Recent revelations about just how far the Trump administration went to uncover leakers is shining a spotlight on how tech giants respond to government demands for information about their users.
Apple was unaware that the subpoena it received for user data in February 2018 included members of Congress, their families and congressional staffers, the New York Times just reported. But it complied with the request as well as with a gag order preventing it from informing the customers information was taken.
Per the Times:
Fred Sainz, an Apple spokesman, said in a statement that the company regularly challenges government data requests and informs affected customers as soon as it legally can.
“In this case, the subpoena, which was issued by a federal grand jury and included a nondisclosure order signed by a federal magistrate judge, provided no information on the nature of the investigation and it would have been virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the desired information without digging through users’ accounts,” he said. “Consistent with the request, Apple limited the information it provided to account subscriber information and did not provide any content such as emails or pictures.”
Other tech companies were also caught up in the dragnet. When the DOJ sought records for New York Times reporters, Google fought a gag order on the basis that the Times was a corporate client with which it had a contract. Microsoft also provided metadata and complied with a gag order, only finding out later that the individual involved was a congressional staffer.
Again per the Times:
More frequently than not, the companies comply with law enforcement demands. And that underlines an awkward truth: As their products become more central to people’s lives, the world’s largest tech companies have become surveillance intermediaries and crucial partners to authorities, with the power to arbitrate which requests to honor and which to reject.
House lawmakers introduced a package of five antitrust bills aimed at reining in the big tech companies and increasing competition on Friday.
“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy,” said David Cicilline, the Democratic chair of the House antitrust subcommittee, in a statement. “They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers and put folks out of work. Our agenda will level the playing field and ensure the wealthiest, most powerful tech monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us.”
The proposal has bipartisan support, including from Ken Buck, the Republican ranking member of the antitrust subcommittee, who said: “Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have prioritized power over innovation and harmed American businesses and consumers in the process. This legislation breaks up big tech’s monopoly power to control what Americans see and say online, and fosters an online market that encourages innovation and provides American small businesses with a fair playing field.”
The five bills are:
They would address some of the behaviors and conditions that have allowed the tech giants to come to dominate the US economy, including banning the platforms from “self-preferencing” their own products (ie Amazon favoring its own products in search results) and limiting anti-competitive acquisitions.
The bills will be referred to the House judiciary committee.
Darnella Frazier, the young woman who filmed the police murder of George Floyd, has been awarded a special citation by the Pulitzer prizes board – the most prestigious award in US journalism.
Frazier was just 17 when she filmed Derek Chauvin leaning on Floyd’s neck as he begged for his life. The 9-minute video went viral and helped to spark global protests and ensure Chauvin’s conviction.
In its citation, the Pulitzer board wrote of Frazier: “For courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.”
Now 18, Frazier has shied away from press attention. On the anniversary of Floyd’s death, she released a rare statement reflecting on her role in history and revealing its personal cost:
A lot of people call me a hero even though I don’t see myself as one. I was just in the right place at the right time. Behind this smile, behind these awards, behind the publicity, I’m a girl trying to heal from something I am reminded of every day. Everyone talks about the girl who recorded George Floyd’s death, but to actually be her is a different story …
If it weren’t for my video, the world wouldn’t have known the truth. I own that. My video didn’t save George Floyd, but it put his murderer away and off the streets.
Hello everyone, this is Julia Carrie Wong in Oakland, California, here to pick up the liveblog for the rest of the afternoon. Stay tuned for more news coming up…
Democratic California congressman Adam Schiff, who was the top Democrat of the House intelligence committee during the Russia investigation and one of the Democrats whose data records were seized by the Justice Department under Donald Trump in 2018, applauded the department’s inspector general investigation, but said more still needs to be done. “This incident must be viewed in the context of the systemic politicization of the department, and other flagrant abuses,” he said in a statement.
The justice department will double the number of lawyers working on enforcing protections for the right to vote in the next 30 days, the attorney general, Merrick Garland, announced on Friday.
The announcement came as Republicans have launched an unprecedented effort to restrict voting access across the US. Under Donald Trump, the justice department did not file a single major case aimed at protecting voting rights. Many civil rights groups are closely watching to see how the department, which has unmatched resources and enforcement authority, will wield its power under Biden.
Garland also expressed concern about post-election reviews of ballots, a growing interest among Republican lawmakers, as well as escalating threats against election officials. The former appellate judge also condemned the supreme court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v Holder, which gutted a core protection of the Voting Rights Act and, making it harder for the justice department to protect voting rights.
“Since that opinion, there has been a dramatic rise in legislative efforts that will make it harder for millions of citizens to cast a ballot that counts. So far this year, at least 14 states have passed new laws that make it harder to vote,” he said. “And some jurisdictions, based on disinformation, have utilized abnormal post-election audit methodologies that may put the integrity of the voting process at risk and undermine public confidence in our democracy.”
Garland also called for the passage of the For the People Act, a sweeping voting rights package, that has stalled in the US Senate in recent days as some Democrats express concerns about the bill. He also called on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the pre-clearance provision in the Voting Rights Act the supreme court struck down in 2013.
Now knowing what we know of the Justice Department under Donald Trump seizing the data of at least two House Democrats, this clip of Vice-President Kamala Harris grilling former attorney general William Barr is now making the rounds on the interwebs.
DoJ inspector general launches investigation into Trump-era data seizure
The justice department’s internal watchdog announced on Friday that it was launching an investigation after the New York Times broke the news last night that the department under Donald Trump had subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of Democratic members of the House intelligence committee,Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz said that he would look into “whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations.”
Schiff and Swalwell said they were notified last month that their metadata had been subpoenaed and turned over to the Justice Department in 2018, as their committee was investigating the former president’s ties to Russia.
In addition to Schiff and Swalwell, prosecutors retrieved the records of aides, former aides and family members, including one minor.
Schiff said the seizures suggested “the weaponization of law enforcement by a corrupt president.” Senate Democratic leaders immediately demanded that former attorneys general William Barr and Jeff Sessions, who both oversaw Trump’s leak probes, testify about the secret subpoenas, with senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and senate judiciary committee chairman Dick Durbin saying that “this appalling politicization of the Department of Justice by Donald Trump and his sycophants” must be investigated.
The US justice department will prosecute threats against election officials and aggressively scrutinize new state election laws to ensure they do not violate citizens’ voting rights, the attorney general Merrick Garland said today.
The pledge followed a special report by the Reuters news wire earlier about an ongoing problem of vicious threats by fanatical supporters of Donald Trump, against senior election officials in several states, especially in Georgia.
DoJ asks for watchdog investigation into Trump seizure of Dems’ data
The justice department has asked for an internal investigation into the Trump-era seizure of phone data from House Democrats in 2018, the Associated Press is reporting.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco asked the department’s inspector general to open the investigation on Friday, a senior Justice Department official told the AP, after Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, and Senate judiciary committee chair, Dick Durbin demanded that Trump-era attorneys general William Barr and Jeff Sessions testify about the seizures.
The New York Times broke the news last night that amid the Russian investigation, the justice department under Donald Trump had subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of Adam Schiff, then the top Democrat on the committee, and California Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell. Adam Schiff, then the top Democrat on the committee, and the California Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell, In addition, prosecutors subpoenaed records from aides, former aides and family members, including one who was a minor.
A Republican lawmaker has become the first representative ever expelled from the Oregon state house for helping far-right agitators enter the capitol during a special session.
Security footage from 21 December, when the state legislature was in special session and closed to the public, showed Republican Mike Nearman opening a door for demonstrators protesting coronavirus-related public health measures.
Some of the agitators skirmished with law enforcement officers, spraying them with bear spray and breaking doors. Outside, they assaulted reporters.