Posts with «government» label

Biden signs bill to reauthorize FISA warrantless surveillance program for two more years

President Biden this weekend signed into law a bill that reauthorizes a controversial spying program under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Section 702 of FISA, which has now been extended for two more years, allows for warrantless intelligence gathering on foreign targets. While its focus is on the communications of targets located outside the US, that includes any exchanges with people stateside, meaning Americans’ records can get swept up in these collections too.

The Senate vote on reauthorizing Section 702 came down to the wire. It was set to expire on Friday at midnight, but was recently given an extension until April 2025, according to The New York Times, lest it lapse while disagreements over proposed amendments dragged on. Section 702’s extension period was also shortened, cutting it down to two years instead of the previous five. Congress did ultimately miss the deadline on Friday, but it passed with a 60-34 vote, CBS News reported. The White House issued a statement not long after saying the president “will swiftly sign the bill into law.”

Section 702 was first signed into law in 2008 and has been renewed twice already, allowing US intelligence agencies to use data from internet and cell phone providers without a warrant to keep tabs on foreign targets’ communications.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

House votes in favor of bill that could ban TikTok, sending it onward to Senate

The US House of Representatives passed a bill on Saturday that could either see TikTok banned in the country or force its sale. A revised version of the bill, which previously passed the House in March but later stalled in Senate, was roped in with a foreign aid package this time around, likely meaning it will now be treated as a higher priority item. The bill originally gave TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, six months to sell the app or it would be banned from US app stores. Under the revised version, ByteDance would have up to a year to divest.

The bill passed with a vote of 360-58 in the House, according to AP. It’ll now move on to the Senate, which could vote on it as soon as days from now. President Joe Biden has previously said he would support the bill if Congress passes it.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The bill that could ban TikTok is barreling ahead

The bill that could lead to a ban of TikTok in the United States appears to be much closer to becoming law. The legislation sailed through the House of Representatives last month, but faced an uncertain future in the Senate due to opposition from a few prominent lawmakers.

But momentum for the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act” seems to once again be growing. The House is set to vote on a package of bills this weekend, which includes a slightly revised version of the TikTok bill. In the latest version of the bill, ByteDance would have up to 12 months to divest TikTok, instead of the six-month period stipulated in the original measure.

That change, as NBC News notes, was apparently key to winning over support from some skeptical members of the Senate, including Sen. Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee. So with the House expected to pass the revised bill Saturday — it’s part of a package that also includes aid to Ukraine and Israel — its path forward is starting to look much more certain, with a Senate vote coming “as early as next week,” according to NBC. President Joe Biden has said he would sign the bill if it’s passed by Congress.

If passed into law, TikTok (and potentially other apps "controlled by a foreign adversary" and deemed to be a national security threat) would face a ban in US app stores if it declined to sell to a new owner. TikTok CEO Shou Chew has suggested the company would likely mount a legal challenge to the law.

“It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the U.S. economy, annually,” TikTok said in a statement.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Media coalition asks the feds to investigate Google’s removal of California news links

The News/Media Alliance, formerly the Newspaper Association of America, asked US federal agencies to investigate Google’s removal of links to California news media outlets. Google’s tactic is in response to the proposed California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), which would require it and other tech companies to pay for links to California-based publishers’ news content.

The News/Media Alliance, which represents over 2,200 publishers, sent letters to the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission and California State Attorney General on Tuesday. It says the removal “appears to be either coercive or retaliatory, driven by Google’s opposition to a pending legislative measure in Sacramento.”

The CJPA would require Google and other tech platforms to pay California media outlets in exchange for links. The proposed bill passed the state Assembly last year.

In a blog post last week announcing the removal, Google VP of Global News Partnerships Jaffer Zaidi warned that the CJPA is “the wrong approach to supporting journalism” (because Google’s current approach totally hasn’t left the industry in smoldering ruins!). Zaidi said the CJPA “would also put small publishers at a disadvantage and limit consumers’ access to a diverse local media ecosystem.” Nothing to see here, folks: just your friendly neighborhood multi-trillion-dollar company looking out for the little guy!

Google described its link removal as a test to see how the bill would impact its platform:

“To prepare for possible CJPA implications, we are beginning a short-term test for a small percentage of California users,” Zaidi wrote. “The testing process involves removing links to California news websites, potentially covered by CJPA, to measure the impact of the legislation on our product experience. Until there’s clarity on California’s regulatory environment, we’re also pausing further investments in the California news ecosystem, including new partnerships through Google News Showcase, our product and licensing program for news organizations, and planned expansions of the Google News Initiative.”

In its letters, The News/Media Alliance lists several laws it believes Google may be breaking with the “short-term” removal. Potential federal violations include the Lanham Act, the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act. The letter to California’s AG cites the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, regulations against false advertising and misrepresentation, the California Consumer Privacy Act and California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL).

“Importantly, Google released no further details on how many Californians will be affected, how the Californians who will be denied news access were chosen, what publications will be affected, how long the compelled news blackouts will persist, and whether access will be blocked entirely or just to content Google particularly disfavors,” News/Media Alliance President / CEO Danielle Coffey wrote in the letter to the DOJ and FTC. “Because of these unknowns, there are many ways Google’s unilateral decision to turn off access to news websites for Californians could violate laws.”

Google has a mixed track record in dealing with similar legislation. It pulled Google News from Spain for seven years in response to local copyright laws that would have required licensing fees to publishers. However, it signed deals worth around $150 million to pay Australian publishers and retreated from threats to pull news from search results in Canada, instead spending the $74 million required by the Online News Act.

Google made more than $73 billion in profits in 2023. The company currently has a $1.94 trillion market cap.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The FCC will vote to restore net neutrality later this month

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to vote to restore net neutrality later this month. With Democrats finally holding an FCC majority in the final year of President Biden’s first term, the agency can fulfill a 2021 executive order from the President and bring back the Obama-era rules that the Trump administration’s FCC gutted in 2017.

The FCC plans to hold the vote during a meeting on April 25. Net neutrality treats broadband services as an essential resource under Title II of the Communications Act, giving the FCC greater authority to regulate the industry. It lets the agency prevent ISPs from anti-consumer behavior like unfair pricing, blocking or throttling content and providing pay-to-play “fast lanes” to internet access.

Democrats had to wait three years to enact Biden’s 2021 executive order to reinstate the net neutrality rules passed in 2015 by President Obama’s FCC. The confirmation process of Biden FCC nominee Gigi Sohn for telecommunications regulator played no small part. She withdrew her nomination in March 2023 following what she called “unrelenting, dishonest and cruel attacks.”

Republicans (and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin) opposed her confirmation through a lengthy 16-month process. During that period, telecom lobbying dollars flowed freely and Republicans cited past Sohn tweets critical of Fox News, along with vocal opposition from law enforcement, as justification for blocking the confirmation. Democrats finally regained an FCC majority with the swearing-in of Anna Gomez in late September, near the end of Biden’s third year in office.

“The pandemic proved once and for all that broadband is essential,” FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel wrote in a press release. “After the prior administration abdicated authority over broadband services, the FCC has been handcuffed from acting to fully secure broadband networks, protect consumer data, and ensure the internet remains fast, open, and fair. A return to the FCC’s overwhelmingly popular and court-approved standard of net neutrality will allow the agency to serve once again as a strong consumer advocate of an open internet.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The White House lays out extensive AI guidelines for the federal government

It's been five months since President Joe Biden signed an executive order (EO) to address the rapid advancements in artificial intelligence. The White House is today taking another step forward in implementing the EO with a policy that aims to regulate the federal government's use of AI. Safeguards that the agencies must have in place include, among other things, ways to mitigate the risk of algorithmic bias.

"I believe that all leaders from government, civil society and the private sector have a moral, ethical and societal duty to make sure that artificial intelligence is adopted and advanced in a way that protects the public from potential harm while ensuring everyone is able to enjoy its benefits," Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters on a press call.

Harris announced three binding requirements under a new Office of Management and Budget (OMB) policy. First, agencies will need to ensure that any AI tools they use "do not endanger the rights and safety of the American people." They have until December 1 to make sure they have in place "concrete safeguards" to make sure that AI systems they're employing don't impact Americans' safety or rights. Otherwise, the agency will have to stop using an AI product unless its leaders can justify that scrapping the system would have an "unacceptable" impact on critical operations.

Impact on Americans' rights and safety

Per the policy, an AI system is deemed to impact safety if it "is used or expected to be used, in real-world conditions, to control or significantly influence the outcomes of" certain activities and decisions. Those include maintaining election integrity and voting infrastructure; controlling critical safety functions of infrastructure like water systems, emergency services and electrical grids; autonomous vehicles; and operating the physical movements of robots in "a workplace, school, housing, transportation, medical or law enforcement setting."

Unless they have appropriate safeguards in place or can otherwise justify their use, agencies will also have to ditch AI systems that infringe on the rights of Americans. Purposes that the policy presumes to impact rights defines include predictive policing; social media monitoring for law enforcement; detecting plagiarism in schools; blocking or limiting protected speech; detecting or measuring human emotions and thoughts; pre-employment screening; and "replicating a person’s likeness or voice without express consent."

When it comes to generative AI, the policy stipulates that agencies should assess potential benefits. They all also need to "establish adequate safeguards and oversight mechanisms that allow generative AI to be used in the agency without posing undue risk."

Transparency requirements

The second requirement will force agencies to be transparent about the AI systems they're using. "Today, President Biden and I are requiring that every year, US government agencies publish online a list of their AI systems, an assessment of the risks those systems might pose and how those risks are being managed," Harris said. 

As part of this effort, agencies will need to publish government-owned AI code, models and data, as long as doing so won't harm the public or government operations. If an agency can't disclose specific AI use cases for sensitivity reasons, they'll still have to report metrics


Last but not least, federal agencies will need to have internal oversight of their AI use. That includes each department appointing a chief AI officer to oversee all of an agency's use of AI. "This is to make sure that AI is used responsibly, understanding that we must have senior leaders across our government who are specifically tasked with overseeing AI adoption and use," Harris noted. Many agencies will also need to have AI governance boards in place by May 27.

The vice president added that prominent figures from the public and private sectors (including civil rights leaders and computer scientists) helped shape the policy along with business leaders and legal scholars.

The OMB suggests that, by adopting the safeguards, the Transportation Security Administration may have to let airline travelers opt out of facial recognition scans without losing their place in line or face a delay. It also suggests that there should be human oversight over things like AI fraud detection and diagnostics decisions in the federal healthcare system.

As you might imagine, government agencies are already using AI systems in a variety of ways. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working on artificial intelligence models to help it more accurately forecast extreme weather, floods and wildfires, while the Federal Aviation Administration is using a system to help manage air traffic in major metropolitan areas to improve travel time.

"AI presents not only risk, but also a tremendous opportunity to improve public services and make progress on societal challenges like addressing climate change, improving public health and advancing equitable economic opportunity," OMB Director Shalanda Young told reporters. "When used and overseen responsibly, AI can help agencies to reduce wait times for critical government services to improve accuracy and expand access to essential public services."

This policy is the latest in a string of efforts to regulate the fast-evolving realm of AI. While the European Union has passed a sweeping set of rules for AI use in the bloc, and there are federal bills in the pipeline, efforts to regulate AI in the US have taken more of a patchwork approach at state level. This month, Utah enacted a law to protect consumers from AI fraud. In Tennessee, the Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security Act (aka the Elvis Act — seriously) is an attempt to protect musicians from deepfakes i.e. having their voices cloned without permission.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

House passes bill that would bar data brokers from selling Americans' personal information to 'adversary' countries

The House of Representatives approved a measure targeting data brokers’ ability to sell Americans’ personal data to “adversary” countries, like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. The Protecting Americans’ Data from Foreign Adversaries Act passed with a unanimous 414 - 0 vote.

The bill, which was introduced alongside a measure that could force a ban or sale of TikTok, would prohibit data brokers from selling Americans’ “sensitive” data to people or entities in “adversary” countries. Much like a recent executive order from President Joe Biden targeting data brokers, the bill specifically covers geolocation, financial, health, and biometric data, as well as other private information like text logs and phone call history.

If passed — the bill will need Senate approval before landing on Biden's desk — it would represent a significant check on the relatively unregulated data broker industry. US officials have previously warned that China and other geopolitical rivals of the United States have already acquired vast troves of Americans’ information from brokers and privacy advocates have long urged lawmakers to regulate the multibillion-dollar industry.

The bill is the second major piece of bipartisan legislation to come out of the House Energy and Commerce this month. The committee previously introduced the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” which would require TikTok to divest itself from parent company ByteDance or face a ban in the US. In a statement, Representatives Frank Pallone and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, said that the latest bill “builds” on their work to pass the measure targeting TikTok. “Today’s overwhelming vote sends a clear message that we will not allow our adversaries to undermine American national security and individual privacy by purchasing people’s personally identifiable sensitive information from data brokers,” they said.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The EPA reveals final auto industry regulations to try to keep the world habitable

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its final pollution emissions standards for the auto industry on Wednesday. The regulations, which include a looser timeframe than those proposed last year, mandate that by 2032, most new passenger car and light truck sales in the US must be electric or hybrid.

Earth is on a disastrous trajectory with climate change, and no amount of baseless conspiracy theories or talking points from the oil and gas industry, Donald Trump or anyone else will change that. Only phasing out fossil fuels and emissions will beat back its worst effects. The Biden Administration’s EPA is trying to do that — while throwing a bone to stakeholders like unions and automakers to navigate the landmines of today’s political realities.

The final rules present a timeline to wind down gas-powered vehicle purchases, making most US auto sales fully electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or advanced gasoline by 2032. The transition begins in 2027 but moderates the pace until after 2030. That’s a key change from last April’s proposed standards, which called for EVs to make up two-thirds of vehicle sales by 2032.

The shift was an election-year compromise for Biden, who has to balance the crucial battle against climate change with 2024 auto union endorsements. Labor unions had pushed for the more relaxed pace out of fears that a more aggressive transition, like the EPA proposed last year, would lead to job losses. EVs typically require fewer assembly workers than traditional gas-powered vehicles.

Last year, United Auto Workers (UAW) President Shawn Fain withheld support for Biden’s reelection due to concerns about the EV transition. But (perhaps after hearing assurances about the revised rules) the UAW endorsed his reelection bid in January.

“The EPA has made significant progress on its final greenhouse gas emissions rule for light-duty vehicles,” the UAW wrote in a statement about the new rules published by the EPA. “By taking seriously the concerns of workers and communities, the EPA has come a long way to create a more feasible emissions rule that protects workers building ICE vehicles, while providing a path forward for automakers to implement the full range of automotive technologies to reduce emissions.”

Contrary to what online misinformation or your uncle may tell you, the rules — aimed at the auto industry and not consumers — don't make gas-powered cars and trucks illegal. Instead, they require automakers to meet specific emissions standards throughout their product lines. The rules apply to new vehicle sales, not used ones.

The EPA says the final rule will lead to $99 billion in benefits and save the average American driver $6,000 in fuel and maintenance over the life of their vehicles. Other advantages include avoiding 7.2 billion additional tons of CO2 emissions through 2055 and offering “nearly $100 billion of annual net benefits to society.” The reduction in fine particulate matter and ozone will allegedly prevent up to 2,500 premature deaths in 2055 while reducing associated health problems like heart attacks, asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

“Three years ago, I set an ambitious target: that half of all new cars and trucks sold in 2030 would be zero-emission,” President Biden wrote in a statement supplied by The White House to Engadget. “I brought together American automakers. I brought together American autoworkers. Together, we’ve made historic progress. Hundreds of new expanded factories across the country. Hundreds of billions in private investment and thousands of good-paying union jobs. And we’ll meet my goal for 2030 and race forward in the years ahead. Today, we’re setting new pollution standards for cars and trucks. U.S. workers will lead the world on autos making clean cars and trucks, each stamped ‘Made in America.’”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Uber and Lyft are quitting Minneapolis over a driver pay increase

Uber and Lyft plan to end operations in Minneapolis after the city council voted to increase driver pay. The council passed an ordinance on the issue last week. On Thursday, it voted to overrule a mayoral veto of the measure.

The new rules stipulate that ridesharing companies need to pay drivers at least $1.40 per mile and 51 cents per minute (or $5 a ride, whichever is higher) whenever they're ferrying a passenger. Tips are on top of the minimum pay. According to the Associated Press, the council passed the ordinance to bring driver pay closer to the local minimum wage of $15.57 an hour.

However, Uber and Lyft say they'll end services in the city before the pay rise takes effect on May 1. Lyft says the increase is "deeply flawed," citing a Minnesota study indicating that drivers could meet the minimum wage and still cover health insurance, paid leave and retirement savings at lower rates of $1.21 per mile and 49 cents per minute. “We support a minimum earning standard for drivers, but it should be done in an honest way that keeps the service affordable for riders," spokesperson CJ Macklin told The Verge.

An Uber spokesperson told the publication that the company was disappointed by the council's choice to "ignore the data and kick Uber out of the Twin Cities,” putting around 10,000 drivers out of work. They noted Uber's confidence that by working with drivers, drivers and legislators, “we can achieve comprehensive statewide legislation that guarantees drivers a fair minimum wage, protects their independence and keeps rideshare affordable.”

However, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz last year vetoed a bill to boost wages for Uber and Lyft drivers, citing concern over the state becoming one of the most expensive places in the country for ridesharing. Other jurisdictions have mandated minimum driver pay for ridesharing services, including New York City, where the rate starts at about $18 per hour.

If Uber and Lyft follow through on their threat to quit Minneapolis, that could make it harder for people (particularly folks with disabilities and those who can't afford a car of their own) to get around. The rise of ridesharing has upended the taxi industry over the last decade or so. As such, a Minneapolis official says there are now just 39 licensed cab drivers in the city, a significant drop from 1,948 licensed drivers in January 2014.

Meanwhile, some upstart ridesharing companies are looking to move in and take over from Lyft and Uber. Empower and Wridz, for instance, have shown interest in starting operations in Minneapolis. Both companies ask drivers to pay a monthly subscription fee to use their platforms and find riders. In return, drivers keep the entire fare.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

TikTok is now asking users to call their Senators to prevent a US ban

One day after a bill that could lead to a ban of TikTok in the United States passed the House of Representatives, the company is doubling down on its strategy of urging users to call lawmakers. The app began pushing new in-app messages to users asking them to "tell your Senator how important TikTok is to you” and to “ask them to vote not on the TikTok ban.”

The new alerts are the second such message TikTok has pushed to users about the bill. Prior to the House vote, the company prompted users to call their representatives in the House. The step may have backfired as lawmakers accused the company of trying to “interfere” with the legislative process as Congressional offices were reportedly overwhelmed with calls, many of which came from somewhat confused teenagers.

The latest notifications are even more direct. “The House of Representatives just voted to ban TikTok, which impacts 170 million Americans just like you,” it says. “Now, if the Senate votes, the future of creativity and communities you love on TikTok could be shut down.” Like the previous alerts, users can choose to “call now,” and the app will find phone numbers if a zip code is provided.

Screenshot via TikTok

TikTok didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. But the message underscores just how big a threat the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act” is to the company. If passed, TikTok would have about six months to sell itself or face a ban in the US. Though there have been several previous attempts to ban the app or force a sale, no measure has received as much bipartisan support so quickly. If passed by the Senate, President Joe Biden has said he would sign it into law.

TikTok CEO Shou Chew has also appealed directly to users, telling them to “protect your constitutional rights” and promising that the company would “do all we can including exercising our legal rights to protect this amazing platform.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at