$10 billion fund starts giving US states money for broadband expansions

A pile of money with $20, $50, and $100 bills.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Alan Schein)

The US Treasury Department has started approving broadband grants to states from a $10 billion fund created to expand access to Internet service and other digital connectivity tools.

The Treasury Department’s announcement on Tuesday said the first approved projects would “connect over 200,000 homes and businesses to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet” in Louisiana, New Hampshire, Virginia, and West Virginia. The funded networks will provide symmetrical service with download and upload speeds of at least 100Mbps, the department said.

The four states are getting a combined $583 million from the $10 billion Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund (CPF), which Congress passed in March 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. “Treasury designed its guidance to prioritize connecting families and businesses with poor and inadequate service—particularly those in rural and remote areas. Treasury also requires states to explain why communities they have identified to be served with funds from the CPF have a critical need for those projects,” the department said.

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Biden praises ISPs for price cuts even as they “sabotage” his FCC nominee

US President Joe Biden smiles during an event at the Rose Garden of the White House.

Enlarge / US President Joe Biden at an event on broadband discounts for low-income Americans, in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 9, 2022. (credit: Getty Images | Drew Angerer )

Consumer advocates are not impressed by President Biden’s announcement that Internet service providers have agreed to provide cheap broadband to low-income Americans.

Biden’s announcement on Monday touted voluntary commitments from Comcast, Charter Spectrum, AT&T, Verizon, and 16 other ISPs to offer $30-per-month broadband to households eligible for discounts under the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Each of the 20 companies “committed to offer all ACP-eligible families at least one high-speed plan [with download speeds of at least 100Mbps] for $30/month or less, with no additional fees and no data caps,” the White House said. That effectively makes the broadband plans free for many people because the ACP provides eligible households with discounts of $30 a month.

At a press conference attended by representatives of ISPs, Biden called out Comcast, Charter, AT&T, Frontier, and Verizon. “You’re really changing people’s lives. You really are,” the president said to the big broadband providers. Biden also praised “smaller providers serving rural areas, like Jackson Energy Authority in Tennessee and Ideatek in Kansas.”

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#biden, #fcc, #gigi-sohn, #policy

Biden to use infrastructure money to keep nuclear plants open

Image of two domed reactor buildings.

Enlarge / An aerial view of the Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant, near Red Wing, Minnesota. (credit: Getty Images)

Nuclear plants occupy an odd position in the US’s energy landscape. They’re currently the most expensive form of generation out there, and many of the plants are a decade or more past their planned life span. At the same time, nuclear power is the US’s largest single source of low-carbon electricity generation, accounting for almost as much as the wind, solar, and hydro combined.

So the vast expansion of cheaper wind, solar, and natural gas has been driving nuclear plant closures—a dozen over the past decade. But those closures are making it harder for the US to limit its carbon emissions. Now, the federal government has decided it has to step in with money to keep those plants open.

On Tuesday, the US Department of Energy announced it was releasing guidance that would help nuclear plant operators apply for a slice of $6 billion available under its new Civil Nuclear Credit Program. The money will be coming out of the funds allocated through the infrastructure law that was the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s legislative accomplishments.

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DC’s Gridiron COVID outbreak tally hits 72 as cases tick up nationwide

US President Joe Biden (C) signs the Postal Service Reform Act into law during an event with (L-R) Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and retired letter carrier Annette Taylor and others in the State Dining Room at the White House on April 6, 2022, in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / US President Joe Biden (C) signs the Postal Service Reform Act into law during an event with (L-R) Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and retired letter carrier Annette Taylor and others in the State Dining Room at the White House on April 6, 2022, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Chip Somodevilla )

At least 72 of the over 600 people who attended the mostly maskless Gridiron dinner—an exclusive annual event frequented by high-profile Washington, DC, elites—have since tested positive for COVID-19. The dinner took place on April 2.

The growing tally may herald a nationwide rise in infections from the BA.2 omicron subvariant amid relaxed health measures. BA.2 is now the dominant variant circulating in the US and is more transmissible than the initial ultra-transmissible omicron subvariant, BA.1.

So far, over 20 states and Washington, DC, are reporting upticks in cases over the past two weeks, and nearly 10 states are seeing an increase in hospitalizations, according to data tracking by The New York Times. Over half of the country’s wastewater sites monitoring for SARS-CoV-2 levels have also detected rises in the past two weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The monitoring is intended to act as an early warning signal for case surges.

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Biden steps up federal efforts to address long COVID

A woman breathes into a tube while a health care worker looks on.

Enlarge / A long COVID patient in German takes a pulmonary function test at Hufeland Clinic’s Center for Pneumology. (credit: Getty | picture alliance)

President Joe Biden on Tuesday issued a memorandum directing the secretary of Health and Human Services to coordinate and speed efforts to understand and treat long COVID, which is estimated to affect up to 23 million Americans.

In a White House press briefing Tuesday, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said the administration’s plan has three main goals: to improve care and support for long COVID patients, enhance education and outreach on long COVID and disability services, and step up research on causes and evidence-based treatments.

“Long COVID is real,” Becerra said, “and there’s still so much we don’t know about it. Millions of Americans may be struggling with lingering health effects, ranging from things that are easier to notice—like trouble breathing or irregular heartbeat—to less apparent, but potentially serious conditions related to the brain or mental health.”

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#becerra, #biden, #covid-19, #disability, #hhs, #long-covid, #research, #science

Biden considers digital dollar—here’s how it could differ from regular money

Illustration of fiber Internet lines with dollar signs.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | MirageC)

President Joe Biden today issued an executive order that could lead to the US creating a digital currency.

“My Administration places the highest urgency on research and development efforts into the potential design and deployment options of a United States CBDC [Central Bank Digital Currency],” the executive order said. “These efforts should include assessments of possible benefits and risks for consumers, investors, and businesses; financial stability and systemic risk; payment systems; national security; the ability to exercise human rights; financial inclusion and equity; and the actions required to launch a United States CBDC if doing so is deemed to be in the national interest.”

Biden’s order said a US-issued digital currency could be used to “support efficient and low-cost transactions, particularly for cross‑border funds transfers and payments, and to foster greater access to the financial system, with fewer of the risks posed by private sector-administered digital assets” such as bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. But there are “potential risks and downsides to consider,” and Biden ordered federal agencies to prepare a report within six months analyzing the implications. Over 100 countries are already “exploring or piloting” CBDCs, the White House said.

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Vote on Biden’s FCC pick delayed; Sohn faces another hearing and rocky path

Gigi Sohn speaking and gesturing with her hands while testifying at a Senate hearing.

Enlarge / Gigi Sohn testifies during a Senate committee hearing on June 21, 2012. (credit: Getty Images | Alex Wong )

Although the Senate Commerce Committee was scheduled to vote yesterday on the nomination of Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission, it didn’t happen. The vote on President Joe Biden’s nomination of Sohn was delayed even as the committee voted to approve 10 other Biden nominations to various positions.

Yesterday’s delay has a logical explanation: Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) suffered a stroke last week, and Sohn’s confirmation needs his vote because of Republican opposition to the long-time consumer advocate who strongly supports reimposing net neutrality rules on broadband providers. Luján is expected to make a full recovery, but his absence could further delay Sohn’s nomination and other Democratic priorities in the 50-50 Senate. “On Wednesday an aide said that the New Mexico senator could return to work in four to six weeks, barring any complications,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

But Sohn’s nomination was already in trouble even though the Senate had plenty of time to vote on it before Luján’s health emergency. Biden nominated Sohn on October 26. The president made two other telecom choices on the same day, nominating FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel for a new term and picking Alan Davidson to lead the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

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Senate Republicans: Don’t let states choose where to spend broadband money

A US map with lines representing communications networks.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | metamorworks)

Senate Republicans are crying foul over a Biden administration plan to fund broadband deployment in regions that are already served with 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds.

The US Treasury Department’s recently issued final rule for distributing American Rescue Plan money eliminated an interim requirement that blocked broadband funds in areas that already have wired networks with speeds of at least 25Mbps/3Mbps. That speed threshold would leave out any area that’s already served by at least one cable provider, even if there’s no competition and no fiber-to-the-home availability.

The Treasury Department’s reversal was praised by community broadband advocates who said that keeping the original 25Mbps/3Mbps threshold could prevent deployment to large portions of the US containing more than 90 percent of Americans. The nation’s current broadband maps are also unreliable, raising the possibility that even homes without 25Mbps/3Mbps broadband access could be excluded.

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Biden’s omicron battle plan includes 500 million home test kits

Rapid at-home COVID-19 test kits.

Enlarge / Rapid at-home COVID-19 test kits. (credit: Bloomberg | Getty Images)

In an address to the nation today, President Joe Biden outlined his administration’s plans to battle the omicron variant. The federal government plans to purchase 500 million rapid COVID-19 test kits for home use, set up new testing sites, and mobilize 1,000 military medical personnel to pitch in at hospitals slammed by the surge in COVID-19 cases.

“I want to start by acknowledging how tired, worried and frustrated many of you are,” Biden said at the onset of his remarks.

Biden then encouraged vaccine holdouts to take action as omicron spreads across the country. “If you’re not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned.” He additionally called on folks who have not received boosters to schedule them.

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Moderna plans omicron booster for March as Biden unveils winter COVID plan

US President Joe Biden at the White House on December 01, 2021, in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / US President Joe Biden at the White House on December 01, 2021, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Anna Moneymaker)

President Joe Biden will announce plans today to increase protections against COVID-19 this winter as the delta coronavirus variant continues to ravage the country and the worrisome omicron variant looms. Biden will make the announcement this afternoon in remarks during his visit to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

The president’s plan includes expanding access to free at-home rapid testing and setting policy to ensure that over-the-counter, at-home tests are covered by health insurance plans. It also tightens health protocols for travel. Starting early next week, every inbound international traveler to the US will need to test negative within one day of their departure, regardless of nationality and vaccination status. The plan also calls for extending mask requirements on airplanes, trains, and public transit into March.

To fight surges in cases from delta and omicron, the administration is assembling over 60 emergency medical response teams to deploy to states in crisis. The administration is also working to secure 13 million doses of antiviral treatments.

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Judge blocks Biden vaccine rule, citing “liberty interests of the unvaccinated”

President Joe Biden speaks in front of a sign advertising the vaccines.gov website.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden speaks about the authorization of the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 on November 03, 2021, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Drew Angerer )

A federal judge yesterday blocked a Biden administration COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, granting a request for preliminary injunction filed by Republican attorneys general from 14 states.

US District Judge Terry Doughty ruled that the government lacks authority to implement the rule that “requires the staff of twenty-one types of Medicare and Medicaid healthcare providers to receive one vaccine by December 6, 2021, and to receive the second vaccine by January 4, 2022.” Providers that don’t comply face penalties, including “termination of the Medicare/Medicaid Provider Agreement.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) mandate regulates over 10.3 million health care workers in the US, of which 2.4 million are unvaccinated. The Biden vaccine rule is being challenged by the attorneys general from Louisiana, Montana, Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio. The Republican AGs’ lawsuit was filed against CMS and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

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White House hails vaccine mandates as number of unvaccinated drops 40%

FLORIDA, 11/09/2021: A boy gives a nurse a high-five before receiving a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site for children aged 5 to 11.

Enlarge / FLORIDA, 11/09/2021: A boy gives a nurse a high-five before receiving a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site for children aged 5 to 11. (credit: Getty | SOPA images)

The White House touted the success of COVID-19 vaccine mandates Wednesday as more of the country’s unvaccinated are rolling up their sleeves.

In the last seven days, the country has averaged 300,000 first doses per day, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients noted in a press briefing today. The weekly total is the highest in nearly a month, Zients added.

Overall, the number of unvaccinated people eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine (people ages 12 and up) has dropped 40 percent since July. That is, the number of unvaccinated fell from about 100 million to less than 60 million.

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#biden, #boosters, #children, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #mandate, #public-health, #science, #vaccination, #vaccine

Biden’s “historic” $65 billion broadband plan approved by Congress

President Joe Biden speaking at a press conference.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden speaks about the passage of the infrastructure bill during a press conference at the White House on November 6, 2021. (credit: Getty Images | Samuel Corum)

President Biden’s $65 billion broadband plan was passed by the House of Representatives on Friday as part of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. While it’s not as big as Biden’s original broadband plan, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society called it “the largest US investment in broadband deployment ever.”

The biggest portion of the broadband spending is $42.45 billion for a Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program that would give subsidies to ISPs that build in unserved areas. Another $14.2 billion goes to an Affordable Connectivity Fund that is essentially a longer-term version of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program created for the pandemic. Under the new version, subsidies for eligible households will be $30 a month instead of the original $50.

Another broadband provision gives $2.75 billion for digital equity grants to states to “facilitate the adoption of broadband by covered populations in order to provide educational and employment opportunities to those populations.” Grants can cover a variety of needs including training, broadband equipment, and “public access computing centers for covered populations through community anchor institutions.” Covered populations include low-income households, racial and ethnic minorities, rural residents, veterans, people with disabilities, people with language barriers, and people who are 60 or older.

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#biden, #broadband, #policy

Biden finally makes FCC picks: Rosenworcel as chair, Gigi Sohn as commissioner

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel smiling as she testifies in front of Congress during a 2019 hearing.

Enlarge / FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee on December 05, 2019, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Chip Somodevilla)

President Biden finally made his picks for the Federal Communications Commission today, ending a baffling delay that forced Democrats to operate in a 2-2 deadlock with Republicans instead of the 3-2 majority that the president’s party typically enjoys.

The names themselves are familiar. Jessica Rosenworcel, who has been acting FCC chairwoman since January, was today designated the permanent chair. Biden will also fill the empty Democratic slot on the commission by nominating Gigi Sohn, a longtime consumer advocate who was an FCC official during the Obama years. Then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler chose Sohn in 2013 to serve as his counselor, a role in which she advocated for strong net neutrality rules and Title II common-carrier regulation of Internet service providers.

Biden was able to promote Rosenworcel from acting to permanent chair immediately because the president can choose any sitting commissioner as chair. But Rosenworcel’s current five-year term already expired, and she would have to leave the FCC entirely in January if she doesn’t get a new term. That means Biden has to submit nominations to the Senate for both Rosenworcel and Sohn, and the Senate has to confirm them to avoid giving Republicans a 2-1 majority at the beginning of 2022.

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Biden sued by Air Force officers who compare vaccine rule to death sentence

President Joe Biden rolls up his sleeve before receiving a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

Enlarge / President Joe Biden receiving a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the White House September 27, 2021. (credit: Getty Images | Anna Moneymaker )

President Biden’s vaccine mandate is being challenged in a lawsuit filed by four active-duty US Air Force officers, a Secret Service agent, a Border Patrol agent, and four other federal employees or contractors. The lawsuit claimed that “convicted serial killers who have been sentenced to death receive more respect” than citizens who are required to take vaccines.

The lawsuit alleges that the vaccine mandate forces service members, federal employees, and federal employees to “inject themselves with: (1) a non-FDA approved product; (2) against their will; and (3) without informed consent.” Plaintiffs seek a ruling that the vaccine mandates issued by Biden and the Department of Defense “violate the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of substantive due process” and “the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.”

Plaintiffs also claim the mandate violates the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses of the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and other US laws including “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against Plaintiffs and service members, federal employees, and federal contractors on the basis of their religion or disability.” Biden’s order does allow exceptions for medical or religious reasons but exemptions reportedly may be difficult to obtain.

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Biden’s baffling FCC delay could give Republicans a 2-1 FCC majority

Joe Biden signs an executive order surrounded by various administration officials, including FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden signs an executive order as (L-R) Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Chairperson of the Federal Trade Commission Lina Khan, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Attorney General Merrick Garland, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, and acting Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission Jessica Rosenworcel look on at the White House on July 9, 2021, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Alex Wong)

President Joe Biden’s failure to nominate a fifth Federal Communications Commission member has forced Democrats to work with a 2-2 deadlock instead of the 3-2 majority the president’s party typically enjoys at the FCC. But things could get worse for Democrats starting in January. If Biden doesn’t make his choice quickly enough to get Senate confirmation by the end of this year, Republicans could get a 2-1 FCC majority despite Democrats controlling both the White House and Senate.

That possibility can be easily averted if Biden and the Senate spring into action, but it’s closer to becoming reality than anyone expected when Biden became president. The reason is that acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s term expired in mid-2020. US law allow commissioners on lapsed terms to stay until “the expiration of the session of Congress that begins after the expiration of the fixed term,” which means she can stay until the beginning of January 2022.

To ensure a 3-2 Democratic majority in January, Biden has to nominate a third Democrat, renominate Rosenworcel or nominate a replacement for Rosenworcel, and hope that the Senate confirms both nominations in time. As president, Biden can promote any commissioner to chair, but the Senate decides whether to confirm each newly nominated commissioner. That process usually takes a few months or longer. Tom Wheeler was confirmed as FCC chairman in October 2013, six months after his nomination.

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Biden’s new FTC nominee is a digital privacy advocate critical of Big Tech

President Biden made his latest nomination to the Federal Trade Commission this week, tapping digital privacy expert Alvaro Bedoya to join the agency as it takes a hard look at the tech industry.

Bedoya is the founding director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown’s law school and previously served as chief counsel for former Senator Al Franken and the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law. Bedoya has worked on legislation addressing some of the most pressing privacy issues in tech, including stalkerware and facial recognition systems.

In 2016, Bedoya co-authored a report titled “The Perpetual Line-Up: Unregulated Police Face Recognition in America,” a year-long investigation that dove deeply into the police use of facial recognition systems in the U.S. The 2016 report examined law enforcement’s reliance on facial recognition systems and biometric databases on a state level. It argued that regulations are desperately needed to curtail potential abuses and algorithmic failures before the technology inevitably becomes even more commonplace.

Bedoya also isn’t shy about calling out Big Tech. In a New York Times op-ed a few years ago, he took aim at Silicon Valley companies giving user privacy lip service in public while quietly funneling millions toward lobbyists to undermine consumer privacy. The new FTC nominee singled out Facebook specifically, pointing to the company’s efforts to undermine the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, a state law that serves as one of the only meaningful checks on invasive privacy practices in the U.S.

Bedoya argued that the tech industry would have an easier time shaping a single, sweeping piece of privacy regulations with its lobbying efforts rather than a flurry of targeted, smaller bills. Antitrust advocates in Congress taking aim at tech today seem to have learned that same lesson as well.

“We cannot underestimate the tech sector’s power in Congress and in state legislatures,” Bedoya wrote. “If the United States tries to pass broad rules for personal data, that effort may well be co-opted by Silicon Valley, and we’ll miss our best shot at meaningful privacy protections.”

If confirmed, Bedoya would join big tech critic Lina Khan, a recent Biden FTC nominee who now chairs the agency. Khan’s focus on antitrust and Amazon in particular would dovetail with Bedoya’s focus on adjacent privacy concerns, making the pair a formidable regulatory presence as the Biden administration seeks to rein in some of the tech industry’s most damaging excesses.

#biden, #biden-administration, #big-tech, #biometrics, #congress, #consumer-privacy, #facial-recognition, #federal-trade-commission, #government, #lina-khan, #privacy, #surveillance, #tc, #united-states

Tension over boosters rises as FDA regulators quit and publicly blast Biden’s plan

Words and symbols adorn a large outdoor sign.

Enlarge / The Food and Drug Administration headquarters in White Oak, Maryland. (credit: Getty | Congressional Quarterly)

Two leading vaccine regulators who had previously announced their resignations from the Food and Drug Administration have now come out against the Biden administration’s plan to offer COVID-19 booster shots.

In a viewpoint article published in The Lancet on Monday, Marion Gruber, the outgoing director of the FDA’s Office of Vaccines Research and Review (OVRR), and Phil Krause, the outgoing deputy director of the OVRR, argue against the current booster plans.

“Currently available evidence does not show the need for widespread use of booster vaccination,” the pair, along with colleagues, conclude in the article. Even if there are benefits from boosters, the shots still carry risks, and any benefits “will not outweigh the benefits of providing initial protection to the unvaccinated,” they write.

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Biden’s FTC pick is a privacy champion who wants limits on facial recognition

Illustration of a woman's eye being scanned with technology.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Yuichiro Chino)

President Joe Biden will reportedly nominate Georgetown law professor and privacy researcher Alvaro Bedoya to the Federal Trade Commission. Bedoya is the founding director of Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology, where he has focused heavily on facial recognition and other forms of surveillance.

Bedoya co-authored a 2016 report about “unregulated police face recognition in America” after a “year-long investigation that revealed that most American adults are enrolled in a police face recognition network and that vendor companies were doing little to address the race and gender bias endemic to face scanning software,” according to Bedoya’s bio on the Georgetown Law website. The investigation led to Congressional hearings as well as “a slate of laws reining in the technology across the country, and the first-ever comprehensive bias audit of the technology by the National Institute of Standards & Technology.”

Before starting the privacy center at Georgetown, Bedoya was chief counsel for the US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law. Bedoya’s nomination hasn’t been officially announced but was reported today by media outlets including Axios and The Washington Post. Biden’s announcement is expected to be made today, the Post wrote.

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#biden, #facial-recognition, #ftc, #policy

With COVID out of control, Biden unveils hefty vaccine mandates

An older man in a suit speaks from a podium.

Enlarge / US President Joe Biden speaks on workers rights and labor unions in the East Room at the White House on September 08, 2021, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Kevin Dietsch)

President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled a sweeping six-pronged plan to try to regain control over the COVID-19 pandemic, which is wildly raging once again in the US.

Biden will discuss the plan in remarks from the White House at 5 pm EDT.

The main focus of the president’s “Path out of the Pandemic” plan is on reducing the number of unvaccinated people in the country. As such, the plan’s most prominent elements are hefty vaccination requirements for millions of federal employees, health care workers, school employees, and even employees of private businesses.

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#biden, #covid-19, #federal-workers, #infectious-disease, #public-health, #schools, #science, #vaccine, #vaccine-mandates

Crypto community slams ‘disastrous’ new amendment to Biden’s big infrastructure bill

Biden’s major bipartisan infrastructure plan struck a rare chord of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats, but changes it proposes to cryptocurrency regulation are tripping up the bill.

The administration intends to pay for $28 billion of its planned infrastructure spending by tightening tax compliance within the historically under-regulated arena of digital currency. That’s why cryptocurrency is popping up in a bill that’s mostly about rebuilding bridges and roads.

The legislation’s vocal critics argue that the bill’s effort to do so is slapdash, particularly a bit that would declare anyone “responsible for and regularly providing any service effectuating transfers of digital assets” to be a broker, subject to tax reporting requirements.

While that definition might be more straightforward in a traditional corner of finance, it could force cryptocurrency developers, companies and even anyone mining digital currencies to somehow collect and report information on users, something that by design isn’t even possible in a decentralized financial system.

Now, a new amendment to the critical spending package is threatening to make matters even worse.

Unintended consequences

In a joint letter about the bill’s text, Square, Coinbase, Ribbit Capital and other stakeholders warned of “financial surveillance” and unintended impacts for cryptocurrency miners and developers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight for the Future, two privacy-minded digital rights organizations, also slammed the bill.

Following the outcry from the cryptocurrency community, a pair of influential senators proposed an amendment to clarify the new reporting rules. Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) pushed back against the bill, proposing an amendment with fellow finance committee member Pat Toomey (R-PA) that would modify the bill’s language.

The amendment would establish that the new reporting “does not apply to individuals developing block chain technology and wallets,” removing some of the bill’s ambiguity on the issue.

“By clarifying the definition of broker, our amendment will ensure non-financial intermediaries like miners, network validators, and other service providers—many of whom don’t even have the personal-identifying information needed to file a 1099 with the IRS—are not subject to the reporting requirements specified in the bipartisan infrastructure package,” Toomey said.

Wyoming Senator Cynthia Lummis also threw her support behind the Toomey and Wyden amendment, as did Colorado Governor Jared Polis.

Picking winners and losers

The drama doesn’t stop there. With negotiations around the bill ongoing — the text could be finalized over the weekend — a pair of senators proposed a competing amendment that isn’t winning any fans in the crypto community.

That amendment, from Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark Warner (D-VA), would exempt traditional cryptocurrency miners who participate in energy-intensive “proof of work” systems from new financial reporting requirements, while keeping those rules in place for those using a “proof of stake” system. Portman worked with the Treasury Department to author the cryptocurrency portion of the original infrastructure bill.

Rather than requiring an investment in computing hardware (and energy bills) capable of solving increasingly complex math problems, proof of stake systems rely on participants taking a financial stake in a given project, locking away some of the cryptocurrency to generate new coins.

Proof of stake is emerging as an attractive, climate-friendlier alternative that could reduce the need for heavy computing and huge amounts of energy required for proof of work mining. That makes it all the more puzzling that the latest amendment would specifically let proof of work mining off the hook.

Some popular digital currencies like Cardano are already built on proof of stake. Ethereum, the second biggest cryptocurrency, is in the process of migrating from a proof of work system to proof of stake to help scale its system and reduce fees. Bitcoin is the most notable digital currency that relies on proof of work.

The Warner-Portman amendment is being touted as a “compromise” but it’s not really halfway between the Wyden-Toomey amendment and the existing bill — it just introduces new problems that many crypto advocates view as a fresh existential threat to their work. Prominent members of the crypto community including Square founder and Bitcoin booster Jack Dorsey have thrown their support behind the Wyden-Lummis-Toomey amendment while slamming the second proposal as misguided and damaging.

Unfortunately for the crypto community — and the promise of the proof of stake model — the White House is apparently throwing its weight behind the Warner-Portman amendment, though that could change as eleventh hour negotiations continue.

#biden, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #broker, #cardano, #chairman, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptography, #democrats, #digital-currency, #electronic-frontier-foundation, #energy, #ethereum, #finance, #government, #internal-revenue-service, #jack-dorsey, #proof-of-stake, #proof-of-work, #republicans, #ribbit-capital, #ron-wyden, #tc, #white-house

Biden says he has deal to lower Internet prices, but the details will matter

President Joe Biden speaking in front of a podium at a Mack Truck facility.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden speaks at Mack Truck Lehigh Valley Operations on July 28, 2021, in Macungie, Pennsylvania. (credit: Getty Images | Michael M. Santiago)

A bipartisan infrastructure deal will provide $65 billion for broadband deployment and require ISPs that receive funding “to offer a low-cost affordable plan,” the White House said today.

President Joe Biden pledged early in his term to lower Internet prices, and this appears to be the first tangible result—although it will only affect ISPs that take the new funding, and the White House didn’t release key details about the affordable Internet plans. A White House fact sheet on the $550 billion infrastructure deal with senators included two paragraphs summarizing the broadband portions:

[M]ore than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds—a particular problem in rural communities throughout the country. The deal’s $65 billion investment ensures every American has access to reliable high-speed Internet with a historic investment in broadband infrastructure deployment, just as the federal government made a historic effort to provide electricity to every American nearly one hundred years ago.

The bill will also help lower prices for Internet service by requiring funding recipients to offer a low-cost affordable plan, by creating price transparency and helping families comparison shop, and by boosting competition in areas where existing providers aren’t providing adequate service. It will also help close the digital divide by passing the Digital Equity Act, ending digital redlining, and creating a permanent program to help more low-income households access the Internet.

“Low-cost” definition not released yet

The announcement didn’t say what speeds or prices will have to be offered by government-funded ISPs in the required low-cost plans. It also didn’t say whether those low-cost plans would be available to all customers or only those who meet certain income requirements.

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#biden, #broadband, #policy

Biden nominates another Big Tech enemy, this time to lead the DOJ’s antitrust division

The Biden administration tripled down on its commitment to reining in powerful tech companies Tuesday, proposing committed Big Tech critic Jonathan Kanter to lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division.

Kanter is a lawyer with a long track record of representing smaller companies like Yelp in antitrust cases against Google. He currently practices law at his own firm, which specializes in advocacy for state and federal antitrust enforcement.

“Throughout his career, Kanter has also been a leading advocate and expert in the effort to promote strong and meaningful antitrust enforcement and competition policy,” the White House press release stated. Progressives celebrated the nomination as a win, though some of Biden’s new antitrust hawks have enjoyed support from both political parties.

The Justice Department already has a major antitrust suit against Google in the works. The lawsuit, filed by Trump’s own Justice Department, accuses the company of “unlawfully maintaining monopolies” through anti-competitive practices in its search and search advertising businesses. If successfully confirmed, Kanter would be positioned to steer the DOJ’s big case against Google.

In a 2016 NYT op-ed, Kanter argued that Google is notorious for relying on an anti-competitive “playbook” to maintain its market dominance. Kanter pointed to Google’s long history of releasing free ad-supported products and eventually restricting competition through “discriminatory and exclusionary practices” in a given corner of the market.

Kanter is just the latest high profile Big Tech critic that’s been elevated to a major regulatory role under Biden. Last month, Biden named fierce Amazon critic Lina Khan as FTC chair upon her confirmation to the agency. In March, Biden named another noted Big Tech critic, Columbia law professor Tim Wu, to the National Economic Council as a special assistant for tech and competition policy.

All signs point to the Biden White House gearing up for a major federal fight with Big Tech. Congress is working on a set of Big Tech bills, but in lieu of — or in tandem with — legislative reform, the White House can flex its own regulatory muscle through the FTC and DOJ.

In new comments to MSNBC, the White House confirmed that it is also “reviewing” Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a potent snippet of law that protects platforms from liability for user-generated content.

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Biden picks Google foe to lead DOJ antitrust as it mulls plan to break up Big Tech

The White House seen in the early evening.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Erik Pronske Photography)

President Joe Biden today said he will nominate Jonathan Kanter to be the assistant attorney general in charge of the Department of Justice’s antitrust division. Kanter is an attorney known for his criticism of Google and will take over the antitrust division as it considers a Biden plan to reverse harmful mergers and break up monopolies.

Kanter “is a distinguished antitrust lawyer with over 20 years of experience” and has been “a leading advocate and expert in the effort to promote strong and meaningful antitrust enforcement and competition policy,” the White House announcement said.

US Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) applauded the nomination in a statement. “For years, Jonathan Kanter has been a leader in the effort to increase antitrust enforcement against monopolies by federal, state, and international competition authorities. His deep legal experience and history of advocating for aggressive action make him an excellent choice to lead the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division,” Klobuchar said.

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#antitrust, #biden, #google, #jonathan-kanter, #policy

Venmo removes its global, public feed in a significant app redesign

PayPal-owned payments app Venmo will no longer offer a public, global feed of users’ transactions, as part of a significant redesign focused on expanding the app’s privacy controls and better highlighting some of Venmo’s newer features. The company says it will instead only show users their “friends feed” — meaning, the app’s social feed where you can see just your friends’ transactions.

Venmo has struggled over the years to balance its desire to add a social element to its peer-to-peer payments-based network, with the need to offer users their privacy.

A few years ago, the company was forced to settle a complaint with the FTC over its handling of privacy disclosures in the app along with other issues related to the security and privacy of user transactions. One of the concerns at the time was a setting that made all transactions public by default — a feature the FTC said wasn’t being properly explained to customers. As part of the settlement, Venmo had to inform both new and existing users how to limit the visibility of their transactions, among other changes.

However, privacy issues have continued to follow Venmo over the years. More recently, BuzzFeed News was able to track down President Biden’s secret Venmo account because of the lack of privacy around Venmo friend lists, for example. Afterwards, the company rolled out friend list privacy controls to address the issue.

Image Credits: Venmo

In the newly updated app, Venmo will still highlight this friend list privacy setting so users can choose whether or not they want to have their profile appear on other people’s friends’ lists. Users will also still be able to remove or add contacts from their friend list at any time, block people, and set their transaction privacy either as they post or retroactively to public, private, or friends-only. It’s unclear what advantage posting publicly has though, as the global, public feed is gone. Instead, public transactions would be visible to a users’ non-friends only when someone visited their profile directly.

In addition to the privacy changes, Venmo’s redesign aims to make it easier for people to discover the app’s new features, the company says.

Now, a new bottom navigation option will allow users to toggle between their social feed, Venmo’s products like the Venmo Card and crypto, and their personal profile. The newly elevated “Cards” section will allow Venmo Credit and Debit cardholders to manage their cards and access their rewards and offers, as before. Meanwhile, the “Crypto” tab will let users learn and explore the world of crypto, view real-time trends, and buy, sell or hold different types of cryptocurrencies.

Image Credits: Venmo

Venmo first added support for crypto earlier this year, following parent company PayPal’s move to do the same, and now offers access to Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash. Before, the option appeared as a small button next to the “Pay or Request” button at the bottom of the screen, which contributed to Venmo’s cluttered feel.

The updated app will also include support for new payment types and expanded purchase protections, which Venmo announced last month, and said would arrive on July 20. Customers will now be able to indicate if their purchase is for “goods and services” when they transact with a seller, which will make the transactions eligible for Venmo’s purchase protection plan — even if the seller doesn’t have a proper “business” account.

Because this now charges sellers a 1.9% plus 10-cent fee, there had been some backlash from users who either misunderstood the changes or just didn’t like them. But the move could help to boost Venmo revenue.

PayPal said in February that Venmo grew users 32% over 2020 to reach 70 million active accounts and expects the app to generate nearly $900 million in revenue this year — likely in part thanks to this and other new initiatives, like its crypto transaction fees.

Image Credits: Venmo

Beyond the more functional changes and the privacy updates, Venmo’s redesign also modernizes the look-and-feel of the app itself, which had become a little dated and overly busy. As Venmo had expanded its array of services, the hamburger (three line) menu in the top right of the old version of the app had turned into a long list of options and settings. Now that’s gone. The app uses new iconography, an updated font, and lots of white space to make it feel fresh and clean.

The app’s changes also somewhat de-emphasize the importance of the social feed itself. Although it may still default to that tab, other options now have equal footing with tabs of their own, instead of being hidden away in a menu or in a smaller button.

Venmo says the redesigned Venmo app will begin to roll out today to select customers and will be available to all users across the U.S. over the next few weeks.

#apps, #biden, #buzzfeed, #cryptocurrencies, #federal-trade-commission, #finance, #mobile-payments, #online-payments, #paypal, #peer-to-peer, #president, #united-states, #venmo

US blames China for Exchange server hacks and ransomware attacks

The Biden administration has formally accused China of the mass-hacking of Microsoft Exchange servers earlier this year, which prompted the FBI to intervene as concerns rose that the hacks could lead to widespread destruction.

The mass-hacking campaign targeted Microsoft Exchange email servers with four previously undiscovered vulnerabilities that allowed the hackers — which Microsoft already attributed to a China-backed group of hackers called Hafnium — to steal email mailboxes and address books from tens of thousands of organizations around the United States.

Microsoft released patches to fix the vulnerabilities, but the patches did not remove any backdoor code left behind by the hackers that might be used again for easy access to a hacked server. That prompted the FBI to secure a first-of-its-kind court order to effectively hack into the remaining hundreds of U.S.-based Exchange servers to remove the backdoor code. Computer incident response teams in countries around the world responded similarly by trying to notify organizations in their countries that were also affected by the attack.

In a statement out Monday, the Biden administration said the attack, launched by hackers backed by China’s Ministry of State Security, resulted in “significant remediation costs for its mostly private sector victims.”

“We have raised our concerns about both this incident and the [People’s Republic of China’s] broader malicious cyber activity with senior PRC Government officials, making clear that the PRC’s actions threaten security, confidence, and stability in cyberspace,” the statement read.

The National Security Agency also released details of the attacks to help network defenders identify potential routes of compromise. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied claims of state-backed or sponsored hacking.

The Biden administration also blamed China’s Ministry of State Security for contracting with criminal hackers to conduct unsanctioned operations, like ransomware attacks, “for their own personal profit.” The government said it was aware that China-backed hackers have demanded millions of dollars in ransom demands against hacked companies. Last year, the Justice Department charged two Chinese spies for their role in a global hacking campaign that saw prosecutors accuse the hackers of operating for personal gain.

Although the U.S. has publicly engaged the Kremlin to try to stop giving ransomware gangs safe harbor from operating from within Russia’s borders, the U.S. has not previously accused Beijing of launching or being involved with ransomware attacks.

“The PRC’s unwillingness to address criminal activity by contract hackers harms governments, businesses, and critical infrastructure operators through billions of dollars in lost intellectual property, proprietary information, ransom payments, and mitigation efforts,” said Monday’s statement.

The statement also said that the China-backed hackers engaged in extortion and cryptojacking, a way of forcing a computer to run code that uses its computing resources to mine cryptocurrency, for financial gain.

The Justice Department also announced fresh charges against four China-backed hackers working for the Ministry of State Security, which U.S. prosecutors said were engaged in efforts to steal intellectual property and infectious disease research into Ebola, HIV and AIDS, and MERS against victims based in the U.S., Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom by using a front company to hide their operations.

“The breadth and duration of China’s hacking campaigns, including these efforts targeting a dozen countries across sectors ranging from healthcare and biomedical research to aviation and defense, remind us that no country or industry is safe. Today’s international condemnation shows that the world wants fair rules, where countries invest in innovation, not theft,” said deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco.

#attorney-general, #biden, #biden-administration, #china, #computer-security, #computing, #cyberattacks, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #department-of-justice, #doj, #federal-bureau-of-investigation, #government, #hacker, #hacking, #healthcare, #internet-security, #microsoft, #national-security-agency, #norway, #russia, #security, #switzerland, #technology, #united-kingdom, #united-states

GSA blocks senator from reviewing documents used to approve Zoom for government use

The General Services Administration has denied a senator’s request to review documents Zoom submitted to have its software approved for use in the federal government.

The denial was in response to a letter sent by Democratic senator Ron Wyden to the GSA in May, expressing concern that the agency cleared Zoom for use by federal agencies just weeks before a major security vulnerability was discovered in the app.

Wyden said the discovery of the bug raises “serious questions about the quality of FedRAMP’s audits.”

Zoom was approved to operate in government in April 2019 after receiving its FedRAMP authorization, a program operated by the GSA that ensures cloud services comply with a standardized set of security requirements designed to toughen the service from some of the most common threats. Without this authorization, federal agencies cannot use cloud products or technologies that are not cleared.

Months later, Zoom was forced to patch its Mac app after a security researcher found a flaw that could be abused to remotely switch on a user’s webcam without their permission. Apple was forced to intervene since users were still affected by the vulnerabilities even after uninstalling Zoom. As the pandemic spread and lockdowns were enforced, Zoom’s popularity skyrocketed — as did the scrutiny — including a technical analysis by reporters that found Zoom was not truly end-to-end encrypted as the company long claimed.

Wyden wrote to the GSA to say he found it “extremely concerning” that the security bugs were discovered after Zoom’s clearance. In the letter, the senator requested the documents known as the “security package,” which Zoom submitted as part of the FedRAMP authorization process, to understand how and why the app was cleared by GSA.

The GSA declined Wyden’s first request in July 2020 on the grounds that he was not a committee chair. In the new Biden administration, Wyden was named chair of the Senate Finance Committee and requested Zoom’s security package again.

But in a new letter sent to Wyden’s office late last month, GSA declined the request for the second time, citing security concerns.

“GSA’s refusal to share the Zoom audit with Congress calls into question the security of the other software products that GSA has approved for federal use.” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

“The security package you have requested contains highly sensitive proprietary and other confidential information relating to the security associated with the Zoom for Government product. Safeguarding this information is critical to maintaining the integrity of the offering and any government data it hosts,” said the GSA letter. “Based on our review, GSA believes that disclosure of the Zoom security package would create significant security risks.”

In response to the GSA’s letter, Wyden told TechCrunch that he was concerned that other flawed software may have been approved for use across the government.

“The intent of GSA’s FedRAMP program is good — to eliminate red tape so that multiple federal agencies don’t have to review the security of the same software. But it’s vitally important that whichever agency conducts the review do so thoroughly,” said Wyden. “I’m concerned that the government’s audit of Zoom missed serious cybersecurity flaws that were subsequently uncovered and exposed by security researchers. GSA’s refusal to share the Zoom audit with Congress calls into question the security of the other software products that GSA has approved for federal use.”

Of the people we spoke with who have first-hand knowledge of the FedRAMP process, either as a government employee or as a company going through the certification, FedRAMP was described as a comprehensive but by no means an exhaustive list of checks that companies have to meet in order to meet the security requirements of the federal government.

Others said that the process had its limits and would benefit from reform. One person with knowledge of how FedRAMP works said the process was not a complete audit of a product’s source code but akin to a checklist of best practices and meeting compliance requirements. Much of it relies on trusting the vendor, said the person, describing it like ” an honor system.” Another person said the FedRAMP process cannot catch every bug, as evidenced by executive action taken by President Biden this week aimed at modernizing and improving the FedRAMP process.

Most of the people we spoke to weren’t surprised that Wyden’s office was denied the request, citing the sensitivity of a company’s FedRAMP security package.

The people said that companies going through the certification process have to provide highly technical details about the security of their product, which if exposed would almost certainly be damaging to the company. Knowing where security weaknesses might be could tip off cyber-criminals, one of the people said. Companies often spend millions on improving their security ahead of a FedRAMP audit but companies wouldn’t risk going through the certification if they thought their trade secrets would get leaked, they added.

When asked by GSA why it objected to Wyden’s request, Zoom’s head of U.S. government relations Lauren Belive argued that handing over the security package “would set a dangerous precedent that would undermine the special trust and confidence” that companies place in the FedRAMP process.

GSA puts strict controls on who can access a FedRAMP security package. You need a federal government or military email address, which the senator’s office has. But the reason for GSA denying Wyden’s request still isn’t clear, and when reached a GSA spokesperson would not explain how a member of Congress would obtain a company’s FedRAMP security package

“GSA values its relationship with Congress and will continue to work with Senator Wyden and our committees of jurisdiction to provide appropriate information regarding our programs and operations,” said GSA spokesperson Christina Wilkes, adding:

“GSA works closely with private sector partners to provide a standardized approach to security authorizations for cloud services through the [FedRAMP]. Zoom’s FedRAMP security package and related documents provide detailed information regarding the security measures associated with the Zoom for Government product. GSA’s consistent practice with regard to sensitive security and trade secret information is to withhold the material absent an official written request of a congressional committee with jurisdiction, and pursuant to controls on further dissemination or publication of the information.”

GSA wouldn’t say which congressional committee had jurisdiction or whether Wyden’s role as chair of the Senate Finance Committee suffices, nor would the agency answer questions about the efficacy of the FedRAMP process raised by Wyden.

Zoom spokesperson Kelsey Knight said that cloud companies like Zoom “provide proprietary and confidential information to GSA as part of the FedRAMP authorization process with the understanding that it will be used only for their use in making authorization decisions. While we do not believe Zoom’s FedRAMP security package should be disclosed outside of this narrow purpose, we welcome conversations with lawmakers and other stakeholders about the security of Zoom for Government.”

Zoom said it has “engaged in security enhancements to continually improve its products,” and received FedRAMP reauthorization in 2020 and 2021 as part of its annual renewal. The company declined to say to what extent the Zoom app was audited as part of the FedRAMP process.

Over two dozen federal agencies use Zoom, including the Defense Department, Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Executive Office of the President.

#apps, #biden, #biden-administration, #chair, #cloud-computing, #cloud-services, #computing, #congress, #department-of-defense, #executive, #federal-government, #fedramp, #government, #head, #internet, #internet-security, #official, #president, #ron-wyden, #security, #senator, #software, #spokesperson, #technology, #u-s-government, #united-states, #web-conferencing, #zoom

Biden’s sweeping executive order takes on big tech’s ‘bad mergers,’ ISPs and more

The Biden administration just introduced a sweeping, ambitious plan to forcibly inject competition into some consolidated sectors of the American economy — the tech sector prominent among them — through executive action.

“Today President Biden is taking decisive action to reduce the trend of corporate consolidation, increase competition, and deliver concrete benefits to America’s consumers, workers, farmers, and small businesses,” a new White House fact sheet on the forthcoming order states.

The order, which Biden will sign Friday, initiates a comprehensive “whole-of-government” approach that loops in more then twelve different agencies at the federal level to regulate monopolies, protect consumers and curtail bad behavior from some of the world’s biggest corporations.

In the fact sheet, the White House lays out its plans to take matters to regulate big business into its own hands at the federal level. As far as tech is concerned, that comes largely through emboldening the FTC and the Justice Department — two federal agencies with antitrust enforcement powers.

Most notably for big tech, which is already bracing for regulatory existential threats, the White House explicitly asserts here that those agencies have legal cover to “challenge prior bad mergers that past Administrations did not previously challenge” — i.e. unwinding acquisitions that built a handful of tech companies into the behemoths they are today. The order calls on antitrust agencies to enforce antitrust laws “vigorously.”

Federal scrutiny will prioritize “dominant internet platforms, with particular attention to the acquisition of nascent competitors, serial mergers, the accumulation of data, competition by ‘free’ products, and the effect on user privacy.” Facebook, Google and Amazon are particularly on notice here, though Apple isn’t likely to escape federal attention either.

“Over the past ten years, the largest tech platforms have acquired hundreds of companies—including alleged ‘killer acquisitions’ meant to shut down a potential competitive threat,” the White House wrote in the fact sheet. “Too often, federal agencies have not blocked, conditioned, or, in some cases, meaningfully examined these acquisitions.”

The biggest tech companies have regularly defended their longstanding strategy of buying up the competition by arguing that because those acquisitions went through without friction at the time, they shouldn’t be viewed as illegal in hindsight. In no uncertain terms, the new executive order makes it clear that the Biden administration isn’t having any of it.

The White House also specifically singles out internet service providers for scrutiny, ordering the FCC to prioritize consumer choice and institute broadband “nutrition labels” that clearly state speed caps and hidden feeds. The FCC began working on the labels in the Obama administration but the work was scrapped after Trump took office.

The order also directly calls on the FCC to restore net neutrality rules, which were stripped in 2017 to the widespread horror of open internet advocates and most of the tech industry outside of the service providers that stood to benefit.

The White House will also tell the FTC to create new privacy rules meant to guard consumers against surveillance and the “accumulation of extraordinarily amounts of sensitive personal information,” which free services like Facebook, YouTube and others have leveraged to build their vast empires. The White House also taps the FTC to create rules that protect smaller businesses from being pre-empted by large platforms, which in many cases abuse their market dominance with a different sort of data-based surveillance to out-compete up-and-coming competitors.

Finally, the executive order encourages the FTC to put right to repair rules in place that would free consumers from constraints that discourage DIY and third-party repairs. A new White House Competition Council under the Director of the National Economic Council will coordinate the federal execution of the proposals laid out in the new order.

The antitrust effort from the executive branch mirrors parallel actions in the FTC and Congress. In the FTC, Biden has installed a fearsome antitrust crusader in Lina Khan, a young legal scholar and fierce Amazon critic who proposes a philosophical overhaul to the way the federal government defines monopolies. Khan now leads the FTC as its chair.

In Congress, a bipartisan flurry of bills intended to rein in the tech industry are slowly wending their way toward becoming law, though plenty of hurdles remain. Last month, the House Judiciary Committee debated the six bills, which were crafted separately to help them survive opposing lobbying pushes from the tech industry. These legislative efforts could modernize antitrust laws, which have failed to keep pace with the modern realities of giant, internet-based businesses.

“Competition policy needs new energy and approaches so that we can address America’s monopoly problem,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a prominent tech antitrust hawk in Congress, said of the executive order. “That means legislation to update our antitrust laws, but it also means reimagining what the federal government can do to promote competition under our current laws.”

Citing the acceleration of corporate consolidation in recent decades, the White House argues that a handful of large corporations dominates across industries, including healthcare, agriculture and tech and consumers, workers and smaller competitors pay the price for their outsized success. The administration will focus antitrust enforcement on those corners of the market as well as evaluating the labor market and worker protections on the whole.

“Inadequate competition holds back economic growth and innovation… Economists find that as competition declines, productivity growth slows, business investment and innovation decline, and income, wealth, and racial inequality widen,” the White House wrote.

 

#amazon, #america, #biden, #biden-administration, #big-tech, #broadband, #competition-law, #congress, #department-of-justice, #executive, #facebook, #federal-communications-commission, #federal-government, #federal-trade-commission, #google, #government, #healthcare, #internet-service-providers, #lina-khan, #president, #tc, #white-house, #youtube

Biden urges FCC to undo Pai’s legacy—but it can’t until he picks a third Democrat

Then-FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel sit at a table while testifying at a Senate hearing.

Enlarge / Then-Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai testifies at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on June 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who is now the FCC’s acting chairwoman, looks on. (credit: Getty Images | Alex Wong)

President Biden today urged the Federal Communications Commission to restore net neutrality rules and take steps to boost price transparency and competition in broadband—but the FCC can’t do most or all of that yet because Biden still hasn’t nominated a fifth commissioner to break the 2-2 deadlock between Democrats and Republicans.

Consumer advocacy groups have been urging Biden to nominate a third Democrat to the deadlocked FCC for months, but he still hasn’t done so. What’s causing the holdup isn’t clear. The delay could wipe out the FCC’s ability to do anything opposed by Republicans for all of 2021, because it can take the Senate months to approve FCC nominations, and the FCC process for complicated rulemakings is also lengthy.

Biden today released a fact sheet describing an executive order focused on boosting competition in numerous industries. The order targets four broadband problems that Biden’s order “encourages” the FCC to solve: deals between ISPs and landlords that limit tenants’ choices; misleading advertised prices; high termination fees; and net neutrality. (We published a separate article today on how other parts of the executive order affect the tech industry.)

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#biden, #fcc, #net-neutrality, #policy

“Bad mergers” and noncompete clauses targeted in Biden executive order

President Joe Biden speaking into a microphone and gesturing with his hands.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

President Joe Biden announced his anticipated executive order today, and it’s a sweeping document that seeks to counter rising corporate consolidation and foster greater competition in everything from labor markets to mergers, banking, healthcare, device repairs, transportation, broadband, and more.

“For decades, corporate consolidation has been accelerating,” the White House said in a statement. “In over 75 percent of US industries, a smaller number of large companies now control more of the business than they did twenty years ago. This is true across healthcare, financial services, agriculture and more.” (We published a separate article today that dives into the broadband portions of the executive order.)

With the order, Biden appears to be positioning himself as an antitrust champion, name-checking famed trust-buster Teddy Roosevelt. That’s no surprise—his appointment of Lena Khan as chair of the Federal Trade Commission telegraphed that he would be taking an aggressive approach to consolidation and anticompetitive practices.

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#antitrust, #biden, #competition, #ftc, #labor-market, #mergers, #platforms, #policy

Microsoft says a third of its government data requests have secrecy orders

Microsoft’s customer security chief says as many as one-third of all government demands that the company receives for customer data are issued with secrecy clauses that prevents it from disclosing the search to the subject of the warrant.

The figure was disclosed in testimony by Microsoft’s Tom Burt ahead of a House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, as lawmakers weigh a legislative response to efforts by the Justice Department under the Trump administration to secretly obtain call and email records as part of an investigation into the leaks of classified information to reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN.

Burt said that such secrecy orders “have unfortunately become commonplace,” and that Microsoft regularly receives “boilerplate secrecy orders unsupported by any meaningful legal or factual analysis.”

In his testimony, Burt said that since 2016 Microsoft received between 2,400 to 3,500 secrecy orders each year, or 7-10 a day. Microsoft said in its transparency report that it received close to 11,200 legal orders from U.S. authorities last year.

By comparison, the U.S. courts approved 2,395 warrants with secrecy clauses a decade ago in 2010, which Burt said is fewer than the number of secrecy orders Microsoft alone received in any of the past five years.

“These are just the demands that Microsoft, just one cloud service provider, received. Multiply those numbers by every technology company that holds or processes data, and you may get a sense of the scope of the government’s overuse of secret surveillance,” Burt’s testimony says. “We are not suggesting that secrecy orders should only be obtained through some impossible standard. We simply ask that it be a meaningful one.”

Much of the controversy over secrecy orders came of late when secrecy orders served on Apple, Google, and Microsoft expired in recent weeks, allowing the companies to disclose to the news agencies that the Justice Department under the Trump administration had sought to obtain their records by demanding the data from the tech companies that host the data.

President Biden pledged to stop the collection of journalists’ phone and email records, while also dropping some secrecy provisions. But lawmakers are likely to note that legislative change would be needed to codify policy into law.

Microsoft’s Burt said the company will “do everything it can to prevent the misuse of secrecy orders.” The software and cloud giant also sued the Justice Department in 2016 to challenge the constitutionality of gag orders.

#apple, #biden, #companies, #computing, #department-of-justice, #google, #microsoft, #president, #security, #technology, #the-new-york-times, #the-washington-post, #trump-administration, #united-states

Biden silent on municipal broadband as he makes $65B deal with Republicans

President Joe Biden standing at a dais and pointing as he speaks at a press conference.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure deal at the White House on June 24, 2021. (credit: Getty Images | Kevin Dietsch )

President Joe Biden announced a $65 billion broadband-deployment deal Thursday with Senate Republicans and Democrats, but he provided no details on whether the plan will prioritize municipal broadband networks as the president originally proposed.

Congressional Republicans have tried to ban municipal broadband nationwide, so it’s highly unlikely that they would have agreed to Biden’s stated goal of giving public networks priority over private ISPs in the next big round of government subsidies. Biden in March proposed $100 billion for broadband over eight years and a provision to prioritize “support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives—providers with less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities.”

Eleven Senate Republicans, nine Democrats, and an independent who caucuses with Democrats agreed on the $65 billion broadband plan as part of a larger $1.2 trillion infrastructure framework. The fact sheet released by Biden provides no detail on how the funding will be distributed, but it says the $65 billion will pay for “universal broadband infrastructure.”

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#biden, #municipal-broadband, #policy

Tech antitrust crusader Lina Khan is confirmed as FTC commissioner

The Senate confirmed big tech critic and prominent antitrust scholar Lina Khan as FTC Commissioner Tuesday, signaling a new era of scrutiny for the tech industry. Khan was confirmed in a 69-28 vote, with Republicans joining Democrats in a rare show of bipartisan support for Khan’s ideas on reining in tech’s most powerful companies.

An associate law professor at Columbia, Khan’s star rose with the publication of a landmark paper examining how the government’s outdated ways of identifying monopolies have failed to keep up with modern business realities, particularly in tech. In Khan’s view, that regulatory failure has allowed the biggest tech companies to consolidate unprecedented wealth and power, in turn making it even more difficult to regulate them.

President Biden nominated Khan back in March, sending an early message that Biden would not extend the warm relationship big tech companies enjoyed with the White House under former President Obama.

Khan’s confirmation is a sign that the agency will be prioritizing tech antitrust concerns, a priority that will run parallel to Congressional efforts to bolster the FTC’s enforcement powers. The FTC famously imposed a $5 billion fine on Facebook for privacy violations in 2019, but the record-setting fine was only a glancing blow for a company already worth more than $500 billion.

Last week, Congress revealed a long-anticipated package of bipartisan bills that, if passed, would overhaul tech’s biggest businesses and redraw the industry’s rules for years to come.

A previous bill proposed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar would set aside a pool of money that the FTC could use to create a new division for market and merger research, one step toward modernizing antitrust enforcement to keep up with relentless growth from tech’s most powerful giants.

#amy-klobuchar, #biden, #big-tech, #competition-law, #congress, #federal-trade-commission, #ftc, #lina-khan, #policy, #senate, #tc, #the-battle-over-big-tech, #white-house

Pai’s legacy lives on for now as Biden fails to nominate Democrat to FCC

President Biden sitting at a table and speaking while gesturing with his hand.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden joins a CEO Summit on Semiconductor and Supply Chain Resilience via video conference from the Roosevelt Room at the White House on April 12, 2021, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Pool)

President Joe Biden’s failure to break the Federal Communications Commission’s 2-2 partisan deadlock is reaching a “critical point,” 57 advocacy groups wrote in a letter to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris Friday.

Nearly five months after his inauguration, Biden has not yet nominated a Democratic FCC commissioner to fill the empty fifth slot. Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel has been leading the commission as acting chairwoman, but she lacks the majority needed to do anything opposed by the FCC’s two Republicans, such as reinstating net neutrality rules and reversing former Chairman Ajit Pai’s deregulation of the broadband industry. Even a step like raising the FCC’s broadband-speed standard—which hasn’t changed in over six years—will likely require a party-line vote because Republicans prefer a low speed standard for the FCC’s annual report on how many Americans lack modern broadband access.

In early April, over 100,000 people signed a petition urging Biden to quickly break the FCC deadlock. Advocacy groups are frustrated that they are still waiting. Why Biden is taking so long is unclear.

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#biden, #fcc, #policy

US may miss July 4 vaccination target as number of daily doses plummet

A mostly deserted convention center.

Enlarge / A deserted walk-in COVID-19 mass vaccination site at the Convention Center in downtown Washington, DC, on June 1, 2021. (credit: Getty | ANITA BEATTIE )

The rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in the US has now slowed to a crawl after weeks of decline in the number of doses given out each day. The continued trend threatens to further drag out the devastating pandemic. It also now imperils a goal set just last month by President Joe Biden to have 70 percent of American adults vaccinated with at least one dose by July 4.

On Monday, the country’s seven-day average of doses administered per day was again below 1 million, where it has been now for several days. The average hasn’t been this low since January 22. In mid-April, the average peaked at nearly 3.4 million doses a day, following a record of over 4.6 million doses administered in a single day.

With less than a month to go until Independence Day, there’s a real possibility that the US will fall shy of Biden’s 70-percent goal. Currently, about 63.7 percent of adults in the country have received at least one dose. But a chunk of daily doses are now going to adolescents ages 12 to 17, who became eligible for vaccination last month. And total vaccination numbers are still on a significant decline. If current trends hold, the US may only have about 67 percent of adults vaccinated with at least one dose by the Fourth of July, according to one analysis conducted by USA Today.

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#biden, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #public-health, #science, #vaccine

Indivisible is training an army of volunteers to neutralize political misinformation

The grassroots Democratic organization Indivisible is launching its own team of stealth fact-checkers to push back against misinformation — an experiment in what it might look like to train up a political messaging infantry and send them out into the information trenches.

Called the “Truth Brigade,” the corps of volunteers will learn best practices for countering popular misleading narratives on the right. They’ll coordinate with the organization on a biweekly basis to unleash a wave of progressive messaging that aims to drown out political misinformation and boost Biden’s legislative agenda in the process.

Considering the scope of the misinformation that remains even after social media’s big January 6 cleanup, the project will certainly have its work cut out for it.

“This is an effort to empower volunteers to step into a gap that is being created by very irresponsible behavior by the social media platforms,” Indivisible co-founder and co-executive director Leah Greenberg told TechCrunch. “It is absolutely frustrating that we’re in this position of trying to combat something that they ultimately have a responsibility to address.”

Greenberg co-founded Indivisible with her husband following the 2016 election. The organization grew out of the viral success the pair had when they and two other former House staffers published a handbook to Congressional activism. The guide took off in the flurry of “resist”-era activism on the left calling on Americans to push back on Trump and his agenda.

Indivisible’s Truth Brigade project blossomed out of a pilot program in Colorado spearheaded by Jody Rein, a senior organizer concerned about what she was seeing in her state. Since that pilot began last fall, the program has grown into 2,500 volunteers across 45 states.

The messaging will largely center around Biden’s ambitious legislative packages: the American Rescue plan, the voting rights bill HR1 and the forthcoming infrastructure package. Rather than debunking political misinformation about those bills directly, the volunteer team will push back with personalized messages promoting the legislation and dispelling false claims within their existing social spheres on Facebook and Twitter.

The coordinated networks at Indivisible will cross-promote those pieces of semi-organic content using tactics parallel to what a lot of disinformation campaigns do to send their own content soaring (In the case of groups that make overt efforts to conceal their origins, Facebook calls this “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”) Since the posts are part of a volunteer push and not targeted advertising, they won’t be labeled, though some might contain hashtags that connect them back to the Truth Brigade campaign.

Volunteers are trained to serve up progressive narratives in a “truth sandwich” that’s careful to not amplify the misinformation it’s meant to push back against. For Indivisible, training volunteers to avoid giving political misinformation even more oxygen is a big part of the effort.

“What we know is that actually spreads disinformation and does the work of some of these bad actors for them,” Greenberg said. “We are trying to get folks to respond not by engaging in that fight — that’s really doing their work for them — but by trying to advance the kind of narrative that we actually want people to buy into.”

She cites the social media outrage cycle perpetuated by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene as a harbinger of what Democrats will again be up against in 2022. Taylor Greene is best known for endorsing QAnon, getting yanked off of her Congressional committee assignments and comparing mask requirements to the Holocaust — comments that inspired some Republicans to call for her ouster from the party.

Political figures like Greene regularly rile up the left with outlandish claims and easily debunked conspiracies. Greenberg believes that political figures like Greene who regularly rile up the online left suck up a lot of energy that could be better spent resisting the urge to rage-retweet and spreading progressive political messages.

“It’s not enough to just fact check [and] it’s not enough to just respond, because then fundamentally we’re operating from a defensive place,” Greenberg said.

“We want to be proactively spreading positive messages that people can really believe in and grab onto and that will inoculate them from some of this.”

For Indivisible, the project is a long-term experiment that could pave the way for a new kind of online grassroots political campaign beyond targeted advertising — one that hopes to boost the signal in a sea of noise.

#articles, #biden, #disinformation, #energy, #government, #misinformation, #operating-systems, #policy, #president, #social-media, #social-media-platforms, #tc, #trump, #twitter

Facebook changes misinfo rules to allow posts claiming Covid-19 is man-made

Facebook made a few noteworthy changes to its misinformation policies this week, including the news that the company will now allow claims that Covid was created by humans — a theory that contradicts the previously prevailing assumption that humans picked up the virus naturally from animals.

“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made from our apps,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge.”

The company is adjusting its rules about pandemic misinformation in light of international investigations legitimating the theory that the virus could have escaped from a lab. While that theory clearly has enough credibility to be investigated at this point, it is often interwoven with demonstrably false misinformation about fake cures, 5G towers causing Covid and most recently the false claim that the AstraZeneca vaccine implants recipients with a bluetooth chip.

Earlier this week, President Biden ordered a multi-agency intelligence report evaluating if the virus could have accidentally leaked out of a lab in Wuhan, China. Biden called this possibility one of two “likely scenarios.”

“… Shortly after I became President, in March, I had my National Security Advisor task the Intelligence Community to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the origins of COVID-19, including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident,” Biden said in an official White House statement, adding that there isn’t sufficient evidence to make a final determination.

Claims that the virus was man-made or lab-made have circulated widely since the pandemic’s earliest days, even as the scientific community largely maintained that the virus probably made the jump from an infected animal to a human via natural means. But many questions remain about the origins of the virus and the U.S. has yet to rule out the possibility that the virus emerged from a Chinese lab — a scenario that would be a bombshell for international relations.

Prior to the Covid policy change, Facebook announced that it would finally implement harsher punishments against individuals who repeatedly peddle misinformation. The company will now throttle the News Feed reach of all posts from accounts that are found to habitually share known misinformation, restrictions it previously put in place for Pages, Groups, Instagram accounts and websites that repeatedly break the same rules.

#astrazeneca, #biden, #china, #covid-19, #facebook, #government, #misinformation, #president, #social, #tc, #united-states, #white-house

Biden cuts broadband plan from $100 billion to $65 billion to match GOP offer

President Joe Biden standing and speaking in front of microphones.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Thursday, May 13, 2021. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

President Biden has cut his broadband-deployment spending proposal from $100 billion to $65 billion, matching the lower amount proposed by Republicans. But Republicans still object to Biden’s overall infrastructure spending plan and have consistently opposed the municipal broadband networks that Biden wants to prioritize in government-funded projects.

Biden “agreed to reduce the funding request for broadband to match the Republican offer and to reduce the proposed investment in roads, bridges, and major projects to come closer to the number proposed by the senators. This is all in the spirit of finding common ground,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday during a media briefing.

Biden made the $100 billion broadband proposal on March 31 as part of his larger American Jobs Plan, saying the multi-year funding would pay for “‘future-proof’ broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage.”

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#biden, #broadband, #policy, #republicans

US Treasury calls for stricter cryptocurrency rules, IRS reporting for transfers over $10K

President Biden’s vision for an empowered, expanded IRS is poised to have a big impact on cryptocurrency trading.

According to a new report from the U.S. Treasury Department, the administration wants to put new requirements in place that would make it easier for the government to see how money is moving around, including digital currencies. The report notes that cryptocurrencies pose a “significant detection problem” and are used regularly by top earners who wish to evade taxes.

The proposed changes would create new reporting requirements built on the framework of existing 1099-INT forms that taxpayers currently use to report interest earned. Cryptocurrency exchanges and custodians would be required to report more information on the “gross inflows and outflows” of money moving through their accounts. Businesses would also be required to report cryptocurrency transactions above $10,000 under the new reporting requirements.

“Although cryptocurrency is a small share of current business transactions, such comprehensive reporting is necessary to minimize the incentives and opportunity to shift income out of the new information reporting regime,” the report states.

The Treasury Department notes that wealthy tax filers are often able to escape paying fair taxes through complex schemes that the IRS currently doesn’t have the resources to disrupt. According to the report, the IRS collects 99 percent of taxes due on wages, but that number is estimated to be as low as 45 percent on non-labor income, a discrepancy that hugely benefits high earners with “less visible” income sources. The Treasury calls virtual currency, which has some reporting requirements but still operates mostly out of sight in regulatory grey areas, a particular challenge.

“These opportunities are particularly available for those in the top end of the income distribution who can avoid taxes through sophisticated strategies such as offshoring, creating complex partnership structures, or moving taxable assets into the crypto economy,” the Treasury report states.

The report details a multiyear effort to bolster IRS enforcement that would bring in as much as $700 billion in tax revenue over the next 10 years. The proposed changes, if implemented, would go into effect starting in 2023.

#biden, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #digital-currency, #financial-technology, #government, #internal-revenue-service, #tax, #tc