Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill’s newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don’t already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.

THE GOVERNMENT IS WATCHING: Analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) have purchased databases of U.S. smartphone location data in recent years without a warrant, agency officials wrote in a memo to a top Senate Democrat.

DIA analysts have searched American location data five times in the past two-and-a-half years, according to the document released Friday by Sen. Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Oregon Democrat had asked the agency whether it was interpreting the 2018 Supreme Court decision in Carpenter v. United States to mean that obtaining data from a third-party broker rather than a phone company does not require a warrant.

“DIA does not construe the Carpenter decision to require a judicial warrant endorsing purchase or use of commercially-available data for intelligence purposes,” the agency responded in the memo.

Read more here.


COURT OF CYBER CONCERNS: A group of Senate Democrats led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) this week demanded answers on the full impact on the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AO) from the recently uncovered Russian hack of IT group SolarWinds.

“We are alarmed at the potential large-scale breach of sensitive and confident records and communications held by the DOJ and the AO, and write to request information about the impact and the steps being taken to mitigate the threat of this intrusion,” the senators wrote in a letter sent to senior DOJ and AO leaders on Wednesday, but provided to The Hill on Friday. 

The lawmakers, who also include incoming Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and outgoing ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), asked that both agencies provide briefings on steps they are taking to respond to the breach, which DOJ and AO have both confirmed they were impacted by. 

Read more about the letter here.


PUSHING FOR ALGORITHM UPDATES: Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) led dozens of their colleagues in letters addressed to top tech companies on Thursday pushing the platforms to make changes to algorithms that facilitate the spread of extremist and conspiratorial content. 

The letters sent to Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube come roughly two weeks after a mob stormed the Capitol in a deadly riot. 

“Online disinformation is not just about removing bad content I see it as largely a product design issue. The algorithmic amplification and recommendation systems that platforms employ spread content that’s evocative over what’s true,” Eshoo said in a statement. 

Read more about the letters here


AIRBNB OFFERS TO HELP: Airbnb sent a letter to the Biden administration on Friday offering to help with the coronavirus vaccine distribution, especially in rural communities, by identifying homes that could be used as vaccine distribution sites in communities with limited access to health care facilities. 

The vacation rental company also offered to house workers traveling to distribute vaccines if they need housing support. 

“These Airbnb ‘vaccine depots’ could be available in locations where there are limited or no health care facilities or pharmacies, so-called ‘health care deserts,’ ” Airbnb’s senior vice president for global policy and communications Christopher Lehane wrote in the letter

Read more about the offer here


NEW/OLD PUSH TO FIGHT DISINFO: Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.) on Friday reintroduced legislation intended to make it harder for foreign agents to push disinformation or propaganda on social media.

The Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement, or FADE, Act would require the inclusion of disclaimers on political content posted to social media in the U.S. if they are backed by a foreign agent, with the disclaimers to remain if the post is shared.

The bill was previously introduced in October, but did not make it out of committee. Spanberger and Katko emphasized the need to pass the bill in the wake of foreign disinformation spiking on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. elections.

Read more about the bill here.


GOOGLE THREATENS TO LEAVE AUSTRALIA: A Google official on Friday said the search engine would have “no real choice,” but to stop making the service available in Australia if the country’s government does not alter a proposed law to pay publishers for news. 

The Australian law proposed over the summer states that media companies will be able to request payment from Google and Facebook for news articles posted on the platforms. 

Media companies and news organizations have defended the measure, arguing that it would prevent tech companies like Google and Facebook from walking away from compensation negotiations. 

Read more here


ALPHABET AXES INTERNET BALLOON PROJECT: Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. is dropping its project to develop high-speed internet delivered via signals transmitted from balloons, citing the project’s high cost.

The CEO of subsidiary Loon announced that the spinoff company would be dissolved due to an inability to find ways to reduce the project’s considerable expense. The company had planned to develop balloons capable of delivering stable high-speed internet connections to remote areas that would otherwise be unfeasible for internet infrastructure.

Read more here

Lighter click: The new Hamilton

An op-ed to chew on: The next pandemic may be cyber — How Biden administration can stop it


After big hack of U.S. government, Biden enlists ‘world class’ cybersecurity team (Reuters / Christopher Bing, Joseph Menn) 

Google’s union has big goals — and big roadblocks (Protocol / Anna Kramer) 

The far-right’s favorite registrar is building ‘censorship-resistant’ servers (TechCrunch / Mark Harris)

Lyft test program offers drivers more rides in exchange for 10% pay cut (CNET / Dara Kerr)

People Are So, So Mad at GameStop Investors and FinTok Influencers (Motherboard / Edward Ongweso Jr.)

Tags Abigail Spanberger Anna Eshoo Dianne Feinstein Dick Durbin Hillicon Valley John Katko Mark Harris Ron Wyden Tom Malinowski

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