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HOUSE PASSES SURVEILLANCE BILL: The House on Wednesday passed legislation to reauthorize a key intelligence surveillance bill after weeks of back-and-forth tussling between members in both parties.
The passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), 278-136, comes the day after the House struck a bipartisan deal on the legislation and just before the bill is set to expire on Sunday.
Negotiators had worked for weeks, as both liberal Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans pushed for additional privacy protections, putting them at odds with lawmakers who wanted a clean reauthorization of the FISA bill, which they believed would easily pass in the upper chamber.
Now the Senate will consider the bill, which extends three expiring provisions of the USA Freedom Act that touch on roving wiretaps, lone wolf surveillance and a controversial program that allows the U.S. government to request access to phone metadata.
The bill has the support of Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrHillicon Valley: Internet providers vow to maintain service amid coronavirus | Pentagon looks to revisit ‘war cloud’ decision | Gates steps down from Microsoft board Full appeals court to rehear case over McGahn subpoena Ivanka Trump works from home after interacting with official who tested for coronavirus MORE, who encouraged members of both parties to vote yes on it on Wednesday.
“I have reviewed the House FISA bill and support its passage,” Barr said in a statement. “The bill contains an array of new requirements and compliance provisions that will protect against abuse and misuse in the future while ensuring that this critical tool is available when appropriate to protect the safety of the American people.”
Read more on the House bill here.
…BUT THERE’S A PROBLEM: Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe Hill’s Morning Report — Coronavirus tests a partisan Washington Trump tells GOP senator he does not support House surveillance deal Senate standoff means surveillance programs to lapse MORE (R-Ky.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe Hill’s Morning Report — Coronavirus tests a partisan Washington Trump tells GOP senator he does not support House surveillance deal Senate standoff means surveillance programs to lapse MORE (R-Utah) are working to kill the House deal to reauthorize expiring intelligence programs and reform the surveillance court, throwing up an eleventh hour roadblock to the agreement.
The two libertarian-minded Republicans, who are close allies of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces toughest crisis of presidency in coronavirus House passes bill to help prop up economy from coronavirus White House physician: Trump doesn’t require test after exposure to 2 people with coronavirus MORE‘s, are urging Trump to veto the House agreement, which pairs a reauthorization of expiring intelligence programs with broader changes to the court associated with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
“The president I think really would like to see real reform, and I think the open question is whether or not he’ll take what [Attorney General William] Barr’s giving him. So we’re letting the president know that we think it’s weak sauce, that it doesn’t fix the problem,” Paul told reporters.
Asked if he thought he could convince Trump to oppose the House agreement — which is backed by leadership in both parties as well Trump allies like Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTop GOP post on Oversight draws stiff competition McConnell, top GOP senators throw support behind surveillance deal as deadline looms Hillicon Valley: House passes key surveillance bill | Paul, Lee urge Trump to kill FISA deal | White House seeks help from tech in coronavirus fight | Dem urges Pence to counter virus misinformation MORE (R-Ohio) — Paul added: “That would change things, but I don’t know. … But we will try.”
Lee is also publicly and privately urging Trump to veto the House bill, if it were to reach his desk. The House is expected to pass the bill later Wednesday, setting up a vote in the Senate as soon as Thursday.
“The House FISA deal doesn’t fix what’s wrong with FISA. It would not have stopped the spying that occurred against @realDonaldTrump. I will do everything I can to oppose it in the Senate. If it passes, @realDonaldTrump should veto it,” Lee tweeted.
A spokesman confirmed that he had also spoken with Trump about the House bill and urged him to veto it.
“Sen. Lee has communicated to the president that he does not believe the Nadler bill is an adequate response to FBI FISA malfeasance,” Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Lee, told The Hill.
Asked whether Trump was considering a veto, one White House official said the president is interested in significant FISA reforms but is “carefully listening” to views of all Republicans as the legislation moves to the House and Senate.
“There is a lot of interest in the significant reform that conservatives drove to completion to address the abuses of FISA against him and other innocent members of the 2016 campaign,” the official said.
The deadline: Congress has until Sunday night to reauthorize three expiring provisions in the USA Freedom Act, a 2015 law that overhauled the nation’s intelligence programs. Those provisions deal with “roving” wiretaps, lone wolf surveillance and a controversial records program.
Read more on the opposition here.
CYBER DOOMSDAY REPORT: A much-anticipated government report aimed at defending the nation against cyber threats in the years to come opens with a bleak preview of what could happen if critical systems were brought down.
“The water in the Potomac still has that red tint from where the treatment plants upstream were hacked, their automated systems tricked into flushing out the wrong mix of chemicals,” the Cyberspace Solarium Commission wrote in the opening lines of its report.
“By comparison, the water in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool has a purple glint to it. They’ve pumped out the floodwaters that covered Washington’s low-lying areas after the region’s reservoirs were hit in a cascade of sensor hacks,” it continues.
So begins the report two years in the making from a congressionally mandated commission made up of lawmakers and top Trump administration officials, pointing to the vulnerabilities involved with critical systems being hooked up to the internet.
What’s in the report: The report, which includes more than 75 recommendations for how to prevent the cyber doomsday it spells out, and the commission that made it were both mandated by the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The commissioners, who include co-chairmen Sen. Angus KingAngus KingHillicon Valley: House passes key surveillance bill | Paul, Lee urge Trump to kill FISA deal | White House seeks help from tech in coronavirus fight | Dem urges Pence to counter virus misinformation Government report offers guidelines to prevent nationwide cyber catastrophe Overnight Energy: Senate seeks massive boost in conservation funding | White House raises objections over plan to reduce heat-trapping chemicals | Interior chief defends budget amid heated criticism MORE (I-Maine) and Rep. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherLawmakers introduce measure to freeze out Huawei from financial system Hillicon Valley: House passes key surveillance bill | Paul, Lee urge Trump to kill FISA deal | White House seeks help from tech in coronavirus fight | Dem urges Pence to counter virus misinformation Government report offers guidelines to prevent nationwide cyber catastrophe MORE (R-Wis.), highlight a range of issues to address, but zero in on election security as a “priority.”
“The American people still do not have the assurance that our election systems are secure from foreign manipulation,” King and Gallagher wrote in the report. “If we don’t get election security right, deterrence will fail and future generations will look back with longing and regret on the once powerful American Republic and wonder how we screwed the whole thing up.”
The focus on shoring up election security, and the agreed-upon recommendations for how to do this, sets the report apart from the approach to the subject on Capitol Hill, where it has been a major issue of contention between Republicans and Democrats since Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Beyond election security, the commissioners call for overarching government reform to address cyber vulnerabilities. Chief among these is calling on the White House to issue an updated national strategy to address cyber threats and to establish a national cybersecurity director position to coordinate efforts.
Ripple effects: The report’s recommendations may soon have real-world consequences on Capitol Hill.
Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoHillicon Valley: House passes key surveillance bill | Paul, Lee urge Trump to kill FISA deal | White House seeks help from tech in coronavirus fight | Dem urges Pence to counter virus misinformation Lawmakers criticize Trump’s slashed budget for key federal cyber agency Government report offers guidelines to prevent nationwide cyber catastrophe MORE (R-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee’s cyber panel, told The Hill this week that there “definitely will be some legislation” stemming from the report’s recommendations, and that hearings would likely be held.
Katko noted that he had talked with Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator announces intention to subpoena firm tied to Burisma Hillicon Valley: House passes key surveillance bill | Paul, Lee urge Trump to kill FISA deal | White House seeks help from tech in coronavirus fight | Dem urges Pence to counter virus misinformation Congress pours cold water on Trump’s payroll tax cut MORE (R-Wis.) about the Senate also taking action around the report.
“This report screams of the need for bipartisan action on this, and I hope that we can leave the politics out of it, and I hope we can attack these problems quickly and effectively,” Katko said.
Read more here.
HELP, I NEED SOMEBODY: The White House on Wednesday asked the tech industry’s top players to help the government in the fight against coronavirus, tapping the expertise of companies like Apple, Facebook and Amazon to help beat back falsehoods and use artificial intelligence to glean new insights into the fast-spreading virus.
In a phone call, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios implored the companies to help out with an “all-hands-on-deck effort” to fight the new coronavirus.
“The White House’s top priority is ensuring the safety and health of the American people amid the COVID-19 outbreak,” Kratsios said in a statement. “Cutting edge technology companies and major online platforms will play a critical role in this all-hands-on-deck effort.”
According to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, top tech trade groups and companies participated in the call, including Apple, Cisco, Google, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, Twitter, the Consumer Technology Association, the Information Technology Industry Council and others.
Representatives from multiple federal agencies also participated in the call, including the National Institutes of Health, Department of Labor, Department of Education and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The meeting revolved around how the tech industry can better coordinate with the government to get out authoritative facts about the coronavirus while cracking down on the spread of bunk cures and conspiracy theories spreading online.
Officials also discussed how artificial intelligence could “make it easier for medical researchers” to review data about the coronavirus, according to a readout.
“With a critical mass of expert organizations, official government accounts, health professionals, and epidemiologists on Twitter, our goal is to elevate and amplify authoritative health information on our service,” a Twitter spokesman said after the meeting. Members of Twitter’s public policy team participated in the morning call, the company said.
“We appreciate the administration’s efforts to convene our government partners and industry peers as we work together to solve this global problem,” the spokesman added. “We’re committed to collaboration, which is key to protecting the public conversation around this critical public health issue.”
The tech industry is also playing a pivotal role as more U.S. companies pivot to telework, which relies on many of the video-conferencing and document-sharing tools offered by the large tech companies.
“Today’s meeting outlined an initial path forward and we intend to continue this important conversation,” said Kratsios.
Read more on the meeting here.
KENNEDY ALL IN ON ‘EARN IT’: Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) on Wednesday joined a bipartisan group of senators in backing legislation aimed at holding companies accountable for child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online.
Kennedy’s commitment, announced during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the legislation, brings the total co-sponsors on the EARN IT Act up to 11 — six Democrats and five Republicans.
The bipartisan legislation would create a government-backed commission to develop “best practices” for dealing with rampant CSAM online.
Congress would then have final say on those recommendations around identifying and reporting on child sexual exploitation.
If tech companies do not meet the best practices adopted by Congress, they would be stripped of their legal liability shield, which is laid out in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Read more here.
CALIFORNIA BOWS OUT: California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraHillicon Valley: House passes key surveillance bill | Paul, Lee urge Trump to kill FISA deal | White House seeks help from tech in coronavirus fight | Dem urges Pence to counter virus misinformation On The Money: Trump to deliver Oval Office statement on coronavirus | Trump, Dems split on stimulus options | Coronavirus fears throw Wall Street into bear market California drops efforts to challenge T-Mobile, Sprint merger MORE (D) on Wednesday announced that he will not appeal a federal court decision in favor of the controversial T-Mobile-Sprint merger, formally ending the legal challenge from a broad coalition of state attorneys general alleging the $26 billion deal was illegal and harmful to consumers.
In a settlement with California, T-Mobile agreed to offer services to millions of low-income Californians and create thousands of new jobs in the country’s most populous state.
The settlement resolves one of the final barriers to the T-Mobile-Sprint merger, which could clear by April 1. Becerra previously worked alongside New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) to challenge the merger, which they said would result in thousands of layoffs and higher prices for mobile carrier customers.
But last month, a federal judge in New York ruled against the coalition of 15 attorneys general, clearing the final hurdle for two of the largest telecom companies in the U.S. to combine.
“Our coalition vigorously challenged the T-Mobile/Sprint telecom merger over concerns that it would thwart competition and leave consumers with higher prices,” Becerra said in a statement on Wednesday. “We took our case to court to ensure that, no matter its outcome, we’d protect innovation and fair prices.”
“Though the district court approved the merger, its decision also made clear to companies that local markets matter in assessing the competitive impact of a merger and that no one should underestimate the role of state enforcers,” Becerra said. “Most importantly, today’s settlement locks in new jobs and protections for vulnerable consumers, and it extends access to telecom services for our most underserved and rural communities.”
Under the settlement, the new T-Mobile is required to offer no-cost internet services to 10 million low-income households in California and extend T-Mobile plans in the state.
Read more on the settlement here.
CORONAVIRUS CHANGES: Several major companies operating in the U.S. have updated their sick leave policies to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading.
Companies like Walmart, McDonald’s, Apple, Instacart, Uber, Lyft and Darden Restaurants, which manages restaurants like Olive Garden, have taken action to provide its employees with paid sick leave to allow those who feel ill to stay home.
Across the country, some employees have voiced concerns about not being able to afford taking time off without pay, prompting worries that workers who unknowingly have coronavirus would continue to work in public and spread the virus.
The tech giant Apple said this week that employees, including hourly workers, will receive unlimited paid leave if they develop symptoms similar to the coronavirus, The Washington Post reported.
Read more here.
MORE MONEY FOR CYBER: The bipartisan leaders of the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday sharply criticized the proposed drop in funding in President Trump’s budget for the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber agency.
The lawmakers particularly took issue with the proposed funding cut due to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) role as a key federal office tasked with defending the nation against cyber threats like those that can take place during an election.
“Despite bipartisan support for increasing CISA’s cybersecurity budget, the President’s Budget cuts it by about over $150 million,” Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondHillicon Valley: House passes key surveillance bill | Paul, Lee urge Trump to kill FISA deal | White House seeks help from tech in coronavirus fight | Dem urges Pence to counter virus misinformation Lawmakers criticize Trump’s slashed budget for key federal cyber agency Government report offers guidelines to prevent nationwide cyber catastrophe MORE (D-La.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s cyber panel, said during a committee hearing on CISA’s proposed budget on Wednesday.
Richmond noted that he did not understand how a “cut of that magnitude” would enable American communities to defend themselves against cyberattacks such as the plague of ransomware attacks in 2019 that were devastating to city governments including Baltimore and New Orleans nationwide.
CISA, which was previously the National Protection and Programs Directorate, was created by a measure signed into law by President Trump at the end of 2018.
CISA now bills itself as the “nation’s risk advisor,” and is the key agency that coordinates with state and local officials on election security. It also puts out alerts on threats to key industries, such as the electric sector or chemical facilities, and in January coordinated the response to increased cyber threats from Iran due to the targeting killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
President Trump’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposes that CISA be given $1.78 billion to address issues like ransomware, protecting critical networks from attacks and defending U.S. elections, among other issues.
CISA was given $2 billion by Congress as part of the appropriations process for fiscal year 2020, which was over $300 million more than it received in 2019.
Read more here.
CORONAVIRUS MISINFO: Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerThe Hill’s Campaign Report: Campaigns confront reality of coronavirus Senators press EU to sanction Putin associate for election meddling Hillicon Valley: House passes key surveillance bill | Paul, Lee urge Trump to kill FISA deal | White House seeks help from tech in coronavirus fight | Dem urges Pence to counter virus misinformation MORE (D-Va.) on Wednesday strongly criticized Vice President Pence for not doing enough to combat the spread of misinformation online about the coronavirus in his role as the leader of the coronavirus task force.
Warner, who serves as the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote in a letter to Pence that he was “deeply concerned” that the task force’s failure to address the online misinformation would undermine the overall response to the national threat posed by the coronavirus.
“It is essential that the Administration communicate timely and accurate information to the American public,” Warner wrote. “This should include a coordinated effort to address potentially harmful misinformation spread through social media and other sources.”
Warner pointed to concerns that President Trump’s messaging around the coronavirus, which Warner described as “injudicious and false,” could lead to an increase of misinformation spread across social media platforms.
Read more here.
A LIGHTER CLICK: Not not true
AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reform will protect our safety
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
Coronavirus books plagiarized from news outlets dominate Amazon search results (NBC News / Ben Collins)
Motherboard compiled a database of iPhones authorities have tried to unlock (Joseph Cox / Joseph Cox)
Comcast accidentally published 200,000 “unlisted” phone numbers (Ars Technica / Jon Brodkin)
Court strikes down immigration hurdles for foreign tech workers (Protocol / Issie Lapowsky)