May 28, 2020

Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: Twitter’s action gives Trump a new enemy in the mail voting fight

By Joseph Marks

with Tonya Riley

The Cybersecurity 202 will publish only Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week. 

President Trump’s assault on Twitter after the site fact-checked two of his tweets about voting by mail is opening up a new front in the battle over pandemic-era elections.
Republicans who hesitated to join the president in attacking voting by mail directly are far more eager to slam a major tech company they view as trying to silence a prominent conservative voice. Now the White House is using the fact check to push an executive order, which Trump may sign today, to roll back the legal immunity tech companies enjoy for content posted on their sites, as Tony Romm and Josh Dawsey report.
Big Tech is doing everything in their very considerable power to CENSOR in advance of the 2020 Election,” Trump tweeted. “If that happens, we no longer have our freedom. I will never let it happen! They tried hard in 2016, and lost. Now they are going absolutely CRAZY. Stay Tuned!!!”
Republicans in Congress also quickly rallied to the president’s defense – including many who have not been eager to join the president's assault on mail voting. Voting by mail is popular in Republican and Democratic states alike and experts say it is vital to running a secure and accessible election during the coronavirus pandemic.
The big takeaway: It's often easier for the president’s supporters to attack his critics than to defend claims that lack a factual basis.
In the case of voting by mail, there’s no evidence that it leads to widespread fraud as the president has claimed. The fact check, which Twitter used for the first time Monday, cited numerous news reports contradicting Trump’s claims.

President Trump deplanes from Air Force One. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Lawmakers are also crafting bills that would roll back Twitter's legal immunity for content posted by its users, a remarkable threat that would fundamentally change the way the social media site operates. 
Twitter’s unprecedented decision to single out the President for disfavor, based on his political speech, is alarming,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) wrote in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Hawley said he’s working on legislation to remove the immunity for content on tech sites that’s contained in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has largely steered clear of the mail voting debate, also came out swinging against Twitter.
He tweeted that by fact-checking the president, Twitter “decided to exercise an editorial role like a publisher” and “should no longer be shielded from liability.”
The law still protects social media companies like @Twitter because they are considered forums not publishers.
But if they have now decided to exercise an editorial role like a publisher then they should no longer be shielded from liability & treated as publishers under the law.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) May 27, 2020
Rubio and Hawley’s offices didn’t respond to requests for comment about whether they agreed with Trump’s claims about mail voting producing widespread fraud. About 30 percent of Florida voters cast their ballots by mail in 2018 and about 8 percent of Missouri residents voted that way, according to data maintained by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
Voters are allowed to cast absentee ballots without an excuse in Florida. Missouri voters generally must have an excuse such as illness or travel. Lawmakers there passed a bill to expand voting by mail during this year’s primary and general election, but it’s not clear whether Gov. Mike Parson (R) will sign it. The bill requires notarized signatures on mail ballots by voters who aren’t at high risk of contracting the coronavirus.
Experts do say there's a heightened risk of fraud from mail-in ballots, but they agree that danger is still extremely low. The most prominent case of mail voting-related fraud, in a 2018 North Carolina congressional race, was quickly discovered, leading the State Board of Elections to overturn the results. It also led to criminal charges against the Republican operative who allegedly orchestrated the fraud.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Trump, meanwhile, seemed invigorated by having a new enemy in the mail voting fight. 
He declared that “Twitter has now shown that everything we have been saying about them (and their other compatriots) is correct."
Twitter has now shown that everything we have been saying about them (and their other compatriots) is correct. Big action to follow!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
A Twitter spokeswoman declined to comment on the president's threats to remove the company's legal immunity. CEO Jack Dorsey chimed in, however, saying the fact check was aimed at helping voters make their own decisions rather than silencing the president. He also said the company was editing the fact check to make its intentions clearer.
Per our Civic Integrity policy (, the tweets yesterday may mislead people into thinking they don’t need to register to get a ballot (only registered voters receive ballots). We’re updating the link on @realDonaldTrump’s tweet to make this more clear.
— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020
Numerous other Republicans used the opportunity to bash big tech.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted that “federalizing elections by mandating mail-in voting is a direct invitation for ballot harvesting and voter fraud. Twitter’s refusal to acknowledge that fact and their blatant attempts to discredit those who do is shameful & another example of why Americans don’t trust #big tech”
In fact, Trump’s tweet that fact checked by Twitter referred to an executive order in California with no federal repercussions. The order from Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) requires counties to send mail ballots to all eligible voters but does not mandate residents vote using those ballots, and they would retain the option to vote in person.
Here’s more from Cruz:
Big Tech is the single biggest threat facing our democracy. We know in 2016 social media companies had an outsized role in influencing our presidential election. With another presidential election months away, we need to take action now to curtail that influence.
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) May 27, 2020
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said he’s drafting a House version of legislation that would remove Twitter’s immunity.
“If you are going to opine as to the truth or falsity of that which is put on your platform for the sake of its viewers, you should not get the protections of Section 230,” he tweeted.
Democrats, meanwhile, are applauding Twitter’s action.
They’re also citing Trump’s bellicose response as evidence he’s willfully spreading misinformation. Those attacks were buoyed by a new report that White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who has championed the president’s assault on mail voting, voted by mail nearly a dozen times in Florida during the past decade.
Trump also voted by mail in Florida’s presidential primary this year. 
Here’s Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.):
Twitter’s milquetoast labeling of two Trump lies—out of thousands—prompts horrifying demagogic response: shut down the internet.
— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) May 27, 2020
Blumenthal, who’s no fan of big tech, has also sponsored legislation that contemplates removing tech firms’ immunity from prosecution. In that case, however, the immunity would be withheld only if they don’t follow an advisory board’s recommendations to prevent the spread of child pornography.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii):
Hey @realDonaldTrump, anti-conservative bias in Big Tech is a figment of your imagination. If you don’t want Twitter to flag your tweets for fact check, maybe you shouldn’t lie in the first place.
— Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) May 27, 2020
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.):
Trump uses Twitter to push out lies and conspiracy theories.
His tweets put people in danger and undermine our democracy.
Fact checking his tweets is the least they can do.
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) May 27, 2020

At the state level, however, efforts to expand mail voting are generally winning the day. 
An analysis by the OSET Institute, a nonprofit election technology organization, found that 46 states will be offering all voters an option to cast ballots by mail in some form during the pandemic.
Among those states, 24 have Democratic governors and 22 have Republican governors, according to the analysis shared with The Cybersecurity 202. Among the 12 states that typically require an excuse to vote by mail but have relaxed those requirements during the pandemic, seven have Republican governors and five have Democratic governors.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission voted yesterday to send absentee ballots to all registered voters in November’s election. The state was previously a flash point for conflict when the Republican-led legislature bucked Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’s efforts to delay the April 7 primary, resulting in thousands of mail ballots not arriving for people who requested them and blocks-long lines at in-person polling sites in Milwaukee and Green Bay.
In Kentucky, advocates including the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit seeking to mandate that all voters will be able to cast mail ballots in the general election.

The keys

A bill to overhaul government surveillance authorities collapsed as Republicans and progressive Democrats turned against it. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). (Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg News)

House leaders decided to abandon the bill a few hours after Trump tweeted his opposition to it, Ellen Nakashima and Mike DeBonis report.
The president has railed against the FBI's use of surveillance to listen to the communications of a former Trump campaign adviser. He said he would veto the bill if it reached his desk.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
Progressives, meanwhile, dropped their support after the House Democratic leadership halted plans to vote on an amendment to stop the warrantless search of Internet search and browsing history. 
Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said the House was rushing through reauthorizing the powers and failing “to make critical reforms needed to protect the civil liberties of the American public.” A similar amendment in the Senate fell short of passing by just one vote.
The spying powers lapsed in March.
An independent oversight board announced it will review how the FBI uses the spying powersShane Harris reports. In a rare partisan split, the decision to launch the review was supported by the board’s three Republican members and opposed by its two Democrats.
Arizona is suing Google for collecting users’ phone location data even after they opt out. 

Google offices in London. (Alastair Grant/AP)

The lawsuit brought by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich argues Google deceived users about its data protections in a way that violated state consumer protection laws, Tony Romm reports
Google's Android operating system allows users to stop apps from tracking their location. But the devices still kept location records for some apps, even after users tried to opt out of them, the lawsuit states. Google said it offers clear instructions for how users can turn off additional tracking, but privacy experts and lawmakers say the process is deceptive.
“When consumers try to opt out of Google’s collection of location data, the company is continuing to find misleading ways to obtain information and use it for profit," Brnovich told Tony. 
Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said Arizona is mischaracterizing the company’s practices. “We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data. We look forward to setting the record straight,” he said.
The lawsuit isn’t seeking a specific dollar amount from Google but violations of the state anti-fraud law carry a maximum penalty of up to $10,000 per violation, which could lead to millions in damages. 
U.S. immigration authorities have used controversial cellphone tracking technology nearly 500 times in the past three years, records show. 

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer. (Gregory Bull/AP)

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers use of the technology produced dozens of arrests, according to public records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, TechCrunch's Zack Whittaker reports.
The tools, called Stingrays, spoof cellphone towers and collect messages, calls and location data from phones that connect to them. That means they also collect data from any phones that happen to be in the area in addition to the phones they're specifically targeting, posing civil liberties and privacy concerns.
We are all harmed by government practices that violate the Constitution and undermine civil liberties,” said Alexia Ramirez, a fellow with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.
The group also sued Customs and Border Protection for documents on its use of Stingrays. The agency has spent over $2 million on the technology but maintains it doesn't have public records responsive to the ACLU's request.

Government scan

U.S. officials will announce their participation in a global organization on the development of artificial intelligence. 

President Trump. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Member nation's science and technology ministers will gather for a meeting today where U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios will outline U.S. involvement, Max Chafkin at Bloomberg News reports. The move signals growing U.S. concern with China's influence over the future of artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies.
The United States has joined similar partnerships to help develop cybersecurity standards for 5G wireless technology, another area where the United States has slammed Chinese influence.
More government news:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning college students about coronavirus-related phishing scams in which the scammers are pretending to have information about their direct payments from the IRS.

Cyber insecurity

Coronavirus-themed scams are dominating the digital threat landscape in 2020, Google reports. 

Medical workers wearing full protective gear prepare to take swab samples. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images0

Google's Threat Analysis Group is also seeing major attacks on medical and health-care officials, the report notes. "Hack-for-hire" firms have also been spoofing World Health Organization emails to trick people into sharing personal information.
Google also announced this morning it is partnering with the Cybercrime Support Network, a nonprofit group supporting cybercrime victims, to launch a new educational project called “Scam Spotter.” The project will provide tips on how to spot coronavirus-related online scams.

Global cyberspace

The French government will launch its coronavirus contract-tracing app this weekend.  

French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, left poses with Cedric O, new junior minister for digital affairs (Francois Mori/AP)

The tool was developed independently of Apple and Google's contact-tracing software that is being adopted by much of the rest of the European Union, Reuters reports. French officials clashed with Apple over its refusal to allow constant access to Bluetooth.
“A big company, as efficient as it is, should not dictate the public health choices of a sovereign state," said tech minister Cedric O.
More international cybersecurity news:

A Canadian judge ruled that the U.S. met a key legal test to seek the extradition of a senior Huawei Technologies executive who has been at the center of a fight between Washington and Beijing over the giant telecom-equipment maker.
Wall Street Journal

Secure log off

The Washington Post mapped out all 100,000 U.S. deaths due to the coronavirus. You can read the full story here.

 (Map illustration by Lauren Tierney and Tim Meko/The Washington Post)

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