Press Releases

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.”

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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. 

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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

Mark Zuckerberg

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Facebook, Inc.

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.

Sincerely,

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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 password “spraying” campaigns, scanning for vulnerabilities in unpatched software, and targeting supply chains. 

Sen. Warner also posed the following series of questions in order to gain a better understanding of the situation facing UHS:

  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? 

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.[1] 

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[2]. 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.

Sincerely,

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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.

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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 FacebookGoogle, 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.

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WASHINGTON – Today, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) led a bipartisan group of Senators in urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to encourage the adoption of OpenRAN and other open and interoperable standards solutions by affected carriers as it works to implement the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Actlegislation championed by Sen. Warner and passed earlier this year. 

In a letter, the Senators urged FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to include OpenRAN and OpenRAN solutions on the list of suggested replacements for physical and virtual communications equipment, application and management software, and services. This inclusion would allow affected carriers to adopt these alternative solutions as they dispose of risky communications equipment, as outlined in the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act. In addition to Sens. Warner and Rubio, this letter was signed by Sens. Margaret Wood Hassan (D-NH), John Cornyn (R-TX), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Burr (R-NC), Michael F. Bennet (D-CO), Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Angus S. King (I-ME).

“The inclusion of OpenRAN solutions on the list of suggested replacements could produce benefits beyond the immediate goal of securing American communications networks. Such equipment is interoperable, uses open interfaces, is not reliant on a single equipment vendor, and is easily upgradeable to new applications and uses, including 5G OpenRAN, without the need to continually replace proprietary equipment or conduct additional tower climbs,” the Senators wrote. “Moreover, this equipment will help spur innovation and create more competition and diversity in the supply chain. It is prudent that we take full advantage of this moment to prevent similar concerns from arising in the future.”

The Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act was modeled on legislation Sen. Warner first cosponsored to protect American communications networks from threats presented by foreign suppliers like Huawei and ZTE. Specifically, it offers relief to reimburse smaller telecommunications providers – largely in rural areas – by reimbursing them for the costs of removing and replacing untrusted foreign equipment which presents risks to U.S. national security.

In their letter, the Senators also requested that the FCC aid in securing communications networks as expeditiously as possible by clarifying that carriers can begin replacing equipment right away, rather than needing to wait for the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act be fully implemented and funded. 

A copy of the letter can be downloaded here and text is available below. 

 

Dear Chairman Pai:

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues to implement the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act (the “Act”), we write to urge you to include OpenRAN and other solutions that adhere to open and interoperable standards (“OpenRAN solutions”) on “the list of suggested replacements of both physical and virtual communications equipment, application and management software, and services” that the Act requires the FCC to develop. As you know, the Act directs that the list shall be technology neutral. An explicit assurance to impacted carriers that they may select OpenRAN solutions to replace covered equipment would support other potential benefits, including easing subsequent updates to “future proof” networks. This guarantee may also stretch federal dollars further, as OpenRAN offers the possibility of cost savings. 

Further, to aid in securing communications networks as expeditiously as possible, the FCC should make clear that equipment and services on the list of suggested replacements, including OpenRAN solutions, will be eligible for reimbursement as prescribed in the Act. The FCC should also clarify to carriers that they need not wait for the Act to be fully implemented and funded to begin the replacement process to be eligible for reimbursement if using suggested replacement equipment and services.  

The inclusion of OpenRAN solutions on the list of suggested replacements could produce benefits beyond the immediate goal of securing American communications networks. Such equipment is interoperable, uses open interfaces, is not reliant on a single equipment vendor, and is easily upgradeable to new applications and uses, including 5G OpenRAN, without the need to continually replace proprietary equipment or conduct additional tower climbs. Moreover, this equipment will help spur innovation and create more competition and diversity in the supply chain. It is prudent that we take full advantage of this moment to prevent similar concerns from arising in the future.

Accordingly, we request the FCC to explicitly allow reimbursement of affected carriers for purchases of OpenRAN solutions to replace covered equipment in their networks. We applaud the FCC’s recent Forum on 5G Open Radio Access Networks and laud your work to highlight the importance of OpenRAN solutions. Thank you for your attention to this important matter, and we look forward to our continued work.

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), former technology entrepreneur and Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today raised alarm regarding the need to protect education infrastructure from cyber-attacks following a ransomware incident at Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest school system in Virginia.

In a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Sen. Warner urged the U.S. Department of Education to develop guidance and disseminate best practices for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education and to work with school districts to develop a comprehensive, risk-based funding request from Congress. 

“A ransomware attack on a school system in normal times can be disruptive and costly; in the context of a global public health emergency, with unprecedented reliance on remote learning, it is debilitating,” wrote Sen. Warner. “Sophisticated cyber-attacks and more opportunistic forms of malware, like ransomware, are widespread today and require sustained vigilance. Defending against these persistent attacks requires a consistent and holistic approach. The public sector is particularly at risk given constrained state and local budgets.” 

“I recommend providing schools with guidance that includes awareness campaigns, risk management, threat mitigation, cybersecurity posture reviews, and resiliency. Awareness campaigns for both educators and students can focus on the importance of recognizing threats, such as phishing attacks, ransomware, malware, and social engineering methods. Regular evaluations can determine the effectiveness of awareness campaigns to address any gaps. Threat mitigation includes developing sufficient safeguards to ensure data security and access control,” he continued. “Detection capabilities are also needed to continuously monitor for anomalies and cybersecurity events. Schools should review these capabilities, plus their readiness to respond and recover from attacks. For example, tabletop exercises can validate processes and test procedures used before, during, and after an attack. Cyber resiliency ensures systems have an ability to continue operating in case of attack, while full restoration takes place. Many of these objectives will require new funding from Congress, particularly in the wake of the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on school system budgets.”

Fairfax County Public Schools, which serves nearly 200,000 students and employs over 24,000 employees, was recently the target of a ransomware attack that involved the theft of protected information.

In his letter, Sen. Warner pressed Sec. DeVos to work to adapt available cybersecurity guidance from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to school systems. Stressing the need for robust cybersecurity education, Sen. Warner also pushed Sec. DeVos to disseminate best practices to states and localities seeking to teach cybersecurity in the K-12 setting.

Additionally, Sen. Warner urged the Department of Education to work with educators, industry, and CISA to encourage a consortium or Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) for K-12 schools to exchange cybersecurity threat information and best practices for defense that are tailored to account for capabilities and constraints of K-12 schools. 

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 take 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.

 

Dear Secretary DeVos: 

I write to you about the need for effective cybersecurity in the context of our nation’s K-12 education system. As COVID-19 has placed a strong emphasis on remote learning throughout the United States, this new normal also highlights the heightened need to protect education infrastructure from cyber-attacks, provide measurable standards, and ensure educators are equipped to manage cybersecurity risk. 

Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, a local school division with nearly 200,000 students and over 24,000 employees, was recently the target of a cyber and ransom attack that included theft of protected information. While an investigation proceeds, the incident in Fairfax County demonstrates the need for schools to be prepared with cybersecurity defenses and resilience. A ransomware attack on a school system in normal times can be disruptive and costly; in the context of a global public health emergency, with unprecedented reliance on remote learning, it is debilitating.

Sophisticated cyber-attacks and more opportunistic forms of malware, like ransomware, are widespread today and require sustained vigilance. Defending against these persistent attacks requires a consistent and holistic approach. The public sector is particularly at risk given constrained state and local budgets. It is too late to wait for a cyber-attack before taking action to ensure school systems and personal data is secure and available. 

I urge the U.S. Department of Education to develop baseline cybersecurity standards for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education and to work with school districts to develop a risk-based and comprehensive appropriations request for FY2022. Many school districts do not currently have sufficient guidance to implement an effective cybersecurity program. Fortunately, there is cybersecurity guidance available that could be tailored for education. Existing cybersecurity frameworks, such as National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) guidance, can be adapted and applied for our school systems. We have seen a range of sectors develop customized Framework Profiles that tailor the NIST Cybersecurity Framework to the particular risks, resources, and circumstances of a particular sector.

I recommend providing schools with guidance that includes awareness campaigns, risk management, threat mitigation, cybersecurity posture reviews, and resiliency. Awareness campaigns for both educators and students can focus on the importance of recognizing threats, such as phishing attacks, ransomware, malware, and social engineering methods. Regular evaluations can determine the effectiveness of awareness campaigns to address any gaps. Threat mitigation includes developing sufficient safeguards to ensure data security and access control. Detection capabilities are also needed to continuously monitor for anomalies and cybersecurity events. Schools should review these capabilities, plus their readiness to respond and recover from attacks. For example, tabletop exercises can validate processes and test procedures used before, during, and after an attack. Cyber resiliency ensures systems have an ability to continue operating in case of attack, while full restoration takes place. Many of these objectives will require new funding from Congress, particularly in the wake of the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on school system budgets.

In addition to protecting school infrastructure, I urge you to develop guidance and disseminate best practices to states and localities seeking to teach cybersecurity in the K-12 setting. For example, the Cyberspace Solarium Commission recommends that the U.S. Government promote professional development programs to model safe, secure, and privacy-aware internet practices in classrooms. The Commission also recommends incorporating effective digital literacy curricula in American classrooms at the K-12 level and beyond, including critical thinking and problem solving skills.  

Finally, I urge the Department of Education to work with educators, industry, and CISA to encourage a consortium or Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) for K-12 schools to exchange cybersecurity threat information and best practices for defense. Such an organization could be a counterpart to the existing Research and Education Networks ISAC that focuses on higher education. Because K-12 schools have very different missions and resources than higher education institutions, I would encourage particular attention to ensuring such efforts meet K-12 educators where they are – with information sharing, best practices, and action items tailored to account for capabilities and constraints of K-12 schools.

Our nation faces increasing cybersecurity threats on our infrastructure. As the recent Fairfax County Public Schools incident demonstrates, our schools need vigilant defenses from these threats, similar to private industries and government. Adversaries have shown a willingness to attack our education facilities, and schools must be proactive, attentive, and proficient at cybersecurity. While the nation confronts the COVID-19 public health emergency, an increased reliance on remote learning makes the need for effective threat defense paramount.  

Schools have a unique strategic role in our nation’s cybersecurity posture through educating students and tomorrow’s leaders of essential cybersecurity practices. I urge you to take necessary steps to ensure schools have adequate guidance to defend attacks and provide a cybersecurity education. Thank you for your consideration of these issues and your timely response.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), former technology entrepreneur and Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, applauded the house passage of the Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act – legislation to require minimum security requirements for Internet of Things (IoT) devices purchased by the U.S. government. Sen. Warner authored and introduced this legislation in the Senate back in August 2017. He reintroduced the bill in the 116th Congress with a House companion led by U.S. Reps. Robin Kelly and Will Hurd. That legislation passed through the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in June 2019 and now awaits consideration in the Senate. 

“The House passage of this legislation is a major accomplishment in combatting the threats that insecure IoT devices pose to our individual and national security. Frankly, manufacturers today just don’t have the appropriate market incentives to properly secure the devices they make and sell – that’s why this legislation is so important,” said U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner. “I commend Congresswoman Kelly and Congressman Hurd for their efforts to push this legislation forward over the past two years. I look forward to continuing to work to get this bipartisan, bicameral bill across the finish line in the Senate.”

Specifically, the Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act introduced by Sen. Warner 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, and charge OMB with reviewing these policies at least every five years.
  • Require any Internet-connected 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 guidance on coordinated vulnerability disclosure to ensure that vulnerabilities related to agency devices are addressed.
  • 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.


Sen. Warner, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and former technology executive, is the co-founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Cybersecurity Caucus and a leader in Congress on security issues related to the Internet of Things.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in calling on the seven largest internet service providers (ISPs) to do their part to limit the economic and social disruption caused by COVID-19 and help ensure that children are able to meaningfully participate in their education. These letters come as unprecedented numbers of students rely on remote learning to kick off the fall semester due to the ongoing public health crisis. 

In a letter sent to the CEOs of AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications, T-Mobile, and Verizon, the Senators called on companies to take concrete measures to suspend limits and fees associated with increased broadband use, which is needed to participate in online courses or remote work. They also called for the companies to expand coverage areas, as the public health emergency has highlighted the devastating impact of the nation’s lingering broadband gaps.

“As a new school year commences, the need to accommodate an unprecedented reliance on data services to provide education continues. We have heard from public schools who express appreciation for internet service options that enable remote learning, but are also concerned with ongoing data limitations and continued lack of service for many households,” the Senators wrote. “In many situations, online learning activities require additional data allowances beyond plans readily available for students. We kindly request that you again take immediate action to help students connect to the online resources they need to learn, including expanding coverage areas and rolling out new service plans that better meet the needs of these families.” 

“With many schools closed and students now relying on the internet to connect with their teachers, instruction materials, and assignments, sufficient data allowances are even more essential for students’ success now and throughout their future. However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced many parents to work from home, increasing their monthly broadband usage,” they continued. “For these crucial reasons, we ask again that you temporarily suspend data caps and associated fees or throttling for affected communities, and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost broadband options for students whose schools are closed due to COVID-19 and don’t have sufficient access at home. These options are essential for students, regardless of household billing histories. Working with school administrations to facilitate qualification for discounts based on the schools’ personal knowledge may be especially helpful. For example, students qualifying for free/discounted lunches may also prequalify for free/discounted broadband services as well.”

According to findings from a Pew Research study, the “homework gap” of students lacking reliable access to internet connectivity or a computer at home is more pronounced among Black, Hispanic and lower-income households. In addition to the toll it takes on individual students and their families, the economic cost of this gap has been identified by McKinsey and Company as having deprived the economy of at least $426 billion between 2009 and 2019.

In their letter, the Senators noted numerous complaints that have come in to their offices from parents and educators who are grappling with usage caps and limited bandwidth, which prevent daily video calls needed to learn and work from home. The Senators also stated they’ve heard of families being deemed ineligible for the new services offered for low-income families due to previous missed payments. 

Sen. Warner has long fought for increased access to broadband in the Commonwealth during his tenure as Governor and during his time in the Senate. In March, Sen. Warner led 17 of his colleagues in urging major internet service providers to take steps to accommodate the incoming unprecedented reliance on telepresence services. After this effort, a number of major internet service providers announced the adoption of practices to better accommodate the use of remote technologies. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner also introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students during COVID-19. He has also pushed the FCC to ensure that millions of Americans are made aware of their eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program – the primary federal program charged with helping low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services. 

A copy of the letter is available here and text can be found below.

 

As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic requires returning students across the United States to rely on remote learning and online courses, we write to ask for your assistance to help ensure students can take full advantage of essential education opportunities this fall. In March, we were thankful that your company answered our request to make a range of accommodations and service changes to help Americans shifting to unprecedented levels of online education and telework, including suspending some broadband data limits on a temporary basis. Your decisive and timely actions helped cushion the impacts to families across the nation during the spring months. 

As a new school year commences, the need to accommodate an unprecedented reliance on data services to provide education continues. We have heard from public schools who express appreciation for internet service options that enable remote learning, but are also concerned with ongoing data limitations and continued lack of service for many households. In many situations, online learning activities require additional data allowances beyond plans readily available for students. We kindly request that you again take immediate action to help students connect to the online resources they need to learn, including expanding coverage areas and rolling out new service plans that better meet the needs of these families. Unprecedented numbers of students now rely on remote access for education due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and remote education is only as effective as available internet service. 

Effective remote learning requires capable devices and adequate broadband internet access. The Pew Research Center found in March the “homework gap” of students lacking reliable access to a computer at home is a significant challenge for many students, and even more pronounced for Black, Hispanic and lower income households. With many schools closed and students now relying on the internet to connect with their teachers, instruction materials, and assignments, sufficient data allowances are even more essential for students’ success now and throughout their future. However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced many parents to work from home, increasing their monthly broadband usage.

Our offices have fielded numerous complaints from parents and educators frustrated by usage caps and limited bandwidth, which prevent daily video calls needed to learn and work from home. And those who have no other option find themselves buried in overage fees. In some cases, we’ve learned that eligibility for new services announced for low-income households is barred if that household has missed monthly payments in the past. These predicaments shine a light on our growing digital divide and threaten the education and subsequent futures of our students. In June, McKinsey and Co. reported that this education achievement gap limited the growth of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by at least $426 billion between 2009 and 2019. The necessary closing of schools during the public health crisis and transition to remote education has exacerbated these gaps.

For these crucial reasons, we ask again that you temporarily suspend data caps and associated fees or throttling for affected communities, and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost broadband options for students whose schools are closed due to COVID-19 and don’t have sufficient access at home. These options are essential for students, regardless of household billing histories. Working with school administrations to facilitate qualification for discounts based on the schools’ personal knowledge may be especially helpful. For example, students qualifying for free/discounted lunches may also prequalify for free/discounted broadband services as well. 

We look forward to promptly hearing from you about what steps you will take to help limit the economic and social disruption that COVID-19 is posing at this challenging time. We recognize that many broadband providers have experienced significant business growth since the onset of this crisis. We ask that you identify ways to give back to the communities you serve through deployment of expanded service and additional service plans and policies that respond to the concerns we’ve heard from constituents about access, affordability, and data rates.

Containing the health impact of COVID-19 will depend on observance of social distancing measures outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health authorities. But containing the economic and social impact of COVID-19 requires a whole-of-society effort. At this time of great strain on our economic and education systems, we encourage you to do everything you can to cushion the impacts on American families and students. Our offices would be happy to connect you with local education officials and administrators to facilitate this effort.

We appreciate your time and consideration of this matter.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON, DC – As communities across the country grapple with how to reopen as safely as possible, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner joined Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.) and a bipartisan group of senators in calling on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to improve, automate and modernize COVID-19 data collection and management. In a letter sent to Secretary Azar and Dr. Redfield, the lawmakers specifically called on the agencies to harness technologically advanced systems and build on existing data sources in order to provide public health officials and community leaders with more accurate, real-time information as they make critical decisions about reopening.

Unfortunately, recent reports have shown that case reporting and contact tracing across the country are being hampered by a fragmented health system and antiquated technology, including manual entry of patients’ data and results and sharing of such results through paper and pencil or fax. In Texas, some patients were having to wait l0 days to find out if they had been infected with coronavirus because their results were being faxed to public health officials and then entered into a database by hand. 

In their letter, the lawmakers wrote, “During an emergency such as the current pandemic, scaling up and using existing systems to the greatest extent possible can improve data collection and contact tracing efforts. We therefore ask that you and your colleagues utilize and build on existing data sources, such as electronic health record (EHR) and laboratory information management systems (LIMS), claims databases, and other automated systems to provide government leaders, public health officials, community leaders, and others with actionable, easy-to-interpret data from a wide-ranging set of sources. Data generated by contact tracing, syndromic surveillance, and large-scale testing can help inform decisions on how to safely reopen communities and bring economies back online. Modernizing and automating data collection should augment detection, testing, and contact tracing plans, while also helping to prevent and improve the management of new outbreaks.”

The bipartisan group highlighted the fact that some of these tools are already being successfully utilized in communities across the country. They noted, “Fortunately, software-based systems providing data management for state public health entities and major testing laboratories already exist, and they are more efficient and accurate while reducing the burden of excess paperwork. For example, North Carolina and Florida have taken steps to modernize and improve patients’ Covid-19 test results and other infectious disease symptoms. In Florida, nurses can register patients for Covid testing in the field using tablet computers that are connected to a HIPAA compliant cloud. By managing the patient and order requisition information electronically, lab processing time is reduced and transcription errors are eliminated.”

Joining Sens. Warner, Carper and Cassidy in sending this letter are Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

The letter is available here

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA) applauded $9,000,000 in federal funding to expand broadband infrastructure and service in rural communities in Virginia. The funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was awarded through theReConnect Program. The funding will be used to install a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network that will connect 7,496 people, 416 farms, 97 businesses, a fire station, a town hall, and two educational facilities to high-speed broadband internet in Scott County. 

“In our evolving economy, broadband isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity,” said the Senators. “That is why we’re glad to see these federal dollars go toward helping connect people in rural Virginia.”

Senators Warner and Kaine have been strong supporters of expanding broadband access in Virginia as Governors and Senators. In 2018, both Warner and Kaine fought to secure funding for the ReConnect Program, and other federal programs that are critical to improving broadband access across rural Virginia. Earlier this year, Sens. Warner and Kaine introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students during the coronavirus pandemic. They have also pushed the FCC to ensure that millions of Americans are made aware of their eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program. Most recently, Sen. Warner introduced comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation to expand access to affordable high-speed internet for all Americans. 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), a senior Member of Senate Commerce Committee and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights and Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), sent a letter to  Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Joseph Simons urging the FTC to take action to address the troubling data collection and sharing practices of the mobile application (“app”) Premom. 

Premom is a mobile app that helps users track their fertility cycles to determine the best time to get pregnant, relying on personal and private health information. As of November 2019, the app has been downloaded over half a million times, and it is one of the top search results among fertility apps in the Apple App and Google Play stores.

In addition to Sen. Warner, Sens. Klobuchar and Moran were joined by Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee, Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

“A recent investigation from the International Digital Accountability Council (IDAC) indicated that Premom may have engaged in deceptive consumer data collection and processing, and that there may be material differences between Premom’s stated privacy policies and its actual data-sharing practices. Most troubling, the investigation found that Premom shared its users’ data without their consent,” Klobuchar and her colleagues wrote.

The full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:

Dear Chairman Simons:

We write to express our serious concerns regarding recent reports about the data collection and sharing practices of the mobile application (“app”) Premom and to request information on the steps that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plans to take to address this issue.

Premom is a mobile app that helps users track their fertility cycles to determine the best time to get pregnant. As of November 2019, the app has been downloaded over half a million times, and it is one of the top search results among fertility apps in the leading app stores. To use Premom, users provide the app extensive personal and private health information.

A recent investigation from the International Digital Accountability Council (IDAC) indicated that Premom may have engaged in deceptive consumer data collection and processing, and that there may be material differences between Premom’s stated privacy policies and its actual data-sharing practices. Most troubling, the investigation found that Premom shared its users’ data without their consent. IDAC sent a letter to the FTC on August 6, 2020, to describe these undisclosed data transmissions along with other concerning allegations including conflicting privacy policies and questionable representations related to their collection of installed apps for functionality purposes.

While Premom claimed to only share “nonidentifiable” information in its privacy policy, the IDAC report found that Premom collected and shared—with three third-party advertising companies based in China including Jiguang, UMSNS, and Umeng—non-resettable unique user device identifiers that can be used to build profiles of consumer behavior. Additionally, users of the Premom app were not given the option to opt out of sharing their personal data with these advertising companies, and reports also allege that one of the companies that received user data from Premom concealed the data being transferred—which privacy experts say is an uncommon practice for apps that is used primarily to conceal their data collection practices.

While we understand that Premom has taken steps to update its app to halt the sharing of its users’ information with these companies, it is concerning that Premom may have engaged in these deceptive practices and shared users’ personal data without their consent. Additionally, there may still be users who have not yet updated the Premom app, which could still be sharing their personal data—without their knowledge or consent. 

In light of these concerning reports, and given the critical role that the FTC plays in enforcing federal laws that protect consumer privacy and data under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act and other sector specific laws, we respectfully ask that you respond to the following questions:

1.  Does the FTC treat persistent identifiers, such as the non-resettable device hardware identifiers discussed in the IDAC report, as personally identifiable information in relation to its general consumer data security and privacy enforcement authorities under Section 5 of the FTC Act?

2.  Is the FTC currently investigating or does it plan to investigate Premom’s consumer data collection, transmission, and processing conduct described in the IDAC report to determine if the company has engaged in deceptive practices?

3.  Does the FTC plan to take any steps to educate users of the Premom app that the app may still be sharing their personal data without their permission if they have not updated the app? If not, does the FTC plan to require Premom to conduct such outreach?

4.  Please describe any unique or practically uncommon uses of encryption by the involved third-party companies receiving information from Premom that could be functionally interpreted to obfuscate oversight of the involved data transmissions.

5.  How can the FTC use its Section 5 authority to ensure that mobile apps are not deceiving consumers about their data collection and sharing practices and to preempt future potentially deceptive practices like those Premom may have engaged in? 

Thank you for your time and attention to this important matter. We look forward to working with you to improve Americans consumers’ data privacy protections. 

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senator Richard Blumenthal and 23 of their colleagues in calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to boost its Lifeline program to keep students connected as millions return to school both virtually and in person. Since 1985, the FCC’s Lifeline program has made basic internet and telephone service more affordable for low-income Americans and has had bipartisan support. The senators strongly criticized the FCC, under Chairman Ajit Pai’s leadership, for not only failing to make access to broadband easier for families, but also for actively undermining and destabilizing the Lifeline program.

“As millions of American families face unprecedented financial pressures and educational challenges, we urge the FCC to reverse proposed changes to the Lifeline program, take immediate steps to open its assistance to more households, and ensure that its services meet the pressing needs of families during this crisis,” the Senators wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “We are alarmed that as students head back to class – in person or online – there is still no national plan from the FCC to secure families’ access to their educational future. This looming disaster is one product of the vast digital divide that hinders families’ educational futures, economic opportunities, and health, which FCC should vigorously bridge through Lifeline and other USF programs.”

“Regrettably, under your Chairmanship, the FCC has actively worked to undermine and destabilize the Lifeline program, which has left more families vulnerable during the pandemic by widening the learning gap and lessening household’s ability to access crucial services, such as unemployment benefits, food assistance, and health resources,” the Senators continued. “Since the first weeks of your tenure, the FCC has sought to block new broadband providers’ participation in the Lifeline program, curtail benefits in tribal areas, exclude existing carriers, rollback reforms for registering new carriers, make it harder for new applicants to subscribe, prevent carriers from offering free in-person distribution of phones, reduce incentives to enroll subscribers, and add more barriers for participating carriers and subscribers.” 

The senators called for the FCC to put in place a comprehensive plan to respond to this national crisis and to immediately take steps to implement reforms that will bridge the homework gap that has already left millions of children behind with no access to internet or connected devices. These reforms include temporarily expanding unlimited mobile data and voice minutes to consumers to keep them connected during the pandemic, closing proposed rulemakings that could create new obstacles for eligible households, pausing unnecessary standards changes that could result in disruptions to broadband access in the midst of a pandemic, and notifying Congress if additional funding is needed to support the program.  

The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Kamala Harris (D-CA). 

Warner and Kaine have previously called for robust Lifeline and E-Rate assistance program funding to ensure Americans stay connected amid the coronavirus pandemic. In April, they joined group of 27 senators in calling on Congressional leadership to commit at least $1 billion in funding for the Lifeline program in future coronavirus relief to meet the new connectivity needs of Americans. That letter is available here. Warner and Kaine also cosponsored the Emergency Educational Connections Act, legislation aimed at ensuring K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices during the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, Sen. Warner recently wrote a letter urging prominent tech companies to help ensure that Virginia students can properly participate in distance learning this fall. That letter is available here.

A copy of today’s full letter is available here and below.

 

Dear Chairman Pai,

            We write to express our profound frustration that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has failed to take forceful action to keep households connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. As millions of American families face unprecedented financial pressures and educational challenges, we urge the FCC to reverse proposed changes to the Lifeline program, take immediate steps to open its assistance to more households, and ensure that its services meet the pressing needs of families during this crisis.

            The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and even reinforced the vast homework gap that has left millions of children offline because their parents cannot afford broadband internet access. Schools across the country are grappling with this digital divide as they decide whether they can safely reopen and whether virtual learning will work. According to Common Sense Media, one quarter of students nationally are at risk of being left out of the classroom because they lack broadband or connected devices, a toll that falls disproportionately and disastrously on communities of color.[1] Unfortunately, the homework gap has already had an immense cost to children during this crisis, as some students have been forced to forgo online lectures and miss important homework. We are alarmed that as students head back to class – in person or online – there is still no national plan from the FCC to secure families’ access to their educational future. This looming disaster is one product of the vast digital divide that hinders families’ educational futures, economic opportunities, and health, which FCC should vigorously bridge through Lifeline and other USF programs

            The FCC already has the ability to take immediate steps to close the homework gap and ensure that families have access to broadband. One of the FCC’s most important assistance programs, Lifeline, was established under the Reagan Administration to provide discounts for free or low cost phone services to those who qualify for other financial assistance. In the four decades since, the Lifeline program has been supported and expanded on a bipartisan basis – a resounding recognition that phone and internet access is essential for economic security, health, and family life. Lifeline has lived up to its name for millions of veterans needing telehealth services,[2] domestic violence survivors,[3] older Americans, those experiencing housing insecurity, and other vulnerable Americans. Our immense reliance on broadband during the pandemic for telework, virtual learning, social connections, and telehealth has proven the original, bipartisan vision of Lifeline.

            Regrettably, under your Chairmanship, the FCC has actively worked to undermine and destabilize the Lifeline program, which has left more families vulnerable during the pandemic by widening the learning gap and lessening household’s ability to access crucial services, such as unemployment benefits, food assistance, and health resources. Since the first weeks of your tenure, the FCC has sought to block new broadband providers’ participation in the Lifeline program, curtail benefits in tribal areas, exclude existing carriers, rollback reforms for registering new carriers, make it harder for new applicants to subscribe, prevent carriers from offering free in-person distribution of phones, reduce incentives to enroll subscribers, and add more barriers for participating carriers and subscriber. These proposals have been so extreme that they would lead to cutting off carriers serving almost 70% of Lifeline subscribers.[4] 

The FCC has also failed to complete important reforms to ease burdens on consumers and reduce fraud, such as the full implementation of the National Verifier meant to automate registration and preserve the integrity of Lifeline.[5] Lastly, carriers face continued uncertainty about the long-term stability of the program given the open FCC proposals to cut back participation and compensation for services. The consequences of this sustained assault on Lifeline are stark – less than 20% eligible households subscribe to services, as much as a 30% drop during your watch.[6] 

            The FCC should step up to tackle the profound inequities and divides that American families are struggling with during this national crisis. We appreciate that the FCC issued and extended the temporary waivers in response to the pandemic to pause usage and subscriber documentation requirements, and also appreciate that it partnered with state utility commissioners to improve public awareness of the program.[7] But, by the benchmark established during previous crises, such as Hurricane Katrina, the FCC response falls far short. Lifeline could be a reprieve for millions of households. The FCC should take the initiative to ensure that Lifeline meets the connectivity needs of households sheltering in place at home and facing financial hardship during the COVID-19 crisis. However, regrettably, you have asked your Commissioner colleagues to vote on order that would permanently alter the minimum standards for Lifeline without changes in contributions, which could potentially lead to the loss of the free Lifeline services in the middle of this pandemic.[8] We support increasing Lifeline subscribers’ data allowances during this crisis, but such increases should be backed with additional funding. At this critical moment, the FCC should provide the additional financial support needed for Lifeline subscriptions to meet the data demands of virtual classroom time, telehealth, and telework during this time.[9]

It is time for the FCC to offer a bold plan to respond to this national crisis through bolstering the Lifeline program, and the Commission does not need to wait to act. We strongly urge you to immediately take the following steps:

  1. Take emergency measures to provide additional financial support to Lifeline providers during the pandemic to temporarily provide unlimited mobile data and voice minutes, and notify Congress if additional funding is needed to support such changes.
  2. Extend all current FCC waivers on Lifeline usage and subscriber documentation requirements for at least a full year, until August 2021 or when we have recovered from the pandemic.
  3. Close the currently outstanding Lifeline proposed rulemakings that would create new obstacles for eligible households and add unwarranted burden on carriers.
  4. Pause the scheduled changes to Lifeline program’s minimum service standards until the Commission studies such impacts on the market in its upcoming 2021 State of Lifeline Marketplace Report, to avoid disruptions to customer’s services.
  5. Restore the monthly subsidy to $9.25 for plans offering voice services for subscribers who value voice over data-heavy plans and pause the planned decrease in contributions for voice support.
  6. Work with states to increase the automated verification of state databases with the National Verifier program by the end of this year.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.           

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a former technology and telecommunications entrepreneur, urged prominent tech companies to contribute to a whole-of-society effort to contain the economic and societal impact of COVID-19 by helping ensure that Virginia students can properly participate in distance learning this fall.  

In letters to DellAppleHPSamsungGoogleMicrosoftAcer America, and ASUS USA, Sen. Warner asked companies to do what they can to help bridge the “homework gap” – the lack of reliable computer or internet access that prevents school-aged children from being able to do school work from home. 

“While the CARES Act provided essential funding for schools to purchase equipment for home learning, significant challenges remain to provide students with appropriate devices,” wrote Sen. Warner. “Any primary and secondary school districts report that computers and tablets suitable for student use are not readily available for them to purchase in bulk. In other areas where the district doesn’t provide items, families are not able to afford purchasing their own devices. Vulnerable students who already face numerous hardships are then further disadvantaged when they cannot access a remote education due to device unavailability.”

He continued, “In light of these circumstances, I urge you take immediate action to help close this new education gap created by the health crisis as the school year commences. There are a range of actions your company can take, including educational product discounts, the provision of complimentary or donated computers (including for home lending programs many educational institutions operate), and the provision of refurbished or returned products in good working condition for school districts and higher education institutions to distribute to educators and students. While I understand the strains placed on the global supply chain, your prioritization of these matters would greatly assist struggling families at this challenging time.” 

According to findings from a Pew Research study, the homework gap is more pronounced among Black, Hispanic and lower-income households. The economic cost of this gap has been identified by McKinsey and Company as having deprived the economy of at least $426 billion between 2009 and 2019.

In his letter, Sen. Warner noted that the necessary distance-learning measures that schools have adopted during this public health crisis have likely exacerbated this gap and highlighted the heavy reliance on now-inaccessible school computer labs.

Sen. Warner also expressed his willingness to facilitate the effort to support students by offering to help connect the companies to local education officials and administrators in Virginia.

Sen. Warner has continued to be a strong advocate for education during the COVID-19 crisis. Last month, he introduced legislation to prevent the Trump Administration from reducing or redirecting critical education funding for schools that determine they cannot safely reopen for in-person instruction in the fall. He has also joined his Senate colleagues in introducing a bill to ensure K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices and has also repeatedly advocated for robust funding and distance learning resources for K-12 students. 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) introduced the Governors Broadband Development Fund

The legislation:

·        Allocates $10 billion to the Broadband Development Fund to prioritize funding for areas that currently lack service.

·        Supports the deployment of advanced technologies in areas where there is greatest need.

·        Encourages projects that can provide internet service quickly.

“Before this crisis, we saw that broadband access was a precondition to full participation in the digital economy,” said Sen. Warner. “But with this crisis we’ve seen that it’s more than that: it’s the enabling technology for remote education, tele-work, and tele-medicine; it’s the means by which Americans apply for and access critical government benefits; and it provides us with the ability to stay close with loved ones we can no longer be in direct contact with. States like Virginia are leading the way in identifying and closing broadband gaps and this legislation will help expand and strengthen those important efforts.”

“There are places in South Carolina you might as well be on the moon when it comes to getting high speed internet service,” said Sen. Graham.  “The benefits of broadband technology – as it relates to education, medicine, and business – are endless. There is bipartisan support for expanding broadband access and our legislation dramatically improves access in rural and underserved areas. I’m cautiously optimistic we can get this done and signed into law soon.” 

“Too many South Carolinians lack access to the global economy, telehealth, and educational tools due to the lack of broadband technology,” said Senator Scott. “This bipartisan legislation gives governors the opportunity to effectively deploy broadband in the parts of their state that need it most. It is critical that we continue to find pathways to increase connectivity for all Americans to ensure that they are equipped with the tools necessary to thrive.”

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. 

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The Governors’ Broadband Development Fund 

  • The legislation will be introduced this week in the United States Senate.  Original co-sponsors will be Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Scott (R-SC).
  •  The legislation allocates $10 billion to the Broadband Development Fund. 
  • Each state is provided a minimum of $75 million and the rest of the funding is distributed based on state populations.
    • 30 percent of a state’s funding must be used in Opportunity Zones.
    • South Carolina would receive roughly $170 million from this program.
    • Virginia would receive roughly $237 million from this program.
    • Funding can be used for infrastructure development, providing free or reduced cost broadband service, community center improvements and other applications.
  • The Governors’ Broadband Development Fund prioritizes funding for areas that currently lack service, supports the deployment of advanced technologies, and encourages projects that can provide internet service quickly.
  • This block grant is designed off of the successful USDA ReConnect program, which has seen more than three times the demand than funding available.

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) wrote a letter to the Appropriations Committee leadership urging the Committee to include funding to modernize federal information technology within the next COVID-19 relief package.

The Senators begin, “As the Senate begins the process of negotiating and considering the next coronavirus pandemic relief supplemental appropriations bill, we urge you to include significant additional funding to modernize federal information technology (IT) systems through the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF).”

They go on to urge the need for updated federal IT in order to best serve individuals and businesses seeking help from federal agencies at this time. They write, “The federal COVID-19 response has dramatically exposed the failures of outdated, legacy federal IT systems and shone a light on the need for agencies to more quickly modernize their networks. For example, in its June 2020 report, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee identified multiple agencies where IT systems struggle to accommodate large percentages of teleworking federal employees, causing system problems that slow the place of normal functions like claims processing, increasing security risk, and making telework inefficient and frustrating. In other cases, small business owners and citizens were deeply frustrated by poorly functioning claims systems.”

The Senators stress the relevance of the TMF to address current IT needs, stating, “Congress authorized the TMF specifically to rapidly advance projects that can have an impact quickly, subject to oversight of a board of experts and specific criteria. We should provide a major funding allocation to the TMF now for projects that will provide the bandwidth, security, and functionality needed to make teleworking federal workers just as productive at home as in the office, and for other urgent COVID-19 response needs...”

They conclude, “As you are aware, the HEROES Act, passed by the House of Representatives on May 15, 2020, included $1 billion for the TMF, to remain available until the end of Fiscal Year 2022. We urge you to include the same level of funding for TMF in the next COVID-19 supplemental spending bill to help address technology and related risks identified during the ongoing COVID-19 response.”

The full text of the letter is available here and below.

 

Chairman Shelby, Vice Chairman Leahy, Chairman Kennedy, and Ranking Member Coons:

As the Senate begins the process of negotiating and considering the next coronavirus pandemic relief supplemental appropriations bill, we urge you to include significant additional funding to modernize federal information technology (IT) systems through the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF).

Congress created the TMF in 2017 through the Modernizing Government Technology Act to help federal agencies rapidly execute IT modernization projects that meet specific criteria. The TMF is governed by an eight-member board of federal IT, financial management, and acquisition experts with significant transparency and ample opportunity for Congressional oversight, including periodic reports to Congress and submission of spending plans. Since 2018, the TMF has sponsored a range of IT system modernizations with specific benefits to citizen services and transitioning outdated systems to more modern platforms.

The federal COVID-19 response has dramatically exposed the failures of outdated, legacy federal IT systems and shone a light on the need for agencies to more quickly modernize their networks. For example, in its June 2020 report, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee identified multiple agencies where IT systems struggle to accommodate large percentages of teleworking federal employees, causing system problems that slow the place of normal functions like claims processing, increasing security risk, and making telework inefficient and frustrating. In other cases, small business owners and citizens were deeply frustrated by poorly functioning claims systems. While some federal agencies are to be commended for heroic efforts to address these challenges using small amounts of funding in the CARES Act, their individual successes highlight the scale of the remaining needs.

Congress authorized the TMF specifically to rapidly advance projects that can have an impact quickly, subject to oversight of a board of experts and specific criteria. We should provide a major funding allocation to the TMF now for projects that will provide the bandwidth, security, and functionality needed to make teleworking federal workers just as productive at home as in the office, and for other urgent COVID-19 response needs such as scaling claims processing systems, improving the security of citizen information, enhancing fraud prevention, and addressing long-delayed and well documented enterprise legacy IT systems modernizations.

As you are aware, the HEROES Act, passed by the House of Representatives on May 15, 2020, included $1 billion for the TMF, to remain available until the end of Fiscal Year 2022. We urge you to include the same level of funding for TMF in the next COVID-19 supplemental spending bill to help address technology and related risks identified during the ongoing COVID-19 response.

Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to working with you on this and other matters.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after the Senate approved the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA):

“I’m pleased that the defense bill I voted for provides a 3 percent pay raise for our servicemembers in addition to supporting many critical priorities for the Commonwealth. The legislation authorizes $240 million in military construction projects throughout Virginia and funds advance procurement for a second Virginia-class submarine to support our nation’s military readiness – something I pushed for after it was originally excluded from the President’s defense budget,” said Sen. Warner.

After successfully passing into law reforms to fix the deplorable housing conditions in privatized military housing across the Commonwealth, I have been keeping the pressure up to ensure servicemembers and their families can feel safe in their homes. I’m pleased to report that the defense bill includes language to help guarantee that the private housing companies and the military services meet their obligations,” Sen. Warner said. But our work to ensure our servicemembers feel safe also extends to their time on-duty. That’s why I successfully pushed for a provision mandating reporting on instances of racism and discrimination that our men and women in uniform may encounter while serving our country, and why I’ve been outspoken about giving our military leadership the tools and information they need to combat these destructive biases.”

“And after pushing the Administration for years to extend benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from health conditions associated with their exposure to Agent Orange, I commend my colleagues for joining me in successfully pushing to add Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of service-connected presumptive conditions related to Agent Orange exposure,” continued Sen. Warner, who has repeatedly urged the Trump Administration to stop stonewalling critical benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from health conditions associated with their exposure to Agent Orange.

In March, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found deficiencies in the Department of Defense’s (DoD) oversight of privatized military housing, concluding that the DoD lacked reliable information to provide a full picture of the conditions of privatized housing. Currently, the military departments use a range of project-specific performance metrics to monitor private housing companies’ performance. However, the metrics used, while designed to focus on resident satisfaction and on the quality of the maintenance conducted on housing units, do not always provide meaningful information or reflect actual housing conditions. For example, the GAO found that a common indicator is how quickly the private partner responded to a work order, rather than whether the issue was actually addressed. Ultimately, these metrics matter because they feed into decisions around whether privatized housing companies earn performance incentive fees.

To improve this gap in housing condition metrics, Sen. Warner’s provision in the defense bill requires that the military services review the indicators underlying the privatized housing project performance metrics to ensure they adequately measure the condition and quality of the home. Additionally, the provision requires the Secretary of Defense to publish in DoD’s Military Housing Privatization Initiative Performance Evaluation Report underlying performance metrics for each project, in order for Congress to provide effective oversight. 

In the wake of nationwide protests on racial injustice and reports of growing white nationalist extremism, Sen. Warner pushed to mandate reporting on whether servicemembers have faced “racist, anti-Semitic, or supremacist activity” while on duty. Sen. Warner’s bipartisan amendment builds upon an existing DoD requirement to include in appropriate surveys more detailed information on whether military personnel “have ever experienced or witnessed [or reported] extremist activity in the workplace.” Additionally, in an effort to create a more inclusive and diverse workforce within the Pentagon, Sen. Warner successfully included a provision that would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to do a diversity and inclusion study to analyze the makeup of the workforce, as well as differences in rates of promotion by race, ethnicity and gender, to help develop a stronger and more diverse pipeline of career professionals.

Warner, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also applauded the inclusion in this year’s defense bill of the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA), as well as his legislation to bolster America’s 5G capabilities and secure the semiconductor supply chain. Additionally, the Senate NDAA includes Vice Chairman Warner’s amendment to provide a secure Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) space for flexible use across the intelligence community, DoD agencies and their contractors. Currently, each agency's SCIF space can only be used by its own personnel and contractors, leaving many secure spaces underutilized.

“This bill also makes critical investments in competing with China when it comes to next-generation 5G wireless technology by providing funding and a model for alternative, Western-driven innovation using an open-architecture, or Open-RAN, model,” said Warner, who co-founded the wireless company Nextel before entering public service. “I’m also pleased that Congress recognizes the need to secure our supply chain and bolster domestic manufacturing of semiconductors.”

The defense bill prioritizes U.S. innovation and technology development in the area of 5G and semiconductors, to compete with countries like China. As a former technology and telecommunications executive, Sen. Warner has pushed the Administration to develop a strategy to maintain our advantages in technological innovation, as well as to lead on 5G. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner teamed up with a bipartisan group of leading national security Senators to introduce the Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act, a bill that would provide a $1 billion investment in Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers such as Huawei and ZTE. Last month, Sen. Warner along with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced legislation to bring semiconductor manufacturing back to American soil by increasing federal incentives to stimulate advanced chip manufacturing, enable cutting-edge research and development, secure the supply chain, bring greater transparency to the microelectronics ecosystem, create American jobs, and ensure long-term national security. Language drawing on both proposals was included in the Senate-passed NDAA.

And while I’m glad this bill includes most of the Intelligence Authorization Act as it passed the Committee last month, with just 103 days until the presidential election, I am deeply disappointed that the Senate has failed to take one easy step to protect our democracy. By stripping the FIRE Act from this year’s defense bill, we’re essentially giving a green light to campaigns to accept foreign assistance,added Sen. Warner.

As the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Warner pushed to include the Committee’s annual Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) within the annual defense bill. The IAA includes several key priorities, including a bipartisan provision championed by Sen. Warner to protect the integrity of the security clearance process from being abused for political purposes, and to enhance contractor insider threat programs.

Sen. Warner’s legislation, the FIRE Act, which would require campaigns to report to the appropriate federal authorities any contacts from foreign nationals seeking to interfere in a presidential election, was included in the Committee-passed version of the IAA that passed on June 30. However, Senate Republicans forced the provision to be dropped from the bill before adding it to the NDAA. In addition, Senate Republicans stripped critical protections for whistleblowers who step forward to report wrongdoing within the intelligence community.

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WASHINGTON – 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 following statement after the United Kingdom announced its decision to ban Chinese equipment provider Huawei from its 5G wireless network:

“I welcome these developments in the UK and reiterate my hope that the Trump Administration will begin to engage multilaterally with like-minded allies on promoting secure and competitively-priced alternatives to Huawei equipment. My bipartisan legislation, the United Strategic Allied Telecommunications Act, would be a major step in the right direction and I hope to see it included, fully funded, in the eventual defense authorization act.”

Sen. Warner, a former telecommunications entrepreneur, has been outspoken about the dangers of allowing the use of Huawei equipment in U.S. telecommunications infrastructure and that of U.S. allies. In January, Sen. Warner expressed disappointment in the UK’s decision to allow Huawei to help build its 5G wireless network – a decision that was reversed in today’s announcement. 

Sen. Warner and a bipartisan group of leading national security Senators have introduced legislation to encourage and support U.S. innovation in the race for 5G, providing over $1 billion to invest in Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE. Last year, he and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) warned the Trump Administration against using Huawei as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations, and urged Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reconsider Huawei’s inclusion in Canada’s 5G development, introduction and maintenance.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in introducing comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation to expand access to affordable high-speed internet for all Americans. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act will seek to address the digital divide by investing $100 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities. The legislation in the House of Representatives is led by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and members of the House Rural Broadband Task Force.

“The current health crisis has only underscored what we already know: that too many households across the country lack reliable access to broadband,” said Sen. Warner. “In Virginia alone, it’s estimated that more than 700,000 Virginians lack access to broadband, making it harder for families to access essential services during these unprecedented times. Access to broadband helps communities meaningfully participate in the digital economy. Individuals can apply for a job or submit a college application, families can connect with their health care providers without having to travel long distances, and teachers and students can advance and supplement their online learning. Accessibility to broadband is vital to increasing digital literacy, achieving economic stability, and advancing education, and this critical legislation will help bridge the gap for communities that still need access to this critical technology.” 

“When we invest in broadband infrastructure, we invest in opportunity for every American,” Sen. Klobuchar said. “In 2020, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every family in America — regardless of their zip code — and this legislation is a critical step to help bridge the digital divide once and for all.”

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s most recent Broadband Deployment Report, 18 million people lack access to broadband – a figure that experts widely agree is understated.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act would:

  • Encourage Universal Broadband Access by:
    • including $80 billion to deploy high-speed broadband infrastructure nationwide;
    • allocating $5 billion for low-interest financing of broadband deployment through a new secured loan program; and
    • establishing a new office within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to ensure efficient use of federal money.
  • Ensure Internet Affordability by:
    • requiring an affordable option for internet service plans offered on the newly-built infrastructure;
    • providing a $50 monthly discount on plans for low-income consumers; and
    • directing the FCC to collect and publicize data on prices charged for broadband service throughout the country. 
  • Promote Internet Adoption by:
    • providing over $1 billion to establish grant programs for states to close gaps in broadband adoption, as well as digital inclusion projects for organizations and local communities to implement;
    • including $5 billion to enable students without internet at home to participate in remote learning; and
    • authorizing funding for Wi-Fi on school buses so students can stay connected, especially in rural areas where longer bus rides are common.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is endorsed by the Public Knowledge, Free Press, National Consumer Law Center, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, Consumer Reports, Schools, Health, Libraries, and Broadband Coalition (SHLB), Common Cause, Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, Leadership Conference, Access Now,  Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Education Association, National Defense Industrial Association, Communications Workers of America, and North America’s Building Trades Union.

“Broadband access is a civil right that we can’t afford to lose, but one that millions of Americans, in rural and urban communities across this country, simply can’t afford. This legislation prioritizes broadband affordability and promises to make a real difference in the fight to close the digital divide,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffery Starks. 

“Broadband is now essential for work, education, healthcare, and so much of modern life. So kudos to Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues for their efforts to develop a plan to connect us all. Working together like this we can solve the digital divide, fix the homework gap, and give everyone a fair shot at internet age success,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. 

“As providers based in the communities they serve, NTCA members are committed to ensuring rural Americans receive reliable broadband to engage with critical activities such as telemedicine, distance learning and remote work. Time and again, Senator Klobuchar has led the charge in highlighting the fundamental significance of broadband in all aspects of Americans’ lives and seeking to promote better connectivity for all Americans,” saidShirley Bloomfield, CEO, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association. “We particularly appreciate her acknowledgment here of the need to ensure new networks will be built to meet the challenges of both today and tomorrow, and we look forward to working with the Senator and other policymakers to ensure any new programs to stimulate broadband deployment or make broadband more affordable complement and coordinate with existing deployment commitments and programs aimed at sustaining such efforts.”

“Millions across this country do not have access to broadband -- leaving them struggling to work, learn, access medical care, and connect with loved ones. Closing the digital divide requires funding high-quality broadband deployment, ensuring that broadband service is affordable, and ensuring that individuals have the skills and devices they need to access it. This bill takes action on all of those fronts. By utilizing a comprehensive approach, we believe this legislation will significantly narrow the digital divide. We are glad to see this important legislation introduced in the Senate,” said Jenna Leventoff, Senior Policy Counsel, Public Knowledge.

“We commend Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues in the Senate for introducing this landmark legislation to ensure everyone is connected to affordable, high-speed, quality broadband. The Accessible, Affordable, Internet for All Act takes significant steps to address all aspects of the digital divide through provisions that provide robust broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved areas, affordable options to connect low-income communities, and digital equity programs to address systemic disparities in broadband connectivity disproportionately impacting people of color and other marginalized communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the fault lines in broadband connectivity our nation has faced for far too long, leaving millions of Americans unable to participate in our democracy and economy. Now is the time to pass this legislation and take significant strides in closing the digital divide,” said Yosef Getachew, Director of Media and Democracy Program, Common Cause.  

“We applaud Senate leaders for introducing the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act. The legislation represents a comprehensive and targeted approach to closing the digital divide for anchor institutions and the people they serve. In addition to tackling the many obstacles to ubiquitous internet access, the bill recognizes that health clinics and hospitals across the country need more bandwidth to keep up with the increased demand for telemedicine. By embracing broadband solutions for telehealth and remote learning from home, this legislation will lead to a healthier and better educated America,” said John Windhausen, Jr., Executive Director, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition.

"Millions of Americans have struggled through the COVID-19 crisis without internet connectivity. Congress needs to do something to help these people, and we applaud Senator Klobuchar for stepping up. Her bill would make internet service more affordable and accessible, which is exactly what is needed right now. The Senate should pass this bill immediately," said Joshua Stager, Senior Counsel, New America's Open Technology Institute.

“Affordable broadband service is essential for access to opportunities. Black, Hispanic, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have lower broadband subscription rates than their White counterparts, and one of the main barriers to broadband service is cost. The Broadband Service for Low-income Consumers program will help close the digital divide by providing low-income households with a $50 broadband benefit ($75 for households on Tribal lands) and the Digital Equity Program will ensure consumers have the digital skills necessary for full participation in our society. On behalf of our low-income clients, we commend the leadership of Senator Klobuchar in introducing this critically important bill," said National Consumer Law Center Staff Attorney Olivia Wein.

“Millions of families in the United States do not have access to affordable, reliable broadband internet connections — totally unacceptable before, but especially unacceptable during a pandemic when many are being asked to stay at home to bend the curve to save lives. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act introduced today includes strong provisions to expand broadband access to rural communities and protect good union jobs across the country,” said Chris Shelton, President, Communications Workers of America (CWA). 

“Free Press Action welcomes Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues’ introduction of this tremendous, comprehensive broadband package in the Senate, linking up with the legislation that Representative Clyburn and the House majority introduced last week and plan to pass as part of the Moving Forward Act. While the deployment and financing strategies will understandably draw attention in an infrastructure bill, its digital equity, affordability and pricing transparency provisions are just as essential or more so for getting everyone online. Lawmakers must recognize, as this bill does, that the vast majority of people disconnected today are offline because they cannot afford the high price for internet, which disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people, poorer communities, and exacerbates the digital divide and economic inequities,” said Matt Wood, Vice President of Policy and General Counsel, Free Press Action.

"The Senate version of the “Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act” includes all of the critical provisions of the House version, but goes even further to address this country’s gaping digital divide. Like the House bill, it addresses the twin problems of broadband affordability and lack of network infrastructure and seeks to promote competition in a consolidated market by preferencing open access networks and repealing state laws that prohibit communities from building their own broadband networks. In addition, the Senate bill would expand the FCC’s Rural Health Care program to provide funding for telehealth programs in urban as well as rural areas, and would create a fund to ensure that higher education students in need have access to robust broadband during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Gigi Sohn, Distinguished Fellow, Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy. “The pandemic has laid bare the need for every American to have robust, high speed broadband Internet access at home. Yet over 140 million Americans still are without a service that is essential to full participation in our economy, our education system, our culture and our democracy. It is long past time for Congress to act. Thanks to Senator Klobuchar and her Senate colleagues for co-sponsoring this vital legislation. The Senate should pass this bill without delay.” 

Sen. Warner has long fought for increased access to broadband in the Commonwealth during his tenure as Governor and during his time in the Senate. Earlier this year, he introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students during the coronavirus pandemic. He has also pushed the FCC to ensure that millions of Americans are made aware of their eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program – the primary federal program charged with helping low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services. 

In addition to Sens. Warner and Klobuchar, this legislation was cosponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV). 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) pressed Facebook regarding its failure to prevent the propagation of white supremacist groups online and its role in providing such groups with the organizational infrastructure and reach needed to expand. In a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the Senators criticized Facebook for being unable or unwilling to enforce its own Community Standards and purge white supremacist and other violent extremist content from the site. They also called on Zuckerberg to answer a series of questions regarding Facebook’s policies and procedures against hate speech, violence, white supremacy and the amplification of extremist content.

“The United States is going through a long-overdue examination of the systemic racism prevalent in our society. Americans of all races, ages, and backgrounds have bravely taken to the streets to demand equal justice for all,” wrote the Senators. “While Facebook has attempted to publicly align itself with this movement, its failure to address the hate spreading on its platform reveals significant gaps between Facebook’s professed commitment to racial justice and the company’s actions and business interests.”

Citing reports by the Tech Transparency project and other numerous investigative reports, the Senators highlighted ways in which right-wing extremist groups have used Facebook as a recruitment and organizational tool. They also underscored Facebook’s own contributions to the public safety problem, which include autogenerating pages for white supremacist organizations, promoting white supremacist pages and even directing users who visit these groups to other extremist or far-right content.

“This evidence stands in marked contrast to Facebook’s professed commitment to combat extremism by redirecting users who search for terms associated with white supremacy or hate groups to the page for ‘Life After Hate,’ an organization that promotes tolerance,” the Senators added.  “The Tech Transparency Project found that Facebook directed users to the ‘Life After Hate’ page in only six percent of the searches for white supremacist organizations.”

Sens. Warner, Hirono and Menendez also cited a number of instances where online radicalization facilitated by Facebook led to real life consequences, such as when three members of a “boogaloo” group on Facebook plotted to bring Molotov cocktails to a Black Lives Matter Protest, or when Air Force Staff Sergeant Steven Carrillo used Facebook to talk about committing violent acts and to meet the individual who eventually drove his getaway van after Carrillo shot and killed a federal security officer. 

In the letter, the Senators requested answers to the following questions by July 10th:

  1. Does Facebook affirm its policy against hate speech and will it seriously enforce this policy?
  2. What procedures has Facebook put in place to identify and remove hate speech from its platform? To what degree do these procedures differ with respect to public Facebook pages and private groups?
  3. Does Facebook affirm its policy against violence and incitement and will it seriously enforce this policy?
  4. What procedures has Facebook put in place to identify and remove violence and incitement from its platform? To what degree do these procedures differ with respect to public Facebook pages and private groups?
  5. Does Facebook affirm its commitment to ban “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook and Instagram” as detailed in the company’s May 27, 2019 post and will it seriously enforce this commitment?
  6. What steps has Facebook implemented since announcing this policy to remove “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook and Instagram?”
  7. Please provide our offices with any Facebook internal research concerning the platform’s amplification of extremist groups.
  8. How often are you personally briefed on the status of domestic extremist and white supremacist groups on Facebook and the platform’s efforts to address these groups?
  9. Who is the senior-most Facebook official responsible for addressing white supremacist groups’ activity on Facebook and which Facebook executive does this employee report directly to?
  10. What role did Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan play in Facebook’s decision to shut down and de-prioritize internal efforts to contain extremist and hyperpolarizing activity on Facebook?
  11. What role did Mr. Kaplan play in the participation of the Daily Caller, an outlet with longstanding ties to white nationalist groups, in Facebook’s fact-checking program?
  12. When violent extremist groups actively and openly use a platform’s tools to coordinate violence, should federal law continue to protect the platform from civil liability for its role in facilitating that activity?

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

 

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:

We write to express our serious concerns about Facebook’s lack of action to prevent white supremacist groups from using the platform as a recruitment and organizational tool. The United States is going through a long-overdue examination of the systemic racism prevalent in our society. Americans of all races, ages, and backgrounds have bravely taken to the streets to demand equal justice for all. While Facebook has attempted to publicly align itself with this movement,[1] its failure to address the hate spreading on its platform reveals significant gaps between Facebook’s professed commitment to racial justice and the company’s actions and business interests.

On April 22, a full month before Americans started recent protests for racial justice, the Tech Transparency Project issued a report detailing the ways right-wing extremist groups were using Facebook to plan a militant uprising in the United States in response to stay-at-home orders issued to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.[2] The organization’s research uncovered “125 Facebook groups devoted to the ‘boogaloo,’” a term with ties to white supremacist movements used to describe a coming civil war.[3] Many of the groups’ posts were explicit in their calls for violence, including discussions of “tactical strategies, combat medicine, and various types of weapons, including how to develop explosives and the merits of using flame throwers.”[4] The groups experienced unchecked growth in the months leading up to the report and remained on Facebook at least as of early June,[5] despite Facebook’s prior claims that it was “studying trends around [boogaloo] and related terms on Facebook and Instagram” and that it “do[es]n’t allow speech used to incite hate or violence, and will remove any content that violates our policies.”[6]

A subsequent report issued on May 21 provided further detail regarding the extent of Facebook’s white-supremacist problem—and Facebook’s lack of attention to this public safety problem.[7] The Tech Transparency Project found that 113 of the 221 white supremacist organizations designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League—a staggering 51%—have a presence on Facebook.[8] Many of the organizations’ pages were actually auto-generated by Facebook after a Facebook user identified a white supremacist or neo-Nazi organization as his or her employer.[9] Perhaps more troubling, Facebook actively promoted these and other white supremacist sites. According to the Tech Transparency Project, “Facebook’s ‘Related Pages’ feature often directed users visiting white supremacist Pages to other extremist or far-right content, raising concerns that the platform is contributing to radicalization.”[10] 

The Tech Transparency Project report echoes similar findings by the Southern Poverty Law Center (which has also tracked how these groups spread dangerous misinformation about COVID-19 on Facebook),[11] along with several investigative news reports.[12] One investigative report even concluded that Facebook served as a key recruitment tool for right-wing militia groups to recruit police officers to their movements.[13]Facebook is hardly a passive actor in this context: a recent exposé by The Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook’s own researchers had found that “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools.”[14] The report concluded that Facebook senior executives shut down efforts to reform the platform’s tendency to amplify hyperpolarized and extremist content after Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan deemed the efforts “paternalistic.”[15]

This evidence stands in marked contrast to Facebook’s professed commitment to combat extremism by redirecting users who search for terms associated with white supremacy or hate groups to the page for “Life After Hate,” an organization that promotes tolerance.[16] The Tech Transparency Project found that Facebook directed users to the “Life After Hate” page in only six percent of the searches for white supremacist organizations.[17]

Unfortunately, the online radicalization facilitated by Facebook can lead to deadly consequences. On June 16, federal authorities charged Air Force Staff Sergeant Steven Carrillo with the June shooting death of a federal security officer outside a courthouse in Oakland.[18] Authorities also charged the driver of the getaway van,Robert Alvin Justus.[19] Justus and Carrillo had met on Facebook.[20] According to the criminal complaint against Carrillo, a search of Carrillo’s Facebook account revealed not only communications with Justus, but instances where Carrillo expressed his intention to commit violent acts.[21]

In another instance in early June, federal authorities arrested three men on charges that they planned to bring Molotov cocktails to a Black Lives Matter protest.[22] All three were members of a boogaloo group on Facebook.[23] According to the Tech Transparency Project, one of the men arrested was a member of two private boogaloo groups identified in Tech Transparency Project’s April 22 report.[24] Following reporting in the Huffington Post and other media outlets, a Facebook representative told Huffington Post on April 23, “[w]e’ve removed groups and Pages who’ve used [boogaloo] and related terms for violating our policies.”[25] Yet, according to the complaint, the three men used a different online group—a Nevada boogaloo Facebook group—to facilitate organizing a planned attack on the march.[26]

The prevalence of white supremacist and other extremist content on Facebook—and the ways in which these groups have been able to use the platform as organizing infrastructure—is unacceptable. Facebook’s Community Standards expressly state:  “We do not allow hate speech on Facebook.”[27] In a March 27, 2019 post, Facebook made clear that this prohibition “has always included white supremacy.”[28] At that same time, Facebook expanded its prohibition to include “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism.”[29] And the Community Standards purport to prohibit “organizations and individuals that proclaim a violent mission,” including “organized hate” groups.[30]

In light of these clear policies—and others against “Violence and Incitement” and “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations”—we are concerned Facebook is unable (or unwilling) to enforce its own Community Standards[31] and rid itself of white supremacist and other extremist content. 

We request that you to answer the following questions by July 10, 2020:

  1. Does Facebook affirm its policy against hate speech and will it seriously enforce this policy?[32]
  2. What procedures has Facebook put in place to identify and remove hate speech from its platform? To what degree do these procedures differ with respect to public Facebook pages and private groups?
  3. Does Facebook affirm its policy against violence and incitement and will it seriously enforce this policy?[33]
  4. What procedures has Facebook put in place to identify and remove violence and incitement from its platform? To what degree do these procedures differ with respect to public Facebook pages and private groups?
  5. Does Facebook affirm its commitment to ban “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook and Instagram” as detailed in the company’s May 27, 2019 post[34]and will it seriously enforce this commitment?
  6. What steps has Facebook implemented since announcing this policy to remove “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook and Instagram?”
  7. Please provide our offices with any Facebook internal research concerning the platform’s amplification of extremist groups.
  8. How often are you personally briefed on the status of domestic extremist and white supremacist groups on Facebook and the platform’s efforts to address these groups?
  9. Who is the senior-most Facebook official responsible for addressing white supremacist groups’ activity on Facebook and which Facebook executive does this employee report directly to?
  10. What role did Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan play in Facebook’s decision to shut down and de-prioritize internal efforts to contain extremist and hyperpolarizing activity on Facebook?[35]
  11. What role did Mr. Kaplan play in the participation of the Daily Caller, an outlet with longstanding ties to white nationalist groups,[36] in Facebook’s fact-checking program?
  12. When violent extremist groups actively and openly use a platform’s tools to coordinate violence, should federal law continue to protect the platform from civil liability for its role in facilitating that activity? 

Thank you in advance for your attention to this critical matter. 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)  today introduced the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) for America Act, which would restore semiconductor manufacturing back to American soil by increasing federal incentives to stimulate advanced chip manufacturing, enable cutting-edge research and development, secure the supply chain and bring greater transparency to the microelectronics ecosystem, create American jobs, and ensure long-term national security. U.S. Representative Doris Matsui (CA-6) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Michael McCaul (TX-10) will introduce this legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives tomorrow. 

“America’s innovation in semiconductors undergirds our entire innovation economy, driving the advances we see in autonomous vehicles, supercomputing, augmented reality, IoT devices and more. Unfortunately, our complacency has allowed our competitors – including adversaries – to catch up. This bill reinvests in this national priority, providing targeted tax incentives for advanced manufacturing in the US, funding basic research in microelectronics, and emphasizing the need for multilateral engagement with our allies in bringing greater transparency and attention to security and integrity threats to the global supply chain,” said Sen. Warner.

“Semiconductors underpin nearly all innovation today and are critical to U.S. communications and defense computing capabilities. While Texas has been a leader in manufacturing this technology and the U.S. leads the world in chip design, most of those chips are manufactured outside the United States,” said Sen. Cornyn. “This legislation would help stimulate advanced semiconductor manufacturing capabilities domestically, secure the supply chain, and ensure U.S. maintains our lead in design while creating jobs, lowering our reliance on other countries for advanced chip fabrication, and strengthening national security.” 

“As the global economy becomes more interconnected, it is essential that the U.S. maintains the ability to produce the hardware that our high-tech economy depends on. Semiconductors are fundamental components of our phones, medical devices, and the future of quantum computing,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “In order for the U.S. to stay at the forefront of this strategically important industry, we must ensure that we lead from research and development all the way to the assembly line. The CHIPS for America Act will make needed investments in this essential hardware, allowing our domestic industry to continue to innovate and thrive.”

“Ensuring our leadership in the future design, manufacturing, and assembly of cutting edge semiconductors will be vital to United States national security and economic competitiveness. As the Chinese Communist Party aims to dominate the entire semiconductor supply chain, it is critical that we supercharge our industry here at home. In addition to securing our technological future, the CHIPS Act will create thousands of high-paying U.S. jobs and ensure the next generation of semiconductors are produced in the US, not China,” said Rep. McCaul.

The CHIPS For America Act: 

  • Creates a 40-percent refundable ITC for qualified semiconductor equipment (placed in service) or any qualified semiconductor manufacturing facility investment expenditures through 2024. The ITC is reduced to 30 percent in 2025, 20 percent in 2026, and phases out in 2027. 
  • Directs the Secretary of Commerce to create a $10 billion federal match program that matches state and local incentives offered to a company for the purposes of building a semiconductor foundry with advanced manufacturing capabilities.
  • Creates a new NIST Semiconductor Program to support advanced manufacturing in America. The program’s funds will also support STEM workforce development, ecosystem clustering, U.S. 5G leadership, and advanced assembly and test.
  • Authorizes funding for DOD to execute research, development, workforce training, test, and evaluation for programs, projects, and activities in connection with semiconductor technologies and direct the implementation of a plan to utilize Defense Production Act Title III funding to establish and enhance a domestic semiconductor production capability.
  • Requires the Secretary of Commerce to complete a report within 90 days to assess the capabilities of the U.S. industrial base to support the national defense in light of the global nature of the supply chain and significant interdependencies between the U.S. industrial base and that of foreign countries as it relates to microelectronics.
  • Establishes a trust fund in the amount of $750M over ten years to be allocated upon reaching an agreement with foreign government partners to participate in a consortium in order to promote consistency in policies related to microelectronics, greater transparency in microelectronic supply chains, and greater alignment in policies towards non-market economies. To incentivize multilateral participation, a common funding mechanism is established to use this fund to support the development of secure microelectronics and secure microelectronics supply chains. A report to Congress is required for each year funding is available. 
  • Directs the President to establish, through the National Science and Technology Council, a Subcommittee on Semiconductor Leadership responsible for the development of a national semiconductor research strategy to ensure U.S. leadership in semiconductor technology and innovation, which is critical to American economic growth and national security, and to coordinate semiconductor research and development.
  • Creates new R&D streams to ensure U.S. leadership in semiconductor technology and innovation is critical to American economic growth and national security:
    • $2 billion to implement the Electronics Resurgence Initiative of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
    • $3 billion to implement semiconductor basic research programs at the National Science Foundation.
    • $2 billion to implement semiconductor basic research programs at the Department of Energy.
    • $5 billion to establish an Advanced Packaging National Manufacturing Institute under the Department of Commerce to establish U.S. leadership in advanced microelectronic packaging and, in coordination with the private sector, to promote standards development, foster private-public partnerships, create R&D programs to advance technology, create an investment fund ($500M) to support domestic advanced microelectronic packaging ecosystem, and work with the Secretary of Labor on establishing workforce training programs and apprenticeships in advanced microelectronic packaging capabilities.

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WASHINGTON - As tech companies and public health agencies deploy contact tracing apps and digital monitoring tools to fight the spread of COVID-19, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Reps. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Suzan DelBene (D-WA) introduced the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act to set strong and enforceable privacy and data security rights for health information.

After decades of data misuse, breaches, and privacy intrusions, Americans are reluctant to trust tech firms to protect their sensitive health information – according to a recent poll, more than half of Americans would not use a contact tracing app and similar tools from Google and Apple over privacy concerns. The bicameral Public Health Emergency Privacy Act would protect Americans who use this kind of technology during the pandemic and safeguard civil liberties. Strengthened public trust will empower health authorities and medical experts to leverage new health data and apps to fight COVID-19.

“This measure sets strict and straightforward privacy protections and promises: Your information will be used to stop the spread of this disease, and no more,” Blumenthal said. “Legal safeguards protecting consumer privacy failed to keep pace with technology, and that lapse is costing us in the fight against COVID-19. Americans are rightly skeptical that their sensitive health data will be kept safe and secure, and as a result, they’re reluctant to participate in contact tracing programs essential to halt the spread of this disease. The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act’s commitment to civil liberties is an investment in our public health.”

“Communications technology has obviously played an enormously important role for Americans in coping with and navigating the new reality of COVID-19 and new technology will certainly play an important role in helping to track and combat the spread of this virus. Unfortunately, our health privacy laws have not kept pace with the privacy expectations Americans have come to expect for their sensitive health data,” Warner said. “Absent a clear commitment from policymakers to improving our health privacy laws, as this important legislation seeks to accomplish, I fear that creeping privacy violations could become the new status quo in health care and public health. The credibility – and indeed efficacy – of these technologies depends on public trust.” 

“I’m thankful that our country is blessed with the world’s best innovators and technologists, many of whom I represent in the House, and that they have joined the effort to combat the coronavirus by using technology to control the spread of the virus,” said Eshoo. “As we consider new technologies that collect vast amounts of sensitive personal data, we must not lose site of the civil liberties that define who we are as a nation. I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act, strong and necessary legislation that protects the privacy of every American while ensuring that innovation can aid important public health efforts.”

“As we continue to respond to the devastating suffering caused by COVID-19, our country’s first and foremost public health response must be testing, testing, testing, AND manual contact tracing. Digital contact tracing can and should complement these efforts, but it is just that – complimentary. However, if we do pursue digital contact tracing, consumers need clearly-defined privacy rights and strong enforcement to safeguard these rights. I am proud to introduce this bill with my friend and fellow Energy & Commerce Subcommittee Chairwoman Eshoo, along with Senators Blumenthal and Warner,” said Schakowsky. “It’s our shared belief that swift passage of this legislation would go a long way towards establishing the trust American consumers need – and which Big Tech has squandered, time and again –  for digital contact tracing to be a worthwhile auxiliary to widespread testing and manual contact tracing.”

“We must use every tool available to us to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Contract tracing, along with testing, are the cornerstones of a science-based approach to addressing this historic crisis. We can protect our public health response and personal data privacy,” said DelBene. “I have been calling on the Trump administration and the private sector to adopt data privacy principles since the start of this outbreak. It is time for Congress to lead the way in assuring we have a strong national contact tracing system and that Americans’ personal data is protected. This bill will achieve this mutual goal.”

Eshoo, Schakowsky, and DelBene introduced House legislation with original co-sponsors House Energy and Commerce Committee Vice Chair Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Health Subcommittee Vice Chair G. K. Butterfield (D-NY), and Consumer Protection & Commerce Subcommittee Vice Chair Tony Cárdenas (D-CA).

The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act would:

·       Ensure that data collected for public health is strictly limited for use in public health;

·       Explicitly prohibit the use of health data for discriminatory, unrelated, or intrusive purposes, including commercial advertising, e-commerce, or efforts to gate access to employment, finance, insurance, housing, or education opportunities;

·       Prevent the potential misuse of health data by government agencies with no role in public health;

·       Require meaningful data security and data integrity protections – including data minimization and accuracy – and mandate deletion by tech firms after the public health emergency;

·       Protect voting rights by prohibiting conditioning the right to vote based on a medical condition or use of contact tracing apps;

·       Require regular reports on the impact of digital collection tools on civil rights;

·       Give the public control over their participation in these efforts by mandating meaningful transparency and requiring opt-in consent; and

·       Provide for robust private and public enforcement, with rulemaking from an expert agency while recognizing the continuing role of states in legislation and enforcement.

The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act is endorsed by Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Public Knowledge, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Consumer Reports, Free Press, Electronic Privacy and Information Center (EPIC), Public Citizen, health privacy scholar Frank Pasquale, and privacy scholar Ryan Calo.

“African Americans and other marginalized communities are suffering disproportionately from coronavirus and its economic effects. They do not need further harm from snake oil surveillance tech. This bill protects the most vulnerable—it ensures that any technology used to track the virus is not used to unfairly discriminate in employment, voting, housing, education, and everyday commerce,” said David Brody, Counsel and Senior Fellow for Privacy & Technology at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“As contact tracing apps and other types of COVID-19 surveillance become commonplace in the United States, this legislation will protect the privacy of Americans regardless of the type of technology used or who created it. It is critical that Congress continue to work to prevent this type of corporate or government surveillance from becoming ubiquitous and compulsory,” said Sara Collins, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge. 

“OTI welcomes this effort to protect privacy as lawmakers consider pandemic response plans that gather vast quantities of data. The bill would establish strong safeguards that would prevent personal data from being used for non-public health purposes and prevent the data from being used in a discriminatory manner,” said Christine Bannan, Policy Counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute.

“When it comes to tracking and collecting people’s data, we want to make sure there are basic protections for people’s privacy, and this bill is a positive step to establish the trust and balance that’s needed. The bill smartly requires that data collected to fight coronavirus can only be used for public health purposes – and nothing else. Importantly, the bill ensures an individual's right to seek redress for violations, and it bars against the use of pre-dispute arbitration agreements. These measures will help individuals trust contact-tracing or proximity-tracing programs, and they can serve as a model for more comprehensive protections down the road,” said Justin Brookman, Director of Consumer Privacy and Technology Policy for Consumer Reports.

“Digital contact tracing and exposure notification systems may be important tools in combating the spread of coronavirus. But they must be deployed responsibly and with adequate safeguards that protect the privacy and civil rights of the people that use them. The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act is a serious effort at ensuring our rights are protected while giving public health officials the tools they need to track and notify those exposed to COVID-19. These rules must apply to everyone using these systems, whether that’s state or local governments, employers, or other tech companies. This bill protects the civil rights of the most vulnerable essential workers, the disproportionately Black and Latinx people most exposed to the virus, and will help ensure they’re not also subject to invasive and unnecessary surveillance that will linger long after this crisis passes,” said Gaurav Laroia, Senior Policy Counsel with Free Press.

“The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act shows that privacy and public health are complementary goals. The bill requires companies to limit the collection of health data to only what is necessary for public health purposes, and crucially, holds companies accountable if they fail to do so,” said Caitriona Fitzgerald, Interim Associate Director and Policy Director with Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). 

“What we need more than anything during this global emergency is to feel less vulnerable, to be sure not just that our health is protected, but that our rights are protected as well. This bill will ensure that whatever technological innovation emerges during the pandemic, we will feel safer knowing that our rights to privacy, to our day in court and to access to the ballot box won’t be threatened,” said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen.

 “This bill establishes critical protections for patients whose health data is released in the context of the public health emergency. To build a trusted data infrastructure, the US needs to ensure that any entity which accesses such data is held accountable and does not abuse the public trust. The Public Health Emergency  Privacy Act is a big step in the right direction,” said Frank Pasquale, Piper & Marbury Professor of Law at University of Maryland Carey School of Law. 

“This draft legislation addresses two of my biggest privacy concerns about the use of technology and information to respond to COVID-19. As the Act makes clear, the emergency health data of Americans should only be used to fight the pandemic and should never be used to discriminate or deny opportunity,” said Ryan Calo, Lane Powell & D. Wayne Gittinger Endowed Professor at University of Washington School of Law.