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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Biden DOJ’s privacy tactics may haunt them post-Roe, group warns

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Thursday! I don't know about you but all this talk of splitting CHIPS is making me hungry. Send news and restaurant tips to: cristiano.lima@washpost.com.

Below: Lawmakers look to passing chip subsidies on their own, and the U.K. Online Safety Bill is getting delayed. First:

Biden DOJ’s privacy tactics may haunt them post-Roe, group warns

Democratic leaders have upped the pressure on tech companies to limit how much sensitive data they collect in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, amid concern that states will use the information to target those seeking abortions. 

But now one of the tech industry’s most prominent allies in Washington is calling attention to President Biden’s Justice Department, warning in a letter shared exclusively with The Technology 202 that federal prosecutors are setting a dangerous precedent on privacy.

The Chamber of Progress, a center-left trade group that receives funding from Apple, Amazon and other tech companies, wrote on Wednesday that the DOJ has “repeatedly made arguments that undermine the Fourth Amendment protections for data” held by digital services. The amendment confers a right against unreasonable searches and seizures. 

(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The group is calling on Attorney General Merrick Garland to “update” the DOJ’s position on the issue “to ensure that state law enforcement agents are not able to invade women’s most personal data without adequate constitutional safeguards.”

Elizabeth Banker, the group’s legal advocacy chief, said by chipping away at privacy protections in its prosecutions more broadly, Biden’s DOJ is creating a risky playbook that prosecutors could seize on to target women in states where abortion is illegal.

“The Department of Justice is making these arguments that there is not [a] Fourth Amendment protection, let's say, in real-time location information or in email,” Banker said in an interview.

She added, “This type of precedent will be used to help determine what types of protections exist for evidence that's going to be collected against these women.”

The Justice Department declined comment.

Banker said that while there’s been significant attention paid to the potential privacy risks posed by reproductive health apps, prosecutors can target a wide range of data.

“So many of us use email, we put things on our calendar, we use maps for navigation to figure out how to go places, and it's really this type of data that we don't think about normally as we're going about our lives that could be exposed as part of an investigation,” she said. 

One of the most pressing issues, Banker said, is how federal prosecutors often rely on “geofencing” warrants, used to identify who has been close to an area via location data.

“States that criminalize abortions could easily apply this investigative technique to target reproductive health organizations and clinics that may advise women on the availability of abortion services in other states,” the group wrote.

The Chamber of Progress also voiced concern that federal prosecutors have argued that users forgo a “reasonable expectation of privacy” by signing tech companies’ terms of service. 

“Given that most online service providers have terms of service, this would render everything from a women’s calendar showing her medical appointments to her text message history with counselors available to state law enforcement with a simple subpoena,” they wrote.

Banker said that since Roe was overturned, there’s been a “glaring hole” in the privacy debate around limiting law enforcement access to data. 

And Biden’s recent executive order dealing with privacy protections post-Roe “did not address” the issue, according to the Chamber of Progress. 

“DOJ’s activity in prosecutions over the last number of years … has just consistently worked to undermine individuals’ Fourth Amendment protections in that type of information,” Banker said. “So we thought it was just really important to highlight this and make it part of the conversation.”

But she said companies have an important role to play as well. “I think that companies definitely should be very thoughtful about what information they do and don't need,” she said. 

Our top tabs

Lawmakers look at splitting competition bill to advance chip subsidies

Lawmakers appear to be “coalescing around the path of chips, or maybe chips plus a thing or two, and getting it done this month,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told Reuters’s David Shepardson

The Biden administration and lawmakers are racing to agree on the path forward for $52 billion in subsidies for the semiconductor industry. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has threatened to withhold Republican support from the bill if Democrats pursue a broader spending package. And Republicans have criticized a House-passed competition bill — with the $52 billion — that goes further than the Senate bill in addressing climate change and other issues. 

Raimondo gave several interviews as she and other officials briefed senators Wednesday about the national security implications of Chinese domination of the semiconductor industry:

  • “Cleave off the CHIPS [Act] and pass it,” Raimondo told Axios, adding that she has “talked to a dozen lawmakers in the past 24 hours” and feels like “they are coalescing around the path of [passing] CHIPS immediately and then live to fight another day on the rest of it.”
  • “Bottom line is there are very real, very devastating consequences if Congress doesn’t do its job in the month of July,” Raimondo told the AP.
  • “The message is, time's up,” Raimondo told CNN. “It's time to make it happen.”

California Democrats call for stronger federal privacy bill

They’re arguing that a bipartisan privacy proposal would preempt California’s stronger privacy rules, Bloomberg Government’s Maria Curi reports. Lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have postponed a vote on the legislation until next week, two members of Congress said.

The agency that enforces the California Privacy Rights Act has also weighed in. “While extending privacy protections nationwide is important, under this bill, it would come at the expense of Californians’ rights,” the California Privacy Protection Agency wrote in a July 1 memo to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The agency confirmed to Bloomberg Government that it sent the letter to Pelosi, whose office didn’t respond to the outlet’s request for comment.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled the privacy bill last month. It would let users opt out of targeted ads and sue firms that improperly sell data on them. But it still hasn't gotten key support from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Online Safety Bill expected to be delayed amid U.K. political drama

The race to succeed Boris Johnson as U.K. prime minister in early September appears to have delayed parliamentary consideration of a landmark bill to boost online safety and crack down on “legal but harmful” speech, The Guardian’s Aubrey Allegretti and Peter Walker report.

Lawmaker Kemi Badenoch, a critic of the bill, is still in the race for Johnson’s job. Badenoch, however, received fewer votes than the party’s front-runners. Here’s what Badenoch said about the bill on Wednesday:

The bill could see some changes later this year. “While the Conservatives committed to the bill as part of their 2019 manifesto and it will remain in the Commons rather than being killed off completely, it could be watered down by the next administration to appease those figures who have spoken out against it during the leadership contest,” Allegretti and Walker write.

Rant and rave

Netflix's selection of Microsoft as its “technology and sales partner to help power their first ad-supported subscription offering” is fueling Twitter speculation about potential crossover opportunities — and whether Clippy is going to make a streaming debut. Writer Josh Fruhlinger:

Alex Zalben, the managing editor of Decider.com:

Reporter Katie Notopoulos:

Agency scanner

TikTok use by military poses security risk, U.S. regulator testifies (Bloomberg)

White House wants transparency on American investment in China (Ellen Nakashima)

Hill happenings

Sen. Warner maneuvers to secure intelligence community backing of tech antitrust bill, sources say (CyberScoop)

Walden will lobby for Fox and Disney on privacy bill (Politico)

Hulu demanded Democratic candidate cut 'sensitive' issues like abortion and guns from campaign ad (Jezebel)

Inside the industry

How Meta, Google, Twitter and TikTok are 'failing' LGBTQ+ users (Protocol)

UNESCO: Nearly half of Telegram’s Holocaust content contains denial, distortion (Sammy Westfall, Rick Noack and Miriam Berger)

Competition watch

EU court ruling expands Brussels’ powers to scrutinize tech mergers (Financial Times)

Privacy monitor

Amazon handed Ring footage to police without user consent (Associated Press)

A privacy panic flares up in India after police pull payment data from Razorpay (WIRED)

Trending

Tesla asks Texans to avoid charging their EVs during peak times because of the heatwave (The Verge)

Daybook

  • Consumer advocates discuss Europe’s Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act at an event today at 9 a.m.
  • Deputy Labor Secretary Julie Su discusses technology and the future of work at a Washington Post Live event today at noon.
  • Brian Deese, who leads the White House’s National Economic Council, discusses the White House Competition Council at an Aspen Institute event on Thursday at 3 p.m.
  • Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips, a Republican, speaks at an American Enterprise Institute event on the consumer welfare standard on Monday at 1:30 p.m.
  • Patreon chief executive Jack Conte discusses the creator economy at a Washington Post Live event on Monday at 4 p.m.
  • The House Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on government access to personal data on Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Before you log off

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