With help from Leah Nylen, Emily Birnbaum, Alexandra S. Levine and John Hendel
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— Changing it up: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s rebranded and expanded version of his Endless Frontier Act is a boon for 5G advocates.
— Big relief: Senators largely kept to substantive policy issues in their latest round of questions for President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the White House tech office.
— Paused for now: Amazon said it is indefinitely halting the use of its Rekognition software by law enforcement, reflecting a shift in the debate on privacy.
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EXPANDING THE ENDLESS FRONTIER — Schumer on Tuesday unveiled the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, S. 1260 (117), a legislative package that renamed the Endless Frontier Act and added to it a number of other bills largely aimed at combating China’s economic influence. The expanded bill, which now comes in at 1,445 pages, will likely do little to assuage some lawmakers’ concerns that it’s packed with tangential spending.
Lawmakers, including Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), the lead Republican sponsor, have complained the legislation has become a magnet for such special interest provisions. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who introduced the House version, said he understands their skepticism — “Everyone knows this thing is going to pass, so every lobbyist wants to add everything they can” — but that’s part of the balancing act required to get 60 votes in the Senate. “There’s a difference in getting co-opted by special interests versus making sure every constituency’s voice is represented,” he added.
— And a boost for 5G: The version of the bill formerly known as the Endless Frontier Act that Schumer filed late Tuesday will likely please advocates of 5G open RAN, a way of building out networks with vendor-neutral hardware that could help edge out Chinese 5G hardware giants Huawei and ZTE. It contains $1.5 billion for a Commerce Department fund to spur such efforts. Separate provisions would authorize the creation of open RAN test sites, as envisioned in recent bipartisan legislation, S. 1563 (117).
— Still unanswered: After a heated Senate Commerce markup last week, Young said he was concerned that the crux of the bill — major funding for a new tech directorate at the National Science Foundation — had been hollowed out. But Khanna said that he would fight to get “the most [amount] possible in the legislation for the NSF and the tech directorate.”
There’s also the question of how USICA (not as fun to say as “Endless Frontier”) will gel with the House’s similar NSF for the Future Act, H.R. 2225 (117), which Khanna co-sponsors. But he said he was confident differences would be worked out during the conferencing process between the two bills.
LANDER RESPONDS TO SENATE QUESTIONS — Ahead of a Thursday committee vote, the Senate Commerce Committee released Eric Lander’s written responses to questions from the committee’s lawmakers. The topics they wanted to hear about from Lander were varied, but notably missing were any questions on Lander’s interactions with Jeffrey Epstein. That’s something lawmakers have pressed Lander on before, but Lander testified last month that he only had two interactions with the late financier and sex offender.
Only Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) asked Lander about controversies that have plagued his path to confirmation. She wanted him to address concerns that he would “perpetuate stereotypes,” since he had once toasted an accomplished scientist who later expressed racist and misogynist views, and separately, was accused of downplaying the work of two female scientists.
“I believe that supporting women and people of color in STEM is critical,” Lander wrote in response. “I understand that science has not always been welcoming — and has often been hostile — to individuals from underrepresented groups.”
Senators also wanted to know how he would deal with potential conflicts of interest, as well as his views on topics from space exploration to drone regulations to tech censorship to the race to 5G dominance. Asked about the Endless Frontier Act, Lander told them that combating China would require an “all-of-government effort” that could involve regulatory, tax and workforce policies.
PRIVACY HAWKS NOTCH WIN AGAINST REKOGNITION — Amazon said Tuesday the moratorium on police use of Rekognition would be extended “until further notice,” a concession that underscores the increasing public prominence of civil rights issues in tech. The moratorium, originally set to expire in June, was instituted last year amid protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
“We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules,” Amazon wrote in a blog post last year. But since then, no such federal restrictions have been put in place.
— Status check: Privacy talks remain largely stalled on the Hill. And ask tech watchers in Washington what’d be likely to pass faster — a comprehensive national privacy law or standalone legislation to rein in facial recognition — and you’ll get conflicting answers.
But one thing that is clear is that civil rights will figure much more prominently in privacy conversations this Congress, because the politics around social and racial justice issues have shifted so notably over the past year. Case in point: Civil society last year began coalescing around a civil rights-oriented privacy bill by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and early this year, the Civil Rights Privacy and Technology Table and other civil society groups put out proposals on how government leaders could prioritize civil rights in any privacy action. (States and cities are in many cases moving faster than Congress on facial recognition safeguards.)
— Stepping back: Concerns about racial bias hard-coded into the algorithms programs like Rekognition use, which can in turn cause disproportionate harm to communities of color, have dominated facial recognition debates for years. Rekognition in particular came under fire in 2018, when the ACLU published a report that the technology had misidentified dozens of sitting members of Congress as unrelated people who’d been arrested for a crime.
But this is an industry-wide problem, not just Amazon’s. IBM said last year it was exiting the facial recognition game altogether over racial profiling concerns. Microsoft said separately that it won’t sell facial recognition tools to law enforcement agencies in the U.S. until federal standards are put in place.
Privacy advocates, however, said Tuesday’s news didn’t go far enough and called for the company to permanently stop offering Rekognition to police. “We’re going to take this victory today, but keep pushing Amazon,” Caitlin Seeley George, campaigns director at digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, told MT. “Ultimately, we know that we’re going to need a federal ban on facial recognition to ensure that people are fully protected from this technology.”
MIXING AI AND DISINFORMATION — A report released today from Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology offers a glimpse into how the spread of disinformation could be amplified with the help of artificial intelligence systems. Although at present AI won’t replace human input altogether, researchers using OpenAI’s powerful text generator found that the tool helped to significantly scale up disinformation campaigns.
MATCH FIRES BACK — MT got a hold of Match Group’s response to Apple’s letter to the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee last week. It’s a point-by-point response to Apple’s rebuttal to congressional testimony from Match Group, Tile and Spotify that portrayed Apple as anticompetitive.
SPOILER ALERT: THERE’S PORN ON THE INTERNET — Early in Epic Games’ antitrust trial, Apple lawyers said that if the Fortnite-maker won its case, the company could no longer protect kids from apps with “objectionable content.” Apple lawyer Karen Dunn spawned memes when she raised concerns about Itch.io, a marketplace for indie game developers, which offers some adult games she described as “so offensive we cannot speak about them here.”
Epic lawyer Katherine Forrest returned to that “objectionable” standard in questioning Apple executive Philip Schiller Tuesday. Forrest said she searched the App Store for various terms like “fetish,” “pornography” and “sex.” In each case, Apple’s App Store returned sexual apps, many with in-app purchases that would give Apple a 30 percent fee. On search results for some terms, like “escorts,” Apple also sold ads. Forrest then used those same search terms within several popular App Store apps: TikTok, Instagram and Reddit. All three also offered sexualized content. Leah has more on Schiller’s testimony.
— Shoutout: Forrest gave a nod in court to Leah’s June 2020 scoop about DOJ prosecutors and state attorneys general probing Apple’s App Store. (Your host is sad to report Schiller said he hadn’t read it. But we can’t feel too bad: Schiller also said he didn’t recall that the House Judiciary Committee had also launched an antitrust probe into Apple, though he did remember his boss, CEO Tim Cook, testifying before Congress last summer.)
Gail Levine is now a partner at Mayer Brown, where she will co-lead its global antitrust and competition practice. Levine was previously deputy director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition and is a Verizon and Uber alum. … Tom Resau joins Microsoft as director of security, compliance, identity, management and privacy communications. … Scott Stockwell is CTIA’s new director of government affairs. … William “Tim” Fink is now a partner in O’Melveny’s intellectual property and technology practice. He most recently was senior legal adviser to the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Independent or not: What does the future of gig work look like? Vox takes a look.
On display: “At Google I/O, ‘private by design’ is the company’s most vital message,” via Protocol.
New beginning: After a gender discrimination settlement, Pinterest is promising to up the number of female executives and workers of color in its ranks, WSJ reports.
Stop that: The FCC told two companies to halt illegal robocall campaigns on their networks.
Undeterred: Governments in developing economies are seeking Huawei’s cloud services, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Reconnecting Asia project.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected]), Heidi Vogt ([email protected]), John Hendel ([email protected]), Cristiano Lima ([email protected]), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected]), Leah Nylen ([email protected]), Emily Birnbaum ([email protected]), and Benjamin Din ([email protected]). Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.
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