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NEW ELECTION FUNDS: The coronavirus stimulus deal the Senate is expected to pass on a bipartisan basis Wednesday includes $400 million to shore up elections and promote mail-in voting in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
A Senate source told The Hill that the $400 million would be made available to states to “help prepare for the 2020 election cycle, including to increase the ability to vote by mail, expand early voting and online registration, and increase the safety of voting in-person by providing additional voting facilities and more poll workers.”
The funds, which were included in an estimated $2 trillion spending package that the Senate is expected to approve on Wednesday, are an increase from the previous $140 million figure proposed in an earlier Senate funding bill.
The $400 million is a major decrease in comparison to a spending package rolled out by House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Airbnb – Senators clinch deal on T stimulus package White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package Democrats eye remote voting options MORE (D-Calif.) earlier this week, which proposed giving states $4 billion to ensure elections would be able to continue this year despite the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Senate Democrats and election advocates pushed hard in recent days for the Senate to include the funds in any coronavirus spending deal. Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Facebook reports huge spike in usage during pandemic | Democrats push for mail-in voting funds in coronavirus stimulus | Trump delays deadline to acquire REAL ID Biden says he has ‘short list’ of potential women for VP pick The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Airbnb – Trump, Dems close in on deal MORE (D-Minn.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Facebook reports huge spike in usage during pandemic | Democrats push for mail-in voting funds in coronavirus stimulus | Trump delays deadline to acquire REAL ID Democrats press for more stimulus funding to boost mail-in voting Preparing for November’s election must be a national priority MORE (D-Ore.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsHillicon Valley: Facebook reports huge spike in usage during pandemic | Democrats push for mail-in voting funds in coronavirus stimulus | Trump delays deadline to acquire REAL ID Democrats press for more stimulus funding to boost mail-in voting Blame game heats up as Senate motion fails MORE (D-Del.) led the effort to pressure Republicans to increase the proposed amount, calling for $2 billion to be included.
This figure was based on a report put out by New York University‘s Brennan Center for Justice last week. The report estimated states would need around $2 billion to ensure they could provide all Americans with the option to vote by mail, increase the ability to absentee vote, hire more poll workers and boost the safety of in-person polling sites.
TWITTER IN HOT WATER: Twitter is being pulled into the middle of a fight between the Trump administration and China over the coronavirus.
Republican lawmakers and Trump allies have been stepping up pressure on the social media platform to crack down on disinformation from Chinese government officials and agencies about the virus and its spread.
While Twitter has sought to curb posts including fake medical advice or recommendations, critics say the company is not going far enough to address government propaganda from China.
The most high-profile case of disinformation being spread by Chinese officials comes from the deputy director-general of the Information Department of China’s Foreign Ministry, Lijian Zhao.
Earlier this month, he tweeted a link to an article from conspiracy site Global Research claiming that the novel coronavirus originated in the United States, sharing it with his nearly half-million followers. Zhao has also suggested on Twitter that the U.S. military brought the coronavirus to his country. The World Health Organization has concluded that the disease first appeared in the Chinese province of Hubei.
Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTwitter comes under fire over Chinese disinformation on coronavirus spread Overnight Defense: Pentagon officials estimate coronavirus crisis could last months | Three sailors aboard carrier test positive | Trump slashes Afghan aid Democratic senator asks Pompeo to stop saying ‘Wuhan virus’ MORE said last week that the government has determined that China, along with Russia and Iran, are actively engaged in coronavirus misinformation campaigns on social media to sow discord and confusion in the U.S.
Twitter has so far chosen to keep the misleading content from Chinese government officials up on its platform, despite a policy change earlier this month banning posts that deny expert recommendations, promote fake treatments and prevention techniques, or misleadingly claim to be from authorities.
The social media giant said Tuesday that “official government accounts engaging in conversation about the origins of the virus and global public conversation about potential emergent treatments will be permitted, unless the content contains clear incitement to take a harmful physical action” after lawmakers raised concerns about Zhao’s tweets.
CRACKDOWN: A bipartisan group of state attorneys general on Wednesday sent letters to major retailers urging them crack down on price gouging on their online platforms amid the spread of the coronavirus
“Major online businesses must ensure consumers are charged fair prices when they shop on their platforms,” Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement on the letters. “We appreciate the efforts these companies are making during this difficult time and are hopeful that they will continue work with State Attorneys General to do more to root out price gouging online and protect consumers.”
The letter cited several reported cases of price gouging related to the coronavirus, including prices for hand sanitizer and face masks spiking at least 50 percent and an eight ounce bottle of Purell selling for 40 dollars on the Facebook marketplace.
The attorneys general said their offices have been receiving reports of price gouging daily.
While many retailers have taken steps to address the issue, they haven’t done enough, the letter stated. Other government entities have also stepped up pressure on price gouging.
PRESSURE FOR AMAZON SICK LEAVE: A group of state attorneys general are calling on Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosCoronavirus cases confirmed in at least six US Amazon warehouses Amazon doubling overtime pay for warehouse workers Hillicon Valley: Senators press Amazon over workplace safety amid outbreak | Lyft expands to deliveries | Dems seek election security funds in stimulus package MORE to expand paid sick leave policies for his employees at Amazon and Whole Foods in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The law enforcement officials sent a letter on Wednesday to the Amazon CEO expressing concern that the two companies’ sick leave policies are “inadequate to protect the public health during the developing COVID-19 crisis.”
While many companies have expanded their leave policies and encouraged sick employees not to come to work, Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, is currently giving only two weeks paid leave to workers who have tested positive for coronavirus or are in quarantine.
“By limiting paid sick leave to only those employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or who have been placed into quarantine, the Companies are placing their other employees, their customers, and the public at large at significant risk of exposure to COVID-19,” the attorneys general wrote in their letter.
“The Companies’ narrow criteria is particularly insufficient given the realities of the public health crisis, where the lack of access to COVID-19 testing has been widely reported,” the group continued. “This would seriously undercut efforts to promote ‘social distancing’ in order to ‘flatten the curve’ of infections and to avoid overloading our already strained health care system.”
The letter was signed by the attorneys general from 14 states and Washington, D.C.
MORE CORONAVIRUS CASES: The coronavirus outbreak has impacted at least six Amazon warehouses in the U.S. as the retail giant works to address a surge in shipments from Americans staying home during the pandemic.
Employees at Amazon warehouses in New York City, Kentucky, Florida, Texas, Michigan and Oklahoma City have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Tuesday Washington Post report based on information from Amazon and local news reports.
The news comes about a week after Amazon confirmed that its first warehouse employee had contracted the disease, causing a temporary shutdown at a New York delivery station. The company has shuttered other warehouses affected by the disease’s spread and has asked workers who were in close contact with individuals who tested positive to self-quarantine.
Amazon has also increased the frequency of cleaning at all of its sites around the world and has staggered warehouse shifts to comply with social distancing recommendations.
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Cheeseman told The Hill in a statement that the company is “supporting the individuals, following guidelines from local officials, and [is] taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of all the employees at our sites.”
CHINESE CYBERATTACKS: A prolific Chinese government-backed cyber group has recently stepped up its attacks on health care, pharmaceutical and other sectors, according to research released Wednesday by cybersecurity group FireEye.
FireEye experts discovered that the Chinese cyber threat group known as APT41 had launched what they described as “one of the broadest campaigns by a Chinese cyber espionage actor we have observed in recent years.”
The group, which FireEye previously assessed with “high confidence” is state-sponsored, was found to have widely targeted companies in almost two dozen countries in a variety of sectors between January and March.
Beyond health-related industries, APT41 also went after firms involved in the banking, construction, defense, manufacturing, telecommunications, media and utility sectors, among others.
FireEye experts noted in a blog post about the widespread attacks that while they were not certain why these industries were chosen, the “victims appear to be more targeted in nature.”
FireEye has tracked APT41 since 2012, when it launched cyberattacks at the video game industry before moving on to state-sponsored level cyber activity a few years later.
SECURITY CONCERNS: Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenator calls for cybersecurity review at health agencies after hacking incident Health groups vulnerable to cyberattacks as coronavirus crisis ramps up Coronavirus package hits roadblocks amid GOP opposition MORE (D-Va.) on Wednesday expressed serious concerns about cyber threats to internet connectivity for Americans working from home during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Warner, who serves as the vice chairman on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote letters to network device vendors including Google asking that they shore up the security of their products and bolster defenses against potential attacks.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, Americans will depend on connectivity products to receive tele-health; remain connected with family, colleagues, employers, and friends; and to receive news reports, and guidance from government and public health officials,” Warner wrote.
He emphasized that “during this time, the security of consumer devices and networks will be of heightened importance. It is also imperative that consumer Internet infrastructure not be used as attack vectors to consumer systems and workplace networks accessed from home.”
The letters were also sent to businesses including Netgear, Belkin, Eero, Asus and Commscope. Warner asked that the vendors examine the security of routers, modems, wireless access points and other internet connectivity products to lower the chances of hackers wreaking havoc on Americans working remotely.
TOO MUCH TO HANDLE: Instagram founder Adam Mosseri said Tuesday that the platform’s new “Stay at Home” feature nearly crashed the company’s servers due to the sheer volume of users trying it out.
Speaking with CNN Business, Mosseri said that the feature allows users to share video updates about how they’re working or otherwise occupying their time while self-quarantined due to the coronavirus epidemic.
Mosseri added that the high usage of his company’s platform was especially challenging as Instagram’s employees are largely working from home themselves amid the outbreak.
“Having our workforce, particularly our moderators, work from home, is creating all sort of challenges that we need to work through,” he said.
“Just generally, the amount of output we should be able to expect on a per person basis is just going to go down,” Mosseri continued. “There is no way around that, which is why it is so important we get creative and make sure that we continue to make sure we keep people safe on the platform.”
TRACKING CORONAVIRUS: IBM and The Weather Channel launched a free tool Wednesday to track reported cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The artificial intelligence-powered tool will provide tracking and trend graphs on COVID-19 cases down to a county level.
IBM’s dashboard is free to use, providing-up-to-date, searchable information about the epidemic spread.
“As the coronavirus causes uncertainty in our daily lives, we are all looking for data to help us make more informed decisions and check on our family and friends in different areas,” said Cameron Clayton, general manager of the The Weather Company, which is owned by IBM.
“The Weather Channel is now providing COVID-19 data – so you can see why social distancing matters in your community and why it’s important to heed instructions from your local, state and national resources.”
The tool uses artificial intelligence to populate the map with data from the World Health Organization and relevant government entities.
“Proud to share we’ve been able to source 10M masks for the US and millions more for the hardest hit regions in Europe,” Cook tweeted.
Industries including tech and auto have been pitching in the fight against COVID-19, as hospitals and medical centers around the country face dire shortages of essential products such as masks, gowns and ventilators.
Earlier in the week, Tesla CEO Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskHillicon Valley: Facebook reports huge spike in usage during pandemic | Democrats push for mail-in voting funds in coronavirus stimulus | Trump delays deadline to acquire REAL ID On The Money: Trump hopes to reopen economy by Easter | GOP senators expect stimulus vote on Wednesday | Democratic leaders forecast at least two more relief bills Elon Musk delivers hundreds of ventilators bought in China to US MORE said that the company had bought 1,000 ventilators from China and were sourcing them to California, one of the states hit hardest by the virus.
UBER SUES: Uber filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Department of Transportation Tuesday, intensifying its disagreement with the local agency over the city’s requirement for the company to share live location data for its dockless scooters.
The ride share company argues in the complaint that providing real-time location data could allow government agencies or hackers to obtain information about the daily lives of residents and violate their privacy.
The company alleges this “highly personal” data could be utilized to target certain groups, stalk individuals or commit fraud, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Uber alleges the city’s data collection policies violate state and federal law, including the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unlawful search and seizure.
“This is not a decision we take lightly, and not a step we wanted to take, but after eighteen months of searching for a compromise, LADOT refuses to address the fundamental privacy concerns raised by us and independent experts,” Uber Chief Privacy Officer Ruby Zefo said in a blog post.
AND ANOTHER FEUD INVOLVING TWITTER: President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe pandemic is bad, we need the capability to measure just how bad Florida governor wants federal disaster area declaration Amash calls stimulus package ‘a raw deal’ for ‘those who need the most help’ MORE‘s reelection campaign is venting frustration with Twitter after the social media giant refused to apply its “manipulated media” warning tags to two new videos released by the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
It’s the second time in a week that Twitter has shut down requests from the Trump campaign to sanction Democratic attack ads that the president’s allies say were deceptively edited.
Twitter recently slapped a manipulated media tag on a pro-Trump ad, leading to allegations from the president’s campaign that the company is only enforcing its standards in favor of Democrats.
“Twitter’s arbitrary rules only seem to apply to the Trump campaign,” said spokesman Andrew Clark. “Once again, they’ve failed to provide any sort of clarity about why they are censoring video of Joe BidenJoe BidenIs coronavirus the final Trump crisis? The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Airbnb – Senators clinch deal on T stimulus package Biden hits Trump’s remarks about reopening economy within weeks: ‘He should stop talking’ MORE‘s obvious issues while giving a pass to deceptively edited videos spread by his campaign and his allies. The DNC’s manipulated videos have been fact-checked as false, so it’s difficult to read Twitter’s refusal to label these videos as anything else than an effort to protect Joe Biden.”
According to emails viewed by The Hill, a Trump campaign staffer on Saturday flagged two DNC videos for Twitter and requested the company review the ads under its new manipulated media policy.
A LIGHTER CLICK: Love yourself?
AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Human ingenuity is our greatest weapon against the coronavirus
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
Security pros help HHS fix a website flaw that exposed visitors to malware (CyberScoop / Sean Lyngaas)
Coronavirus could delay tech antitrust action (Protocol / Andrea Peterson)
Definitely Don’t Download The FBI’s Fitness App During Quarantine (Motherboard / Todd Feathers)
Nextdoor Pivots to Neighborliness (New York Times / John Herrman)