With help from Clothilde Goujard and Leah Nylen
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— Playing defense: Senators have filed hundreds of amendments to the must-pass annual defense bill. Here are the tech and telecom ones you need to know.
— Getting together: European and U.S. officials are wrapping up today a two-day conference focused on tackling the spread of child sexual abuse materials online.
— Laying the groundwork: Some of Facebook’s decisions in the past few years can be traced to its interest in building the metaverse, internal documents show.
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TURNING TO THE NDAA — When senators return to Washington next week, one of the most pressing issues they’ll face is passing the National Defense Authorization Act, which has been pushed back much further than usual. Lawmakers have filed nearly 700 amendments to the annual defense bill, including several related to tech and telecom:
— From the Democrats: A slate of amendments from Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon deals with surveillance issues. One would direct federal law enforcement to identify and develop countermeasures for eavesdropping devices that are used to track mobile phone users’ location data, while others would require reports on the Defense Department’s options for combating digital authoritarianism and the Pentagon’s purchase and use of mobile location data and internet metadata.
An amendment from Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan would establish a pilot program for public-private partnerships with internet companies to thwart malicious cyber actors, while another from Hawaii Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono would establish a fund at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for broadband deployment and undersea cable landing stations in their state.
— Bipartisan ideas: One amendment contains language from the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has allegedly imprisoned members of its Muslim Uyghur minority group. (Seven Apple suppliers were accused of using forced labor from Xinjiang earlier this year, although the iPhone maker has said it hasn’t found any evidence of those claims. Apple had opposed the bill but now supports it after certain changes were made.) That legislation passed the Senate earlier this year, a sign that senators are prodding their House counterparts to pass the bill. Another amendment would crack down on counterfeit goods sold on online marketplaces (a problem Amazon has long been criticized for).
Other amendments are focused on privacy, including one that would increase federal support for research on digital privacy technologies. Another amendment would add in language from the American Security Drone Act, which would ban the government from purchasing drones manufactured in countries deemed national security threats (read: China). Provisions related to emerging tech would establish a U.S.-Israel artificial intelligence center and a task force on AI governance and oversight, while an amendment from Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) would promote quantum R&D.
Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) have also introduced amendments that would establish a position at various federal agencies that would oversee the responsible use of emerging tech and form a Technology Competitiveness Council — a bipartisan effort that was left out in the House defense bill.
— GOP wish list: Republicans are trying again to include language that would ban the use of TikTok on government devices, after the House version skipped it. Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Marco Rubio of Florida have each introduced a number of amendments, including one from Rubio that would ban the intelligence community from opening official accounts on foreign-owned social media platforms (so, TikTok) and a provision from Portman to create a task force to reduce the spread of deepfakes. This latter effort has drawn accolades from tech companies like Microsoft and Adobe.
— Familiar faces: Two of the Senate’s tech-related amendments had already been approved in the House version. One calls for an annual State Department report on surveillance sales to repressive governments, and another would establish the National Digital Reserve Corps, through which private-sector tech workers could work on short-term federal assignments.
IT’S OFFICIAL — President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into law the Secure Equipment Act, which requires the FCC to block Chinese companies deemed to pose a national security risk — such as Huawei and ZTE — from gaining a foothold in U.S. telecom networks. The Senate unanimously passed the bill last week.
RAMPING UP THE PRESSURE — The group of European and U.S. officials is expected to ramp up their calls for better tools and laws to fight child pornography online, according to a draft joint statement circulated last week by the EU.
— On the guest list: The meetings have included home affairs ministers from EU countries, as well as EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson. The U.S. was represented by Richard Downing, the deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s criminal division.
The virtual meeting was organized by the Slovenian presidency of the European Council, which has designated combating the sexual abuse of children as one of its main priorities. “Particularly in the online context, rapid changes in technology have ushered in a new era of child exploitation with unprecedented levels of scale, complexity, and dangerousness,” the draft statement said.
— Eternal encryption debate: Ministers are also expected to reiterate the importance of ensuring law enforcement has access to data through “appropriate and feasible solutions regarding data retention, encryption, e-evidence.” They also plan to note that the solutions need to “fully respect the fundamental rights” such as privacy.
But the real-world answers will be far more complicated, as Apple experienced earlier this year. The company announced — and then put on hold — features meant to flag child abuse material that were panned by privacy groups due to concerns of government abuse of the tools.
MOBILE IS DEAD. LONG LIVE THE METAVERSE — One reason underlying Facebook’s decision to unify its WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook messaging platforms was to help prepare for the metaverse — a virtual world that the company hopes will succeed the mobile internet, according to newly released documents from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.
In comments on a Dec. 6, 2018 post, Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s head of augmented and virtual reality, said he was a supporter of making it possible for Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram users to send messages across the apps to give “us the best position on the next platform.” (Bosworth, who will become the company’s CTO next year, is a key architect of Zuckerberg’s metaverse ambitions.)
His comments came in response to a lengthy presentation by another Facebook worker, who questioned the company’s three-year undertaking to integrate Messenger and WhatsApp — given that, they argued, communications were moving beyond mobile and into virtual reality and connected cars. But Bosworth assured those concerned that the integration project would help Facebook in the virtual reality space.
“We are building AR glass. I assure you … Mark Zuckerberg and I are aware of that roadmap! I don’t know that ‘get off of phone numbers’ is the goal so much as ‘not having fragmented networks’ is because the latter makes it very hard for us to present as strong a product as our biggest likely competitor (Apple),” he said in a comment.
SPEAKING OF HAUGEN — The Facebook whistleblower has been on a whirlwind tour through European capitals, which included stops in Brussels, London, Paris and Berlin. She won praise from lawmakers, but she also had plenty of help, POLITICO’s Mark Scott and Laura Kayali report. A well-funded lobbying operation run by a former Hillary Clinton aide opened doors for her across the EU, they write, as she went from country to country to convince lawmakers to crack down on social media platforms.
First in MT: J. David Grossman is stepping down as executive director of the GPS Innovation Alliance. Alex Damato has been named acting executive director. Damato was legislative director to Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and a telecom policy aide to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). He will continue in his role as lead policy adviser at Wilkinson, Barker & Knauer.
Kristina Ishmael is now deputy director of the office of ed tech at the Department of Education. She most recently was senior research fellow at New America.
Bring it on: “Can TikTok Owner ByteDance Challenge Spotify, Apple in Music Streaming?” More from The Information.
Lending a hand: Earth Engine, Google’s mysterious satellite project, is helping scientists fight climate change disasters, Bloomberg reports.
Money, money, money: “Facebook is spending billions to buy up the metaverse,” via Vox.
MT exclusive: Democrats are making headway on their social spending package, but civil society groups are already asking what’s next. “We are writing to encourage your offices to focus next on the monopoly power wielded by Big Tech,” a coalition of 13 groups, including Accountable Tech, the American Economic Liberties Project and Demand Progress, said in a letter this morning to Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
No signs of slowing down: “Facial Recognition Tech Won’t Go Away Despite Facebook Ending System,” via Bloomberg.
Actions have consequences: “Frances Haugen’s Leaking of the Facebook Papers Will Hurt Decision-Making at Tech Companies,” writes Matt Perault, the director of the Center on Technology Policy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a former Facebook director of public policy.
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