With help from John Hendel
Editor’s Note: Morning Tech is a free version of POLITICO Pro Technology’s morning newsletter, which is delivered to our subscribers each morning at 6 a.m. The POLITICO Pro platform combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.
— D.C. oversight of tech, civil rights: Police practices, surveillance, online hate and the broadband gap are among the priorities that the Biden administration and Congress should pursue, the Civil Rights Privacy and Technology Table is telling government leaders today.
— Tech and Holocaust denial: The Anti-Defamation League says top social media sites aren’t doing enough to prevent dangerous, untrue rhetoric about the Holocaust.
– 230 tug-o-war: As threats to Section 230 grow — both from Congress and Biden appointees like Gina Raimondo — dozens of advocacy groups warn that changing or repealing the law could have dangerous consequences for human rights.
IT’S WEDNESDAY. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Alexandra Levine.
Got a news tip? Write me at [email protected], and follow @Ali_Lev on Twitter and @alexandra.levine on Instagram. An event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. Anything else? Team info below. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.
FIRST IN MT: NEW OVERSIGHT AGENDA FOR CIVIL RIGHTS, PRIVACY AND TECH — Top civil rights and tech advocacy groups are presenting Congress and the Biden administration today with a to-do list aimed at fighting discriminatory technology and data practices. “Far more significant, sustained, and effective oversight action is necessary, especially as Congress moves to update existing protections and establish modern rules for these technologies,” the groups — which include the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — say in their recommendations out today.
— Highlights: The groups urge government leaders to do more to address disparities in broadband; how hateful online content threatens democratic processes; injustices in policing; the dangers of immigrant surveillance; problematic data and privacy practices; and workforce issues.
— Perhaps most timely: Their concerns about how the Capitol riot could accelerate the use of policing and surveillance tech that has long demonstrated bias against minorities. “As law enforcement and our government more broadly reckon with the violent assault on the Capitol, it is important that these events are not used to justify expansions of surveillance and other policing policies that disproportionately impact communities of color,” the oversight agenda says. The groups call for lawmakers to press ahead with the facial recognition hearings that saw momentum in the 116th Congress.
— Personnel wrinkle: The president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Vanita Gupta, was recently tapped for a top post at the Justice Department. So many of these issues could well make waves at the highest levels of government.
HOW’S SOCIAL MEDIA DOING ON HOLOCAUST DENIAL? — This year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day arrives just weeks after rioters stormed the Capitol wearing “Camp Auschwitz” gear and other anti-Semitic apparel, and as the new administration and Congress begin to grapple with how to handle extremism online. The Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Technology and Society released a report card this morning ranking how effectively top social media platforms are cracking down on content denying the Holocaust. The analysis — which took into account the sites’ policies on such material and responsiveness to reports of potential violations — found their approaches to be inconsistent across the board.
— No platforms received in “A,” but: Twitch ranked highest; Twitter, YouTube, Roblox and TikTok followed. Facebook, Instagram, Discord, Reddit and Steam received the lowest marks — despite Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement in October that the social network would ban Holocaust denial. “While some platforms have finally stepped up their efforts to stop the amplification of denial,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said, “others are still struggling to address antisemitism and Holocaust denial effectively.”
FOLLOWING CAPITOL RIOT, OTHER GROUPS FEAR FOR SECTION 230 — Dozens of racial justice, civil liberties and human rights groups are sending a separate missive to Congress and the Biden-Harris team warning against gutting tech’s prized liability shield, known as Section 230, in the wake of the Jan. 6 violence. (That prospect is only growing by the day.) Like the groups that presented the aforementioned oversight agenda, this coalition calls instead for lawmakers to enact federal data privacy legislation and enforce civil rights law to address tech issues. They argue that meddling with Section 230 could inadvertently hurt the very communities that lawmakers were elected to protect.
— “Gutting Section 230 would make it more difficult for web platforms to combat the type of dangerous rhetoric that led to the attack on the Capitol,” write the signees, which include Fight for the Future, Data for Black Lives and Free Press Action. “And certain carve outs to the law could threaten human rights and silence movements for social and racial justice that are needed now more than ever.” They encourage Congress to convene hearings on these ramifications before pushing further to change the law. Read the full letter here.
BIDEN COMMERCE APPOINTEE PLANS TO TAKE ON SECTION 230 — Gina Raimondo, President Joe Biden’s pick to head the Commerce Department, turned heads at her nomination hearing Tuesday when expressing interest in changing Section 230. The nominee said she planned to keep the Commerce Department focused on how to amend the 1996 statute, just as Washington saw during the Trump era — though this time it would be without the former president’s focus on alleged anti-conservative bias.
— “I would agree we need some reform in Section 230,” the Rhode Island governor told Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) at the hearing. “If confirmed, I would use the resources at NTIA to convene stakeholders, convene industry, consult [Congress] to figure out the details of that reform.” She didn’t specify what changes she would pursue but lamented the free flow of misinformation across the internet and said social media platforms “need to be held accountable” for the content on their sites.
— On the other hand, the nominee added: “That reform would have to be balanced against the fact that these businesses rely upon user-generated content for their innovation and they’ve created many thousands of jobs.” More here for Pros on where Raimondo comes down on EU-U.S. data transfer, a national strategy for 5G, and Chinese giants like Huawei.
MEANWHILE: THE FCC’S LOOK-AHEAD ON BROADBAND — Acting FCC chief Jessica Rosenworcel’s first commission meeting on Feb. 17 will feature staff presentations on the agency’s Covid-focused efforts. That includes work setting up an Emergency Broadband Benefit for consumers, expanding the FCC’s new telehealth program and improving broadband mapping. The FCC will also consider items on 911 fee diversion and updates to its anti-Huawei rip-and-replace proceeding.
— And a call-to-action for the 5G workforce: Telecom trade groups are today urging Biden and Congress to ramp up attention on training workers in the skills required to build next-gen 5G networks amid longtime industry anxiety about a labor shortage. They emphasize apprenticeships and partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities as well as tribal colleges and universities.
AS CLIMATE CHANGE THREATENS OUR TELECOM NETWORKS — Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is readying legislation aimed at toughening U.S. telecom networks to deal with the intense weather and rising water levels brought by climate change.
— “We’re going to need programs” to help boost such efforts, he said Tuesday during the Raimondo nomination hearing. Raimondo told Markey she’d be honored to help usher through such programs. Markey spokesperson Giselle Barry declined to give a timeline for introduction but shared one troubling detail: “Scientists have projected that sea-level rise will submerge more than 4,000 miles of fiber optic cables within the next 15 years.”
Larry Kudlow, who was the top economic adviser for former President Donald Trump, is set to host a new weekday program on Fox Business Network, POLITICO reports. … Here are the new GOP House Oversight Committee assignments. … FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington tapped Carolyn Roddy to become his wireline adviser and chief of staff; Erin Boone, his wireless adviser; Adam Cassady, his media adviser; Michael Sweeney, his confidential assistant; and Carlos Minnix, his staff assistant. … Brianna Gordon, a recent Temple grad who was community service chair of the Black Law Student Association and vice chief judge for the university’s student government, was named the first Connected Future Fellow for USTelecom | The Broadband Association. … Glen Echo Group is celebrating 10 years in the tech, media, telecom and policy space.
Across the pond: “The fight over digital tax is about everything but the money,” POLITICO Europe reports. “The tense negotiations between the EU and the US are ‘more symbolic than about revenue,’ experts say.”
Some tea on Oracle’s rivalry with Google: “Newsweek’s opinion page editor, Josh Hammer, consistently publishes op-eds slamming Big Tech and Google while remaining counsel at the Internet Accountability Project, a group partly funded by Oracle,” Axios reports.
Media matters: Twitter has acquired the email newsletter service Revue, NYT reports, “an attempt to compete with the growing popularity of outfits like Substack.”
Workforce woes: Inside the management mess unfolding amid Google’s promising artificial intelligence work, via WSJ.
Davos digest: “We want the values we cherish in the offline world also to be respected online,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday during a virtual Davos address. “At its most basic, this means that what is illegal offline should be illegal online too.”
Musk v. Bezos: “The two richest men on the planet are sparring in front of federal regulators over the massive satellite internet projects their companies are developing,” CNBC reports.
Attn, appointees: “There are plenty of powerful, lesser-discussed positions further down the org charts of each [federal] agency which could offer handouts to fintech,” Revolving Door Project researcher Max Moran writes in a blog highlighting questions that appointees tied to the fintech industry should be able to answer.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected], @bkingdc), Heidi Vogt ([email protected], @HeidiVogt), Nancy Scola ([email protected], @nancyscola), John Hendel ([email protected], @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima ([email protected], @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected], @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen ([email protected], @leah_nylen).