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British MP Damian Collins talks tech at POLITICO


With help from Nancy Scola, Cristiano Lima, John Hendel and Leah Nylen

Editor’s Note: This edition of Morning Tech is published weekdays at 10 a.m. POLITICO Pro Technology subscribers hold exclusive early access to the newsletter each morning at 6 a.m. Learn more about POLITICO Pro’s comprehensive policy intelligence coverage, policy tools and services, at politicopro.com.

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— Exclusive: British MP Damian Collins, who led Parliament’s investigation into disinformation following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, sat down with POLITICO to talk tech regulation, platform liability and more.

— SOTU: In an otherwise partisan speech, President Donald Trump said he’s committed to providing high-speed internet across rural America — a goal shared by both sides of the aisle.

— On the horizon: A bipartisan bill from House Energy and Commerce leaders is aimed at guiding the FCC’s intended sale of 5G-friendly C-band airwaves.

IT’S WEDNESDAY, BUT THIS HAS ALREADY BEEN THE LONGEST WEEK EVER. (WHO’S WITH ME?) WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Alexandra Levine, wishing a happy launch day to Protocol, a new media publication from the publisher of POLITICO. We’re eager to follow along with their work and you can too, here. (In one of their first stories, meet Shadow CEO Gerard Niemira, who a year ago “had high hopes for making better tech tools for Democrats” — then built the Iowa app behind this week’s caucus chaos.) Plus: Read an editor’s note from Protocol’s executive editor, Tim Grieve, here.

Got a news tip? Write Alex at alevine@politico.com or @Ali_Lev. An event for our calendar? Send details to techcalendar@politicopro.com. Anything else? Full team info below. And don’t forget: add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.

U.K.’S COLLINS ON 230, TRADE, AND 10 DOWNING STREET — During a visit Tuesday to the POLITICO newsroom near Washington, Collins said he plans to press the British government to avoid Section 230-like language in a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.S. That domestic law limits websites’ liability for what users post, and its export to the U.K. would run smack into Collins’ attempts to make platforms more responsible for their content. (The tech industry’s take: Section 230 is critical to a functioning, free-flowing internet.) Even though Collins was just defeated in his bid to stay chair of Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee — a perch from which he’s arguably been Silicon Valley’s chief antagonist in the U.K. — he signaled that he’ll stay deeply engaged on this tech issue and others.

“I think we should be really clear with the American government that that would essentially undermine the work we’ve tried to do on online harms,” he told POLITICO about Section 230-style trade language. “It shouldn’t be something we agree to as part of a trade agreement because it would kick away all the good work that’s been done.”

— He added he’s also keeping tabs on the Boris Johnson-led government’s adoption of his committee’s chief recommendations: first, establishing a so-called duty of care that would treat social platforms as something between neutral networks and publishers, and second, standing up an independent regulator for them akin to Ofcom, which oversees broadcasters in the U.K. He said he’s seeing supportive signs out of 10 Downing Street.

— Like Johnson, Collins is a Tory. And mapped against U.S. politics, it’s unusual to see a conservative politician agitating for a new regulatory agency, especially one with leverage over private industry. But British politicians, argued Collins, are freer to act out their true feelings on Silicon Valley. One reason: “Big companies don’t have big commercial interest in politics in the U.K. because of the limits of what candidates and parties can spend in election campaigns,” Collins said, positing that that makes tech “a less partisan issue” there.

— After his POLITICO sit-down, Collins headed to the German Marshall Fund for a session on post-Brexit tech regulation. He’s on tap today to meet with Sen. Mark Warner to discuss what the Virginia Democrat’s office described as “issues of mutual interest,” and both are slated to speak this evening at a Woodrow Wilson Center event on social media regulation around the world, part of its “Defeating Disinformation” series.

TRUMP’S RURAL BROADBAND SHOUTOUT — Trump slipped in a reference to building out rural broadband during his State of the Union address Tuesday night, telling the assembled lawmakers, “I am also committed to ensuring that every citizen can have access to high-speed internet, including rural America.”

— Although Trump has pledged to help fix the so-called digital divide for years, he’s never managed to get the ball rolling on any grander infrastructure package — something that his 2020 Democratic challengers like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as well as Pete Buttigieg seized on last year on the campaign trail. Republicans and Democrats share frustration over these connectivity woes (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rose to clap at Trump’s mention of infrastructure) but so far have been unable to provide a big funding boost. House Democrats are working on it though: Last month, they rolled out an infrastructure package that proposes tens of billions of dollars for broadband. Meanwhile, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is working to marshal billions of commission subsidies to this end.

HOUSE BILL ON 5G AIRWAVES AUCTION EXPECTED SOON Here comes another piece of legislation aimed at guiding the FCC’s intended sale of 5G-friendly C-band airwaves. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) are ironing out details of a bill “and hope to put forward that proposal soon,” a committee spokesperson told John on Tuesday. A GOP spokesman confirmed the effort, which would follow a bipartisan Senate offering from Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.).

— What they’re not saying: Anything about the FCC’s intentions to move forward with a commission vote at its Feb. 28 meeting on an initial order setting up the C-band auction. Chairman Ajit Pai is expected to outline specifics at a Thursday event in Washington. Pai hopes to kick off the sale by the end of 2020.

— One sticking point on Capitol Hill and at the FCC will be how much money to give the satellite incumbents that hold the airwaves now to sway them to sell their holdings.

“I am looking for something that provides more comfort to the satellite providers so they are willing to participate” and “will look not kindly on something that attempts to shove this mechanism down their throats,” GOP Commissioner Mike O’Rielly warned following last week’s FCC meeting. The C-Band Alliance, representing those companies, lauded O’Rielly’s remarks and said he “understands the rights we have, and the benefits of getting our voluntary participation.”

New America’s Open Technology Institute, meanwhile, is telling the FCC that mandating any incentive payments would mark a “dangerous and regressive precedent” and urging the agency to wait for Congress.

WHAT A HYDROGEN-PEROXIDE MERGER MEANS FOR FACEBOOK, T-MOBILE-SPRINT — The FTC lost its first merger challenge in five years when a federal judge ruled that international chemicals giant Evonik can buy rival PeroxyChem. (Antitrust nerds can read the 64-page decision, unsealed Monday night, here.) It was the first merger case for U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly — a Trump appointee who took the bench in September 2017 — and could shed light on how he’ll approach two of his other pending cases: the FTC’s $5 billion privacy settlement with Facebook and the Justice Department’s proposed merger compromise with T-Mobile and Sprint.

— “He doesn’t strike me as somebody who has ideological tendencies or preferences. He is very keen on creating a fair proceeding,” said Jan Rybnicek, counsel at Freshfields who represented the companies at a two-week trial in November. “We saw that in our trial, and I think you’re already seeing that in how he gives parties an opportunity to be heard in Sprint-T-Mobile.”

— In both of the pending cases, Kelly has opened up the proceedings so third parties can offer comments on the settlements. He hasn’t yet indicated when he might rule in either case.

Mary K. Engle, former associate director of the FTC’s division of advertising practices, joined the self-regulatory organization BBB National Programs as executive vice president of policy. … Michael Ronen, who was a SoftBank managing partner in the United States, left the company.

*Or shall we call this: Caucus Chaos Corner*

What went wrong with the Iowa app?: The app behind Democrats’ Iowa caucuses chaos is “a cautionary tale in how not to launch technology that’s critical to Americans’ faith in democracy,” POLITICO reports.

Is it too late now to say sorry?: Democratic tech firm Shadow, the app maker at the heart of said caucus chaos, apologized Tuesday afternoon, POLITICO reports.

Staying away: Nevada Democrats said Tuesday they won’t use the same app on their own turf on Feb. 22, POLITICO reports.

And yet: Here’s why 2020 could be a year of election malfunctions, via POLITICO.

How could this go wrong? Shadow was “handicapped by its own lack of coding know-how,” NYT reports.

Who, me?: Investors in the app are now doing what they can to downplay their ties to it, The Daily Beast reports.

Disinfo monitor: Still happening.

Ethics vs. Silicon Valley: “Ethicists were hired to save Silicon Valley’s soul. Will anyone let them?” via Protocol.

Fight against deepfakes, continued: Following similar announcements by Facebook, Google-owned YouTube and Reddit, Twitter released a policy update on manipulated media and deepfakes, Cristiano reports.

Speaking of: An Alphabet-owned company named Jigsaw introduced a free tool to help journalists spot doctored content, NYT reports.

Bite of the Apple: “A messaging platform suing Apple over its removal from the App Store is urging fellow developers to come forward with their horror stories about the iPhone maker,” Leah reports.

Clearview, up close: Hoan Ton-That, CEO of Clearview AI — the facial recognition start-up found to be scraping billions of images from social media to aid law enforcement’s surveillance efforts — sat down with CBS.

Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King (bking@politico.com, @bkingdc), Mike Farrell (mfarrell@politico.com, @mikebfarrell), Nancy Scola (nscola@politico.com, @nancyscola), Steven Overly (soverly@politico.com, @stevenoverly), John Hendel (jhendel@politico.com, @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima (clima@politico.com, @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine (alevine@politico.com, @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen (lnylen@politico.com, @leah_nylen).

TTYL.



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