Press Releases

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.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), along with 139 House and Senate colleagues in urging Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai to work directly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure that the millions of Americans who are now eligible for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid due to job loss or reduction in income are informed that they are also eligible for the FCC’s Lifeline program. The Lifeline program is the primary federal program charged with helping low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services.

“Non-essential businesses and schools have closed across the country to limit the spread of the coronavirus, leaving families to rely on the internet now more than ever to access public benefits, search for employment, learn from home, or access telehealth services. The need is greatest among low-income households forced to stretch limited resources to try to keep up with monthly expenses and put food on the table during the public health crisis.  For these vulnerable populations, the FCC’s Lifeline program can help struggling families afford basic internet and telephone connectivity at a time when they need it most – but only if they know about it,” the lawmakers wrote. 

“While we understand that the FCC has traditionally issued guidelines for states and telecommunications providers to advertise the Lifeline program, given the critical role of internet connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic, we urge the FCC to coordinate directly with USDA and HHS as well as states and stakeholders to help ensure people in need are informed about their eligibility for the Lifeline program.”

The letter is supported by Public Knowledge, the National Consumers Law Center, United Church of Christ, OC Inc., and Third Way. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that connectivity is more important than ever. I’ve called for the FCC to coordinate with agencies that administer services that determine eligibility for the Lifeline program to ensure low-income communities learn about the critical Lifeline program. Americans cannot afford for the government to work in silos, and I’m thankful for the leadership of Senator Klobuchar, Senator Durbin, Congresswoman Fudge, and Congresswoman Eshoo to make sure more Americans know about this essential program in our social safety net,” FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said. 

“The Lifeline program provides critical connectivity for those who need it most. Informing consumers about their Lifeline eligibility is a necessary step to help close the digital divide and is clearly something we should continue doing even after the pandemic ends. We are grateful for the leadership of Senators Klobuchar and Durbin and Representatives Fudge and Eshoo on this issue,” said Chris Lewis, President and CEO, Public Knowledge.

In addition to Warner, Klobuchar, and Durbin, the letter was signed by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Doug Jones (D-AL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH),  Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tom Udall (D-NM), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Patty Murray (D-WA).

In addition to Fudge and Eshoo, the letter was signed by Representatives Alma Adams (D-NC), Cindy Axne (D-IA),Nanette Barragán (D-CA), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), André Carson (D-IN), Ed Case (D-HI), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), David Cicilline (D-RI), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Anthony Brown (D-MD), TJ Cox (D-CA), Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Bill Foster (D-IL), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX), Al Green (D-TX), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Deb Haaland (D-NM), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Robin Kelly (D-IL), Joe Kennedy (D-MA), Daniel Kildee (D-MI), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Susie Lee (D-NV), John Lewis (D-GA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Donald McEachin (D-VA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Joe Morelle (D-NY), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Chris Pappas (D-NH), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), David Price (D-NC), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-MP), Linda Sánchez (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Kim Schrier (D-WA), David Scott (D-GA), Bobby Scott (D-VA), José Serrano (D-NY), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), David Trone (D-MD), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Peter Welch (D-VT), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), and John Yarmuth (D-KY).

Full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:

Dear Chairman Pai: 

We write to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to work directly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help ensure the millions of people in the U.S. who are newly eligible for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid, due to job loss or reductions in income, are informed of their eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program. The Lifeline program is the primary federal program charged with providing financial assistance to help low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services. 

The ongoing pandemic has led to financial hardships for millions of Americans. At least 26 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the past month alone, and states are seeing a surge in applications for SNAP benefits. Medicaid enrollment is also expected to increase significantly as a result of these unprecedented job losses and health coverage. Non-essential businesses and schools have closed across the country to limit the spread of the coronavirus, leaving families to rely on the internet now more than ever to access public benefits, search for employment, learn from home, or access telehealth services. The need is greatest among low-income households forced to stretch limited resources to try to keep up with monthly expenses and put food on the table during the public health crisis. For these vulnerable populations, the FCC’s Lifeline program can help struggling families afford basic internet and telephone connectivity at a time when they need it most – but only if they know about it.

Congress recently passed legislation to provide states additional funding and flexibility to streamline access to SNAP for people adversely effected by the economic impact of the coronavirus. Many of the at least 26 million Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own in the last five weeks may also soon turn to the food assistance programs to feed their families and enroll in Medicaid to access necessary health care. This will likely lead to a significant increase in the number of individuals eligible for the Lifeline program.  

Even before the pandemic, only 7 million out of the 38 million people who were eligible for the Lifeline program were enrolled. While we understand that the FCC has traditionally issued guidelines for states and telecommunications providers to advertise the Lifeline program, given the critical role of internet connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic, we urge the FCC to coordinate directly with USDA and HHS as well as states and stakeholders to help ensure people in need are informed about their eligibility for the Lifeline program. We also respectfully request responses to the following questions: 

  1. What is the FCC currently doing to work with the USDA and HHS to help ensure that people in the U.S. who are newly eligible for the Lifeline program are aware that they can receive subsidized communications services? 
  2. What data has the FCC collected on the number of people in the U.S. who are newly eligible for the Lifeline program since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and how many of those newly eligible have enrolled in the program? 
  3. Please detail the additional resources and authorities the FCC needs to ensure qualifying people in the U.S. know that they are eligible for the Lifeline program. 

Thank you for prompt attention to this matter. We look forward to your response. 

Sincerely,

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and 22 of his Senate colleagues in urging the Department of Treasury to increase its efforts to make Economic Impact Payments available to the most vulnerable populations—including those without access to the internet who cannot file a tax return electronically.  In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Durbin and the Senators highlighted that at least 21 million Americans are without high-speed internet access and they face a significant barrier in their ability to file a simple tax return online if they are not eligible to receive an automatic payment.  

“We request that you leverage the resources and information at your disposal or partner with the necessary federal agencies to get this relief into the hands of those who need it the most, including Americans who do not have internet access.  Time is of the essence and we hope that you will act quickly and decisively in addressing our concerns,” the Senators wrote. 

Joining Sens. Warner and Durbin on the letter included Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Doug Jones (D-AL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Angus King (I-ME), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Jack Reed (D-RI).  

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

April 22, 2020
 
Dear Secretary Mnuchin:
We write today urging the Department of Treasury (Treasury) to redouble its efforts to make Economic Impact Payments available to the most vulnerable populations—including those without access to the internet who cannot file a tax return electronically.  We appreciate your decision to ensure that Social Security retirement and disability beneficiaries, as well as Supplemental Security Income recipients, can receive these payments automatically without filing a tax return.  These course corrections were the right move. 
The coronavirus public health emergency has come at a great cost to many Americans, but undoubtedly has had a disproportionate impact on low-income families, seniors, rural communities, and communities of color.  To bring much needed economic relief to these populations, on a bipartisan basis, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which authorized direct cash assistance to be sent to most Americans.
To the credit of both the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in just a matter of a few short weeks, American taxpayers are already receiving their Economic Impact Payments in their checking accounts.  While these efforts deserve recognition, the CARES Act also requires that Treasury coordinate with other federal agencies to conduct a public awareness campaign to ensure individuals who did not file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 are aware of their eligibility for the payment.  As you conduct this public awareness campaign, we urge you to consider the unique challenges that low-income and rural Americans may face in filing a tax return online. 
The Federal Communications Commission’s 2019 annual Broadband Deployment Report found that more than 21 million Americans are without access to high-speed internet.  Due to gaps in our nation’s broadband maps, the number of Americans who lack adequate broadband coverage may be much higher.  Furthermore, a 2019 Pew Research Survey found that 50 percent of non-broadband users cite cost as a reason they do not have broadband at home.  These Americans face a significant barrier in their ability to file a simple tax return online if they are not eligible to receive an automatic payment.  Due to current social distancing guidelines, enlisting the help of a family member or friend with internet access is not a feasible option for these individuals.
Treasury must continue to focus on ensuring that those who need this assistance the most can receive their Economic Impact Payment as soon as possible.  We request that you leverage the resources and information at your disposal or partner with the necessary federal agencies to get this relief into the hands of those who need it the most, including Americans who do not have internet access.  Time is of the essence and we hope that you will act quickly and decisively in addressing our concerns.  We look forward to your response and we will continue working to address the needs of the most vulnerable.
Thank you for your consideration of this important issue.
Sincerely,
WASHINGTON - Following reports of escalating foreign cyber espionage and cybercrime targeting American health institutions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Cotton (R-AR), David Perdue (R-GA), and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) called on top U.S. cybersecurity officials to take immediate steps to bolster defenses, coordinate with hospitals, and engage in deterrence against such attacks. 

The bipartisan group of Senators wrote to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and United States Cyber Command after reports that Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and criminal groups have launched hacking campaigns targeting the U.S. health care and medical research sectors in recent weeks. These malicious campaigns included ransomware attacks hitting hospitals, disinformation about health related to COVID-19, and spying on U.S. medical response and research. 

“[O]ur country’s healthcare, public health, and research sectors are facing an unprecedented and perilous campaign of sophisticated hacking operations from state and criminal actors amid the coronavirus pandemic,” wrote the Senators in a letter to CISA Director Christopher Krebs and Cyber Command Commander Paul Nakasone. “Disinformation, disabled computers, and disrupted communications due to ransomware, denial of service attacks, and intrusions means critical lost time and diverted resources. During this moment of national crisis, the cybersecurity and digital resilience of our healthcare, public health, and research sectors are literally matters of life-or-death.”

The Senators urged the agencies to make cyber threat information public to enable better defensive efforts, as well as raise public alarm and issue statements putting adversaries on notice. The Senators also called on the agencies to provide technical assistance to help states in their cybersecurity efforts, convene stakeholders in the medical sector to make sure they have the necessary resources, and engage in deterrence actions as necessary. 

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

 

 

Dear Mr. Krebs and General Nakasone,

We write to raise our profound concerns that our country’s healthcare, public health, and research sectors are facing an unprecedented and perilous campaign of sophisticated hacking operations from state and criminal actors amid the coronavirus pandemic. These hacking attempts pose an alarming risk of disrupting or undermining our public health response at this time of crisis. We write to urge the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), in coordination with United States Cyber Command, and its partners to issue guidance to the health care sector, convene stakeholders, provide technical resources, and take necessary measures to deter our adversaries in response to these threats.

In recent weeks, Russian, Chinese, Iranian, and North Korean hacking operations have targeted the health care sector and used the coronavirus as a lure in their campaigns.  In March, the cyber security firm FireEye reported that a Chinese hacking group, APT41, carried out one of the broadest hacking campaigns from China in recent years, beginning at the onset of the pandemic.[1] According to researchers, APT41 is a sophisticated Chinese state sponsored group that specializes in espionage against healthcare, high-tech, and political interests.[2] This latest campaign sought to exploit several recent vulnerabilities in commonplace networking equipment, cloud software, and office IT management tools—the same systems that we are now more reliant on for telework and telehealth during this pandemic. Included in the new Chinese espionage campaign are the healthcare and pharmaceutical nonprofits and companies bracing to respond to the coronavirus. APT41’s campaign also appears to reflect a broader escalation from Chinese groups in recent weeks.[3]

China is not alone in exploiting the coronavirus pandemic against our interests. Russian, Iranian, and North Korean government hackers have reportedly targeted international health organizations and the public health institutions of U.S. allies.[4] Additionally, the State Department has identified disinformation operations from Russia, Iran, and China that sought to spread false information about coronavirus to undermine the nation’s response to the pandemic.[5] Unless we take forceful action to deny our adversaries success and deter them from further exploiting this crisis, we will be inviting further aggression from them and others.

The cybersecurity threat to our stretched and stressed medical and public health systems should not be ignored. Prior to the pandemic, hospitals had already struggled to defend themselves against an onslaught of ransomware and data breaches. Our hospitals are dependent on electronic health records, email, and internal networks that often heavily rely on legacy equipment. Even a minor technical issue with the email services of the Department of Health and Human Services meaningfully frustrated efforts to coordinate the federal government’s service.[6] Disinformation, disabled computers, and disrupted communications due to ransomware, denial of service attacks, and intrusions means critical lost time and diverted resources. During this moment of national crisis, the cybersecurity and digital resilience of our healthcare, public health, and research sectors are literally matters of life-or-death.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and Cyber Command are on the frontlines of our response to cybersecurity threats to our critical infrastructure. Hospitals, medical researchers, and other health institutions need the expertise and resources your agencies have developed defending against these same sophisticated threats. We urge you to take all necessary measures to protect these institutions during the coronavirus pandemic, including:           

1.)    Provide private and public cyber threat intelligence information, such as indicators of compromise (IOCs), on attacks against the healthcare, public health, and research sectors, including malware and ransomware.

2.)    Coordinate with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation on efforts to increase public awareness on cyberespionage, cybercrime, and disinformation targeting employees and consumers, especially as increased telework poses new risks to companies.

3.)    Provide threat assessments, resources, and additional guidance to the National Guard Bureau to ensure that personnel supporting state public health departments and other local emergency management agencies are prepared to defend critical infrastructure from cybersecurity breaches.

4.)    Convene and consult partners in the healthcare, public health, and research sectors, including its government and private healthcare councils, on what resources and information are needed to reinforce efforts to defend healthcare IT systems, such as vulnerability detection tools and threat hunting.

5.)    Consider issuing public statements regarding hacking operations and disinformation related to the coronavirus for public awareness and to put adversaries on notice, similar to the joint statement on election inference issued on March 2nd.

6.)    Evaluate further necessary action to defend forward in order to detect and deter attempts to intrude, exploit, and interfere with the healthcare, public health, and research sectors.

 We stand ready to work with you to provide any further resources necessary in this effort. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

 Sincerely,

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) issued the following statement today, after the FCC circulated a draft order to facilitate broadband deployment in L band: 

“I am pleased to see Chairman Pai circulate a draft order to finally allow for commercial deployments in the L Band. Throughout the history of commercial mobile communications, the U.S. has been solutions-oriented, favoring evidence-based testing and technology innovation to promote efficient spectrum usage. As the U.S. works to lead the world in 5G innovation – and as we work to promote wider coverage here in the U.S –  it’s all the more important to ensure valuable mid-band spectrum is put to use.

“Ligado, a Virginia company, has endured years of back-and-forth as the issue has been studied and re-studied. I encourage the Commission to approve this draft order expeditiously.”

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take immediate action to ensure that individuals all across the country have access to broadband, as more Americans are forced to rely on the internet for telework, telehealth, and online learning amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. According to the FCC’s latest figures, more than 20 million Americans continue to lack access to meaningful broadband service, with at least 770,000 Virginians currently unserved.

“Under the current circumstances, this lack of broadband access threatens to greatly – and potentially lastingly – exacerbate disparities in health, education, and economic equity,” wrote Sen. Warner. “On nearly a daily basis, I hear from Virginians who are struggling to engage in telework, supervise their children’s online learning, and engage in telehealth over antiquated DSL connections that make even a single one of these activities virtually impossible.”

“While I applaud a number of the steps the Commission has taken to improve service and widen access, including encouraging spectrum leases to utilize underutilized spectrum, temporarily waiving the E-Rate and Rural Health Care gift rules, and (after encouragement from offices such as mine) releasing a public notice clarifying that community use of E-Rate supported Wi-Fi networks is permitted, much more work remains to be done,” he continued. “While a number of preexisting broadband programs, such as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, will help close the broadband gap in the long-term, I encourage you to take action that can enable expanded coverage now.” 

Specifically, Sen. Warner urged the FCC to make it easier for wireless providers to increase existing signal contours, such as by temporarily increasing relevant power limits for Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) in rural and exurban areas and by relaxing current antenna height restrictions. He also encouraged the Commission to help facilitate backhaul options in unserved and underserved areas such as by clarifying that currently underutilized, E-Rate supported connections can be leveraged to support backhaul connections by fixed and mobile wireless providers during this health emergency.

In the letter, Sen. Warner also encouraged the FCC to work with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Department of Defense to reduce the size of exclusion zones that prevent many WISPs from taking advantage of the emergency Special Temporary Authority (STA) that allows unlicensed access to the 5850-5895 MHz band. In Virginia, for example, the 75-kilometer exclusion zones have prevented use of this spectrum in large areas, including the vast majority of the Eastern Shore.

Sen. Warner has been a longtime advocate of expanding broadband in rural and underserved areas. Earlier this week, he wrote to the FCC, encouraging the Commission to reform service rules to bring broadband to rural areas.

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

 

Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary

Federal Communications Commission

Office of the Secretary

445 12th Street, SW

Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Pai, 

Across the nation, Americans are struggling with the new reality of COVID-19 social distancing, with an unprecedented number of Americans reliant on internet connectivity for telework, telehealth, and online learning. For too many Americans, however, even this challenging new status quo is unattainable: according to the latest figures from the FCC, over 20 million Americans still lack access to meaningful broadband service, with at least 770,000 Virginians currently unserved.  Many accounts suggest that even these figures tend to underestimate the broadband gap.   

This digital divide impacts nearly every aspect of life for Virginians living without access to broadband, as it has become a precondition to meaningful participation in the digital economy. This contrast has become more stark in the last month, with an unprecedented number of Americans now heavily reliant on broadband access for telework, telehealth, and online education.

Even in normal times, lack of broadband access prevents students from achieving their full potential, denies seniors and veterans access to telemedicine solutions that can improve care and reduce costs, prevents farmers from accessing innovative precision agriculture tools, and limits the economic potential of too many rural communities. Under the current circumstances, this lack of broadband access threatens to greatly – and potentially lastingly – exacerbate disparities in health, education, and economic equity. On nearly a daily basis, I hear from Virginians who are struggling to engage in telework, supervise their children’s online learning, and engage in telehealth over antiquated DSL connections that make even a single one of these activities virtually impossible. 

While I applaud a number of the steps the Commission has taken to improve service and widen access, including encouraging spectrum leases to utilize underutilized spectrum, temporarily waiving the E-Rate and Rural Health Care gift rules, and (after encouragement from offices such as mine) releasing a public notice clarifying that community use of E-Rate supported Wi-Fi networks is permitted, much more work remains to be done. While a number of preexisting broadband programs, such as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, will help close the broadband gap in the long-term, I encourage you to take action that can enable expanded coverage now.

For instance, the FCC should facilitate actions by wireless providers to dramatically increase existing signal contours, such as by temporarily increasing relevant power limits for Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs), particularly in rural and exurban areas where the risk of degradation to other users is lower, and by relaxing current antenna height restrictions. Similarly, the Commission should look to help facilitate backhaul options in under- and unserved areas, such as by clarifying that currently underutilized, E-Rate supported connections can be leveraged to support backhaul connections by fixed and mobile wireless providers during this health emergency. E-Rate supported schools and libraries often possess robust connections in many rural areas that lack meaningful home broadband options. 

Lastly, while grant of emergency Special Temporary Authority (STA) to allow unlicensed access to the 5850-5895 MHz band should certainly help, in states like Virginia the 75 kilometer exclusion zones have prevented use of this spectrum in large areas, including the vast majority of the Eastern Shore. I encourage you to work with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Department of Defense to reduce the size of these exclusions zones during this public health emergency. 

I believe Congress erred when it failed to include funding for home broadband in the CARES Act. I fear that, absent immediate action by the FCC, the persistence of the broadband gap could go down as one of the major reasons our economy was not well-positioned to respond to COVID-19. What we do in the next weeks and months will be pivotal.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) expressed his support for a proposed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that would clear regulatory barriers and support greater utilization of TV white space (TVWS) technology to bring affordable and reliable internet to millions of Americans, such as the estimated 770,000 Virginians who lack access to broadband. In a letter, Sen. Warner commended the FCC for itsNotice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and encouraged the Commission to swiftly adopt final rules as more Americans are forced to rely on the internet for telehealth and distance learning, among other things, in the wake of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“This digital divide impacts nearly every aspect of life for Virginians living without access to broadband, as broadband has become a precondition to meaningful participation in the digital economy. This contrast has become worryingly more stark in the last month, with an unprecedented number of Americans now heavily reliant on broadband access for telework, telehealth, and online education,” wrote Sen. Warner. “Even in normal times, this lack of broadband access prevents students from achieving their full potential, denies seniors and veterans access to telemedicine solutions that can improve care and reduce costs, prevents farmers from accessing innovative precision agriculture tools, and limits the economic potential of too many rural communities.” 

According to an analysis of usage data, as many as 3.3 million Virginians do not use the internet at broadband speeds.

“In order to swiftly eliminate the digital divide, we must support sound policy that maximizes the use of innovative technologies and promotes efficient spectrum use in rural areas,” he continued. “The Commission’s NPRM will permit higher transmit power and higher antennas for fixed white space devices throughout rural areas. It also permits higher power mobile operations within geofenced areas and rule revisions to allow for the development of new Internet of Things-based services.”

TVWS – the inactive white space channels between active television channels – were originally created to provide a buffer between channels to prevent broadcasting interference. However, with additional capacity created by the transition to digital television and in the wake of the broadcast television incentive auction, these channels can also be used by internet service providers to provide broadband internet access in areas with scarce internet connectivity, such as rural communities.

In the letter, Sen. Warner noted that TVWS has already proven to be an effective tool in the Commonwealth. The Senator pointed to a TVWS pilot program in Claudville, Va. that connected small businesses, homes, schools and even the local post office to broadband internet. He also highlighted efforts by the Southern Virginia Homework Network, which utilized a TVWS solution to bring free broadband internet access to students in parts of Charlotte and Halifax counties.

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

 

Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary

Federal Communications Commission

Office of the Secretary

445 12th Street, SW

Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Pai and Commissioners Rosenworcel, O’Rielly, Carr and Starks: 

Eliminating the digital divide is the 21st century extension of the Federal Communications Commission’s original universal service mandate. The importance of this effort – and the extent of remaining work to be done – has only been magnified in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. A key component of this mission in recent years has been the embrace of non-traditional broadband access technologies to close the gap in rural areas. To that end, I commend the Commission for the adoption of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to clear regulatory barriers to greater deployment of TV white space (TVWS) technology.

According to the latest figures from the FCC, there are at least 770,000 Virginians who lack access to broadband.  In addition, as many as 3.3 million Virginians do not use the Internet at broadband speeds according to an analysis of usage data.  This digital divide impacts nearly every aspect of life for Virginians living without access to broadband, as broadband has become a precondition to meaningful participation in the digital economy. This contrast has become worryingly more stark in the last month, with an unprecedented number of Americans now heavily reliant on broadband access for telework, telehealth, and online education.

Even in normal times, this lack of broadband access prevents students from achieving their full potential, denies seniors and veterans access to telemedicine solutions that can improve care and reduce costs, prevents farmers from accessing innovative precision agriculture tools, and limits the economic potential of too many rural communities. Under the current circumstances, this lack of broadband access threatens to greatly – and potentially lastingly – exacerbate disparities in health, education, and economic equity. 

In order to swiftly eliminate the digital divide, we must support sound policy that maximizes the use of innovative technologies and promotes efficient spectrum use in rural areas. As providers deploy hybrid networks and leverage all relevant technologies to serve rural areas, it is important to update our policies to leverage the capabilities of rural solutions like TVWS technology. The Commission’s NPRM will permit higher transmit power and higher antennas for fixed white space devices throughout rural areas. It also permits higher power mobile operations within geofenced areas and rule revisions to allow for the development of new Internet of Things-based services. In short, updated rules will support greater utilization of TVWS technology and help to bring affordable, reliable broadband to millions of Americans stuck behind the digital divide. Progress on this front has never been more important.

The application of TVWS broadband access technologies to close the rural broadband gap is not remote or speculative; in the Commonwealth of Virginia, TVWS has already proven to be an effective and important tool for hybrid network deployments. Claudville, Virginia was home to a TVWS pilot program that connected small businesses, homes, schools and even the local post office to broadband Internet. The Southern Virginia Homework Network, an initiative established through a partnership of Microsoft, Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) and the SOVA Innovation Center, used Adaptrum’s TVWS solution to bring free broadband Internet access to students in parts of Charlotte and Halifax counties. These deployments leveraged the fiber infrastructure crisscrossing Southside and Southwest Virginia – investments I oversaw as Governor nearly two decades ago.   

By clearing regulatory barriers, the Commission can enhance the pace, scale, and cost-effectiveness of broadband deployments in unserved and underserved rural communities, including through the use of TVWS technology. An innovative, ‘all-the-above’ approach to eliminating broadband gaps has never been more vital.

I commend the Commission for the adoption of the NPRM and respectfully encourage the Commission to move swiftly to adopt final rules in coming months before the end of the year.  

Thank you for your consideration and the Commission’s efforts to eliminate the digital divide.

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined 33 of their colleagues in a letter to House and Senate leadership requesting robust funding for all K-12 students to have adequate home internet connectivity given school closures due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The Senators expressed their disappointment with the lack of such funding in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that recently passed Congress, despite their repeated call for resources dedicated to distance learning. The lawmakers urged leadership in both chambers of Congress to support $2 billion in E-Rate funding in the next coronavirus relief package for students to learn at home.

“Children without connectivity are at risk of not only being unable to complete their homework during this pandemic, but being unable to continue their overall education,” wrote the lawmakers in their letter to Senate and House leadership. “Congress must address this issue by providing financial support specifically dedicated to expanding home internet access in the next emergency relief package so that no child falls behind in their education.”

In their letter, the lawmakers specifically request at least $2 billion in E-Rate funds for schools and libraries to provide Wi-Fi hotspots or other devices with Wi-Fi capability to students without adequate connectivity at their home.

The coronavirus pandemic has shined a bright light on the “homework gap” experienced by the 12 million students in this country who do not have internet access at home and are unable to complete their homework — at a time when more than 70 percent of educators assign schoolwork that requires internet access. Research has shown that the homework gap affects students in both rural and urban areas and disproportionately affects lower-income students and students of color. Students without internet access at home consistently score lower in reading, math, and science. Without Congressional action, this existing inequity will only be exacerbated by the high number of schools that are suspending in-person classes and have transitioned to remote learning over the internet to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff.

A copy of the letter can be found HERE.

Last month, Warner and Kaine called on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to provide clear guidance for school districts and institutions of higher education, as well as families and students, following widespread school closures across the country due to the spread of the coronavirus. In their letter, they highlighted that many students cannot access online learning because they do not have a computer or internet access.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) urged six internet networking device vendors to help ensure that their internet connectivity products remain secure as Americans across the nation ramp up their use of these devices for remote work, health, and education purposes as part of COVID-19 social distancing efforts. In letters to GoogleNetgearBelkinEeroAsus, and Commscope, Sen. Warner urged vendors to help ensure that their wireless access points, routers, modems, mesh network systems, and related connectivity products remain secure and cannot be easily exploited to attack consumer systems and workplace networks.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, Americans will depend on connectivity products to receive telehealth; remain connected with family, colleagues, employers, and friends; and to receive news reports, and guidance from government and public health officials,” wrote Sen. Warner. “During this time, the security of consumer devices and networks will be of heightened importance.”

He continued, “I request your attention and diligence to help protect the consumer devices you sell. Both new and older devices in use deserve protection from cybersecurity threats, including timely updates to mitigate vulnerabilities and exposures.”

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread, and workplaces, schools, and businesses shut their doors as part of social distancing efforts, Americans are increasingly relying on their home networks and personal internet connectivity devices. However, without proper cybersecurity measures, these home devices can pose a risk to larger workplace systems, potentially creating a door for bad actors to infiltrate these networks. 

According to CNBC, cyberthreats – including phishing and other cyber scams – have increased amid the COVID-19 outbreak, as online criminals look to take advantage of home network vulnerabilities and stressed IT systems.

In the letters, Sen. Warner urged vendors to continue to issue timely security updates in order to mitigate known cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Additionally, he stressed the importance of having vendors notify consumers who may own devices that are no longer able to receive critical updates and are therefore no longer protected from cybersecurity threats.

Sen. Warner also highlighted his Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act – a bipartisan bill he introduced last year that would improve the cybersecurity of Internet-of-Things devices and help ensure that vendors of key information technology products maintain coordinated vulnerability programs.

A full list of Sen. Warner’s work to protect Americans amid the COVID-19 outbreak is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced plans to pay clinicians across the country for telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries during the coronavirus outbreak. This decision was enabled by passage earlier this month of provisions from Sen. Warner's bipartisan CONNECT for Health Act of 2019, as part of the initial $8.3 billion coronavirus response package.

“I am relieved that Medicare is quickly moving to take advantage of the telehealth authorities Congress has given it through my legislation. There is no doubt that, if properly implemented, this technology will be a crucial tool for protecting American seniors during the coronavirus outbreak,” said Sen. Warner. ”The key now is for Medicare to take clear and decisive steps to swiftly put this technology in the hands of doctors and seniors at this critical moment in the COVID-19 outbreak. While it is unfortunate that it took a public health crisis to push these important telehealth provisions through, I am hopeful that, with proper implementation, this experience will eventually lead to a full expansion of telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries through passage of the bipartisan CONNECT for Health Act.”

The Warner-authored language in the first coronavirus response bill cuts restrictions on Medicare's use of telehealth for the COVID-19 public health emergency response. CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced Medicare's telehealth expansion yesterday at the White House during a Coronavirus Task Force press conference. 

“These changes allow seniors to communicate with their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility so that they can limit risk of exposure and spread of this virus,” Administrator Verma said at the press conference. “Clinicians on the frontlines will now have greater flexibility to safely treat our beneficiaries.”

The Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2019 builds on the progress made in recent years to increase the use of telehealth through Medicare. Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) the authority to waive telehealth restrictions when necessary;
  • Remove geographic and originating site restrictions for services like mental health and emergency medical care;
  • Allow rural health clinics and other community-based health care centers to provide telehealth services; and
  • Require a study to explore more ways to expand telehealth services so that more people can access health care services in their own homes.

Sen. Warner has been a longtime advocate for increased access to health care through telehealth. Last year, he successfully included a provision to expand telehealth services for substance abuse treatment in the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. In 2003, then-Gov. Warner expanded Medicaid coverage for telemedicine statewide, including evaluation and management visits, a range of individual psychotherapies, the full range of consultations, and some clinical services, including in cardiology and obstetrics. Coverage was also expanded to include non-physician providers. Among other benefits, the telehealth expansion allowed individuals in medically underserved and remote areas of Virginia to access quality specialty care that isn’t always available at home.

A list of Sen. Warner’s work to protect and support Virginians during the coronavirus outbreak is available here.

 

 

##

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) expressed deep concern that Google – despite claiming to ban ads that capitalize on novel coronavirus (COVID-19) fears – continues to run ads for products such as face masks and hand sanitizer, which not only exploit fear for profit but also serve to trigger shortages of essential health care products at a time of critical need. In their letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Senators slammed Google’s inattention to the misuse of its advertising platform and urged the FTC to intervene in order to protect the public and the nation’s supply chains.

“Browsing in incognito mode across a range of different devices, our staffs were consistently served dozens of ads for protective masks and hand sanitizer – in each case while on a page related to COVID-19,” the Senators wrote. “Scrutinizing the targeting information that Google provides pursuant to the AdChoices program, it became clear that these ads were targeted to users specifically because they were browsing articles on COVID-19. In other words, using browsing data that Google collects through its third-party web trackers, unscrupulous and predatory advertisers were able to directly target consumers browsing content on the outbreak in order to exploit their fear for profit.”

 “Google has made repeated representations to consumers that its policies prohibit ads for products such as protective masks. Yet the company appears not to be taking even rudimentary steps to enforce that policy, such as easily automated and scalable actions like flagging ads with relevant terms in the outbound URL. These misrepresentations generate direct harm to consumers, exploiting their legitimate fears over the COVID-19 outbreak to over-charge them for products. They also create widespread social harms to our nation’s response to this crisis, such as by contributing to shortages of products essential to the health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 response,” they continued. “Consumers should be able to rely on representations regarding a company’s business practices – particularly in cases, such as this, where Google has acknowledged that offending ads pose harm to consumers. If consumers cannot rely on a company’s representations, then the FTC must intervene.”

Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, it would need roughly 300 million N95 respirator masks – 270 million more masks than it currently has stockpiled. Due to this shortage, the U.S. Surgeon General urged the public to stop buying protective masks in order to ensure that health care workers have access to the resources they need to stay safe. 

On March 10, after several outlets reported that Google was serving these ads despite a policy that prohibits content that capitalizes off sensitive events, Google stated that it would formally ban ads for protective facemasks. However Google’s advertising platform continues to be exploited for fraudulent activity with these ads continuing to run, notably even on news articles reporting Google’s new policies.

In their letter, the Senators also highlighted previous efforts to encourage the FTC to address Google’s inattention to abuse and expressed disappointment with the FTC’s inaction.

A copy of the letter is available here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work to protect Americans amid the coronavirus outbreak is available here.

 

The Honorable Joseph J. Simons

Chairman

Federal Trade Commission

600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Chairman Simons,

The COVID-19 pandemic has impaired the global supply chain in myriad ways, but perhaps most notably by creating a shortage of products like protective face masks, which are needed by health care workers responding to this crisis. Major manufacturers like 3M are ramping up production in the wake of consumer-led shortages that are impacting supplies for the health care sector. In early March, the Department of Health and Human Services stated that while the U.S. has a stockpile of roughly 30 million N95 respirator masks, it needs roughly 300 million as the COVID-19 outbreak worsens.  In light of this, the U.S. Surgeon General has urged the public to stop buying protective masks.

Despite these pleas, a range of bad actors have continued to exploit fears surrounding the COVID-19 crisis for monetary gain. Earlier this month, CNBC and other outlets reported that Google was continually serving ads for products marketed as precautions for COVID-19 (including protective masks and hand sanitizer), despite a policy prohibiting content that capitalizes off of “sensitive events” such as natural disasters, conflicts, or death.  On March 10th, Google announced a formal ban on ads for protective face masks and claimed it would “take action as needed to protect users.”

Almost immediately, however, our staffs became aware that Google continued to serve ads for these masks – including, notably, on news articles reporting Google’s new policies. Browsing in incognito mode across a range of different devices, our staffs were consistently served dozens of ads for protective masks and hand sanitizer – in each case while on a page related to COVID-19. Scrutinizing the targeting information that Google provides pursuant to the AdChoices program, it became clear that these ads were targeted to users specifically because they were browsing articles on COVID-19. In other words, using browsing data that Google collects through its third-party web trackers, unscrupulous and predatory advertisers were able to directly target consumers browsing content on the outbreak in order to exploit their fear for profit.

These ads, from a range of different advertisers, were served by Google on websites for outlets such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, CNBC, The Irish Times, and myriad local broadcasting affiliates. In several hours of testing, our staffs were not served a single ad for such masks from other advertising platforms – yet generated several dozen from Google. Reporting by CNBC appears to confirm that other ad platforms seemed not to be serving such predatory ads.

Upon contacting the company, Google claimed it would need a full click string to detect these violations – a request that seemed odd in light of the sheer number of ads violating these policies and the ease with which our staffs were able to generate offending ads, across multiple devices and sites. Most disturbingly, the ad content included explicit references to “Protective Masks” and included a range of representations such as “Medical-Grade N95 filter mask.” The majority of these ads also suggested that consumers should take immediate action in light of “limited supplies.” Virtually every single outbound URL associated with these ads also contained clear indications that the ads violated the company’s policies – with “N95,” “mask,” “medical-grade,” and “3M-Mask” explicitly in the URL string. In addition to the social harm associated with contributing towards scarcity of these masks, the ads also appear to engage in price-gouging – with individual masks in many ads selling for $9.99 or $12.99.

For several years now, we have encouraged the FTC to address Google’s inattention to abuse, harmful activity, and fraud within the ad ecosystem that it largely dominates.  As one of us wrote your agency in 2018, “The FTC’s failure to act has had the effect of allowing Google to structure its own market; through a series of transactions, the company has accomplished a level of vertical integration that, in effect, allows it to act as the equivalent of market-maker, commodities broker, and commodities exchange for digital advertising… While the company controls each link in the supply chain and therefore maintains the power to monitor activity in the digital advertising market from start to finish, it has continued to be caught flat-footed in identifying and addressing digital ad fraud.”

Google’s inattention to the misuse of its advertising platform extends beyond digital ad fraud and predatory ads: in 2012, the Department of Justice announced one of the largest forfeitures in U.S. history, forcing Google to disgorge $500 million generated by unlawful ads marketing opioids to Americans.  Unfortunately, we have continued to see Google’s advertising platform exploited for abusive and fraudulent activity.

Google has made repeated representations to consumers that its policies prohibit ads for products such as protective masks. Yet the company appears not to be taking even rudimentary steps to enforce that policy, such as easily automated and scalable actions like flagging ads with relevant terms in the outbound URL. These misrepresentations generate direct harm to consumers, exploiting their legitimate fears over the COVID-19 outbreak to over-charge them for products. They also create widespread social harms to our nation’s response to this crisis, such as by contributing to shortages of products essential to the health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 response.

Consumers should be able to rely on representations regarding a company’s business practices – particularly in cases, such as this, where Google has acknowledged that offending ads pose harm to consumers. If consumers cannot rely on a company’s representations, then the FTC must intervene. The FTC routinely pursues enforcement actions against companies that don’t live up to the self-regulatory commitments they make, including in a 2012 case against Google for failing to follow the National Advertising Initiative code of conduct. 

Given the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s successful work in combatting similar misuse of the company’s advertising platform, we have provided a carbon copy of this letter to the DOJ to address this pattern of misbehavior in light of the FTC’s inaction.

Sincerely,

Cc:

Attorney General William Barr

Commissioner Rohit Chopra

Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter

Commissioner Noah Phillips

Commissioner Christine Wilson

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded announcements today by several major internet service providers that they adopt practices that will better accommodate the use of remote technologies that students, workers and public health officials will rely upon during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. On Thursday, Sen. Warner led 17 Senators in writing to the nation’s eight largest providers, calling on them to suspend data caps and overage fees that could present a barrier to telepresence services, and urging the companies to provide free or at-cost broadband options for students affected by the virus who otherwise lack broadband access for online learning during school closures caused by the outbreak. The letter also encouraged the companies to take proactive steps to provide under- and unserved households with broadband access, including through access to broadband hotspots.

“The coronavirus outbreak is already creating an unprecedented need for teleworking, telehealth and online education technology,” Sen. Warner said today. “I’m glad to see certain companies quickly responding to our letter and putting a pause on restrictive caps, fees and other policies that could interfere with online access during this critical time. I’m also pleased to see companies committing to expanding broadband access for students who may not have it so that their educations are not completely disrupted during school closures. I call on those internet providers that have not taken similar steps to do so immediately, in order to assist their fellow Americans during this time of great national strain.” 

Since receiving the Senator’s letter, AT&T, Charter, CenturyLink, Comcast, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and Cox, among others, have each announced a variety of new policies to help ensure Americans have reliable access to online services during the outbreak of COVID-19, such as service upgrades, fee waivers, free access to Wi-Fi hotspots, more affordable plans, free support services, and more. AT&T, CenturyLink and Comcast announced they would temporarily suspend data caps, along with other service changes. In response to the letter, Charter (which emphasized that its plans do not have data caps) announced that it would provide 60 days of free broadband to households with K-12 or college students currently without service – and, drawing from the letter’s recommendations, pledged to work with school districts to make eligible households aware of the offer. T-Mobile announced that it would provide unlimited smartphone data to all current subscribers and increase the data allowance to schools and students using their digital learning programs. Cox announced that it would changes to its Connect2Compete plan for low-cost broadband, including increasing speeds and providing one month of free service to new customers. Sprint announced it would provide all its subscribers with unlimited data for 60 days, along with other billing and service changes to cushion the impact of COVID-19. Verizon (whose wireline operations do not include caps) announced it would increase capacity and accelerate network investments, among other billing and service changes. 

A list of Sen. Warner’s work to protect and support Virginians during the coronavirus outbreak is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and 25 of his colleagues, in sending a letter to President Trump urging him to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to utilize telework capabilities to the maximum possible extent. While the Administration has issued guidance recommending agencies expand their telework capabilities, too many federal employees are still required to come to work in-person when they can do their job from home. As the Centers for Disease Control and other public health experts recommend practicing social-distancing, the federal government should lead by example and cease all policies that could endanger the health and safety of its employees and exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus.

The Senators write, “I urge you to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to use telework to the maximum extent practicable in light of the COVID-19 emergency. The Office of Management and Budget issued guidance for agencies to increase telework flexibility in the National Capital Region, but your order should be a clear direction – rather than general guidance – and it should be worldwide in scope.”

They underscore, “Your order should direct federal agencies to allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full-time, unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to do so for the effective operation of government. You should also order federal agencies to evaluate whether non-telework-eligible employees can be telework-eligible, and to do so for all employees where there is not a clear and compelling reason that telework is not compatible with the performance of their job functions.”  

The Senators close the letter, noting, “Voluntary guidance is not enough – agencies need clear orders. In the absence of a clear order, agencies and managers have been hesitant to take major actions to shift towards telework and I hear from increasingly anxious federal workers in my state on a daily basis.” 

In addition to Senator Van Hollen, the letter was signed by Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Angus King (I-Maine), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

 

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

Dear President Trump,

We urge you to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to use telework to the maximum extent practicable in light of the COVID-19 emergency. The Office of Management and Budget issued guidance for agencies to increase telework flexibility in the National Capital Region, but your order should be a clear direction – rather than general guidance – and it should be worldwide in scope. State and local governments have been far more proactive than the federal Executive Branch in making arrangements for their employees to telework where possible. We have maximized teleworking in our Senate Offices. You should order Executive agencies to do the same. We must lead by example. 

Your order should direct federal agencies to allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full-time, unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to do so for the effective operation of government. You should also order federal agencies to evaluate whether non-telework-eligible employees can be telework-eligible, and to do so for all employees where there is not a clear and compelling reason that telework is not compatible with the performance of their job functions. 

You should order agencies to immediately rescind all cuts to telework made since 2016. In 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, 21% of federal employees participated in telework – a slight decline after years of steady increases from 14% in 2012. In 2017, 43% of employees were telework-eligible, so allowing all of them to telework during this emergency would make an immediate difference. 

These telework directives should apply to federal workers throughout the United States and to other countries where there are cases of COVID-19. In the National Capital Region, 40% of Metro commuters during morning rush hour are federal employees, and these crowded trains and buses pose a major risk for COVID-19 transmission. But COVID-19 is a global pandemic, and only 15% of federal employees work in the National Capital Region. The federal government should not wait until an area already has widespread community transmission of COVID-19 to act.

Voluntary guidance is not enough – agencies need clear orders. In the absence of a clear order, agencies and managers have been hesitant to take major actions to shift towards telework and we hear from increasingly anxious federal workers in our states on a daily basis. 

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.

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WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark Warner (D-VA) led a letter urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to continue to prioritize American leadership in talks about international standards for artificial intelligence, and to build an international coalition to preserve the integrity of international standards setting bodies. The letter responds to efforts by China, and technology companies closely aligned with the Chinese Communist Party, to utilize international standards setting bodies, such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), to advance and legitimize artificial intelligence-based technologies, such as facial recognition technologies, that have been used to oppress Uyghur Muslims. The United States must ensure that American values remain a part of the international conversation about artificial intelligence and facial recognition.

“We are writing to share our concerns regarding efforts by China, and technology companies closely aligned with the Chinese Communist Party, to utilize international standards setting bodies, such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), to internationalize standards for advanced surveillance technology. The evidence from Xinjiang Province of how artificial intelligence-based technologies, such as facial recognition technologies, are used to oppress Uyghur Muslims makes clear that standards setting bodies should not be used to advance or legitimize such practices. We urge you to continue to prioritize American leadership on this issue, and build an international coalition to preserve international standards setting bodies as technical economic fora,” wrote the senators.

Portman and Warner were joined in sending the letter by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Gardner (D-CO), Chris Coons (D-DE), Steve Daines (R-MT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Mike Braun (R-IN), Ed Markey (D-MA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Gary Peters (D-MI), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).

The full text of the letter to Secretary Pompeo can be found below and here

Dear Secretary Pompeo,

 Thank you for your efforts to draw attention to, and address, the ever growing number of concerns about totalitarian activities by the People’s Republic of China. We are writing to share our concerns regarding efforts by China, and technology companies closely aligned with the Chinese Communist Party, to utilize international standards setting bodies, such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), to internationalize standards for advanced surveillance technology. The evidence from Xinjiang Province of how artificial intelligence-based technologies, such as facial recognition technologies, are used to oppress Uyghur Muslims makes clear that standards setting bodies should not be used to advance or legitimize such practices. We urge you to continue to prioritize American leadership on this issue, and build an international coalition to preserve international standards setting bodies as technical economic fora.

International standards setting bodies are foundational to international trade and commerce. Without them, a litany of technical and logistical barriers to trade erected by different countries – with divergence on things as wide-ranging as food labeling, construction materials, and wireless communications standards – would balkanize our global economy. Thanks to American industry’s leadership, the United States has consistently set the bar for international standards setting. We believe it is vital for our economy, and foreign policy, to maintain that leadership.

Unfortunately, China has indicated a willingness to use standard setting bodies in perverse ways to normalize global opinions about Orwellian surveillance technology. By shaping the debate about the legitimate uses of artificial intelligence and facial recognition, China can expand opportunities for countries, particularly those in the developing world, to utilize Chinese surveillance technology. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Chinese companies have supplied AI-based surveillance systems to 63 countries, including 36 of which are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. 

With respect to the Uyghurs, China is using technology in ways never seen before. China use facial recognition to profile Uyghur individuals, classify them on the basis of their ethnicity, and single them out for tracking, mistreatment, and detention. The machine learning techniques used in Xinjiang Province, and throughout China, which are designed specifically, and intentionally, to classify people on the basis of physical traits harken back to troubling practices related to phrenology and eugenics. And these technologies are deployed in service of a dystopian vision for technology governance, that harnesses the economic benefits of the internet in the absence of political freedom and sees technology companies as instruments of state power.

As you know, China is currently working to use standards setting bodies to gain the imprimatur of international legitimacy and support across a range of emerging technologies. China’s censorship and surveillance technologies are the envy of autocratic regimes around the world, with China exporting both its technology and its technology governance vision to countries such as Venezuela, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Rwanda, Mongolia, and Zimbabwe. China’s efforts to steer standards setting bodies towards work in service of this anti-democratic vision for technology undermines the apolitical purposes standard setting bodies serve.

At the same time, we have seen our position as a global leader on technology issues weakened by a retreat of the United States from the global stage. The United States and its allies must build international support for rules and standards that address the internet’s potential for censorship and repression, presenting alternatives that explicitly embrace a free and open internet. To that end, we urge you to work closely with other countries to ensure China cannot use the ITU to advance its techno-nationalist agenda.

Some argue that China has an inherent advantage over the United States with respect to artificial intelligence because of China’s lax privacy standards and lack of respect for human rights—we disagree. We believe privacy and human rights protections are features, not bugs, of our democracy and our culture of innovation; they make America stronger, and more likely to win any “artificial intelligence race” going forward. Ultimately, technology is shaped by the norms of its development. Thank you for your consideration of our views on the intersection of human rights and artificial intelligence in China, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that the American values remain part of the international conversation about artificial intelligence and facial recognition.

Sincerely,

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led 17 of his colleagues in sending a letter to the CEOs of eight major internet service providers (ISPs) calling on the companies to take steps to accommodate the unprecedented reliance we will likely see on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services.

In the letter, sent to the CEOS of AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, the Senators call on companies to suspend restrictions and fees that could limit telepresence options. With disruptions likely to reveal the full extent of the nation’s broadband gaps, they also call on the companies to provide free or at-cost broadband options for students affected by the virus who otherwise lack broadband access for online learning during the outbreak.

“As organizations around the country formulate their responses to the recent outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, we write to discuss the steps that your company is taking to accommodate the unprecedented reliance we will likely see on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services,” wrote the Senators. “Specifically, we ask that you temporarily suspend broadband caps and associated fees or throttling for all communities affected by COVID-19 and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost, broadband options for students whose schools close due to COVID-19 who don’t have access at home.”

The novel coronavirus has sickened more than 113,000 people around the world, and killed more than 4,000 people to date. In the letter, the Senators emphasize the unprecedented demand for telepresence services that will likely occur during the coronavirus outbreak. The letter also highlights data from the Joint Economic Committee that nearly 12 million children live in homes lacking a broadband connection. According to Education Week, over 1.3 million students have already been impacted thus far by the coronavirus outbreak. 

“No one should be penalized or suffer financial duress for following guidance from the CDC, their employer, local public health officials, or school leaders. Unfortunately, many Americans are subject to restrictive data caps for their home broadband service – caps that could be particularly onerous given the more intensive broadband usage of households practicing social distancing measures and the economic uncertainty for which too many people without paid sick leave are already bracing,” the Senators continued. “While it’s likely that your networks will experience significantly greater traffic as a consequence of social distancing measures, we encourage you to forebear from application of broadband caps and associated fees or throttling as workers and families cope with the effects of this health emergency.”

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was signed by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Gary Peters (D-MI).

A copy of the letter is found here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work on coronavirus is available here.

 

March 12, 2020

Jeff McElfresh

Chief Executive Officer

AT&T Inc.     

Whitacre Tower

208 S. Akard Street

Dallas, TX 75201

Thomas Rutledge

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Charter Communications, Inc.

400 Atlantic Street 10th floor

Stamford, CT 06901

Jeffrey Storey

President and Chief Executive Officer

CenturyLink, Inc.

1025 Eldorado Boulevard

Broomfield, CO 80021

Dave Watson

President and Chief Executive Officer

Comcast Cable Communications, LLC

One Comcast Center

1701 JFK Boulevard

Philadelphia, PA 19103

Pat Esser 

President and Chief Executive Officer

Cox Communications

6205-B Peachtree Dunwoody Road

Atlanta, GA 30328

Michel Combes

President and Chief Executive Officer

Sprint Corporation

6200 Sprint Parkway

Overland Park, KS 66211

John Legere

Chief Executive Officer

T-Mobile

12920 SE 38th Street

Bellevue, WA 98006

Hans Vestberg   

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Verizon Communications Inc.                   

One Verizon Way

Basking Ridge, NJ 07920

Dear Messrs. McElfresh, Esser, Rutledge, Combes, Storey, Legere, Watson, Vestberg:

As organizations around the country formulate their responses to the recent outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, we write to discuss the steps that your company is taking to accommodate the unprecedented reliance we will likely see on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services. Specifically, we ask that you temporarily suspend broadband caps and associated fees or throttling for all communities affected by COVID-19 and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost, broadband options for students whose schools close due to COVID-19 who don’t have access at home.

The novel coronavirus has sickened more than 113,000 people around the world, and killed more than 4,000 people to date. While this situation is rapidly evolving, including in the United States and Europe, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is very high and the spread of the disease in other countries shines a light on the need for a whole-of-society response.

On March 3, 2020, the CDC issued an interim guidance recommending that specific community actions be taken to limit exposure to the virus,[1] on top of previously recommended community-based interventions in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak such as school dismissals, event cancellations, social distancing, and creating employee plans to work remotely.[2] While the spread of COVID-19 is likely to affect different individuals, families, and communities differently, it is increasingly likely that a significant number of Americans will need to practice social distancing in some way.

During this period, it’s likely that we’ll see historic numbers of American students and their teachers relying on data-intensive services such as video teleconferencing, remote learning courses, and virtual mental health services. According to UNESCO, a “record number of school children are not attending school or university because of temporary or indefinite closures mandated by governments.”[3] Selected schools have closed in at least 21 states and that number seems likely to rise as the number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 increases. According to Education Week, over 1,300,000 students have been impacted thus far.[4] Millions of workers have already begun teleworking in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19; as evidence of the unprecedented demand for telework that we can expect to continue, videoconferencing software company Zoom has already added more active users this year than it did in all of 2019.[5] To effectively contain the disruptive impact that social distancing measures will have on our economy and on American students, it will be essential that these students, teachers, and workers – including patients and providers using telehealth in place of in-person care – have access to affordable broadband.

No one should be penalized or suffer financial duress for following guidance from the CDC, their employer, local public health officials, or school leaders. Unfortunately, many Americans are subject to restrictive data caps for their home broadband service – caps that could be particularly onerous given the more intensive broadband usage of households practicing social distancing measures and the economic uncertainty for which too many people without paid sick leave are already bracing. While it’s likely that your networks will experience significantly greater traffic as a consequence of social distancing measures, we encourage you to forebear from application of broadband caps and associated fees or throttling as workers and families cope with the effects of this health emergency.

These disruptions are also likely to acutely highlight the broadband gap that too many American households still face. According to some estimates, nearly one-third of American households lack meaningful broadband access, either because their homes are unserved or because they cannot afford broadband service.[6] Nearly 12 million children, for instance, live in homes lacking a broadband connection— a gap that highlights wider inequities facing rural Americans, American communities of color, and economically disadvantaged communities.[7] Without meaningful broadband access, students from these communities could be set back months in their learning – further exacerbating the socio-economic disparities these communities face. To that end, we encourage you to make efforts to work with local school districts, community colleges, and universities to provide under- and unserved households with free, or at-cost, broadband options, including through the provision of mobile hotspots.

We look forward to hearing swiftly 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. Containing the health impact of COVID-19 will depend on observance of social distancing measures outlined by CDC and 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 workers and students.

Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter.  We are anxious to hear your response.

Sincerely,

###


[1] “Interim US Guidance for Risk Assessment and Public Health Management of Persons with Potential Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Exposures,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (March 7, 2020), available at:  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/risk-assessment.html

[2] “Preventing COVID-19 Spread in Communities,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (March 20, 2020), available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/index.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fpreparing-individuals-communities.html

[3] “COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response,” United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (March 11, 2020), available at: https://en.unesco.org/themes/education-emergencies/coronavirus-school-closures

[4] “Map: Coronavirus and School Closures,” Education Week (March 11, 2020), available at: https://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/map-coronavirus-and-school-closures.html

[5] Jordan Novet, “Zoom Has Added More Videoconferencing Users This Year Than in All of 2019 Thanks to Coronavirus, Bernstein Says,” CNBC (February 26, 2020), available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/26/zoom-has-added-more-users-so-far-this-year-than-in-2019-bernstein.html

[6] Brian Heater, “Nearly A Third of US Households Don’t Have A Broadband Connection,” TechCrunch (July 25, 2019), available at: https://techcrunch.com/2019/07/25/nearly-a-third-of-u-s-households-dont-have-a-broadband-connection/

[7] “America’s Digital Divide,” Democratic Staff of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (September 2017), available at: https://www.jec.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/ff7b3d0b-bc00-4498-9f9d-3e56ef95088f/the-digital-divide-.pdf

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) urged Vice President Mike Pence to take steps to both combat online misinformation related to the coronavirus outbreak and to correct false and misleading statements by the President and other members of the Administration, in the interest of public health. This letter follows reports of widespread misinformation on social media about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) – from conspiracies about the virus’ inception, to false claims about products that were said to provide immunity or cures.

“I am deeply concerned that despite the seriousness of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, your coronavirus taskforce and members of the Administration have failed to consistently counter the significant amount of misinformation conveyed to the American public. In many instances, we have seen misinformation spread by those seeking to profit from untested and potentially dangerous products misrepresented as effective treatments for the virus,” wrote Sen. Warner. “Of even greater concern, false or misleading information has also come directly from prominent members of the Administration, up to and including the President.”

“The President’s injudicious and false statements could gravely undermine ongoing public health efforts to contain the outbreak. His statements directly conflict with the advice and recommendations of your own coordinated federal response and leading public health experts and will likely exacerbate economic uncertainty and discourage individuals from seeking needed care. To date, I am not aware of any steps your Administration has taken to publicly correct this false narrative,” he continued. “Simply put – this conflicting messaging and misinformation will weaken our ability to respond to COVID-19 and significantly undermine ongoing public health efforts. I strongly encourage you to publicly withdraw and correct President Trump’s statements and other false statements made by members of the Administration. In addition I ask that, moving forward, the coronavirus taskforce proactively monitor and develop a comprehensive strategy to counter widespread misinformation, including campaigns by foreign actors or parties seeking to profit from fraudulent health treatments. Information conveyed to the public must accurately reflect the latest guidance from public health experts and other authorities.”

Around the world, the novel coronavirus has sickened more than 113,000 people and killed more than 4,000 people to date. In the Commonwealth of Virginia alone, there have been nine identified cases of the virus. 

In his letter, Sen. Warner noted that the President’s false statements “stoke and legitimize already widespread online misinformation concerning the virus.”  He also highlighted indications “that at least some of the misinformation is derived from, or at least amplified by, malicious foreign actors.”

A copy of the letter is available here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work on coronavirus is available here.

 

The Honorable Michael R. Pence

Vice President of the United States of America

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Vice President Pence:

I am deeply concerned that despite the seriousness of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, your coronavirus taskforce and members of the Administration have failed to consistently counter the significant amount of misinformation conveyed to the American public. In many instances, we have seen misinformation spread by those seeking to profit from untested and potentially dangerous products misrepresented as effective treatments for the virus.[1] Of even greater concern, false or misleading information has also come directly from prominent members of the Administration, up to and including the President. I believe that, left unaddressed, this misinformation and conflicting messaging will undermine our ability to respond to COVID-19 by reducing public confidence in ongoing public health efforts, creating economic uncertainty and causing the public to respond in counterproductive ways.

As you know, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has sickened more than 118,000 people around the world, and killed more than 4,200 people to date.[2] While this situation is rapidly evolving in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is very high.[3] It is essential that the Administration communicate timely and accurate information to the American public. This should include a coordinated effort to address potentially harmful misinformation spread through social media and other sources.

On March 4, 2020, during a phone call televised to millions of viewers, President Donald J. Trump indicated that Americans who fear they may have COVID-19 should continue going to work and not seek medical care, and told viewers that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) estimates of the virus’ deadliness were false.[4] In addition, on February 26, 2020 the President carelessly downplayed the seriousness of this outbreak by telling the American public that COVID-19 cases in the U.S. were “going very substantially down, not up” and that the existing 15 cases in the U.S. “is going to be down to close to zero” in two days.[5] As you know, cases have increased exponentially since that time.

The President’s injudicious and false statements could gravely undermine ongoing public health efforts to contain the outbreak. His statements directly conflict with the advice and recommendations of your own coordinated federal response and leading public health experts and will likely exacerbate economic uncertainty and discourage individuals from seeking needed care. To date, I am not aware of any steps your Administration has taken to publicly correct this false narrative.

In addition, such remarks stoke and legitimize already widespread online misinformation concerning the virus. There are indications that at least some of the misinformation is derived from, or at least amplified by, malicious foreign actors.[6] Additional misleading statements from members of the Administration, combined with intentional falsehoods pushed by these malicious actors, will only make matters worse.

Successfully combatting COVID-19 will require that public officials, health care providers and the American public act in a coordinated and responsible manner and, should the need arise, follow recommendations of public health experts to social distance, self-quarantine and take additional safety measures. This will not be possible if the Administration does not take proactive steps to counter false information and consistently relay trusted, accurate and timely information to the American public.

Simply put – this conflicting messaging and misinformation will weaken our ability to respond to COVID-19 and significantly undermine ongoing public health efforts. I strongly encourage you to publicly withdraw and correct President Trump’s statements and other false statements made by members of the Administration. In addition I ask that, moving forward, the coronavirus taskforce proactively monitor and develop a comprehensive strategy to counter widespread misinformation, including campaigns by foreign actors or parties seeking to profit from fraudulent health treatments. Information conveyed to the public must accurately reflect the latest guidance from public health experts and other authorities. Thank you for your attention to this request and I look forward to your response.                                               

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON- U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) issued the following statements after their Secure 5G and Beyond Act, which would require the President to develop a strategy and implementation plan to ensure the security of next-gen mobile telecommunications systems and infrastructure in the United States, passed the House of Representatives:

“Securing our telecommunications infrastructure from foreign interference is a priority as we work to keep the United States on the cutting-edge of 5G technology,” said Sen. Cornyn. “I appreciate the House of Representatives for swiftly passing this legislation, and I look forward to it becoming the law of the land soon.”

“5G is the next great technological evolution for the telecommunications industry,” said Sen. Burr. “The same features that make 5G a powerful tool for growth and innovation – its incredible speed and wide reach – also pose an unprecedented national security challenge.  Now is the time for the U.S. to develop a real strategy for confronting these challenges, and I applaud Congress for advancing us toward that goal.”

“5G promises to usher in a new wave of innovations, products, and services. At the same time, the greater complexity, density, and speed of 5G networks relative to traditional communications networks will make securing these networks harder and more complex. It’s why we need a coherent, national strategy to harness the advantages of 5G in a way that addresses those risks,” said Sen. Warner. “I’m glad that the House has passed our bill and is sending it on to the President’s desk for his signature.”

Background on the Secure 5G and Beyond Act:

  • Requires the President to create an inter-agency strategy to secure 5th generation and future generation technology and infrastructure in the United States and with our strategic allies.
  • Designates NTIA to assist the President in managing the implementation plan in coordination with: the Chairman Federal Communications Commission, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense.
  • Ensures that the strategy and implementation plan do not include a recommendation to nationalize 5th generation deployment or future generations of mobile telecommunications infrastructure in the United States.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.

###

WASHINGTON- U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) issued the following statements after the Senate passed their legislation, the Secure 5G and Beyond Act, yesterday to require the President to develop a strategy to ensure the security of next-gen mobile telecommunications systems and infrastructure in the United States, as well as assist allies in maximizing the security of their systems, infrastructure, and software:

“As our telecommunications technology advances, we must have plans in place to keep it secure from foreign interference,” said Sen. Cornyn. “I’m grateful to my colleagues for recognizing the risks that come along with the rewards of 5G technology, and I urge the House to pass this legislation as soon as possible.”

“It’s imperative we not only understand the revolutionary value of next-gen communications, but also the security measures required to ensure the deployment of safe and secure 5G networks,” said Sen. Burr. “I’m proud to work with my colleagues on this important legislation, which will bring together a variety of industry experts, further protect Americans’ privacy rights, and better equip our nation with a comprehensive strategy as we continue to be a global leader in technology.”

“5G promises to usher in a new wave of innovations, products, and services. At the same time, the greater complexity, density, and speed of 5G networks relative to traditional communications networks will make securing these networks harder and more complex. It’s why we need a coherent, national strategy to harness the advantages of 5G in a way that addresses those risks,” said Sen. Warner.

Background on the Secure 5G and Beyond Act:

  • Requires the President to create an inter-agency strategy to secure 5th generation and future generation technology and infrastructure in the United States and with our strategic allies.
  • Designates NTIA to coordinate implementation of the plan in coordination with: the Chairman of the FCC, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, the Attorney General, Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense.
  • Ensures that the strategy and implementation plan do not include a recommendation to nationalize 5th generation deployment or future generations of mobile telecommunications infrastructure in the United States.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, stressed the importance of vulnerability disclosure programs, such as the one at the Department of Defense (DoD) that recently allowed a researcher to report malware that was actively exploiting a security misconfiguration on a DoD server. In a letter to the DoD’s Chief Information Officer, Sen. Warner highlighted his Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act, noting that the piece of legislation would help advance similar coordinated vulnerability programs and work in conjunction with the procedures in place at DoD.

The bipartisan, bicameral legislation, which successfully passed through the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in June, would improve the cybersecurity of Internet-connected devices and require that devices purchased by the U.S. government meet certain minimum security requirements.

“This incident demonstrates the inherent value of vulnerability disclosure programs for information technology products operated by federal agencies,” wrote Sen. Warner. “These programs are a crucial force multiplier for federal cybersecurity efforts. Clear guidelines and a process for security researchers to find and share vulnerabilities enabled this malware discovery, and ultimately prompt remedial action by DoD. Continuing to encourage the responsible discovery and disclosure of bugs or vulnerabilities on federal information technology systems with both internal and outside security researchers can only strengthen the cybersecurity posture of federal and DoD systems.”

According to ZDNet, a security researcher searching for bots discovered that a DoD automation server running on an Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud-computing platform was publicly accessible and did not require login credentials. Later on, the researcher discovered that the server had been compromised and was being used to mine cryptocurrency by a botnet.

In his letter, the Senator also emphasized the need to utilize proper cybersecurity measures and monitoring, including on commercial cloud-computing platforms and open source software, such as the server involved in the DoD incident.  

“I am hopeful that DoD will take the lessons from this incident seriously and reassess current processes as necessary. It is crucial to ensure that future incidents involving open vulnerabilities and improper access configurations that permit malware installation on federal information technology systems cannot reoccur, including on systems hosted by commercial cloud service providers,” he continued. “I also hope to continue to work with you on passing my legislation and continuing to push for strong, thoughtful, cybersecurity policies.”

 

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

Dana Deasy

Chief Information Officer

U.S. Department of Defense

1300 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301-1300

Dear Mr. Deasy:

I write about some recently reported cybersecurity issues at DoD.  In particular, I read about malware actively exploiting a security misconfiguration that was recently discovered on a Department of Defense (DoD) web server. From the current analysis and reporting of the incident, the malware was part of a botnet that apparently mined cryptocurrency using DoD resources and IT systems and raises broader cybersecurity concerns.

According to news reports, a security researcher first found the vulnerability on a DoD-managed cloud computing system exposed to the internet. The researcher then discovered that malware associated with mining Monero cryptocurrency was installed and operating on the same server. In January, once the security certificate identified the web server as an official DoD resource, the researcher reported the vulnerability and subsequent malware discovery under DoD’s official vulnerability disclosure program. 

This incident demonstrates the inherent value of vulnerability disclosure programs for information technology products operated by federal agencies. These programs are a crucial force multiplier for federal cybersecurity efforts. Clear guidelines and a process for security researchers to find and share vulnerabilities enabled this malware discovery, and ultimately prompt remedial action by DoD. Continuing to encourage the responsible discovery and disclosure of bugs or vulnerabilities on federal information technology systems with both internal and outside security researchers can only strengthen the cybersecurity posture of federal and DoD systems.

There is pending bipartisan, bicameral legislation that I have introduced which would ensure that vendors of key information technology products, such as Internet of Things devices, maintain coordinated vulnerability programs.  This bill would serve as a complement to the procedures DoD already employs.

While the use of commercial cloud computing can be a cost effective method to deploy and manage information technology and services, the use of a cloud itself does not ensure cybersecurity. Rigorous cybersecurity defensive measures and monitoring remain crucial for systems, even when DoD resources are deployed on commercial cloud computing platforms. While open source software, such as the automation server employed in this incident, may be beneficial, it is also essential to monitor all software for vulnerabilities and ensure they are promptly mitigated. Likewise, continuous use of software requires an effective continuous monitoring process for addressing newly discovered vulnerabilities in the software. And perhaps most importantly in the shared security model of commercial cloud computing, ensuring safe and secure configurations related to access is a key concern. 

I am hopeful that DoD will take the lessons from this incident seriously and reassess current processes as necessary. It is crucial to ensure that future incidents involving open vulnerabilities and improper access configurations that permit malware installation on federal information technology systems cannot reoccur, including on systems hosted by commercial cloud service providers. I also hope to continue to work with you on passing my legislation and continuing to push for strong, thoughtful, cybersecurity policies.

As always, I appreciate your service in this important role.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Eastern District of New York announced charges against Huawei Technologies Co., LTD and several of its subsidiaries. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) released the following statement:

“Today's announcement by the Eastern District of New York is an important step in combatting Huawei's state-directed and criminal enterprise. The indictment paints a damning portrait of an illegitimate organization that lacks any regard for the law. Intellectual property theft, corporate sabotage, and market manipulation are part of Huawei's core ethos and reflected in every aspect of how it conducts business. It uses these tactics indiscriminately against competitors and collaborators alike. Huawei's unlawful business practices are a threat to fair and open markets, as well as to legitimate competition in a tech space that is critical for the global economy. We commend the men and women of the FBI who pursued this investigation, and the prosecutors in New York who brought this indictment.”

###

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 federal prosecutors today charged four Chinese intelligence officers with hacking Equifax in one of the largest data breaches in history:

“I’m glad the DOJ has moved to formally indict the Chinese intelligence officers associated with the hack of Equifax. For years, the Chinese government has targeted western commercial firms. It is disappointing that despite a lot of rhetoric President Trump’s recent agreement with China does nothing to address this specific issue.

“That said, the indictment does not detract from the myriad of vulnerabilities and process deficiencies that we saw in Equifax’s systems and response to the hack. A company in the business of collecting and retaining massive amounts of Americans’ sensitive personal information must act with the utmost care – and face any consequences that arise from that failure. The legislation I have with Senator Warren would subject data brokers to a higher standard of care and is an important first step in data protection.”

Sen. Warner has been outspoken about the importance of protecting consumers from data theft by employing adequate cybersecurity practices. He has previously introduced legislation to hold large credit reporting agencies – including Equifax – accountable for data breaches involving sensitive consumer data.

###

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 allow Chinese equipment provider Huawei to help build its 5G wireless network:

"I am disappointed by the UK’s decision today, especially since the security risks are so well understood. But under current circumstances, I remain committed to working with the UK and other key allies to build more diverse and secure telecommunication options that provide competitive alternatives to Huawei.  I have introduced legislation that seeks to accomplish that, including a Multilateral Telecommunications Security Fund, and hope the UK will commit to partnering on this effort in the coming months. It is critical that countries committed to building and maintaining secure networks come together. Current financial support by China for Huawei puts any Western alternative at a serious disadvantage.”

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. Earlier this month, Sen. Warner and a bipartisan group of leading national security Senators 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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