Happy Wednesday! I'm anticipating a day of highbrowed debate online over Twitter's future, with few wisecracks.
Want our metadata? Get a warrant, Rep. Ted Lieu says.
While the federal government needs a warrant to seize your laptop, it can access revealing details through what lawmakers say is a glaring back door: cloud-stored metadata, the information tucked within files that offers clues about who created them, when and how.
The data may seem innocuous, given that it doesn’t reveal the full contents of any given document, video or image. But lawmakers say it can be used to identify key facts in an investigation, such as who was involved, what role they played and when the events took place.
While federal law shields certain data against warrantless government surveillance, agencies can seize metadata from third-party cloud providers without a warrant.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) told me during an interview Tuesday he finds that loophole “deeply troubling and disturbing, because metadata … can provide significant information to the government that invades a person's privacy.”
To that end, Lieu is unveiling Wednesday the Warrant for Metadata Act, which would require agencies to get court approval to access metadata from cloud-service providers, according to a preview shared exclusively with The Technology 202.
“I think it's time that we bring the law into the 21st century,” he said.
Lieu said that while there are limits on how the government can track a person’s location data, for example, tapping into metadata can render those protections moot.
“The FBI can't just track you everywhere you go without first getting a court order for them to do that,” he said. “Well, metadata has all sorts of location information, and right now because there's been no change in our law, they can just get that information.”
The bill marks lawmakers’ latest attempt to advance the debate around surveillance reform, which has languished despite bipartisan concerns about federal snooping.
In recent months, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have pushed to boost transparency around court-sanctioned government surveillance and to limit agencies’ ability to mask their data collection by issuing gag orders to technology and telecommunications companies.
Earlier this month, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously advanced bipartisan legislation that aims to make it more difficult to secure and prolong gag orders that bar companies from disclosing surveillance against their customers, while also limiting how long they can run.
Separately, a bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced legislation last month that would require agencies to eventually notify users that their data has been seized from a third party, as first reported by The Technology 202. The bill seeks to expand protections around the collection of electronic data such as emails or texts.
Lieu’s legislation takes a more direct approach, seeking to create tighter limits for the collection of certain data itself. Those efforts have run into resistance from officials concerned that greater restrictions will impede government investigations.
The debate around surveillance reform gained renewed attention after it was revealed that, during the Trump administration, the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed email records from numerous journalists in an attempt to identify their sources of leaked information.
The revelations prompted outcry from leaders on Capitol Hill and in Silicon Valley who have since rallied around efforts to put new limits and boost transparency around government surveillance. During a hearing on the topic last year, Lieu and other lawmakers raised concerns about agencies accessing data through cloud providers, including metadata.
We must ensure our laws keep up with rapidly changing technology to protect the privacy of American citizens. Asked about @TheJusticeDept's access to metadata stored on the cloud during today's @HouseJudiciary hearing on secrecy orders and prosecuting leaks. pic.twitter.com/vLElBvBMWs— Rep. Ted Lieu (@RepTedLieu) June 30, 2021
But it’s still unclear whether lawmakers will be able to notch major legislative wins.
European concerns about U.S. agencies snooping on private citizens’ data have also loomed over efforts to strike a new deal around transatlantic data flows.
In 2020, the European Union’s top court struck down a crucial pact with the United States known as Privacy Shield that enables businesses to transfer personal data between the two continents, citing concerns there aren’t adequate safeguards to protect E.U. citizens from U.S. surveillance.
Last month, the Biden administration said it reached a tentative deal with European leaders, but it remains unclear whether a finalized agreement could withstand another court challenge without congressional action.
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Ride-share giants drop mask mandates, shift onus onto drivers
Uber and Lyft drivers now have to grapple with the question of whether they should pick up riders who choose not to wear masks in their vehicles, Bloomberg Law’s Erin Mulvaney reports. Both companies dropped their mask requirements after a federal judge in Florida struck down the requirement for public transportation.
“The situation feeds into a long-standing debate over the level of control that these drivers, who are classified as independent contractors rather than employees, have over their working conditions,” Mulvaney writes.
It puts some drivers in a precarious situation, organizers say. Gig Workers Rising, which organizes app-based workers, said drivers are concerned about the risks of asking riders to put on a mask or leave the vehicle, Mulvaney reports. Uber spokesman Andrew Hasbun told Bloomberg Law that “canceling a trip for safety reasons does not count against a driver’s cancellation rate,” while Lyft referred the outlet to its statement announcing the changes.
Musk’s Twitter takeover bid is masking Tesla’s China troubles
As the world is consumed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s attempt to acquire Twitter, workers and investors have expressed concern that Musk is being stretched too thin by the demands of Tesla, rocket builder SpaceX and several smaller companies, Faiz Siddiqui reports.
“Tesla’s Shanghai ‘Gigafactory,’ where it makes some of its electric vehicles, has been shuttered for weeks as a result of China’s ‘Zero Covid’ policy, something the company is expected to address on its earnings call when it reports first-quarter results later Wednesday,” Faiz writes. “The company has also come under fire for no longer including a standard charging cable with its cars, a move that hints at possible supply chain woes — one that analysts are calling a backdoor price increase.”
Putin’s crackdown ended Russian tech firms’ global ambitions
In the years leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin imposed an onslaught of laws, regulations and back-channel demands on major Russian tech companies, Joseph Menn reports. Now, Russian anti-virus giant Kaspersky Lab, social network VKontakte and search engine Yandex have been reduced to shadows of what they could have been.
“This has been a total disaster for the Russian economy, and the tech industry was adding a lot of value,” said Esther Dyson, an early American investor in Yandex who left its board shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. “Even before they started waging war on Ukraine, they were waging war on the truth.”
Rant and rave
Elon Musk's latest tweet to rile up Twitter philosophized about platform policies:
A social media platform’s policies are good if the most extreme 10% on left and right are equally unhappy— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 19, 2022
The Verge's Nilay Patel:
Elon Musk buy Nextdoor challenge— nilay patel (@reckless) April 19, 2022
Blogger and researcher Jane Manchun Wong:
Our colleague Will Oremus:
Inside the industry
- NTIA chief Alan Davidson discusses broadband at a Brookings Institution event on Thursday at 10 a.m.