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Main article: Senate

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 34

Senate passes ‘rip and replace’ bill to remove old Huawei and ZTE equipment from networks

02:23 | 28 February

The U.S. Senate today voted unanimously to pass the Secure and Trusted Telecommunications Networks Act. Written as a response to recent concerns around Chinese hardware manufacturers, the bill would ban purchase of telecom equipment from embattled Chinese manufactures like Huawei and ZTE.

H.R. 4998, which passed the House last December, would also include $1 billion in funding to help smaller rural telecoms “rip and replace” existing equipment from specific manufacturers. The bill still needs to be signed off by Trump in order to become a law, though Politico notes that the administration has already acknowledged support for the funding, which would be managed by the FCC.

“Telecommunications equipment from certain foreign adversaries poses a significant threat to our national security, economic prosperity, and the future of U.S. leadership in advanced wireless technology,” Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi said of the bipartisan bill in a statement. “By establishing a ‘rip and replace’ program, this legislation will provide meaningful safeguards for our communications networks and more secure connections for Americans. I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for coming together to help move this bill to the President’s desk.”

Huawei in particular has been the focus of U.S. concern over alleged ties to the Chinese government for a number of years. The Trump administration has targeted the company over spying concerns — charges Huawei has long staunchly denied. Last May, the company was added to an entity list, effectively barring U.S. companies from conducting business with the hardware giant.

 


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2019 was a hot mess for cybersecurity, but 2020 shows promise

21:30 | 4 January

It’s no secret that I hate predictions — not least because the security field changes rapidly, making it difficult to know what’s next. But given what we know about the past year, we can make some best-guesses at what’s to come.

Ransomware will get worse, and local governments will feel the heat

File-encrypting malware that demands money for the decryption key, known as ransomware, has plagued local and state governments in the past year. There have been a near-constant stream of attacks in the past year — Pensacola, Florida and Jackson County, Georgia to name a few. Governments and local authorities are particularly vulnerable as they’re often underfunded, unresourced and unable to protect their systems from many major threats. Worse, many are without cybersecurity insurance, which often doesn’t pay out anyway.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said ransomware is designed to “inflict fear and uncertainty, disrupt vital services, and sow distrust in public institutions.”

“While often viewed as basic digital extortion, ransomware has had materially adverse impacts on markets, social services like education, water, and power, and on healthcare delivery, as we have seen in a number of states and municipalities across the United States,” he said earlier this year.

As these kinds of cyberattacks increase and victims feel compelled to pay to get their files back, expect hackers to continue to carry on attacking smaller, less prepared targets.

California’s privacy law will take effect — but its repercussions won’t be immediately known

On January 1, California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) began protecting the state’s 40 million residents. The law, which has similarities to Europe’s GDPR, aims to put much of a consumer’s data back in their control. The law gives consumers a right to know what information companies have on them, a right to have that information deleted and the right to opt-out of the sale of that information.

But many companies are worried — so much so that they’re lobbying for a weaker but overarching federal law to supersede California’s new privacy law. The CCPA’s enforcement provisions will kick in some six months later, starting in July. Many companies are not prepared and it’s unclear exactly what impact the CCPA will have.

One thing is clear: expect penalties. Under GDPR, companies can be fined up to 4% of their global annual revenue. California’s law works on a sliding scale of fines, but the law also allows class action suits that could range into the high millions against infringing companies.

More data exposures to be expected as human error takes control

If you’ve read any of my stories over the past year, you’ll know that data exposures are as bad, if not worse than data breaches. Exposures, where people or companies inadvertently leave unsecured information online rather than an external breach by a hacker, are often caused by human error.

The problem became so bad that Amazon has tried to stem the flow of leaks by providing tools that detect inadvertently public data. Those tools will only go so far. Education and awareness can go far further. Expect more data exposures over the next year, as companies — and staff — continue to make mistakes with their users’ data.

Voter databases and election websites are the next target

 


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Senate report says Russian election interference ‘invariably’ supported Trump, recommends national PSA

02:40 | 9 October

A bipartisan Senate investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election released today definitively implicates the country in online operations designed specifically to get then-candidate Donald Trump elected. The tactics used were “overtly and almost invariably supportive” of his campaign even to the detriment of other Republicans. The report recommends major chances to how disinformation and election interference are handled in this country.

The bulk of the report, volume 2 of the Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian interference (the first arrived in July), focuses on the specifics of the country’s use of social media and other online channels to affect the election. (You can read the full report at the bottom of this post.)

“This campaign sought to polarize Americans on the basis of societal, ideological, and racial differences, provoked real world events, and was part of a foreign government’s covert support of Russia’s favored candidate in the U.S. presidential election,” the report reads at the outset. So much is already known, but the report goes into great detail on the exact means.

More importantly, it officially characterizes what had in many ways only been observed by other parties or alluded to: that “Russia’s favored candidate” was Trump from the beginning and that operations were undertaken specifically to get him and no one else elected.

Another point the report makes, which others had noted before, is that black Americans were of particular interest to the Russian agents.

“No single group of Americans was targeted by IRA information operatives more than African-Americans. By far, race and related issues were the preferred target of the information warfare campaign designed to divide the country in 2016,” the report states. Race issues are certainly always top of mind for many in this country, and clearly Russia perceived that as an opportunity.

While a perusal of our past articles on the topic will give an idea of the interference itself, what is new here is a set of recommendations on how to prevent the 2016 calamity from occurring again next year. Here are the major ones:

“Examine legislative approaches to ensuring Americans know the sources of online political advertisements.”

Political ads in most media are required by law to disclose who paid for them. The same is not true online, and while companies like Facebook are taking steps toward transparency, it seems odd that a private company last seen being unwitting accomplice to foreign election interference should be the vanguard of that change. Perhaps, the committee suggests, we should pass a law.

“Congress should continue to examine the full panoply of issues surrounding social media.”

This is a frustratingly vague recommendation, and its wording suggests Congress is already examining this “panoply.” But it is not specific because there is so much to say. “Privacy rules, identity validation, transparency in how data is collected and used, and monitoring for inauthentic or malign content” are among the several things that deserve continued attention. Between the lines is to be read that Congress is not going to let go of these issues any time soon if the Intel Committee has anything to do with it.

“Reinforce with the public the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election.”

This recommendation to the Executive seems unlikely to find much purchase, since this administration has been careful to play down the role of Russian and other interference in the election that put them in power. It is hard to imagine any administration doing otherwise, to be honest. But this recommendation may very well filter down to the innumerable agencies and offices that perform all kinds of work under the umbrella of the Executive, and there is only so much that the White House can suppress. If there is, as we all understand there to be, a major risk of foreign interference in the 2020 election, the Executive should acknowledge that publicly or find itself accused of complicity.

“Building media literacy from an early age would help build long-term resilience to foreign manipulation of our democracy.”

It is worth quoting this in full:

…Disinformation in the long-term will ultimately need to be tackled by an informed and discerning population of citizens who are both alert to the threat and armed with the critical thinking skills necessary to protect against malicious influence. A public initiative-propelled by federal funding but led in large part by state and local education institutions-focused on building media literacy from an early age would help build long-term resilience to foreign manipulation of our democracy.

It’s hardly realistic to expect an education campaign to have any effect next year, which is why this is a “long-term” approach to taking on disinformation. But how can federal education guidelines or campaigns be taken seriously when the government is itself deeply invested in counterfactual narratives regarding things like climate change? Media literacy is important, but the feds need to learn their own lessons before they can teach them.

“Stand up an interagency task force to continually monitor and assess foreign country’s use of social media platforms for democratic interference.”

Another recommendation to the Executive, this one is half practical and half CYA. A task force is the lip service of the federal government, but even so they have a habit of documenting things that others would rather were swept under the rug. No one would take the proposed “deterrence frameworks” seriously, but they make great ammo for political battles after the fact. If the task force warned of X six months before X caused Y, the politicians who appear to have taken X seriously at the time score valuable politics points.

“Develop a clear plan for notifying candidates, parties, or others associated with elections when those individuals or groups have been the victim of a foreign country’s use of social media platforms to interfere in an election.”

This kind of thing — the knowledge that there’s a hacking collective in Brazil trying to take down Pete Buttigieg or something — should be shared in a structured fashion. This is as much to benefit the target as it is to punish those who would withhold that information.

Furthermore, as Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) adds in notes at the end of the report, it is not enough to simply say that there were attempts at subversion — the intelligence community must share their “assessment of the goals and intent” of those attempts.

In other words, if we knew what we knew now in 2016, it would be required that the government in some way disclose not only that Hilary Clinton’s campaign was being targeted, but that it was being targeted with the specific goal of getting Donald Trump elected.

Wyden also had some choice words for the social media and tech community.

Until Facebook, Google, and Twitter have developed effective defenses to ensure that their micro-targeting systems cannot be exploited by foreign governments to influence American elections, these companies must put the integrity of American democracy over their profits.

Congress should pass legislation that addresses this concern in three respects. First, the Federal Trade Commission must be given the power to set baseline data security and privacy rules for companies that store or share Americans’ data, as well as the authority and resources to fine companies that violate.those rules, Second; companies should be obligated to disclose how consumer information is collected and shared and provide consumers the names of every individual or institution with whom their data has been shared. Third, consumers must be given the ability to easily opt out of commercial data sharing.

You can read the full report below.

Senate Intel report on Russian election interference (volume 2) by TechCrunch on Scribd

 


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To curb lobbying power, Elizabeth Warren wants to reinstate the Office of Technology Assessment

16:02 | 27 September

In a move to correct the imbalance of power between technologically sophisticated corporations and the lawmakers who regulate them, presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren is proposing that Congress reinstate the Office of Technology Assessment.

It’s a move that gets deep into the weeds of how policy making in Washington works, but it’s something that Warren sees as essential to leveling the playing field between well-paid corporate lobbyists who are experts in their fields and over-worked under-staffed congressional members who lack independent analysts to explain highly technical issues.

“Lobbyists are filling in the gaps in congressional resources and expertise by providing Congress information from the perspective of their paying corporate clients. So let’s fix it,” writes Warren.

It’s one of the key planks in Warren’s latest policy proposal and an attempt to tip the scales against corporations and their lobbyists. With the move Warren clearly has her eye on technology companies and their representatives, who often are the very people Congressional lawmakers rely on to explain how rule-making would impact their industries.

“[Members] of Congress aren’t just dependent on corporate lobbyist propaganda because they’re bought and paid for. It’s also because of a successful, decades-long campaign to starve Congress of the resources and expertise needed to independently evaluate complex public policy questions,” Warren writes.

“For every bad faith actor in Congress bought off by the big banks, there are others who are genuinely trying to grapple with the technical aspects of financial reform. But as the issues facing Congress have grown more complex, resources to objectively and independently analyze them have been slashed. Republicans eliminated an independent office of experts dedicated to advising Congress on technical and scientific information,” the Senator says.

The lack of independent analysis stymies Congressional oversight in areas from banking and finance reform, to the oversight of technology companies, to the potential to effectively pass laws that will respond to the threat of climate change. Committees that oversee science and technology have seen their staff levels fall by over 40 percent in the past decade, according to Warren and staff salaries have failed to keep up with inflation, meaning that policymakers in Washington can’t compete for the same level of talent that private companies and lobbyists can afford several times over.

Sen. Warren saw this firsthand when she worked at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau .

“Financial reform was complicated, and the bank lobbyists used a clever technique: They bombarded the members of Congress with complex arguments filled with obscure terms. Whenever a congressman pushed back on an idea, the lobbyists would explain that although the congressman seemed to be making a good point, he didn’t really understand the complex financial system,” she writes. “And keep in mind, the lobbyists would tell the congressman, that if you get this wrong, you will bring down the global economy.”

The inability of lawmakers to understand basic facts about the technologies they’re tasked with regulating was on full display during the Senate hearings into the role technology companies played in the Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Issues from net neutrality to end-to-end encryption, or online advertising to the reduction of carbon emissions all rely on Congress having a sound understanding of those issues and how regulation may change an industry.

Right now, it’s case of which multi-billion dollar company can buy the best lobbyists — as is the case with Alphabet and Yelp or Facebook and Snap.

Under the auspices of Warren’s anti-corruption plan, the Senator is calling for the reinstatement and modernization of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, a significant increase to salaries for congressional staffers and stronger funding for agencies that support congressional lawmaking.

The OTA was created in the seventies to help members of Congress understand science and technology issues that they’d be regulating. Over the tenure of the agency, it created over 750 reports — including two landmark studies on the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming in the 90s, which brought it to the attention of conservative lawmakers that defunded it in 1995.

At the time, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said the agency was “used by liberals to cover up political ideology.”

Under Warren’s plan the OTA would be lead by an independent director to avoid partisan manipulation. The newly re-formed agency would have the power to commission its own reports and respond to requests from lawmakers to weigh in on rule-making, help congressional legislators prepare for hearings, and write regulatory letters.

Warren also calls for funding to be increased for the other congressional support agencies — the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Government Accountability Office. Combined these agencies have lost half of their staff.

Money for the increased activities of the agencies would come from a tax on “excessive lobbying”. The . goal would be “to reverse these cuts and further strengthen support agencies that members of Congress rely on for independent information,” according to the Warren plan.

“These reforms are vital parts of my plan to free our government from the grip of lobbyists – and restore the public’s trust in its government in the process,” Warren writes.

 


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U.S. security experts concede China’s 5G dominance, push for public investment

00:16 | 25 September

U.S. security experts are conceding that China has won the race to develop and deploy the 5G telecommunications infrastructure seen as underpinning the next generation of technological advancement and warn that the country and its allies must develop a response — and quickly.

The challenge we have in the development of the 5G network, at least in the early stage, is the dominance of the Huawei firm,” said Tom Ridge, the former US Secretary of Homeland Security and governor of Pennsylvania on a conference call organized recently by Global Cyber Policy Watch. “To embed that technology into a critical piece of infrastructure which is telecom is a huge national security risk.” 

Already some $500 million is being allocated to the development of end-to-end encryption software and other technologies through the latest budget for the U.S. Department of Defense, but these officials warn that the money is too little and potentially too late, unless more drastic moves are made.

(You can also hear more about this at TechCrunch Disrupt in SF next week, where we’ll be interviewing startup founders and investors who build businesses by working with governments.)

The problems posed by China’s dominance in this critical component of new telecommunications technologies cut across public and private sector security concerns. They range from intellectual property theft to theft of state secrets and could curtail the ways the U.S. government shares critical intelligence information with its allies, along with opening up the U.S. to direct foreign espionage by the Chinese government, Ridge and other security experts warned.

 


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U.S. Senator demands answers from Amazon Ring over its police partnerships

19:02 | 6 September

Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) is looking for answers from Amazon about its doorbell camera Ring and the company’s relationships with law enforcement agencies around the U.S. In a letter published on Thursday, he writes to the technology giant how partnerships like Ring’s raise “serious privacy and civil liberties concerns,” and asks Amazon to further detail the size and scope of its numerous deals with police.

The Senator’s attention was drawn to the issue following a recent report by The Washington Post. The report revealed that Ring had entered into some 400 video-sharing partnerships with U.S. police forces, which granted the police access to the footage from the homeowners’ internet-connected video cameras.

The police cannot tap into live or on ongoing footage, and the homeowners can choose to decline police requests, the report also said.

However, the partnerships raised concerns from privacy advocates who believe the program could threaten civil liberties, turn residents into informants, and subject innocent people to greater surveillance and risk, The Washington Post noted.

The same kind of network of surveillance cameras would draw more scrutiny if the police or the government had installed it themselves, but by working with Ring they’re not directly involved.

In a letter (see below) dated Thursday, September 5, 2019, Senator Markey questions the use targeted language that encourages Ring owners to opt in to the video-sharing program with police, as well as the way Amazon actively courts law enforcement to increase its use of the Ring system. Sen. Markey additionally points out that Amazon seems to be increasingly working with U.S. police forces, like it did when marketing its facial recognition product, Rekognition.

“The scope and nature of Ring’s partnership with police forces raise additional civil liberties concerns. The integration of Ring’s network of cameras with law enforcement offices could easily create a surveillance network that places dangerous burdens on people of color and feeds racial anxieties in local communities,” Sen. Markey wrote. “I am particularly alarmed to learn that Ring is pursuing facial recognition technology with the potential to flag certain individuals as suspicious based on their biometric information,” he continued, referencing a patent Ring applied for last year that would catch “suspicious” people on camera.

“In light of evidence that existing facial recognition technology disproportionately misidentifies African Americans and Latinos, a product like this has the potential to catalyze racial profiling and harm people of color,” Markey said.

The Senator asks Amazon to detail how long it’s been asking users to share video footage with police, how those policies have changed, and which police departments it’s working with. He also asked for information about how this data was being stored, what safeguards are in place, whether the police are sharing that footage with other entities, whether Rekognition capabilities were coming to Ring, and more.

Markey also wants Ring to review its consent prompts for video-sharing with experts to make sure it’s not manipulating consumers into these agreements with police.

And he wants to know if Ring has worked with any experts in civil liberties, criminal justice or other relevant fields to review its doorbells and social network Neighbors to ensure they don’t present unique threats to people of color or other populations.

Ring would not be the first to create a home for racial profiling among neighbors, though its connection to cameras makes it more of an actionable threat than other networks, like Nextdoor or Facebook Groups.

Nextdoor, for example, became well-known for issues around racial profiling, and eventually rolled out tools to try to stem the problem in its app. Crime-tracking app Citizen also faced controversies for creating a state of paranoid hypervigilance among its users — something that has long-term effects on how people perceive their world and those they share it with. And anyone in a Facebook Group for their neighborhood knows there will at some point be a post about a “suspcious” person with little evidence of any wrongdoing.

Sen. Markey gave Amazon until September 26, 2019 to respond to his questions.

 


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Senate Intelligence Committee releases first volume of its investigation into Russian election hacking

01:29 | 26 July

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today released the first volume of its bipartisan investigation into Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections.

Helmed by Select Committee Chairman Richard Burr, the Republican from North Carolina, and Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner, who serves as Vice Chairman, the committee’s report Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure,” details the unclassified summary findings on election security. 

Through two and a half years the committee has held 15 open hearings, interviewed over 200 witnesses, and reviewed nearly 400,000 documents, according to a statement and will be publishing other volumes from its investigation over the next year. 

“In 2016, the U.S. was unprepared at all levels of government for a concerted attack from a determined foreign adversary on our election infrastructure. Since then, we have learned much more about the nature of Russia’s cyber activities and better understand the real and urgent threat they pose,” Committee Chairman Burr said in a statement. “The Department of Homeland Security and state and local elections officials have dramatically changed how they approach election security, working together to bridge gaps in information sharing and shore up vulnerabilities.”

Both Sen. Burr and Sen. Warner said that additional steps still needed to be taken.

“[There’s] still much more we can and must do to protect our elections. I hope the bipartisan findings and recommendations outlined in this report will underscore to the White House and all of our colleagues, regardless of political party, that this threat remains urgent, and we have a responsibility to defend our democracy against it.”

Among the Committee’s findings were that Russian hackers exploited the seams between federal and state authorities. State election officials, the report found were not sufficiently warned or prepared to handle an attack from a state actor.

The warnings that were provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security weren’t detailed enough nor did they contain enough relevant information that would have encouraged the states to take threats more seriously, the report indicated.

 More work still needs to be done, according to the Committee. DHS needs to coordinate its efforts with state officials much more closely. But states need to do more as well to ensure that new voting machines have a voter-verified paper trail. 

So does Congress. The committee report underscores that Congress need to evaluate the results of the $380 million in state security grants which were issued under the Help America Vote Act and ensure that additional funding is available to address any security gaps in voting systems and technologies around the U.S.

Finally, the U.S. needs to create more appropriate deterrence mechanisms to enable the country to respond effectively to cyber attacks on elections.

The Committee’s support for greater spending on election security and refining electoral policy to ensure safe and secure access to the ballot, comes as Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has blocked two election security measures that were attempting to come before the Senate floor for a vote.

New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, tried to get consent to pass a House bill that requires the use of paper ballots and included new funding for the Election Assistance Commission.

In a statement explaining his rejection of the Bill, McConnell told The Hill, “Clearly this request is not a serious effort to make a law. Clearly something so partisan that it only received one single solitary Republican vote in the House is not going to travel through the Senate by unanimous consent.”

McConnell also rejected a consent motion to pass legislation that would require that candidates, campaign officials, and family members to reach out to the FBI if they received offers of assistance from foreign governments.

 


0

We still don’t know how much of Libra Facebook owns

22:29 | 3 July

The $10 million entry fee to join the Facebook-developed cryptocurrency’s Libra Association is merely a minimum. Members who’ll verify transactions can opt to invest more in exchange for more Libra Investment Tokens that will earn them dividends from the interest earned by the Libra Reserve after it pays for infrastructure and operations costs. If regulators allow it to launch after today requesting a halt of development, and the cryptocurrency grows popular with tons of people cashing in local currencies for Libra, the Reserve that holds those assets could grow huge and generate meaningful returns via interest — especially for members willing to sink a ton of money in early.

But therein lies potential disalignment of incentives.

If you’re confused, read our guide to everything about Libra

Each Libra Association member only gets one vote on the council, including Facebook . But if Facebook puts in $500 million and another member like eBay antes just the $10 million minimum, Facebook has a much bigger incentive to get people cashing into Libra and holding onto the cryptocurrency so the Reserve earns interest on those dollars or other fiat, rather than just getting people to transact with it regardless of whether they hold on to Libra permanently. That could lead Facebook (and its Calibra subsidiary representing it) to push governance decisions that would disproportionately benefit it.

Ahead of the Libra announcement two weeks ago, Facebook’s head of blockchain and now Calibra David Marcus told me “The reserve earns interest on some of those treasuries. It’s a small amount and it’s variable but if the reserve becomes big it could become a substantial way to fund the association but also return capital to investors.”

Yet Facebook, for all its talk about transparency with Libra, refused to tell me how much it’s invested into the Libra project as a whole or the Libra Investment Token. That should be a core question raised by congress when Marcus testifies before the Senate Banking Chair on July 16th and the House Financial Services Committee on July 17th. Facebook did not respond to requests for comment on this article. Congress should also be sure to ask how Libra will avoid a Cambridge Analytica-style crypto disaster given that apps built on the Libra developer platform aren’t subject to review.

The proportion of the total Libra Investment Tokens that Facebook owns in part determines how decentralized Libra really is. If Facebook owns the lion’s share or a majority, that could give it too much financial impetus to bend the rules in its favor even if it only has one vote on the council.

Here’s how. Facebook has led development of Libra to date. In fact, the Libra Association has yet to draw up and ratify a charter or formally admit members. Technically it’s just Facebook’s project right now. “So far we’ve been funding it all” Marcus told The Information’s Alex Heath. It’s also been coding it all, organizing it all, and communicating it all.

As such, for now the project can’t survive without Facebook, and may not be able to for quite a while. That means if that if at any time Facebook disagrees so strongly with the Libra Association that it threatens to pull out, it jeopardizes the investment of all the other members. That could coerce them to vote in support of its governance policy suggestions. Facebook thereby wouldn’t need more than one vote to have a much larger influence on the direction of the project.

Today in a Facebook Note (…not a Libra.org blog post), Marcus wrote “The levels of investments of each of the partners will most likely be public as well when that’s actually live.” But that’s far from a guarantee, and could come too late for regulators to intercede or other members to truly understand the assymetry.

Meanwhile, Marcus also said that “We’ve been basically lending money to the association that will be at some point repaid back.” That raises another question of how much Facebook has already sunk into the Libra project, how much it expects to be repaid, on what schedule. Members might be more skittish to join if they learn much of their $10 million investment might just go to paying Facebook back. 

That’s not to mention the other ways Facebook will earn money from Libra. Marcus wrote today that “If Libra is successful, Facebook will first benefit from it by enabling more commerce across its family of apps. More commerce means ads will be more effective, and advertisers will buy more of them to grow their businesses. Additionally, if we earn people’s trust with the Calibra wallet over time, we will also be in a position to start offering more financial services, and generate other revenue streams for the company.”

The fact that Facebook oversees development and has a massive head start on building its wallet that will be baked into its billion-plus user Messenger and WhatsApp products sure doesn’t hurt its prospects for offering other financial services. It will be first to market, instantly at scale, with an insider’s role in defining the rule book.

I’m not discounting the potential Libra has to aid the unbanked who can’t pay fees for having too little money in their accounts, or make commerce cheaper for small businesses. But if Facebook stands to earn outsized returns directly and indirectly from Libra, while expecting other members to foot its R&D bill, and these numbers aren’t made public soon, it’s reasonable to question how decentralized and altruistic this project really is.

 


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Maine lawmakers pass bill to protect ISPs from selling browsing data

23:13 | 30 May

Good news!

Maine lawmakers have passed a bill that will prevent internet providers from selling consumers’ private internet data to advertisers.

The state’s senate unanimously passed the bill 35-0 on Thursday following an earlier vote by state representatives 96-45 in favor of the bill.

The bill, if signed into law by state governor Janet Mills, will force the national and smaller regional internet providers operating in the state to first obtain permission from residents before their data can be sold or passed onto advertisers or other third parties.

Maine has about 1.3 million residents.

The Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission voted in 2017 to allow internet providers to sell customers’ private and personal internet data and browsing histories — including which websites a user visits and for how long — to advertisers for the biggest buck. Congress later passed the measure into law.

At the time, the ACLU explained how this rule change affected ordinary Americans:

Your internet provider sees everything you do online. Even if the website you’re visiting is encrypted, your ISP can still see the website name, how frequently you visit the website, and how long you’re there for. And, because you are a paying customer, your ISP knows your social security number, full legal name, address, and bank account information. Linking all that information can reveal a lot about you – for example, if you are visiting a religious website or a support site for people with a particular illness.

In its latest remarks, the ACLU — which along with the Open Technology Institute and New America helped to draft the legislation — praised lawmakers for passing the bill, calling it the “strongest” internet privacy bill of any state.

“Today, the Maine legislature did what the U.S. Congress has thus far failed to do and voted to put consumer privacy before corporate profits,” said Oamshri Amarasingham, advocacy director at the ACLU of Maine, in  a statement.

“Nobody should have to choose between using the internet and protecting their own data,” she said.

 


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National security journalism just became a national security threat

21:08 | 26 May

Six years ago, British intelligence officers walked into the offices of The Guardian newspaper in London and demanded its staff destroy computers they believed stored highly classified documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In the basement of the newspaper’s officers, editors used angle-grinders and drills to destroy the computers in an effort to render its data unusable after “weeks of tense negotiations” between the newspaper and the British government, itself under pressure from U.S. authorities — a close intelligence sharing partner — to return the leaked top secret documents. Despite the fact that there were several copies of the NSA documents — including in the U.S — the newspaper faced a threat of punitive legal action or prosecution if they declined.

“The only way of protecting the Guardian’s team was for the paper to destroy its own computers,” said Luke Harding, a Guardian journalist.

In the years of citing this case in why press freedoms are so important, the Americans always respond: “Wait, that happened?”

That would never happen in the U.S. It’s not uncommon for national security reporters to obtain classified information or rely on government employees providing secret information, particularly to uncover abuses of power or the law. As the only named profession in the U.S. constitution, the U.S. press is a shining example of holding the powers to account no matter what.

But the most recent charges laid against Julian Assange has put those press freedoms under threat.

Julian Assange, widely regarded as a liar, a proponent of misinformation, and loathed by many for generally being a shitbag, has been defended by some of his biggest critics since the latest round of charges were announced against him.

Assange last week became the first person to be charged under the Espionage Act, an act of law that predates the Great Depression by an entire decade, and used to prosecute foreign spies and government whistleblowers, for publishing classified information.

“This is exactly what national security reporters and their news publications often ask government officials or contractors to do,” said Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School and former government lawyer, in a post on Lawfare.

In fact, that’s exactly what I’ve done. In 2017, following the fifth security lapse at NSA in as many years, I obtained and published classified documents relating to the government’s Ragtime program and the Red Disk intelligence sharing platform. While it’s not unheard of for reporters to face government investigations for doing their jobs, not a single journalist has been charged for obtaining or publishing classified information in the past hundred years since the Espionage Act became law.

It’s no surprise that the indictment has rattled news organizations and reporters, which too have published classified information like off-grid torture sites and global government surveillance provided by anonymous sources and whistleblowers, for fear they may also suffer a similar prosecution.

Washington Post editor Marty Baron said in

: “Dating as far back as the Pentagon Papers case and beyond, journalists have been receiving and reporting on information that the government deemed classified. Wrongdoing and abuse of power were exposed. With the new indictment of Julian Assange, the government is advancing a legal argument that places such important work in jeopardy and undermines the very purpose of the First Amendment.”

Assange, through WikiLeaks, published numerous troves of highly classified diplomatic cables and military videos showing the killing of civilians including a Reuters camera crew, provided by former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was herself charged under the act and imprisoned before her sentence was later commuted. The government’s latest indictment accused Assange of publishing “unredacted names of human sources,” which “risked serious harm to United States national security.”

Some of Assange’s most vocal critics have said the U.S. is prosecuting Assange for “the last good thing he did”. Since his publications, Assange has sullied his own name and reputation, not least by working with Russia to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign by releasing embarrassing stolen emails.

The Justice Department said Assange is “no journalist.” But the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech and press freedoms, doesn’t distinguish between whether someone’s a journalist or not.

“The First Amendment gives journalists no special rights,” says national security lawyer Elizabeth Goitein. in a Washington Post op-ed. “In prohibiting abridgments of ‘the freedom of speech, or of the press,’ it gives equal protection to those who speak, those who write, those who report, and those who publish.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter whether Assange is a journalist or not.

Under U.S. law, with which he’s charged, all — regardless of whether a person is a reporter or not — are protected by the same freedoms. With a successful prosecution of Assange, there’s nothing stopping the government from laying charges against any other American — journalist or otherwise — for receiving and publishing classified information.

“This is not about Julian Assange,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, a prominent lawmaker and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “This is about the use of the Espionage Act to charge a recipient and publisher of classified information.”

“Assange’s case could set a dangerous precedent with regard to the kinds of activities that the First Amendment does not protect — a precedent that could chill even the most careful, skilled professional journalists from pursuing stories involving national security secrets,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, in an op-ed.

The Washington Post reported Friday that the Obama administration considered bringing charges against Assange years ago but was concerned that the charges would prosecute conduct “too similar” to that of reporters at established news organizations.

But now that the Trump administration has brought charges against Assange, journalists once branded by the president the “enemy of the people” could soon be treated as enemies of the state.

 


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