Feb 25 2021
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), urging the Commission to administer the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP) in a way that helps address the longstanding digital divides that block too many Americans from securing a reliable, affordable broadband connection. In their letter, the Senators encourage the FCC to design the program in a way that helps to establish a “durable, scalable model for future digital equity efforts,” and lays out specific steps to ensure that all Americans can access this essential 21st century tool.
“As communities across the country continue to grapple with connectivity challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen unprecedented reliance on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services,” wrote the Senators. “Unfortunately, the already-existing digital divide has been further exacerbated by these disruptions, which have highlighted and furthered the broadband gap that too many American households still face. While Congress continues to work with the FCC and other Federal agencies on expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved areas through a number of programs, affordability remains a significant barrier to connectivity for far too many Americans. According to Pew Research, approximately half of non-broadband users’ given reason for lack of connectivity is prohibitive cost, and 44 percent of households earning $30,000 or less do not have broadband. With the establishment of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, and with proper, forward-looking implementation, we believe we can make a substantial difference in supporting broadband affordability for the most vulnerable Americans.
“First, while the EBBP will sunset after the end of the coronavirus pandemic, it presents a unique opportunity for the FCC to look at how to address the broadband affordability issue long-term and starting to think now about the longevity of cost support well beyond this program,” the Senators continued. “As we know, the ultimate end to the pandemic will not signify the end to the digital divide, and the efforts that we put forth now toward encouraging digital equity must represent a durable, scalable model for future digital equity efforts.
The letter from Senators Warner, King, and Hassan goes on to lay out additional steps that the FCC should take in order to maximize the reach and impact of the EBBP both during this crisis and in the long-term. Specifically, the Senators highlight the value of collaborating
, with state and community partners, urge the commission to set the eligibility criteria as broadly as reasonably possible, and emphasize the importance of supporting newer or smaller broadband services, many of which operate in historically underserved areas.
“Finally, it is important to make access to the EBBP benefits streamlined and accessible - both for providers and households, including subscribers of newer broadband service. The program will be most successful when eligible households are readily able to participate without overly cumbersome or restrictive requirements,” added the Senators.
“Closing the digital divide is of critical importance to our economic future and we look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure every American has access to affordable high-speed broadband, regardless of one’s household income or the zip code of where one lives,” the Senators concluded. “We appreciate your history of leadership on connectivity issues and working to close the digital divide. We believe that the EBBP presents an exciting opportunity to address the digital divide and affordability barriers to broadband access. With proper implementation and collaboration with state and local partners, it can allow all members of our communities to better participate in a 21st century society and economy, both during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.”
The full letter can be downloaded HERE or read below
The Honorable Jessica Rosenworcel
Federal Communications Commission
45 L Street, NE
Washington, DC 20554
Dear Chairwoman Rosenworcel,
We write to you today regarding the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) invitation for public comment on how to administer the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP). As you know, the EBBP was created by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (P.L. 116-260) and offers eligible households discounts on broadband service during an emergency period related to the coronavirus pandemic. We appreciate the opportunity to share our input and perspective on this vital issue to ensure that the program is utilized to its fullest potential.
As communities across the country continue to grapple with connectivity challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen unprecedented reliance on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services. Unfortunately, the already-existing digital divide has been further exacerbated by these disruptions, which have highlighted and furthered the broadband gap that too many American households still face. While Congress continues to work with the FCC and other Federal agencies on expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved areas through a number of programs, affordability remains a significant barrier to connectivity for far too many Americans. According to Pew Research, approximately half of non-broadband users’ given reason for lack of connectivity is prohibitive cost, and 44 percent of households earning $30,000 or less do not have broadband. With the establishment of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, and with proper, forward-looking implementation, we believe we can make a substantial difference in supporting broadband affordability for the most vulnerable Americans.
First, while the EBBP will sunset after the end of the coronavirus pandemic, it presents a unique opportunity for the FCC to look at how to address the broadband affordability issue long-term and starting to think now about the longevity of cost support well beyond this program. As we know, the ultimate end to the pandemic will not signify the end to the digital divide, and the efforts that we put forth now toward encouraging digital equity must represent a durable, scalable model for future digital equity efforts.
Second, it is important to collaborate closely with state/local partners and anchor institutions—first to provide education and outreach about the programs’ availability and incentivize participation within underserved communities, but also to ensure that the FCC can work in tandem with existing digital inclusion efforts on the state level. Community awareness of the program’s benefits and encouraging community partnerships are key to successful implementation, and will pair well with existing state-based programs promoting digital inclusion through adult education, equipment lending, and telehealth initiatives.
Third, the intention of Congress in providing the EBBP benefits was to reduce consumer broadband costs to address the affordability barriers to wider broadband access. We all share the goal of ensuring that families facing difficult financial circumstances during the pandemic are not forced to choose between housing, food, and other necessities and internet service. In order to accomplish that objective, the FCC should set eligibility criteria as broadly as reasonably possible, including looking at how to incorporate newer providers and newer customers, while taking every appropriate measure to ensure that the full value of the program reaches the families that it is intended to benefit. It is incumbent on the Commission to ensure that participating providers are honestly and in good faith passing the full value of the benefit on to their customers.
Finally, it is important to make access to the EBBP benefits streamlined and accessible - both for providers and households, including subscribers of newer broadband service. The program will be most successful when eligible households are readily able to participate without overly cumbersome or restrictive requirements. Similarly, it is vital to include small, local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in cost-sharing efforts. Many states across the country rely heavily on the efforts of regional ISPs for broadband expansion, especially to rural, historically unserved areas, and ensuring that program entry and reporting is accessible to all providers will contribute greatly to the success of the EBBP in areas with the most need.
Closing the digital divide is of critical importance to our economic future and we look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure every American has access to affordable high-speed broadband, regardless of one’s household income or the zip code of where one lives. We appreciate your history of leadership on connectivity issues and working to close the digital divide. We believe that the EBBP presents an exciting opportunity to address the digital divide and affordability barriers to broadband access. With proper implementation and collaboration with state and local partners, it can allow all members of our communities to better participate in a 21st century society and economy, both during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. Thank you for your attention to these matters.
Statement of U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner on Supply Chain Security Meeting with President Biden and Bipartisan Members of Congress
Feb 24 2021
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued a statement following a meeting at the White House with President Biden and bipartisan members of the House and Senate to discuss securing U.S. supply chains for critical and essential goods:
“I applaud the Biden Administration for engaging lawmakers on a bipartisan basis on supply chain security, particularly as it relates to semiconductors. To counter China’s efforts to expand its influence and economic power, we have to make investments here at home, which is why I introduced bipartisan legislation, the CHIPS for America Act, to boost U.S. semiconductor manufacturing and research and create jobs.
“Maintaining U.S. competitiveness in semiconductor manufacturing is a national security issue as well as an economic one, because semiconductors are the critical driver of innovation and defense computing capabilities. Today, these chips power an unimaginable range of products big and small, expensive and cheap, high-tech and low-tech. Today’s Executive Order is a good first start but much more work remains to be done – and quickly – including fully funding a number of enacted bills related to promoting supply chain security, resiliency and greater American competitiveness in key foundation technologies like semiconductors and wireless infrastructure. I was encouraged that in today’s meeting, there was a bipartisan consensus that supply chain security must remain a priority, and I look forward to working with President Biden and my colleagues in the Senate on this issue.”
Warner, Thune, Stabenow, Fischer Reintroduce Bill to Protect U.S. From Digital Infrastructure Corruption
Feb 24 2021
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) today joined U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), to reintroduce the Network Security Trade Act, legislation to ensure U.S. communications infrastructure security is a clear negotiating objective of our country’s trade policy.
“Promoting the security and integrity of global digital infrastructure should be among the most paramount digital trade objectives the U.S. pursues,” said Warner. “It is long past time to make this a key negotiating objective in order to promote a more long-term, multilateral strategy to safeguard the global telecommunications market from providers like Huawei that could pose a serious risk to digital infrastructure across the globe.”
“There is a lot of promise with new and advanced technologies like 5G, but the United States can only deliver on those promises if we maintain the security of communications networks, both at home and abroad,” said Thune. “This legislation would ensure that the security of the equipment and technology that create the global communications infrastructure is front and center in our trade negotiations, because you can’t have optimal free trade if the global digital infrastructure is compromised.”
“When it comes to national security, one of our nation’s top priorities must be protecting our communication systems that we all depend on every day,” said Stabenow. “This bill helps leverage our trade negotiating powers to make sure our telecommunication networks like 5G are safe and secure.”
“The transition to 5G represents a major opportunity for American businesses, but it also poses serious challenges for America’s national security,” said Fischer. “Many other countries have plans to deploy equipment made by China’s untrustworthy Huawei. This bipartisan legislation makes clear that our concerns about Beijing are serious, and that future trade negotiations must account for our national security.”
The Network Security Trade Act would amend the 2015 Trade Promotion Authority, which is in effect until July 1, 2021, to include a negotiating objective related to the security of communications networks. Today, one of the largest manufacturers of 5G equipment and telecommunications infrastructure is Huawei Technologies, which is supported by the Chinese Communist Party. While the bill does not name specific state-owned companies, it would direct the executive branch to ensure that the equipment and technology that are used to create the global communications infrastructure are not compromised. It would achieve that goal by addressing barriers to the security of communications networks and supply chains and unfair trade practices of state-owned or state-controlled communications equipment suppliers in new trade agreements. Confronting these issues, which this legislation requires, is critical as the United States considers formal trade talks with the United Kingdom and other allies.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today participated in a virtual Senate Banking Committee hearing with Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, where he stressed the importance of including robust funding for broadband in any future COVID-19 relief package. According to current estimates, there are approximately 700,000 Virginians who still l
“I would argue, over the last eleven months, we've seen broadband is a necessity. I think it is absolutely COVID-19 related,” said Sen. Warner in questioning with Chairman Powell. “I hope that the current package can be changed to actually include a sizeable investment in broadband as good as our four bipartisan packages have been to date.”
He continued, “Experts like Tom Wheeler and Blair Levin have said somewhere in the $40 to $50 billion range, we can get about 97 percent coverage along with better affordability.”
In response, Chairman Powell said, “I would agree that it is a classic piece of infrastructure for the modern economy, for the service economy, for the technologically advanced economy and having it...as broadly available as possible could be a significant benefit economically.”
As a former governor and now in the Senate, Sen. Warner has long fought for increased access to broadband in the Commonwealth. In December, Sen. Warner negotiated and passed COVID-19 relief legislation that included $7 billion towards broadband, including $3.2 billion for an Emergency Broadband Benefit to help low-income families maintain their internet connections, $285 million to support broadband access in minority communities, and $300 million in broadband grants modeled on bipartisan provisions Sen. Warner drafted with his colleagues. Sen. Warner has also introduced comprehensive broadband
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), about 21 million Americans do not have access to 25/3 mbps internet, which is the FCC’s standard for high speed broadband. Of that 21 million, 16 million live in rural areas, while 5 million live in urban areas.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today requested information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) following a cyber incident in which hackers remotely breached a Florida water treatment plant and sought to dramatically alter water chemical levels in a move that could have poisoned thousands of residents.
“The security and integrity of our critical infrastructure is of utmost importance. The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) states that 80% of the United States receives potable water from approximately 153,000 public drinking water systems, and any type of attack, including a cyber attack, could result in ‘illnesses or casualties and/or a denial of service that would also impact public health and economic vitality,’” wrote Sen. Warner in a letter to the Assistant Director of the FBI and the Acting Assistant Administrator at the EPA. “This incident has implications beyond the 15,000-person town of Oldsmar. While the Oldsmar water treatment facility incident was detected with sufficient time to mitigate serious risks to the citizens of Oldsmar, and appears to have been identified as the result of a diligent employee monitoring this facility’s operations, future compromises of this nature may not be detected in time.”
He continued, “The Federal Government must ensure we are taking all precautions to keep drinking water safe for Americans. Designated as one of the 16 infrastructure sectors critical to national security under the Presidential Policy Directive 21 (PPD-21), we must protect water facilities from cyber and other compromises.”
On February 5, a water treatment facility in Oldsmar, Florida was accessed remotely by hackers, who increased sodium hydroxide levels from 100 parts per million to 11,100 parts per million, a dangerous amount that could have sickened town residents, had the attack gone unnoticed by a plant employee.
In his letter, Sen. Warner requested a progress update on the FBI’s investigation into this incident. He also asked for an EPA review into whether the Oldsmar water treatment facility was compliant with the most recent Water and Wastewater Sector-Specific Plan, and whether that plan needs to be updated to confront similar risks. Additionally, Sen. Warner inquired about any plans to share timely threat information related to this incident with water and wastewater facilities, and other critical infrastructure providers.
Sen. Warner, a former technology executive, is the co-founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Cybersecurity Caucus. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, he has fought for increased cybersecurity measures commensurate with Americans’ increased reliance on remote work. Among other measures, Sen. Warner has advocated for increased funding to modernize federal information technology, urged internet networking device vendors to ensure the security of their products, and pressed cybersecurity officials to bolster defenses against cybersecurity attacks.
A copy of the letter can be found here and below.
Dear Mr. Gorham and Ms. Fox,
I am writing to request information about reports of a serious security compromise of a water treatment plant in Oldsmar, Florida on February 5, 2021. The security and integrity of our critical infrastructure is of utmost importance. The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) states that 80% of the United States receives potable water from approximately 153,000 public drinking water systems, and any type of attack, including a cyber attack, could result in “illnesses or casualties and/or a denial of service that would also impact public health and economic vitality.”[i] Additionally, other critical infrastructure sectors such as healthcare, emergency services, energy, food and agriculture, and transportation systems depend on the cyber resilience of water facilities.[ii]
According to information released by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the Oldsmar water treatment facility was accessed remotely by an unauthorized entity, who increased the amount of sodium hydroxide in the potable water supply to a dangerous level.[iii] Given the consequences of a successful compromise of this kind, and the broader security weaknesses this unsuccessful attempt may illustrate within critical infrastructure sectors reliant on similar industrial control systems, I would request first, to be informed of the progress of the FBI’s investigation of the incident; second, a review by the Environmental Protection Agency into whether the Oldsmar water treatment facility was compliant with the most recent Water and Wastewater Sector-Specific Plan, and whether that plan, most recently updated in 2015, needs to be updated to confront similar risks; and third, to confirm the Federal Government is sharing timely threat information related to this incident with water and wastewater facilities, and other critical infrastructure providers across the United States.
This incident has implications beyond the 15,000-person town of Oldsmar. While the Oldsmar water treatment facility incident was detected with sufficient time to mitigate serious risks to the citizens of Oldsmar, and appears to have been identified as the result of a diligent employee monitoring this facility’s operations, future compromises of this nature may not be detected in time. The Federal Government must ensure we are taking all precautions to keep drinking water safe for Americans. Designated as one of the 16 infrastructure sectors critical to national security under the Presidential Policy Directive 21 (PPD-21), we must protect water facilities from cyber and other compromises.
Please coordinate with my office to provide updates on the investigation of the incident, as well as efforts underway to avoid future compromises on water facilities in the United States.
Feb 10 2021
WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., in introducing legislation that would establish one set of technology and security capabilities for state unemployment offices.
“At a moment like this, the financial wellbeing of so many families across Virginia and throughout the nation hinges on the ability of state unemployment agencies to process benefits with efficiency and precision,” Warner, a former technology entrepreneur, said. “This legislation will harness the power of technology to bring unemployment agencies into the 21st century, improving user experience and establishing strong cybersecurity measures.”
“While enhanced jobless benefits have enabled millions and millions of families to pay the rent and buy groceries, many states have been unable to get benefits out the door in a timely manner. I have heard story after story from Oregonians who have spent months trying to get their jobless benefits. That’s completely unacceptable when families are depending on these benefits to keep a roof over their heads,” Wyden said. “My bill requires a complete overhaul of unemployment insurance technology, and paves the way for one website to apply for jobless benefits, not 53. The bill also requires minimum standards for accessibility and equity. Black and Hispanic workers have been far less likely to access benefits, even though they have been far more likely to lose their jobs during this crisis because they work in the hardest-hit industries. Congress must not allow another recession to come and go without reforming our unemployment insurance system, and that starts with an overhaul of technology.”
“This bill would provide the tools and support Ohio needs to update its program and make it easier for Ohioans to access the unemployment benefits they are entitled to,” Brown said. “It’s been far too long since the program got the updates it needs.”
“Nevada still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, with many of its workers still out of work in hard-hit industries like hospitality, and thousands of Nevadans continue to rely on jobless benefits to help support their families,” Cortez Masto said. “I am proud to support a policy that provides resources essential to delivering a more efficient and accessible unemployment system that will ensure Nevadans, and Americans across the country, can access the help they need when they need it.”
- Requires the Department of Labor to work with the technology experts to develop, operate and maintain a modular set of technology capabilities to modernize unemployment compensation technology.
- States will be able to use all of the capabilities or choose to use only those capabilities that meet their needs.
- The updated technology will help states ensure timely and accurate delivery of payments and better identify fraudulent claims.
- Prioritizes user experience, including by requiring consultation and testing with claimants, employers, State workforce agency staff and other users.
- Requires a study to evaluate unemployment insurance technology needs, with an emphasis on program accessibility and equity.
- Establishes a new Department of Labor Digital Services Team to expand the Department’s ability to assist states with technological issues.
- Ensures the use of best practices in cybersecurity, procurement and transparency during and after the development of the technology capabilities.
- Includes the accessibility requirements for online claim-filing systems from Senator Wyden’s Unemployment Insurance Technology and Accessibility Act.
- Includes provisions from Senator Wyden’s Algorithmic Accountability Act to ensure that the new technology capabilities do not rely on automated decision systems that may produce biased results without impact assessments and public input.
Bill text is available here.
Statements of Support
Andrew Stettner, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation: “The COVID19 pandemic has exposed serious deficiencies in the technology used to process unemployment insurance (UI) claims, deficiencies that are causing unacceptable delays in payments. The good news is, we can fix these UI tech challenges. I commend Senator Wyden for developing a truly national solution that can be utilized by multiple states, embedded with sound principles of user-centered design, civil rights, and protections against algorithmic bias.”
Arnab Datta, Employ America, Senior Legislative Counsel: “The COVID crisis has underscored the fact that our macroeconomic policy response can only be as effective as the infrastructure administering it. The Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act will importantly invest in federal technology systems and staff, ensuring equity across state lines. Investing in a federal, modern UI system will ensure timely benefit payments and application processing will provide large and tangible benefits for workers, employers, and the macroeconomy. Senator Wyden’s emphasis on accessibility and equity and commitment to centering jobless workers’ experiences and needs is commendable, and we’re proud he’s tackling these issues head-on. This proposal is a positive step forward towards long-overdue infrastructure developments for unemployment insurance. We hope Congress will strongly consider this bill.”
Judy Conti, Government Affairs Director, the National Employment Law Project: “NELP commends the senators for introducing this bill that is well designed to help make crucial improvements to unemployment insurance programs across the country. Unemployed workers across the country have paid a terrible price during this pandemic and recession for the shameful neglect of UI infrastructure over the past few decades. It would be nothing short of immoral for us to fail to learn our lesson and make necessary corrections before the next crisis hits. We thank Senator Wyden for his foresight and leadership and look forward to working with him to make sure this bill is signed into law.”
WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) announced the Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms (SAFE TECH) Act to reform Section 230 and allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, targeted harassment, and discrimination on their platforms.
“When Section 230 was enacted in 1996, the Internet looked very different than it does today. A law meant to encourage service providers to develop tools and policies to support effective moderation has instead conferred sweeping immunity on online providers even when they do nothing to address foreseeable, obvious and repeated misuse of their products and services to cause harm,” said Sen. Warner, a former technology entrepreneur and the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Section 230 has provided a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card to the largest platform companies even as their sites are used by scam artists, harassers and violent extremists to cause damage and injury. This bill doesn’t interfere with free speech – it’s about allowing these platforms to finally be held accountable for harmful, often criminal behavior enabled by their platforms to which they have turned a blind eye for too long.”
“Section 230 was passed in 1996 to incentivize then-nascent internet companies to voluntarily police illegal and harmful content posted by their users. Now, twenty-five years later, the law allows some of the biggest companies in the world turn a blind eye while their platforms are used to violate civil and human rights, stalk and harass people, and defraud consumers—all without accountability,” Sen. Hirono said. “The SAFE TECH Act brings Section 230 into the modern age by creating targeted exceptions to the law’s broad immunity. Internet platforms must either address the serious harms they impose on society or face potential civil liability.”
“We need to be asking more from big tech companies, not less. How they operate has a real-life effect on the safety and civil rights of Americans and people around the world, as well as our democracy. Holding these platforms accountable for ads and content that can lead to real-world harm is critical, and this legislation will do just that,” said Sen. Klobuchar.
The SAFE TECH Act would make clear that Section 230:
· Doesn’t apply to ads or other paid content – ensuring that platforms cannot continue to profit as their services are used to target vulnerable consumers with ads enabling frauds and scams;
· Doesn’t bar injunctive relief – allowing victims to seek court orders where misuse of a provider’s services is likely to cause irreparable harm;
· Doesn’t impair enforcement of civil rights laws – maintaining the vital and hard-fought protections from discrimination even when activities or services are mediated by internet platforms;
· Doesn’t interfere with laws that address stalking/cyber-stalking or harassment and intimidation on the basis of protected classes – ensuring that victims of abuse and targeted harassment can hold platforms accountable when they directly enable harmful activity;
· Doesn’t bar wrongful death actions – allowing the family of a decedent to bring suit against platforms where they may have directly contributed to a loss of life;
· Doesn’t bar suits under the Alien Tort Claims Act – potentially allowing victims of platform-enabled human rights violations abroad (like the survivors of the Rohingya genocide) to seek redress in U.S. courts against U.S.-based platforms.
These changes to Section 230 do not guarantee that platforms will be held liable in all, or even most, cases. Proposed changes do not subject platforms to strict liability; and the current legal standards for plaintiffs still present steep obstacles. Rather, these reforms ensure that victims have an opportunity to raise claims without Section 230 serving as a categorical bar to their efforts to seek legal redress for harms they suffer – even when directly enabled by a platform’s actions or design.
“Social media platforms and the tech companies that run them must protect their users from the growing and dangerous combination of misinformation and discrimination. As we have repeatedly seen, these platforms are being used to violate the civil rights of Black users and other users of color by serving as virtually-unchecked homes for hateful content and in areas such as housing and employment discrimination through the targeting and limiting of who can see certain advertisements. Section 230 must be strengthened to ensure that these online communities are not safe harbors for the violations of civil rights laws. LDF supports Senator Warner and Senator Hirono’s bill as it addresses these critical concerns,” said Lisa Cylar Barrett, Director of Policy, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF)
“Tech companies must be held accountable for their roles in facilitating genocide, extremist violence and egregious civil rights abuses. We applaud Senators Hirono and Warner for their leadership in introducing a robust bill that focuses on supporting targets of civil and human rights abuses on social media while also addressing cyber-harassment and other crimes stemming from the spread of hate and disinformation. The sweeping legal protections enjoyed by tech platforms cannot continue,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of ADL (Anti-Defamation League).
“Platforms should not profit from targeting employment ads toward White users, or from targeting voter suppression ads toward Black users. Senator Warner and Senator Hirono’s comprehensive bill makes it clear that Section 230 does not give platforms a free pass to violate civil rights laws, while also preserving the power of platforms to remove harmful disinformation,” said Spencer Overton, President, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
“I applaud the SAFE TECH Act introduced by Sens. Warner and Hirono which provides useful modifications to section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act to limit the potential negative impacts of commercial advertising interests while continuing to protect anti-harassment and civil and human rights interests of those who may be wrongfully harmed through wrongful online activity,”
Ramesh Srinivasan, Professor at the UCLA Department of Information Studies and Director of UC Digital Cultures Lab, said.
“Congress enacted 47 USC 230 in the mid-1990s to support online innovation and free speech but the way in which courts have very generously read Section 230 have meant there is no legal mechanism that has done more to insulate intermediaries from legal accountability for distributing, amplifying, and carefully delivering unlawful content and facilitating dangerous antisocial connections. Racist, misogynist, and violent antidemocratic forces coalesce online because intermediaries rarely have to account for their social impacts. Senator Warner and Senator Hirono’s proposed changes create a new and necessary incentive for such companies to be far more mindful of the social impacts of their services in areas of law that are of vital importance to the health of the networked information environment. It does this while not abandoning the protection for intermediaries' distribution of otherwise lawful content,” said Olivier Sylvain, Professor at Fordham Law School and Director of the McGannon Center for Communications Research.
“We applaud Senator Warner and Senator Hirono’s important effort to reform Section 230 and thus bring greater accountability to the tech sector. Warner’s proposed reforms are crucial to protecting civil rights and making the web safer for those who have been negatively impacted by much that happens there, both online and off. We thank Senator Warner and Senator Hirono for tackling this critically important issue,” Wendy Via, Cofounder, Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, said.
“The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative welcomes this effort to protect civil rights in the digital age and to hold online intermediaries accountable for their role in the silencing and exploitation of vulnerable communities. This bill offers urgently needed provisions to limit and correct the overzealous interpretation of Section 230 that has granted a multibillion dollar industry immunity and impunity for profiting from irreparable injury,” said Mary Anne Franks, President, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and Danielle K. Citron, Vice President, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.
“For too long, companies like Facebook and YouTube have undermined the rights and safety of Muslims and communities of color in the U.S. and around the world. We have urged them to take responsibility for the targeted hate and violence, including genocide, facilitated by their platforms but these companies have refused to act,” said Madihha Ahussain, Muslim Advocates Special Counsel for Anti-Muslim Bigotry. “We appreciate Senators Warner and Hirono for introducing the SAFE TECH Act, which includes essential adjustments to Section 230 and will finally hold these companies accountable for violating people’s rights.”
“The SAFE TECH Act is an important step forward for platform accountability and for the protection of privacy online. Providing an opportunity for victims of harassment, privacy invasions, and other violations to remove unlawful content is critical to stopping its spread and limiting harm,” said Caitriona Fitzgerald, Interim Associate Director and Policy Director, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).
“The SAFE TECH Act is the Section 230 reform America needs now. Over-expansive readings of Section 230 have encouraged reckless and negligent shirking by platforms of basic duties toward their users. Few if any of the drafters of Section 230 could have imagined that it would be opportunistically seized on to deregulate online arms sales, protect sellers of defective merchandise, permit genocidaires to organize online with impunity, or allow dating sites to ignore campaigns of harassment and worse against their users. The SAFE TECH Act reins in the cyberlibertarian ethos of Section 230 imperialism, permitting courts to carefully weigh and assess evidence in cases where impunity is now preemptively assumed,” Frank Pasquale, Author of The Black Box Society and Professor at Brooklyn Law School, said.
“For far too long online platforms have placed profit over accountability and decency, and allowed misinformation, algorithmic discrimination, and online hate to be weaponized. When the Communications Decency Act was passed in 1996, no one imagined it would be used to shield the most valuable companies in the world from basic civil rights compliance,” said David Brody, Counsel and Senior Fellow for Privacy and Technology, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “This bill would make irresponsible big tech companies accountable for the digital pollution they knowingly and willfully produce, while continuing to protect free speech online. Black Americans and other communities of color are frequent targets of online hate, threats and discrimination, and many of these online behaviors would not be tolerated if they occurred in a brick-and-mortar business. It is time that big tech stop treating our communities of color like second-class citizens, and give them the protection they deserve.”
“It is unacceptable that Big Tech enjoys near total legal immunity from the harm that their platforms expose to children and families. Tech companies should not be able to hide behind Section 230 to avoid abiding by civil rights laws, court injunctions, and other protections for families and the most vulnerable in society. Reforms proposed by Sens. Warner and Hirono begin to change that. It is time to hold these companies accountable for the harms their platforms have unleashed on society,” said James P. Steyer, CEO and Founder, Common Sense.
“The deadly insurrection at the Capitol made clear that lawmakers must take immediate action to ensure multi-billion-dollar social media companies, whose business models incentivize the unchecked spread of hate-fueled misinformation and violent clickbait conspiracies, can no longer abuse Section 230’s broad protections to evade civil rights laws,” said Arisha Hatch, Color Of Change Vice President and Chief of Campaigns. “The SAFE TECH Act from Sen. Warner and Sen. Hirono is critical. The proposed reform would not only prevent power-hungry social media companies from leveraging Section 230 to turn a blind eye to civil rights violations on their platforms, but it would also incentivize them to take down dangerous paid and organic content — and establish better protections against real world harms like cyberstalking, which disproportionately impacts Black women. We strongly encourage members of Congress to support this legislation, which represents a significant step towards finally holding Big Tech accountable for their years-long role in enabling civil rights violations against Black communities.”
“After 2020 no-one is asking if online misinformation creates real-world harms - whether it's COVID and anti-vaxx misinformation, election-related lies or hate, it is now clear that action is needed to deal with unregulated digital platforms. Whereas users can freely spread hate and misinformation, platforms profit from traffic regardless of whether it is productive or damaging, the costs are borne by the public and society at large. This timely bill forensically delineates the harms and ensures perpetrators and enablers pay a price for the harms they create. In doing so, it reflects our desire for richer communication technologies, which enhance our right to speak and be heard, and that also respect our fundamental rights to life and safety,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO, Center for Countering Digital Hate.
“Our lives are at stake because hate and white supremacy is flourishing online. On January 6th we saw the results of what continuous disinformation and hate online can do with the insurection and domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol, where five lives were lost,” said Brenda Victoria Castillo, President & CEO, National Hispanic Media Coalition. “It is time to hold online platforms accountable for their role in the radicalization and spread of extremist ideologies in our country. NHMC is proud to support Senator Warner's limited reform of Section 230, and applauds his efforts to safeguard our democracy and the Latinx community.”
“Senator Mark Warner is a leader in ensuring that technology supports democracy even as it advances innovation. His and Senator Hirono’s new Section 230 reform bill now removes obstacles to enforcement against discrimination, cyber-stalking, and targeted harassment in the online world. The events of Jan 6 demonstrated that what happens online isn’t just a game. Online conspiracy theories, discrimination, and harassment are a public danger. The Warner-Hirono bill would go a long way toward addressing these dangers, and incentivizing platforms to move past the current, ineffective whack-a-mole approach to these important online harms,” said Karen Kornbluh, Director of the Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative at the German Marshall Fund of the US and Former US Ambassador to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Warner Urges Wireless Carriers and Social Media Companies to Preserve Evidence Related to the Attack on the U.S
Jan 09 2021
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), former telecommunications entrepreneur and incoming Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today urged mobile carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon and social media companies Apple, Facebook, Gab, Google, Parler, Signal, Telegram, and Twitter to immediately preserve content and associated meta-data connected to Wednesday’s insurrectionist attack on the United States Capitol.
In all eleven letters to the companies’ CEOs, Sen. Warner emphasized how the rioters took the time to document the event “later posting them to their social media accounts or sharing them via text or mobile messaging platforms to celebrate their disdain for our democratic process.”
“The United States Capitol is now a crime scene,” wrote Sen. Warner in his letters to AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Apple, Facebook, Gab, Google, Parler, Signal, Telegram, and Twitter. “The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are currently investigating the events of that day, and trying to piece together what happened and the perpetrators involved. The prospect of litigation on behalf of the victims of the mayhem also is highly likely. Messaging data to and from your subscribers that may have participated in, or assisted, those engaged in this insurrection – and associated subscriber information – are critical evidence in helping to bring these rioters to justice.”
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), incoming Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement after Facebook announced an indefinite suspension of President Trump from the platform:
“While I’m pleased to see social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube take long-belated steps to address the President’s sustained misuse of their platforms to sow discord and violence, these isolated actions are both too late and not nearly enough. Disinformation and extremism researchers have for years pointed to broader network-based exploitation of these platforms. As I have continually said, these platforms have served as core organizing infrastructure for violent, far right groups and militia movements for several years now – helping them to recruit, organize, coordinate and in many cases (particularly with respect to YouTube) generate profits from their violent, extremist content.”
Jan 05 2021
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Co-Chair of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, issued the statement below after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), and the National Security Agency (NSA) released a joint statement attributing the SolarWinds hack to Russia:
“It’s unfortunate that it has taken over three weeks after the revelation of an intrusion this significant for this Administration to finally issue a tentative attribution. I would hope that we will begin to see something more definitive, along with a more public pronouncement of U.S. policy towards indiscriminate supply chain infiltrations of this sort in the future. We need to make clear to Russia that any misuse of compromised networks to produce destructive or harmful effects is unacceptable and will prompt an appropriately strong response.”
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement after the Senate voted to override President Trump’s veto of the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA):
“Today, I voted to override the President’s veto of the NDAA. This annual defense bill is critical to U.S. national security. Failure to pass it would jeopardize our country’s military readiness and national defense, cybersecurity, the well-being of our U.S. service members and their families, and more. The stakes are just too high to risk further delay.”
The FY21 NDAA, which passed through the Senate earlier this month, contains a number of Warner-led provisions, including ones to combat illicit finance, prioritize U.S. innovation and technology development in 5G and semiconductors, protect military families, create a more diverse Pentagon workforce, enable greater SCIF flexibility, fund the procurement of a second Virginia-class submarine, and expand the list of service-connected presumptive conditions related to Agent Orange exposure.
Earlier this week, the House voted 322-87 to override President Trump’s veto of the NDAA. Following today’s Senate vote, the bill will become law.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded Senate passage of the bipartisan, bicameral spending bill to fund federal programs crucial to Virginia and keep the federal government open through 2021. The legislation also includes comprehensive measures to help Americans amid the ongoing economic and public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Following today’s Senate passage, the bill now heads to the President’s desk for signature.
“For nine long months, folks waited for Congress to deliver critical relief as they watched COVID-19 further devastate their communities. Today, despite that unacceptable delay, relief is officially on its way,” said Warner. “I’m proud to have worked with a bipartisan group of colleagues to help get this legislation into shape and in the hands of House and Senate leaders. And while I know that this bill is not perfect, I’m glad to know that it will help American families weather this winter and get through the holidays.”
“While this relief should have been passed much earlier, I’m pleased to see families, small businesses, hospitals, schools, and more get the assistance they need,” Kaine said. “This legislation makes critical investments in unemployment assistance, food aid, housing assistance, and other areas to directly help those struggling amid the pandemic. Though we still have more work to do to help Americans get back on their feet, I’m relieved Congress was able to come to this bipartisan compromise and fund these priorities before the holidays.”
The following list includes some of the priorities Warner and Kaine advocated:
- Assistance for out of work Virginians: Extends federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, preventing hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Virginians from losing benefits over the holidays. The senators were cosponsors of the legislation that provided the model for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), through which more than 9 million Americans are currently receiving benefits. More recently, the Senators called on leadership to extend and add additional weeks of federal employment benefits to both PUA and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs. Additionally, it gives states the option to offer additional weekly financial relief for Americans with a mix of traditional (W-2) and independent employment income who are not able to claim their full benefit, modeled after Senator Warner’s legislation.
- Stimulus checks: Includes a stimulus payment for low- and middle-income Americans; with $600 for individual filers and $1,200 for joint filers, with an additional $600 for each qualifying child in the household. Early in the crisis, Senator Kaine called for stimulus efforts to include direct payments to households.
- Vaccines: Includes over $19 billion for vaccines and therapeutics and an additional $8.75 billion to support vaccine distribution, particularly for states and localities, to slow the spread of the pandemic and take a step towards a future where COVID-19 is managed.
- Emergency housing aid and protections: Creates a new $25 billion emergency rental assistance fund to prevent evictions during the pandemic, which will be delivered through state and local governments. Earlier this year, the Senators joined their colleagues in introducing legislation to provide emergency housing assistance for those facing potential evictions. The bill will also extend the CDC eviction moratorium to allow time for implementing the emergency housing aid.
- Relief for hard-hit small businesses and nonprofits: Provides targeted relief for small businesses struggling with the effects of the pandemic. This includes a second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans for small businesses and nonprofits that experienced a substantial revenue decline in 2020, as well as other funds for small business relief. The Small Business Administration (SBA) is directed to provide guidance to ensure priority access for underserved communities, such as minority-owned businesses. The bill also includes grants for small businesses and nonprofits in sectors likely to continue to see substantial drops in revenue in 2021, particularly in the live entertainment sector. This aid will ensure that Virginia’s small businesses are able to stay afloat during the pandemic, keep workers on payroll, and return to job creation as COVID-19 is controlled. The Senators have been strong supporters of providing relief to small businesses, cosponsoring the Heroes Small Business Lifeline Act, which included many of the provisions in the final bill, and the Save our Stages Act, on which the live entertainment grants are modeled.
- Targeted relief for underserved communities: Provides the largest single investment in our country's history for minority-owned and community-based lending institutions. Largely drawn from Senator Warner’s Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act, the provision provides $12 billion to community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions (MDIs) to build capital and unlock affordable access to credit for underserved and minority neighborhoods, which have been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19.
- Education Stabilization Fund: Provides $82 billion to provide emergency support to K-12 schools and higher education institutions. The legislation includes provisions of Kaine’s Coronavirus Relief Flexibility for Students and Institutions Act that allow colleges to use emergency stabilization funds to cover lost revenue and better target funds designated for colleges hardest hit by COVID-19 by requiring an application to demonstrate need.
- Broadband: Includes $7 billion towards broadband, including $3.2 billion for an Emergency Broadband Benefit to help low-income families maintain their internet connections, $285 million to support broadband access in minority communities, and $300 million in broadband grants modeled on provisions Senator Warner drafted with bipartisan Senators. Additionally, the bill includes an extension of the deadline to use Coronavirus Relief Funds so that state and localities interested in using the money for broadband expansion have more time, as Senator Warner called for.
- Support for child care providers and families: Includes $10 billion in flexible funding for the Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to help support child care providers and ensure that working parents have access to child care during the pandemic. The bill also includes $250 million for Head Start programs.
- Public health data modernization: Includes Senator Kaine’s Saving Lives Through Better Data Act, which will improve the nation’s public health data systems at CDC and through grants to state and local health departments to expand and modernize their systems, promoting more seamless communication, which can save lives when we’re faced with public health threats such as COVID-19. The omnibus authorizes $100 million for each of fiscal years 2021 through 2025.
- Telehealth: Includes Senator Kaine and Senator Schatz’s Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act of 2019, which creates a grant program to evaluate, develop, and expand the use of distance health education models such as ECHO to increase access to specialty care in rural and medically underserved populations. The omnibus authorizes $10 million for each of fiscal years 2022 through 2026. The funding bill also permanently expands coverage of and payment for telehealth to treat mental health care, which is in line with Senator Warner’s CONNECT for Health Act, which Senator Kaine is a cosponsor.
- Ends surprise billing: Includes a provision to end surprise billing, something Senators Warner and Kaine have long advocated for.
- U.S. Postal Service: Converts the CARES Act $10 billion loan into direct funding for USPS without requiring repayment. These funds will be used for operational costs and other expenses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Warner is a cosponsor of the Postal Service Emergency Assistance Act, which would provide USPS with significant direct funding.
- Veterans: Provides $104.4 billion in funding for the VA, an increase of $12.5 billion over FY20 levels. This funding increase provides $2.7 billion more than the previous fiscal year for health care delivered at VA facilities nationwide. The bill provides robust funding in several areas important for Virginia veterans, including $815 million for critical VA Medical and Prosthetic research, an increase of $1.18 billion over FY20 levels for electronic health record modernization, nearly $2 billon in support of programs to prevent veteran homelessness and $312.6 million for suicide prevention.
- Infrastructure: Includes funding for key projects that were championed by Warner and Kaine to benefit Virginia’s infrastructure:
- Includes a provision pushed for by Senators Warner and Kaine to allow for the construction of a new Long Bridge on the Potomac River, which will double the capacity of the rail crossing between Virginia and D.C. The current two-track Long Bridge is the only rail bridge connecting Virginia to Washington, D.C., and it is at 98 percent capacity during peak hours, which means it is one of the most significant rail chokepoints along the East Coast. The new Long Bridge program will double the capacity of the Potomac River rail crossing by adding a second two-track bridge adjacent to the existing bridge and including a new bike-pedestrian shared use path spanning the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Potomac River. Senators Warner and Kaine introduced the Long Bridge Act of 2020 in August to allow for this construction.
- Includes the full federal funding of $150 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to fund critical capital investment and safety projects. In addition, the bill provides $14 billion in emergency relief for public transit agencies to continue operations during the pandemic, ensuring access to transportation for frontline workers and civil servants.
- Includes a one year extension of Community Development Block Grant funds to the City of Norfolk and other localities to build climate resilient infrastructure projects. Senators Kaine and Warner joined Senator John Hoeven in introducing S.4017 in June, which would also have provided an extension for the NDRC program.
- Includes $87.5 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program—an increase of $2.5 million from FY 2020. The Chesapeake Bay Program coordinates Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration and protection efforts, and the majority of its funds are passed through to the states and local communities for on-the-ground restoration.
- Authorizes federal funds to cover 65% of the costs associated with construction projects to address close to $1.5 billion of flood control needs in the City of Norfolk.
- Grants a critical cost adjustment to allow work to continue on the Deep Creek Bridge inChesapeake to address traffic concerns.
- Authorizes over $102.7 million in federal funds for construction of the North Landing BridgeReplacement project.
- Provides up to $9 million for the Federal Aviation Administration to continue its remote tower system pilot program at smaller airports, including the Remote Air Traffic Control Tower at Leesburg Executive Airport.
- Great American Outdoors Act: With Senator Warner’s Great American Outdoors Act now law, the FY21 omnibus affirms funding for several deferred maintenance projects in Virginia:
- George Washington Memorial Parkway – A $207 million project to restore 7.6 miles of northern section of the GW Parkway and implement critical safety measures. The Senators have long advocated for federal funding for this project for several years as seen here and here.
- Shenandoah National Park – A $27 million project to pave and restore nearly 50 miles of Skyline Drive and various overlooks. Shenandoah will also receive nearly $3.5 million to remove unnecessary buildings and restore greenspace within the park.
- Colonial National Historical Park – A $16.5 million project to restore nearly 5 miles of shoreline along the York River.
- FBI Headquarters: Provides no funding for a new FBI headquarters and includes language that encourages General Services Administration (GSA) to provide a new prospectus, particularly after the Trump Administration abruptly abandoned plans to develop a new campus headquarters for the FBI. Earlier this year, Senators Warner and Kaine opposed an attempt in an earlier Republican COVID-19 relief package that would have provided $1.75 billion for construction of a new FBI HQ in its current downtown D.C. location.
- Miners’ Benefits: Extends the funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund until the end of 2021 by extending the tax on mining companies that helps fund the program. Both Kaine and Warner introduced the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act calling on Congress to extend the excise tax through the end of 2030.
- Shipbuilding & MILCON funding: Provides $23.27 billion for shipbuilding for 10 battle force ships including full funding for a second Virginia-class submarine, which Senators Warner and Kaine personally advocated for. The bill also appropriates $237 million for 6 MILCON projects in Virginia, including:
- Humphreys Engineer Center, Training Support Facility (Army) - $51m
- Norfolk, E-2D Training Facility (Navy) - $30.4m
- Norfolk, Corrosion Control and Paint Facility (Navy) - $17.671m
- Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Access Control Point Main Gate with Land Acquisition (Air Force) - $19.5m
- Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Story, Operations Facility and Command Center (Def-Wide) - $54.5m
- JEB Little Creek-Story, NSWG Facilities (Def-Wide) - $58m
- Federal contractors: Senators Warner and Kaine also pushed to extend a provision from CARES (3610), which allows contractual adjustments for a paid leave program, allowing contractors to keep employees on the payroll if federal facilities close due to the pandemic – an important provision for our defense industrial base and cleared national security workforce.
- Foster care and homeless youth: Includes key provisions of Senator Kaine’s bill with Senator Murray and Senator Portman, the Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act, to remove barriers to financial aid for students experiencing homelessness or students formerly in foster care by easing the application and determination for becoming eligible for aid. The bill also includes language allowing foster youth to remain in the system until October 1, 2021, regardless of their age—a move that Senators Warner and Kaine called for in a recent letter to the administration.
- Funds Childhood Disease Research: Provides $12.6 million for the Gabriella Miller Kids First Pediatric Research Program to conduct pediatric cancer and disease research. The Senators worked to enact the legislation authorizing this program, named for 10-year-old Gabriella Miller of Loudoun County, who passed away from cancer in October of 2013.
- Supporting working students and families: Includes key provisions of Senator Kaine’s bill with Senator Baldwin, the Working Students Act, to reduce the “work penalty” that many students who work while attending school face. Currently, students who work while attending school often are eligible for less financial aid due to their work income. The appropriations bill enacts a 35% increase for working students and 20% increase for families to the income protection allowance (IPA), shielding more of their income from reducing their financial aid.
- Student Loan Repayment: Extends an important change to existing tax policy allowing employers to use pre-tax dollars to help pay down employees’ student debt until 2025 – a provision modeled after Senator Warner’s bipartisan Employer Participation in Repayment Act to help more than 44 million Americans with student loan debt.
- Ashanti Alert: Includes $1 million in federal funding to help with the nationwide implementation of the Ashanti Alert system. Following the abduction of 19-year old Ashanti Billie, who did not meet the criteria for an Amber or Silver Alert, Senator Warner secured unanimous passage of this national alert system through the Senate on December 6, 2018, and has been a leader in the fight to implement the Ashanti Alert nationwide ever since.
- Nutrition: Provides $13 billion in nutrition assistance, including a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits through June 30, 2021 for all SNAP participants. Excludes unemployment compensation from being counted as income for the purposes of calculating SNAP benefits and eligibility. Provides $400 million for food banks through The Emergency Food Assistance Program.
- Farmers: Provides $13 billion for direct payments, purchases, and loans to producers who have suffered losses due to the pandemic, including funds to support the food supply chain through food purchases, donations to food banks, and support for local food systems. Additionally, it includes $5 billion for supplemental payments to row crop producers; $3 billion for supplemental payments to cattle producers and contract growers of livestock and poultry, dairy farmers, and producers who were forced to euthanize livestock or poultry; $225 million for producers of specialty crops; and $1.5 billion to purchase food for distribution to those in need.
- Timber Harvesting/Hauling: Provides up to $200 million to support timber harvesting and timber hauling businesses impacted by COVID-19.
- Dairy: Provides up to $400 million for a Dairy Product Donation Program, modeled after the 2018 Farm Bill pilot program to facilitate the donation of dairy products and minimize food waste.
- Textiles: Allows USDA to make payments to users of upland cotton and extra-long staple cotton.
- Fisheries: Provides $300 million in assistance to help fisheries mitigate COVID-19 related impacts.
- Water Utility Bill Assistance: Provides $638 million for a new program to help low-income families cover the costs of drinking water and wastewater utility bills by making funds available to states and Tribes. These localities will provide dollars to owners or operators of public water systems or treatment works to reduce arrearages and rates for low-income households.
- Appalachian Regional Commission: Includes a record $180 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission, an increase of $5 million from FY20.
Warner, Portman, Blumenthal, Grassley Urge Lighthizer to Not Include Tech Liability Shield in US-UK Trade Agreement
Dec 18 2020
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, urging the Trump Administration to refrain from including sweeping liability protection language modeled on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 in a trade agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom.
“We are optimistic that a new trade agreement with the United Kingdom will ensure fair, balanced, and reciprocal trade. But we want to note that we have concerns with the inclusion of safe harbor language modeled on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996,” wrote the Senators. “Including a safe harbor clause in any future trade agreements will further allocate more power to companies at the expense of individuals.”
They continued, “Congress can and should debate about Section 230 and how it has enabled platforms to turn a blind eye as their platforms are used to facilitate discrimination, cyber-stalking, terrorism, online frauds, and more. We urge USTR to refrain from including this provision in this and future free trade agreements until that debate has concluded.”
A copy of the letter is available here and text can be found below.
Dear Ambassador Lighthizer:
We support strengthening trade relations between the United States and the United Kingdom through a potential free trade agreement. That relationship would not be improved, however, by a trade agreement that includes “safe harbor” language similar to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
As an initial matter, Congress is not requesting, let alone requiring, the Administration to include this type of liability protection in our trade agreements. Trade promotion authority, which establishes the United States’ negotiating objectives for trade agreements, calls for “recogniz[ing] the significance of the internet as a trading platform in international commerce” – not for providing blanket immunity to bad actors because the wrongful conduct took place on the internet. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that such “safe harbor” language actually facilitates U.S. trade policy interests, particularly with respect to a country like the United Kingdom that has a strong rule of law tradition. Instead, the blanket immunity provided by measures like Section 230 allows platforms to escape liability for directly enabling heinous conduct such as online frauds, cyber-stalking, terrorism, and child abuse. Not surprisingly, neither the U.S. Congress nor the UK Parliament are seeking to export this type of immunity. Instead, they are undertaking vigorous debates regarding the proper oversight, transparency, and effective management of digital communications technologies.
Domestically, there is bipartisan consensus around the need to address illegal behavior online. Many Members of Congress, as well as the Department of Justice, have offered bills to reform Section 230. The United Kingdom unveiled its long-awaited “Online Harms” regulation, which would create a new regulatory framework to address unlawful and harmful online content. In parallel, the United Kingdom also passed a law last year that, once fully implemented, will establish a code of practice to protect children from exposure to harmful online content.
Congress passed Section 230 as part of wider legislation in 1996. The internet has changed dramatically since then and, accordingly, Section 230 has not aged well. As legislators proceed to review and examine the issues surrounding internet platform liability, it is unnecessary—and inappropriate—to tie their hands by making Section 230-style immunity an international obligation of our respective countries.
We remain excited by the opportunities presented by a new trade agreement with the United Kingdom. We want our Special Relationship to be as strong economically as it is politically. But inclusion of a “safe harbor” clause in either negotiations or a final agreement is frankly unhelpful to achieving that goal. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Warner on FTC Decision to Launch Sweeping Study of Major Technology Platforms' Data Collection and Business Practices
Dec 14 2020
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced its decision to conduct a study on the privacy and wider business practices of major technology platforms – a move that Sen. Warner has long advocated:
“As I have impressed upon Chairman Simons in the past, an effort by the FTC to systematically study the data collection and business practices of the largest technology platforms is long overdue. Policymakers and regulators – not to mention consumers – are totally in the dark about how their data is being collected and monetized; about the metrics used to measure their attention, engagement, and value to the platform; and about the ways in which these platforms design their products to maximize data collection, ad revenue, and user engagement. I applaud Chairman Simons and the Commission for this important step in bringing sunlight to what has far too long been an opaque market, vulnerable to abuse, digital ad fraud, and consumer harm.”
Sen. Warner, a former technology entrepreneur, is one of the leading voices in Congress on technology issues. He has authored and introduced a series of bipartisan bills designed to protect consumers and reduce the power of giant social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google. One of these bills, the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight and Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act, would require data-harvesting companies to tell consumers and financial regulators exactly what data they are collecting from consumers and provide granular details about how it is being leveraged by the platform for profit as part of their quarterly financial disclosures. The bipartisan Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act would prohibit large online platforms from using deceptive user interfaces to trick consumers into handing over their personal data or consenting to unfair terms of service. Additionally, the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act would encourage market-based competition to dominant social media platforms by requiring the largest companies to make user data portable – and their services interoperable – with other platforms, and would allow users to designate a trusted third-party service to manage their privacy and account settings, if they so choose. Since 2016, Sen. Warner has repeatedly encouraged the Commission to take stronger actions to address digital ad fraud, including by better understanding the opaque and concentrated digital advertising market that has turned a blind eye to such activity.
Dec 11 2020
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Acting Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today applauded the inclusion of the Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bipartisan USA Telecommunications Act seeks to encourage and support U.S. innovation in the race for 5G by providing funds to support research and development in Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE.
“For too long we’ve called for our allies and trading partners to reject Huawei digital infrastructure – without providing competitively-priced, innovative alternatives that address their needs. I’m pleased to see my bipartisan, bicameral legislation included in this year’s defense funding bill,” said Sen. Warner. “I look forward to working with Senate appropriators next year to ensure that these programs – which advance major national security priorities – receive full funding in the coming year.”
“It is in our national security interests to support American competition in the 5G market and take action to counter efforts by Chinese state-directed telecommunications companies to dominate wireless technology supply chains,” Sen. Rubio said. “I was proud to secure this critical provision in the FY21 NDAA conference report that will support the development of an innovative 5G wireless network that leverages American strengths and creates American jobs in the industries of the future without relying on malign Chinese state-directed actors like Huawei and ZTE.”
The USA Telecommunications Act was introduced in January by Sens. Warner and Rubio along with Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and John Cornyn (R-TX). The legislation will reassert U.S. and Western leadership by encouraging competition with Huawei that capitalizes on U.S. software advantages, accelerating development of an open-architecture model (known as Open-RAN) that would allow for alternative vendors to enter the market for specific network components, rather than having to compete with Huawei end-to-end.
The USA Telecommunications Act is one of several of Sen. Warner’s national security priorities that were included in the final defense bill, among them the Improving Laundering Laws and Increasing Comprehensive Information Tracking of Criminal Activity in Shell Holdings (ILLICIT CASH) Act, which requires shell companies – often used as fronts for criminal activity – to disclose their true owners to the U.S. Department of Treasury, and the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) for America Act, which will restore semiconductor manufacturing back to American soil by increasing federal incentives to stimulate advanced chip manufacturing.
Key Health, Intelligence, Consumer Protection, and Tech Policy Lawmakers Recommend Misinformation Focus for COVID-19 Task Force
Dec 10 2020
WASHINGTON – Today, five lawmakers in leadership roles of House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over misinformation sent President-elect Biden a letter recommending that his COVID-19 response include a focus on misinformation.
The lawmakers are Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA); House Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA); House Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL); Senate Rules Committee Ranking Member Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA).
“We write to recommend that you incorporate a focus on misinformation within your broader COVID-19 response, including by adding a leading misinformation studies expert to the Task Force,” wrote the lawmakers. “The COVID-19 infodemic is about to dangerously intersect with a misinformation-laden anti-vaccine movement that has led to tragic consequences in our country.”
“While we’re optimistic a vaccine will aid our country in short order, we worry that misinformation threatens the success of a national vaccine program. A decade of misinformation on the safety and efficacy of vaccines, propelled in recent years by social media platforms, has laid the foundation for skepticism and opposition towards the COVID-19 vaccines. In November, four in ten Americans said they would not agree to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if an FDA-approved vaccine was available at no cost,” the law makers continued.
“These concerns motivate us to urge you to add a member to the Task Force who has a deep understanding of misinformation, including its causes, exacerbating factors, and ways to combat it. Professor Joan Donovan is ideally situated for the role. She is one of the world’s leading scholars of misinformation,” the lawmakers wrote. “Professor Donovan also has a background in health and life sciences and has recently been studying COVID-19 misinformation.”
You can read the full text of the letter HERE.
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Warner & Kaine Join Colleagues in Calling for Permanent Expansion of Telehealth Coverage in End of Year Legislation
Dec 04 2020
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senator Brian Schatz and their congressional colleagues in calling for the expansion of access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic to be made permanent. Provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act, legislation introduced by Warner and cosponsored by Kaine, have allowed Medicare beneficiaries in all areas of the country, and in their homes, to utilize telehealth services, as well as more types of health care providers to provide telehealth, were included in previous COVID-19 legislation but will expire following the pandemic unless congressional leaders act to make those measures permanent.
“Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic in ensuring that patients can continue to receive the health care services that they need while minimizing the spread of the virus and keeping health care providers and patients healthy and safe,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “We continue to hear from our constituents and health care providers that the uncertainty about the long-term future of Medicare telehealth coverage is a barrier to organizations investing fully in telehealth. Congress needs to act now to better serve patients and health care providers during the pandemic, and to ensure that telehealth remains an option after the pandemic is over.”
In their letter, the lawmakers highlight the growing use and benefits of telehealth during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as patients seek to avoid traveling to hospitals and other providers and instead receive care at home. New data shows that the number of Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services increased by nearly 13,000 percent in just a month and a half during the pandemic.
Senators Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates for increased access to health care through telehealth. In June, Warner and Kaine sent a letter to Senate leadership calling for the permanent expansion of access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Kaine also introduced bipartisan legislation in 2019 to expand health care to rural areas through telehealth. The bill passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee as part of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.
The bipartisan and bicameral Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, was first introduced in 2016.
The full text of the letter is below and available here.
Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and Minority Leader McCarthy:
As we near the end of the year and the 116th Congress, we urge you to include provisions in end of the year legislation to make permanent expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services. Specifically, immediate action to permanently waive geographic restrictions for originating sites, authorize health centers in rural and underserved areas to provide telehealth, and allow beneficiaries to use telehealth in their homes would be key steps to ensure much-needed certainty about Medicare telehealth coverage for health care providers and to improve access to care for patients.
Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic in ensuring that patients can continue to receive the health care services that they need while minimizing the spread of the virus and keeping health care providers and patients healthy and safe. Telehealth is also important in increasing capacity at health care facilities and reducing health care providers’ use of scarce personal protective equipment. For these reasons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance at the beginning of the pandemic advising individuals and health care providers to optimize the use of telehealth services.
The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act included provisions from our bipartisan CONNECT for Health Act to increase access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, waivers of statutory geographic and originating site restrictions have allowed Medicare beneficiaries to use telehealth services in all areas of the country, as well as in their homes. In addition, more types of health care providers including health centers in rural and underserved areas, are authorized to provide distant site telehealth services, among other important flexibilities.
This new authority resulted in a rapid increase in telehealth utilization. An early analysis of the expansion of Medicare telehealth coverage during the pandemic shows that before the public health emergency, about 13,000 beneficiaries in fee-for-service Medicare received telehealth services in a week, but by the last week of April, nearly 1.7 million beneficiaries received telehealth services. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also found that beneficiaries are getting care through telehealth at similar rates across demographics. In response to these findings, CMS stated that, “The rapid adoption of telemedicine among providers and patients has shown that telehealth is here to stay.”
However, the authority for this expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services is temporary and tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, which is renewed in three-month increments. We continue to hear from our constituents and health care providers that the uncertainty about the long-term future of Medicare telehealth coverage is a barrier to organizations investing fully in telehealth—even now during the pandemic. Ramping up telehealth requires significant costs—including the purchase of equipment such as tablets and webcams, telehealth platforms, additional staff, provider training, and changes to electronic health records, billing, and patient engagement processes. Without more certainty about the future of Medicare coverage, many organizations are not investing in all of these areas to optimize the use and availability of telehealth.
Therefore, Congress needs to act now to better serve patients and health care providers during the pandemic, and to ensure that telehealth remains an option after the pandemic is over. We understand that further data analysis is underway to assess the impact of the telehealth changes that have been available during the public health emergency. However, to fully benefit from telehealth during the pandemic, there are steps Congress should take before the end of the year to expand access to telehealth with appropriate guardrails and beneficiary protections.
In particular, Congress should immediately provide permanent authority to waive or remove the geographic restrictions on originating sites in section 1834(m) of the Social Security Act so that a beneficiary’s ability to receive telehealth services is no longer based on where he or she lives. Services that CMS has determined to be clinically appropriate to be delivered through telehealth should be available to all beneficiaries, not just some. CMS concurs, stating that “The data have shown that telehealth can be an important source of care across the country, not just for those living in rural areas.”
We also urge action to permanently authorize Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics to provide distant site telehealth services and to allow patients to receive clinically appropriate telehealth services in their homes. These actions would address the restrictions on originating sites that CMS has stated are the greatest barriers to the expansion of Medicare telehealth services as well as ensure that health centers can continue their pivotal role in providing health care in rural and underserved areas.
Telehealth is an area of strong bipartisan support, and Congress can, and should, act now to lead the way in ensuring expanded access to telehealth. We appreciate your collaboration on this important issue.
Nov 17 2020
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued a statement today following the President’s firing of Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher C. Krebs:
“Chris Krebs is an extraordinary public servant and exactly the person Americans want protecting the security of our elections.
“It speaks volumes that the president chose to fire him simply for telling the truth.”
Sen. Warner, co-chair of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, has previously cautioned about the dangers of destabilizing the government by ousting key officials amid a transition of Presidential power. Just last week, he reacted to reports that Director Krebs expected to be fired by the President, noting that there is “no possible justification to remove him from office.”
Warner & Gardner Applaud Congressional Passage of Bipartisan Bill to Secure Internet-Connected Devices
Nov 17 2020
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) applauded congressional passage of their bipartisan legislation to require minimum security requirements for Internet of Things (IoT) devices purchased by the U.S. government. Leveraging the purchasing power of the federal government, the bill will ultimately help move the wider market for IoT devices towards greater cybersecurity. The Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act passed through the U.S. House of Representatives in September and was approved in the Senate today by unanimous consent. It now heads to the President’s desk for signature.
“While more and more products and even household appliances today have software functionality and internet connectivity, too few incorporate even basic safeguards and protections, posing a real risk to individual and national security,” said Sen. Warner. “I’m proud that Congress was able to come together today to pass this legislation, which will harness the purchasing power of the federal government and incentivize companies to finally secure the devices they create and sell. I urge the President to sign this bill into law without delay.”
“I applaud the Senate for passing our bipartisan and bicameral legislation to ensure the federal government leads by example and purchases devices that meet basic requirements to prevent hackers from accessing government systems,” said Sen. Gardner. “Most experts expect tens of billions of devices operating on our networks within the next several years as the Internet of Things (IoT) landscape continues to expand. We need to make sure these devices are secure from malicious cyber-attacks as they continue to transform our society and add countless new entry points into our networks, particularly when they are integrated into the federal government’s networks.”
Sens. Warner and Gardner originally authored and introduced this legislation in the Senate back in August 2017. They reintroduced the bill in the 116th Congress and saw its passage through the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in June 2019.
Specifically, the Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act would:
- Require the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to issue recommendations addressing, at a minimum, secure development, identity management, patching, and configuration management for IoT devices.
- Direct the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to issue guidelines for each agency that are consistent with the NIST recommendations, including making any necessary revisions to the Federal Acquisition Regulation to implement new security standards and guidelines.
- Require any IoT devices purchased by the federal government to comply with those recommendations.
- Direct NIST to work with cybersecurity researchers, industry experts, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to publish guidelines on vulnerability disclosure and remediation for federal information systems.
- Require contractors and vendors providing information systems to the U.S. government to adopt coordinated vulnerability disclosure policies, so that if a vulnerability is uncovered, that can be effectively shared with a vendor for remediation.
Sens. Warner and Gardner are co-chairs of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus. Sen. Warner – a former technology entrepreneur and Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – is also leader in Congress on security issues related to the Internet of Things.
Warner Joins Coons, Colleagues in Pressing Facebook to Take Immediate Action to Combat Anti-Muslim Bigotry on its Platform
Nov 15 2020
WILMINGTON, Del. – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today led 14 colleagues on a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calling on the company to fully address the problem of anti-Muslim bigotry on its platform, which has enabled offline violence against Muslims in the United States and elsewhere around the world.
Senator Coons is joined on the letter by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“Facebook is a groundbreaking company that has revolutionized the way we communicate. Unfortunately, the connectivity that can bring people together in many positive ways also has been used to dehumanize and stoke violence against Muslims, Black people, Latinos, immigrants, the Jewish community, Sikhs, Christians, women, and other communities here and across the world,” the Senators wrote.
Of particular concern is how Facebook has addressed the targeting of mosques and Muslim community events by armed protesters through the platform. In June 2019, Facebook responded to concerns about these practices by creating a “call to arms” policy that prohibits event pages that call for individuals to bring weapons to a location. However, the Senators note that Facebook has not taken adequate steps to enforce this policy, which should have barred an event page in Kenosha, Wisconsin earlier this year, as well as a 2019 event page used to plan an armed protest at the largest Muslim community convention in the country.
“We recognize that Facebook has announced efforts to address its role in the distribution of anti-Muslim content in some of these areas,” the Senators wrote. “Nevertheless, it is not clear that the company is meaningfully better positioned to prevent further human rights abuses and violence against Muslim minorities today.”
“As members of Congress who are deeply disturbed by the proliferation of this hate speech on your platform, we urge you to do more.”
An independent civil rights audit of Facebook from July 2020 highlighted disturbing examples of anti-Muslim abuse on the platform ranging “[f]rom the organization of events designed to intimidate members of the Muslim community at gathering places, to the prevalence of content demonizing Islam and Muslims, and the use of Facebook Live during the Christchurch massacre…” These concerns have also prompted current Facebook employees to write a letter demanding action on anti-Muslim bigotry and calling for broader structural changes.
In their letter, the Senators urge Facebook to take a number of actions to address these issues including collecting and publishing the data needed to understand the scope of the problem, publishing readily available information to help the public evaluate its response, and implementing a plan to ensure robust enforcement of its call to arms policy.
“We thank Sen. Coons and his colleagues for holding Facebook accountable for anti-Muslim hate and violence on its platform,” said Muslim Advocates Executive Director Farhana Khera. “Since 2015, Muslim Advocates has warned Facebook that the platform’s event pages were being used by violent militias and white nationalists to organize armed rallies at mosques. With their letter, these senators are raising needed attention to this critical issue. We need to know what Facebook plans to do to end the anti-Muslim hate and violence enabled by their platform—and end it now.”
Groups supporting the letter include Muslim Advocates, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Center for American Progress, Human Rights Watch, the Human Rights Campaign, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Free Press, the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, the Interfaith Alliance, the Japanese American Citizens League, MediaJustice, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Shoulder to Shoulder, The Sikh Coalition, and UltraViolet.
A copy of the letter is below.
November 16, 2020
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
1601 Willow Road
Menlo Park, CA 94025
Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:
We write to express our deep concern regarding anti-Muslim bigotry on Facebook. An independent civil rights audit of the company from July 2020 highlighted disturbing examples of anti-Muslim abuse on the platform ranging “[f]rom the organization of events designed to intimidate members of the Muslim community at gathering places, to the prevalence of content demonizing Islam and Muslims, and the use of Facebook Live during the Christchurch massacre . . . .” These concerns have also prompted current Facebook employees to write a letter demanding action on anti-Muslim bigotry and calling for broader structural changes. As members of Congress who are committed to protecting the Muslim community, we urge you to take immediate action to combat this bigotry on Facebook’s platforms.
Facebook is a groundbreaking company that has revolutionized the way we communicate. Unfortunately, the connectivity that can bring people together in many positive ways also has been used to dehumanize and stoke violence against Muslims, Black people, Latinos, immigrants, the Jewish community, Sikhs, Christians, women, and other communities here and across the world. The enabling of hate speech and violence against any group is not acceptable. We appreciate that Facebook has taken certain steps to combat these problems. For instance, you recently reversed a prior decision that had allowed content denying the Holocaust, and you have altered your policies to ban blackface and certain anti-Jewish stereotypes. But much more must be done to protect these vulnerable communities. With regard to the Muslim community in particular, the civil rights audit noted advocates’ “alarm that Muslims feel under siege on Facebook” and explained how attacks on Muslims present unique considerations that require separate analysis and response compared to other kinds of attacks. Yet, the auditors noted, “Facebook has not yet publicly studied or acknowledged the particular ways anti-Muslim bigotry manifests on its platform.”
Of particular concern is how Facebook has addressed the targeting of mosques and Muslim community events by armed protesters through the platform. In June 2019, Facebook responded to concerns about these practices by creating a “call to arms” policy that prohibits event pages that call for individuals to bring weapons to locations. Yet, in August 2019, when advocates reported to Facebook that a militia group was using an event page to plan an armed protest at the largest Muslim community convention in the country for the second year in a row, it took Facebook more than a full day to remove the content, a delay that Facebook acknowledged was too long and an “enforcement misstep.”
Other recent events have demonstrated how Facebook has not taken adequate steps to enforce this call to arms policy. In August 2020, a group called the Kenosha Guard posted an event page titled “Armed Citizens to Protect Our Lives and Property,” calling for armed individuals to gather in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following the shooting of Jacob Blake. Notwithstanding multiple reports by users that this page violated Facebook policies, Facebook did not take the page down. An armed 17-year-old traveled from out of state to join this gathering, fatally shot two protestors that night, and is charged with their murder. You stated that the failure to take down the event page and the Kenosha Guard’s group page was “largely an operational mistake” because contract content moderators without specialized training failed to detect that the pages violated a new militia policy Facebook had established in August 2020. Your statement was misleading as to the event page, however, because it did not mention that the event page also violated the call to arms policy that had been in place for over a year. Importantly, we understand that the contractors who review user-reported content are not instructed to enforce a core component of the call to arms policy. It is not apparent that Facebook ensures meaningful enforcement of this policy, and that is not acceptable. As the Change the Terms Coalition has explained, that “isn’t an operational mistake – that’s a design defect.”
We have similar concerns about Facebook’s efforts to ensure that the platform is not used to enable systematic violence and discrimination against Muslims around the world. A United Nations report concluded that the company played a “determining” role in violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and Facebook has similarly acknowledged that the platform was used to “foment division and incite offline violence” against the Rohingya. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. According to a New York Times report published a month after anti-Muslim violence erupted in Sri Lanka in March 2018, “Facebook’s newsfeed played a central role in nearly every step from rumor to killing,” despite numerous attempts by Sri Lankan activists and government officials to warn Facebook about potential outbreaks of violence. In an especially horrific episode of anti-Muslim activity on Facebook, in March 2019, a white nationalist gunman broadcasted his 17-minute slaughter of 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, for the entire world to see using Facebook Live. Reports indicate that the platform has also been used to support the internment of the Uyghurs in China and other human rights violations against this population, that Facebook and WhatsApp have been used to incite violence against Muslims in India, and that Facebook has been used to promote hate and violence in other areas around the world.
The civil rights audit and other reports have documented the shortcomings of Facebook that have led to these results over the years. The United Nations explained in 2018 that Facebook launched its Myanmar-specific services without content moderators who spoke the necessary languages, without adequate technology, and without sufficient transparency and coordination with local organizations. It also documented how speech in clear violation of Facebook’s policies remained on the platform notwithstanding multiple reports, and how even after the speech was taken down, re-posts continued to circulate months later. Furthermore, the civil rights audit found that Facebook is not sufficiently attuned to how its algorithms “fuel extreme and polarizing content,” and thereby may “driv[e] people toward self-reinforcing echo chambers of extremism,” as seen in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Advocacy groups similarly detailed the extent and persistence of anti-Muslim hate content on Facebook India in multiple reports last year, concerns that have been amplified by recent allegations that some high-ranking employees at Facebook India have enabled hate speech against Muslims and others by applying the platform’s content moderation policies in a selective manner.
We recognize that Facebook has announced efforts to address its role in the distribution of anti-Muslim content in some of these areas. These include, for instance, adding country-specific staff and content moderators proficient in certain local languages, investing in proactive detection technologies, strengthening local fact-checking partnerships, and limiting the ability to reshare certain kinds of messages.
Nevertheless, it is not clear that the company is meaningfully better positioned to prevent further human rights abuses and violence against Muslim minorities today. In part, this is because Facebook still does not collect the information needed to evaluate the effectiveness of its responses. For instance, Facebook reported that it took action on 22 million pieces of hate speech content in the second quarter of 2020, up from over 9 million in the first quarter. It is not apparent, however, whether this is a sign of an improving or worsening problem, because this data lacks crucial context: Facebook does not calculate or report on the overall prevalence of hate speech on the platform. It is thus unclear how significant this increase is as a proportion of total hate speech or whether takedowns are increasing only because hate content on the platform is increasing. Facebook recognizes that the statistic it reports “only tells part of the story,” and Facebook does estimate prevalence in other contexts. Its failure to do so as to hate speech is concerning.
In addition, the civil rights audit pointed out that for content that Facebook does remove, the company does not collect data about which protected groups were the target of the removed post. This prevents Facebook and the public from understanding the volume of hate against a particular group, whether attacks against certain groups are consistently not removed, and whether there are gaps in Facebook’s policies that result in perpetuating or increasing hate speech and attacks against particular groups. It is difficult to understand how Facebook can effectively combat hate speech without this information.
There is also basic information that Facebook has or could readily make available, but which it has inexplicably declined to make public. For instance, while pointing to its increases in country-specific staff and language-specific content moderators in certain areas, Facebook has declined repeated requests from advocates to provide detailed information about its country-specific staff or language-specific content moderators across the world. Such information is necessary to evaluate Facebook’s suggestion that its additions are adequate and to determine whether there are gaps in coverage in other regions that should be addressed proactively before the next violent event. Facebook similarly does not provide information about how the hate speech it has taken down is disaggregated by language or country of origin, information that would help identify volatile areas in need of further attention from content moderators or others at Facebook. That is so even though Facebook has conceded that “[t]hese breakdowns are feasible for these count-based metrics” and that it “recognize[s] the value in having different subpopulations of the various metrics.” The United Nations 2018 Myanmar report expressed “regret” that Facebook did not provide country-specific data about hate speech and deemed it “essential” that such information be disclosed.
Though these concerns have been raised for years, Facebook thus far has not taken the steps required to effectively address hate and violence targeting Muslims. In 2018, Facebook acknowledged that it “can and should do better” after its platform fueled violence in Myanmar and outlined steps it would take. In 2020, Facebook “apologize[d] for” the human rights impacts that resulted from misuse of its platform in Sri Lanka and outlined more steps. Despite these experiences, recent reporting suggests that today, Facebook is contributing to the spread of hate speech and violence against ethnic and religious groups in Ethiopia, where Facebook “dominates” the internet. Meanwhile, it announced a call to arms policy to assuage concerns but has failed to adequately enforce it. As members of Congress who are deeply disturbed by the proliferation of this hate speech on your platform, we urge you to do more. We believe Facebook must frankly and openly detail the scope of the problem and take concerted and sustained actions to address this problem fully. We respectfully request that you respond to the questions below by December 16, 2020. As to each question, insofar as Facebook will commit to taking action, please provide details of its plan and expected timing.
1. Will Facebook commit to developing and implementing a plan to ensure robust enforcement of its call to arms policy, including through proactive review of event pages, content moderator review of user reports, and prioritization of highly reported events? If not, why not?
2. Will Facebook commit to collecting and publishing data about the overall amount and prevalence of hate content on the platform and whether hate content is increasing on its platform? If so, please specify whether Facebook will break down this data by country and language. If not, why not?
3. Will Facebook commit to collecting and publishing data about which groups were the subject of the hate speech it removes and enforcement rates across groups? If so, please specify the groups for which Facebook will provide this information. If not, why not?
4. Will Facebook commit to collecting and publishing country-specific or language-specific data on hate speech that is on or removed from the platform? If not, why not?
5. Will Facebook publish detailed information about the number of country-specific staff and language-specific content moderators it employs? If not, why not?
6. Will Facebook commit to studying regularly its civil rights and human rights impacts and making future human rights impact assessments or rights audits public in their entirety? If not, why not?
7. Will Facebook commit to establishing and publishing criteria that must be met for Facebook to expand or maintain usage of its services in markets at risk of hate content fueling religious and/or ethnic violence to ensure Facebook does not enable human rights violations? If so, please specify the outside input that Facebook will solicit in developing these criteria. If not, why not?
8. Will Facebook conduct an analysis of how it can better design its systems and algorithms to not just identify and take down hate speech, but limit the reach of this content and its ability to cause offline violence? If not, why not?
9. Will Facebook commit to creating a working group led by a senior employee with expertise in anti-Muslim bigotry specifically tasked with monitoring, reviewing, and coordinating efforts to proactively remove anti-Muslim content on the platform? If not, why not?
Thank you for your consideration of our views. We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released a statement regarding the Senate Commerce Committee’s hearing on Section 230 with tech CEOs today:
“It saddens me that some of my colleagues have joined in the Trump Administration’s cynical and concerted effort to bully platforms into allowing dark money groups, right-wing militias and even the President himself to continue to exploit social media platforms to sow disinformation, engage in targeted harassment, and suppress voter participation. We can and should have a conversation about Section 230 – and the ways in which it has enabled platforms to turn a blind eye as their platforms are used to facilitate discrimination and civil rights violations, enable domestic terrorist groups to organize violence in plain sight, assist in stalking and networked harassment campaigns, and enable online frauds targeted at vulnerable users. But that conversation should be thoughtful and not serve as a cudgel to cow the platforms into continued inaction regarding efforts to manipulate their services 6 days ahead of the election.”
Sen. Warner has written and introduced a series of bipartisan bills designed to protect consumers and reduce the power of giant social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google. Among these are the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight And Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act – bipartisan legislation to require data harvesting companies to tell consumers and financial regulators exactly what data they are collecting from consumers and how it is being leveraged by the platform for profit; the Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act – bipartisan legislation to prohibit large online platforms from using deceptive user interfaces to trick consumers into handing over their personal data; and the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act – bipartisan legislation to encourage market-based competition to dominant social media platforms by requiring the largest companies to make user data portable – and their services interoperable – with other platforms, and to allow users to designate a trusted third-party service to manage their privacy and account settings, if they so choose.
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $3,910,184 in Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) funding for communities in Southwest and Southside Virginia. The funding, awarded through ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative, will go towards addressing substance-use disorders, improving broadband connectivity, strengthening rural economies and improving local infrastructure.
“We are thrilled that these federal dollars will go help fund some of the top priorities for communities in Southwest and Southside Virginia,” said the Senators. “As the COVID-19 crisis continues, it’s essential that we keep bolstering rural economies, ensuring internet reliability, and supporting some of the most vulnerable Virginians.”
“POWER grants are playing a critical role in supporting coal-impacted communities in the Appalachian Region as they recover from COVID-19 by building and expanding critical infrastructure and creating new economic opportunities through innovative and transformative approaches,” said ARC Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas. “Projects like this are getting Appalachia back to work.”
The funding will be awarded as below:
- $1,494,000 for the New River/Mount Rogers Workforce Development Area Consortium Board in Radford, Va. to tackle the substance-use disorder problem by coordinating the healthcare sector and the economic development and workforce sector to build a recovery ecosystem.
- $793,500 for St. Mary’s Health Wagon in Wise County, Va. to establish a substance-use disorder treatment program using medication-assisted treatment.
- $50,000 for LENOWISCO to develop a strategic plan to establish a fiber network in a 13-county region throughout Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
- $39,744 for the Center for Rural Development to create a Rural Leaders Institute for Southwest Virginia.
- $32,940 for the New River Valley Regional Commission to develop a plan to boost tourism and job growth by cultivating the natural assets around the New River.
- $1,500,000 for Henry County, Va. to make utility improvements to provide a natural gas pipeline to the Commonwealth Crossing Business Center.
ARC is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian region. Its mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia and help the region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation. ARC’s POWER Initiative targets federal resources to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing economics of America’s energy production.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), former technology entrepreneur and Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today expressed grave concerns regarding the cybersecurity measures in place at one of the nation’s largest medical facility operators, which recently fell victim to an apparent ransomware attack. In a letter to United Health Services (UHS), Sen. Warner posed a series of questions for Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan B. Miller regarding the ransomware attack and stressed the need for UHS and other clinical providers to ensure that all information, medical, and critical systems are sufficiently protected.
“As UHS has expanded over four decades to encompass 250 medical facilities across the U.S., including twelve facilities in Virginia, effective clinical environment cybersecurity cannot be a casualty to value-based care cost savings and economies of scale. Indeed, hospital systems have frequently suggested to competition authorities that greater consolidation will allow for greater operational efficiencies; yet this does not appear to be the case when it pertains to something as vital as information security,” wrote Sen. Warner. “An increasing number of medical facilities sharing connected information systems and computer networks requires adequate protection for a significantly larger attack surface. Any failure to protect this considerable attack surface with appropriately segmented networks and data provides opportunities for lateral movement across disparate systems. An unmitigated breach in one facility can cripple systems at hundreds of medical facilities, risking patient care throughout a large provider network while healthcare delivery remains strained by a pandemic.”
“With the full resources of a Fortune 500 company receiving over $11 billion in annual revenue, UHS’s patients expect and deserve that their provider’s cybersecurity posture to be sufficiently mature and robust to prevent major interruptions to health care operations,” he continued. “While UHS’s latest annual report acknowledges that a cyber-attack that causes a security breach or loss of HIPAA protected health information could have a material impact on business, there is more than just business at stake when clinical operations are disrupted.”
In the letter, Sen. Warner noted that authorities in both countries where UHS operates – including the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – have continued to raise alarm regarding the danger posed by advanced persistent threat groups who exploit the COVID-19 pandemic, waging attacks against healthcare providers that include
Sen. Warner also posed the following series of questions in order to gain a better understanding of the situation facing UHS:
- Please describe the UHS vulnerability management process, including your current practices relating to patch management across your health infrastructure.
- How are various UHS facilities’ networks and IT systems isolated from each other to prevent a cybersecurity breach at one facility from affecting multiple facilities?
- Does UHS have effective segmentation measures in place within its healthcare facilities to prevent any type of malware from spreading?
- What policies does UHS maintain relating to third-party risk management?
- What are your cybersecurity and risk assessment requirements?
- How are clinical medical devices isolated from administrative systems and networks to ensure a breach of the administrative network does not interrupt medical devices?
- Who is the senior-most executive responsible for day-to-day oversight of information security and who does that executive report to?
- Has UHS paid any ransom or does UHS plan to any ransom?
- Have any patient medical records, HIPAA protected data, or healthcare information been affected or suffered a denial of access?
- Have any patient medical records, HIPAA protected data, or healthcare information been exfiltrated from UHS owned or operated systems without authorization?
Sen. Warner, a former technology executive, is the co-founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Cybersecurity Caucus. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, he has fought for increased cybersecurity measures as Americans have increasingly relied on internet connectivity for remote work, health, and education purposes. Among other measures, Sen. Warner has recently advocated for increased funding to modernize federal information technology, urged internet networking device vendors to ensure the security of their products, and pressed cybersecurity officials to bolster defenses against cybersecurity attacks. He has also introduced legislation to set strong and enforceable privacy and data security rights for health information as tech companies and public health agencies deploy contact tracing apps and digital monitoring tools to fight the spread of COVID-19.
The letter is available here and text can be found below.
Mr. Alan B. Miller
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Universal Health Services, Inc.
367 S. Gulph Road
King of Prussia, PA 19406
Dear Mr. Miller:
I write you with grave concerns about United Health Services’ digital medical records and clinical healthcare operations succumbing to an apparent ransomware attack. As one of the nation’s largest medical facility operators with 3.5 million patient visits a year, it is imperative that medical care is provided to all patients without any interruption or disturbance created by inadequate cybersecurity. While initial reports suggest that the attackers did not access patient or employee data, an incident such as this sharply highlights the need to ensure adequate cybersecurity hygiene in a healthcare setting. The national health crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbates the consequences of insufficient cybersecurity.
The need for health care providers to address cybersecurity threats has been obvious for several years now. Clinical providers including UHS must ensure all information, medical, and critical systems are sufficiently protected. Ransomware continues to impact organizations that have not demonstrated sufficient risk management maturity. The threat of ransomware to hospital systems – and the impact it has on clinical healthcare operations, patient care, and life safety – has been clear since 2016, when a series of major incidents occurred.
Although the threats are not new, authorities have continued to sound the alarm about the cyber threats to healthcare – including the heightened impact during our current public health emergency. For example, in both countries where UHS operates, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued a joint alert on May 5, 2020. This alert announced that advanced persistent threat (APT) groups are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic as part of cyber operations against healthcare and essential services. Attacks observed against healthcare providers include password “spraying” attacks that automate attempts to use commonly used passwords, scanning for vulnerabilities in unpatched software, such as virtual private networks, and targeting supply chains.
As UHS has expanded over four decades to encompass 250 medical facilities across the U.S., including twelve facilities in Virginia, effective clinical environment cybersecurity cannot be a casualty to value-based care cost savings and economies of scale. Indeed, hospital systems have frequently suggested to competition authorities that greater consolidation will allow for greater operational efficiencies; yet this does not appear to be the case when it pertains to something as vital as information security. An increasing number of medical facilities sharing connected information systems and computer networks requires adequate protection for a significantly larger attack surface. Any failure to protect this considerable attack surface with appropriately segmented networks and data provides opportunities for lateral movement across disparate systems. An unmitigated breach in one facility can cripple systems at hundreds of medical facilities, risking patient care throughout a large provider network while healthcare delivery remains strained by a pandemic.
With the full resources of a Fortune 500 company receiving over $11 billion in annual revenue, UHS’s patients expect and deserve that their provider’s cybersecurity posture to be sufficiently mature and robust to prevent major interruptions to health care operations. While UHS’s latest annual report acknowledges that a cyber-attack that causes a security breach or loss of HIPAA protected health information could have a material impact on business, there is more than just business at stake when clinical operations are disrupted.
To gain a better understanding of this situation, I would appreciate answers to the following questions:
1. Please describe the UHS vulnerability management process, including your current practices relating to patch management across your health infrastructure.
2. How are various UHS facilities’ networks and IT systems isolated from each other to prevent a cybersecurity breach at one facility from affecting multiple facilities?
3. Does UHS have effective segmentation measures in place within its healthcare facilities to prevent any type of malware from spreading?
4. What policies does UHS maintain relating to third-party risk management?
5. What are your cybersecurity and risk assessment requirements?
6. How are clinical medical devices isolated from administrative systems and networks to ensure a breach of the administrative network does not interrupt medical devices?
7. Who is the senior-most executive responsible for day-to-day oversight of information security and who does that executive report to?
8. Has UHS paid any ransom or does UHS plan to any ransom?
9. Have any patient medical records, HIPAA protected data, or healthcare information been affected or suffered a denial of access?
10. Have any patient medical records, HIPAA protected data, or healthcare information been exfiltrated from UHS owned or operated systems without authorization?
Patients deserve to know that healthcare systems are secure, particularly as the nation faces a pandemic straining resources nationwide. When a cybersecurity failure occurs, patients need reassurance that their healthcare provider is committed to learning from and responding to this truly concerning incident, and that it is taking all appropriate steps to help ensure it cannot happen again.
Your response will be critical to this process, and I look forward to receiving that within the next two weeks. If you should have any questions or concerns, please contact my office.
Thank you for your attention to this important issue. I look forward to your response in the next two weeks.
Oct 06 2020
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released a statement today after Facebook announced it will ban QAnon accounts, pages and groups from its platforms:
“I’m pleased to see Facebook take action against this harmful and increasingly dangerous conspiracy theory and movement. Just this morning I encouraged the company to take the threat of QAnon more seriously, given increasing evidence that its growth has in large part been propelled by Facebook. Ultimately the real test will be whether Facebook actually takes measures to enforce these new policies – we’ve seen in a myriad of other contexts, including with respect to right-wing militias like the Boogaloos, that Facebook has repeatedly failed to consistently enforce its existing policies.”
Over the summer, under pressure from Sen. Warner and his colleagues, Facebook announced it would ban the violent, right-wing extremist ‘Boogaloo’ network from its platform.
And today, Sen. Warner urged Facebook, along with Twitter and Google, to implement robust accountability and transparency standards ahead of the November election, including requirements outlined in the Honest Ads Act – bipartisan legislation championed by Sen. Warner to help prevent foreign interference in elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements.
Oct 06 2020
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), former telecommunications entrepreneur and Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today urged Facebook, Twitter, and Google to implement robust accountability and transparency standards ahead of the November election, including requirements outlined in the Honest Ads Act – bipartisan legislation championed by Sen. Warner to help prevent foreign interference in elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements.
In individual letters to Facebook, Google, and Twitter, Sen. Warner detailed the various ways in which each company continues to contribute to the spread of disinformation, viral misinformation, and voter suppression efforts. He also warned about the imminent risk of bad actors once again weaponizing American-bred social media tools to undermine democracy ahead of the November election, and urged each company to take proactive measures to safeguard against these efforts.
In his letter to Facebook, Sen. Warner criticized the platform’s efforts to label manipulated or synthetic content, describing these as “wholly inadequate.” He also raised alarm with instances of Facebook’s amplification of harmful content.
“The pervasiveness of political misinformation on Facebook – and the ways in which your company chooses to amplify it – was on display just this week, when a baseless conspiracy about Vice President Biden was highlighted on Facebook’s own News Tab, a result of Facebook choosing to amplify The Daily Caller as a verified news publisher and fact-checker despite its long track record of promoting false information,” wrote Sen. Warner in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “More broadly, Facebook has repeatedly failed to ensure that its existing policies on political advertising are being enforced– an issue that my colleagues and I recently raised in a separate context relating to Facebook’s failure to enforce its policies against violent far-right organizations. Facebook has long been accused of facilitating divisive advertisements from dark money groups. A recent report by Avaaz revealed that despite Facebook’s claims to prohibit false and misleading information in ads by outside political groups, it allowed hundreds of such ads in key swing states earlier this month to be run by super PACs. And despite your personal pledge to stamp out voter suppression efforts on Facebook, a recent report by ProPublica revealed that voting misinformation continues to flourish on Facebook.”
Similarly, in a letter to Google, Sen. Warner raised concern with the company’s efforts to combat harmful misinformation – particularly disinformation about voting, spread by right-leaning YouTube channels. He also criticized the comprehensiveness of Google’s ad archive, which presently excludes issue ads.
“Concerns with the comprehensiveness of Google’s archive extend beyond simply Google’s under-inclusive policies. Prominent researchers have identified multiple glaring examples where qualifying political advertisers have been omitted from the ad archive… Moreover, a marketer recently demonstrated how easy it is to circumvent Google’s verification systems for political ads – running a series of search ads, targeted to run alongside election-related search queries, that attacked Presidential candidates without being included in Google’s ads database or being accompanied by a disclaimer,” wrote Sen. Warner in a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai. “Further, researchers found a particularly egregious example of election disinformation – spread via Google search ads – that ostensibly targeted to users looking for information about voter fraud. The ad would not appear in Google’s ad archive, given its exclusion of issue ads; moreover, the ad clearly violated ad policies relating to “claims that are demonstrably false and could significantly undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process.” The same researchers have found similar ads promoting false information about the election – ostensibly indicating a systemic failure by Google in enforcing its advertising policies.”
In his letter to Twitter, which has banned paid political content and placed restrictions on cause-based advertising, Sen. Warner noted that doctored political content continues to spread organically without adequate labeling that slows its spread or contextualizes it for users.
“I ask that Twitter examine and strengthen its synthetic and manipulated media policy as it applies to political misinformation – particularly in the context of organic content,” wrote Sen. Warner in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. “I appreciate the leadership Twitter has demonstrated to take steps against the promotion of false, deceptive, and manipulated political content; however, more must be done to secure our political discourse from disinformation on digital platforms like yours. Under your company’s existing policy, manipulated media has still reached millions of users with only limited response from your platform.
In all three letters, Sen. Warner urged the companies to reinforce their efforts against abuse of paid and organic content policies, and to more aggressively identify, label, and remove manipulated or synthetic media to prevent efforts to amplify disinformation by Russia and other bad actors, both foreign and domestic. Sen. Warner also posed a series of different questions for each company on a number of issues, including the availability of political ad targeting information, the enforcement of companies' own policies, the adoption of a bounty to remunerate researchers who identify policy violations, and the measures being taken to slow the coordinated dissemination of deceptive, synthetic, or manipulated media.
The Honest Ads Act, as introduced by Sens. Warner, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), would safeguard the integrity of American democracy by requiring large online platforms to maintain public records of advertisers who purchase political ads. It would:
- Amend the definition of ‘electioneering communication’ in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, to include paid internet and digital advertisements.
- Require digital platforms with at least 50,000,000 monthly visitors to maintain a public file of all electioneering communications purchased by a person or group who spends more than $500.00 total on ads published on their platform. This file would contain a digital copy of the advertisement, a description of the audience the advertisement targets, the number of views generated, the dates and times of publication, the rates charged, and the contact information of the purchaser.
- Require online platforms to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate.
Sen. Warner has written and introduced a series of bipartisan bills designed to protect consumers and reduce the power of giant social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google. Among these are the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight And Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act – bipartisan legislation to require data harvesting companies to tell consumers and financial regulators exactly what data they are collecting from consumers and how it is being leveraged by the platform for profit; the Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act – bipartisan legislation to prohibit large online platforms from using deceptive user interfaces to trick consumers into handing over their personal data; and the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act – bipartisan legislation to encourage market-based competition to dominant social media platforms by requiring the largest companies to make user data portable – and their services interoperable – with other platforms, and to allow users to designate a trusted third-party service to manage their privacy and account settings, if they so choose.