down

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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills).



SHOW ME THE MONEY: The spending deal agreed upon by House and Senate negotiators includes $425 million for states to improve their election security, two congressional sources confirmed to The Hill early Monday.

The appropriations deal also includes a requirement for states to match 20 percent of the federal funds, meaning the eventual amount given to election officials to improve election security would reach $510 million.

The federal funds set to be given to states through the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) represent a compromise between the amounts separately offered by the House and Senate earlier this year for election security purposes.

The House included $600 million for election security efforts in its version of the fiscal 2020 Financial Services and General Government Bill, which the chamber passed earlier this year.

In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee included $250 million for election security in its version of the same bill, an amount that had bipartisan support and was backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPoll: Support for impeaching and removing Trump dips McConnell tees up votes on 13 Trump judicial picks ahead of break Conway says White House sees ‘no reason’ to bow to Democratic witness demands MORE (R-Ky.).

The two chambers disagreed, however, over how the funds could be used, with the House requiring states to use the money for specific election security improvements such as replacing equipment and the Senate allowing a broader use of the funds.

Read more here.



And for more on what else is in the mammoth $1.4 trillion deal, click here.


HOUSE TAKES A STAND AGAINST HUAWEI: The House on Monday passed legislation that would bar the government from buying telecommunications equipment from companies deemed to be national security threats, such as Chinese telecom giant Huawei. 

The bipartisan Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act, which passed the House unanimously, could get a vote in the Senate as soon as this week. 

“Securing our networks from malicious foreign interference is critical to America’s wireless future,” the bipartisan lawmakers behind the bill, including the top Democrat and Republican on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement. “Companies like Huawei and its affiliates pose a significant threat to America’s commercial and security interests because a lot of communications providers rely heavily on their equipment.”

The legislation prohibits the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from doling out funds to purchase telecom equipment from “any company that poses a national security risk,” while requiring the government to help small communications providers rip questionable equipment out of the ground. 

The bill requires the FCC to establish a $1 billion program to help small and rural communications providers remove “suspect network equipment” and replace it with products that are deemed more “secure.” 

It’s only the latest attempt to address threats posed by Huawei, a massive company with a U.S. presence that critics say could enable the Chinese government to infiltrate U.S. communications. 

Read more here.


ANOTHER TECH OFFICIAL EXITS: The top White House adviser on telecom issues is stepping down, marking the second time the leader of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has left their position this year. 

Acting Administrator in Charge Diane Rinaldo’s departure comes about seven months after former NTIA chief David Redl left his post. 

“As my time at NTIA comes to an end, I want to thank you for your dedication to our organization and its mission,” she wrote in an email to staff. “My main goal in this position was to be a champion and bullhorn for all of the good work you do, and I will always be an NTIA supporter.” 

The NTIA is tasked with advising the Trump administration’s telecom policy within the Department of Commerce. It has been at the center of the Trump administration’s sometimes unpredictable policies over how the government and private industry should handle the race toward implementing next-generation wireless networks. 

Rinaldo, who did not say where she’s heading next, touted the agency’s work on broadband, privacy, next-generation wireless and tech trade policy as successes over her two-year tenure at NTIA.

The former House Intelligence Committee staffer, who previously served as Redl’s deputy at NTIA, has worked on tech and cybersecurity issues for years. She was the lead committee staffer on the Cybersecurity Act of 2015, a landmark piece of cybersecurity legislation, and previously served as the oversight and budget monitor for the National Security Agency. 

Read more here.


GIVE US MORE: Democrats are complaining that the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) set for a Senate vote this week doesn’t go far enough to protect election security.

The bill includes a number of provisions that would tighten security, but Democrats — who for much of the year have targeted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the issue of election security — say it lacks key safeguards that would help prevent foreign meddling, including post-election audits of the results and requirements for states that do not use paper ballots.


While the concerns won’t prevent the Senate from approving the massive bill, they are likely to lead to complaints as Democrats continue to press the issue of election security next year.

“We can’t mandate that, but we could say if you want to take the federal money, you’ve got to meet these prerequisites,” Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Spending deal includes 5M for election security | House passes bill to bar use of funds for Huawei | Top White House telecom advisor steps down Dems want tougher language on election security in defense bill TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions MORE (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said of the paper ballot issue. “I still don’t think we’re as protected as we should be going into the 2020 election.”

Audits are one of the issues focused upon by critics of the bill who say it does not provide enough security.

Post-election audits are recommended ways of securing election results and ensuring interference did not occur. New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice has recommended them as an essential step to secure elections, writing in a 2018 paper that risk-limiting audits are “an easy and efficient method for verifying that vote tallies are accurate.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is in the process of publishing reports based on the findings of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, recommended that states “begin to implement audits of election results.” It said audits “may be the simplest and most direct way to ensure confidence in the integrity of the vote.”

Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonHillicon Valley: Spending deal includes 5M for election security | House passes bill to bar use of funds for Huawei | Top White House telecom advisor steps down Dems want tougher language on election security in defense bill Overnight Defense: Watchdog to audit company’s border wall contract | Pentagon to step up vetting of foreign students after Pensacola | Report finds former defense official sexually harassed staffers MORE (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he agreed with Warner on the need for post-election audits.

“Post-election audits are important, that is really the only verifiable way of determining whether or not the ballots are legitimate or not, to have some kind of procedure, so I think [Warner’s] concern is warranted,” Thompson said. 


Rep. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinHillicon Valley: Spending deal includes 5M for election security | House passes bill to bar use of funds for Huawei | Top White House telecom advisor steps down Hillicon Valley: Commerce extends Huawei waiver | Senate Dems unveil privacy bill priorities | House funding measure extends surveillance program | Trump to tour Apple factory | GOP bill would restrict US data going to China Trump makes social media a player in impeachment MORE (D-R.I.), the former chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on cybersecurity, told The Hill that he “would have liked to have seen more done with post-election audits.”

Read more here.


WE HAVE SOME QUESTIONS: The top Democrats on two key committees are questioning whether the government flouted “appropriate” procedures when it recently approved the $26 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, green-lighting one of the largest telecom deals in recent history. 

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerold Nadler (D-N.Y.) on Monday accused the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of engaging in shady and potentially rule-breaking behavior ahead of its decision to approve the merger along party lines earlier this year. 

“We have serious concerns regarding the troubling lack of transparency and an apparent lack of appropriate process leading up to the Federal Communications Commission’s approval of T-Mobile U.S., Inc.’s purchase of Sprint Corporation,” Pallone and Nadler said in a letter sent to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican. 

Several critics – including Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and a coalition of advocacy groups – have claimed the FCC should have opened up the deal to public comment before voting for it 3-2 in October. And the Democrats, citing Rosenworcel, are accusing the agency of replacing initial evidence with analysis that “downplay[ed] the competitive harms of the merger” at the last minute. 

“To the extent that changes were made to the draft decision based on data supplied by the parties after the draft was first circulated to the Commissioners, we are concerned that there was insufficient notice and opportunity for public review and comment,” Pallone and Nadler wrote.

Read more here.


PROTECT THE CHILDREN: Sens. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersHillicon Valley: Spending deal includes 5M for election security | House passes bill to bar use of funds for Huawei | Top White House telecom advisor steps down Senators introduce legislation to protect schools against cyberattacks Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan MORE (D-Mich.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) on Monday introduced legislation intended to protect K-12 schools from cyber attacks, after a year in which schools have been increasingly targeted in cyberspace.

The K-12 Cybersecurity Act would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create a list of cybersecurity recommendations and resources for schools to use when increasing they cyber protections, along with requiring DHS to examine the overall cyber risks schools face. 

Peters, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement that the bill would help schools to “protect themselves from hackers looking to take advantage of our nation’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities.”

“Schools across the country are entrusted with safeguarding the personal data of their students and faculty, but lack many of [the] resources and information needed to adequately defend themselves against sophisticated cyber-attacks,” Peters added.

Scott, who is a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, emphasized in a separate statement that “the safety of our schools is always my top priority, and that includes protecting the information of our students and teachers. I’m proud to sponsor the K-12 Cybersecurity Act of 2019 to further protect our schools, students and educators, and give them the resources they need to stay safe.”

Read more here.


ROBOCALLS ON THE RISE: Americans received over twice as many robocalls this year as they did in 2018, according to a new study released this week.

Hiya, a company which develops tools to detect caller identity and protect from scams, estimates in its new report that 54.6 billion robocalls were placed from January to November 2019, up 108 percent from the previous year.

That marks a significant acceleration in frequency: robocalls increased 46 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to Hiya COO Kush Parikh.

“The reason that it’s increasing so rapidly is that this is a profitable industry for the scamsters and the fraudsters,” Parikh told The Hill in a phone interview. “It’s a nine billion dollar industry and growing.”

Hiya found that the average American received 14 robocalls and spam calls, often with the intention of stealing consumers’ personal information, per month in 2019.

The company calculated robocall growth by analyzing spam calls detected among Hiya’s users combined with data from national carriers.

Read more here.


BUSTED: Two programmers pleaded guilty to copyright charges in association with two illegal streaming services, including one site that had more content than Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, according to the Department of Justice.

Darryl Julius Polo, 36, pleaded guilty last week to running Las Vegas–based streaming site iStreamItAll as well as working on the illegal streaming website Jetflicks, the Justice Department announced Friday. 

He also pleaded guilty to money laundering, according to federal prosecutors. 

Luis Angel Villarino, 40, pleaded guilty in a separate trial on Friday to working as a computer programmer on Jetflicks. 

Polo said he reproduced tens of thousands of copyrighted television episodes and movies without authorization and streamed and distributed the programs to thousands of paid subscribers throughout the U.S., prosecutors said.

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BIG EASY CYBER ATTACK: New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) declared a state of emergency in the city on Friday following a cyberattack.

The emergency declaration said that the “cybersecurity incident” occurred on Friday morning and that there is “significant risk that the emergency is ongoing.”

It added that there is also a risk of “the endangerment of property of the people of” New Orleans.

According to tweets from the city’s emergency preparedness campaign, employees were told to shut off their computers, unplug their devices and disconnect from Wi-Fi. 

The city’s website went down, but its emergency communications systems were still operating. 

Read more here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: The most talented of cats


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: America should demand privacy protections–before it’s too late



Please don’t read if you enjoy the internet – a look at Google’s content moderators (Verge / Casey Newton)

The decade tech lost its way: An oral history of the 2010s (The New York Times / Multiple authors) 

T-Mobile-Sprint trial: a debate about phone bills (The Wall Street Journal / Sarah Krouse) 

5G is more secure than 4G and 3G – except when it’s not (Wired / Lily Hay Newman)

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