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DHS to be grilled on facial recognition


With help from Cristiano Lima, John Hendel, Leah Nylen and Eric Wolff

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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— (Another) facial recognition hearing: House lawmakers will press the Department of Homeland Security on its use of facial surveillance as the technology remains under fire on the federal level and has been banned in several cities.

— The moment telecom’s been waiting for: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will unveil his C-Band auction plan for 5G today at ITIF, after months of speculation and back-and-forth about the terms.

— First in POLITICO: DOE’s Artificial Intelligence and Technology Office this week swore in Cheryl Ingstad as its director.

GREETINGS, TECHLINGS: IT’S THURSDAY. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Alexandra Levine.

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.

DHS COMES FACE-TO-FACE WITH A TOP FACIAL RECOGNITION SKEPTIC — DHS officials are expected to face a grilling about the department’s use of facial recognition software at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing today, where they will be pitted against a leading congressional skeptic of the technology. Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) in December called on DHS to conduct an “immediate” review to determine whether it should halt deployment after a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found pervasive racial biases in facial recognition systems.

— “While it can be a valuable facilitation tool for DHS’s varying missions, I remain deeply concerned about privacy, transparency, data security, and the accuracy of this technology and want to ensure these concerns are addressed before DHS deploys it further,” Thompson told MT in a statement. NIST’s Charles Romine, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s John Wagner and Peter Mina from DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties are slated to testify at today’s hearing, the second such session in under a year.

SCHATZ TO PAI: WAIT FOR CONGRESS TO SETTLE C-BAND — Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) is not happy that Pai is moving ahead with plans for a Feb. 28 commission vote to set the framework for an auction of the 5G-friendly C-band airwaves while lawmakers from both parties still deliberate. “They should be waiting for Congress, and they are doing something that won’t hold up in court,” Schatz, the top Democrat on Commerce’s telecom subcommittee, told John on Wednesday. “And it’s preposterous.”

— Schatz’s pushback comes ahead of planned remarks from Pai today at an event unveiling his auction plans. Lawmakers and the FCC are grappling over how much auction revenue to funnel to the satellite incumbents holding the airwaves. Intelsat, one of those key incumbents, is eyeing Chapter 11 bankruptcy if it doesn’t get enough, Bloomberg reported.

— Congressional action would give the FCC “more legal certainty” undergirding this 5G auction, House Energy and Commerce ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) told John on Wednesday following a floor huddle with panel Democrats on their prospective C-band auction legislation. “I think they also believe they’re going to get sued no matter what they do.”

— Unlike Schatz, he and E&C telecom subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) don’t insist that the FCC postpone the vote while they negotiate. “If Congress passes legislation, that’s what’s going to get done,” Doyle remarked. Despite good-faith talks that are ongoing, “I don’t know if we’re ready to file a bill,” Walden acknowledged. “I think [Pai’s] going to play it straight and put the number out there he thinks is right and go forward.”

— Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), who leads a bill on the matter with Schatz and heads FCC appropriations, offered an ominous tweet Wednesday touting their measure and saying the auction revenue should be used “NOT as golden parachutes to foreign satellite companies.” (And remember, Kennedy told John last month he was plotting FCC approps hearings set to follow the impeachment trial.)

ALSO TODAY: FCC AUTO AIRWAVES PLAN PUBLISHED — The FCC’s December proposal to carve up the 5.9 GHz auto airwaves is finally set for publication in the Federal Register today, setting up the commission’s next step as it collects comments from interested parties. Although commissioners unanimously adopted the plan, which would repurpose some of the 75 MHz band for new auto safety technology and other unlicensed uses like Wi-Fi, the Department of Transportation and a bipartisan mix of lawmakers remain opposed, saying the full swath should stay allocated for auto safety.

DELRAHIM KNOCKS PARAMOUNT DECREE DIEHARDS — Groups invoking the specter of an all-powerful Amazon to defend 1940s restrictions on major movie studios are misguided, DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim said in an appearance Wednesday at The Media Institute.

— Delrahim was responding to critics who oppose his department’s proposal to revoke the Paramount consent decrees, which restrict Paramount Pictures and six other major U.S. movie studios from owning theaters and engaging in exclusive distribution practices. Critics have argued that loosening the restrictions could allow newer film-making “behemoths” like Amazon to buy movie theaters and then quash their competitors.

— “Just in case people didn’t know, Amazon didn’t exist in 1948,” Delrahim responds. (Fact check: True?) “Therefore they’re not a signatory to that consent decree. They can buy whatever the hell they want!”

— Also, he said, the decrees have probably prevented studios from offering “innovative consumer products,” such as a nationwide program to show their older movies at theaters. “A 75-year-old consent decree shouldn’t prevent the free market and the consumer from benefiting from that,” he said. A New York federal judge is still considering whether to rescind the decrees.

FIRST IN POLITICO: DOE NAMES DIRECTOR FOR AI OFFICE — Cheryl Ingstad was sworn in Tuesday as the director of DOE’s Artificial Intelligence and Technology Office, DOE will announce today. Former Energy Secretary Rick Perry created AITO to coordinate and advance the artificial intelligence research occurring at the national labs and other parts of DOE. Ingstad previously spent 15 years at 3M, and before that worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency. “It is an honor to be able to lay the foundation for this critical office with DOE’s world-class AI experts,” Ingstad said in a statement.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is stepping down and in June will become executive chairman; Ryan Roslansky, global head of product, will succeed him. … Ray Day, former chief communications officer for IBM, was hired as chairman of Targeted Victory’s public affairs and corporate communications practice, per POLITICO Influence, reporting to the firm’s chief executive, Zac Moffatt; Day will also be a vice chairman at Targeted Victory’s parent company, the Stagwell Group. … David Gooder, an intellectual property expert who was most recently chief trademark counsel for Brown-Forman Corp. (which owns a variety of spirits and wine brands), was appointed by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross as the new commissioner for trademarks at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, effective in March.

Name to know: Former Obama campaign aide Tara McGowan, “the divisive Democratic operative behind Shadow, the app that broke Iowa,” via POLITICO.

Speaking of that app: It “was so insecure that vote totals, passwords and other sensitive information could have been intercepted or even changed,” ProPublica found.

Gig latest: Uber and Lyft filed a number of AB5 wage claims on Wednesday. What does it all mean? California Playbook author Jeremy B. White breaks down state versus federal labor law, the road to a union and what comes next.

Privacy deep dive: Protocol has the inside story on the negotiations that led to the California Privacy Rights Act.

Clearview chaos, continued: Google and YouTube served cease-and-desist letters to Clearview AI, the facial recognition start-up found to be scraping billions of images from social media to aid law enforcement’s surveillance efforts, Gizmodo reports.

More on Clearview: The controversial facial recognition company “has expanded, or plans to expand, to 22 countries, some of which have committed human rights abuses,” BuzzFeed News reports.

ICYMI: White House trade adviser Peter Navarro accused Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos of backing out of a meeting on counterfeit products, The Washington Post reports.

Food for thought: “DOJ and states have clashed on antitrust cases. Can they unite on Google?” via POLITICO.

In profile: The Epoch Times, “one of the most mysterious fixtures of the pro-Trump media universe,” has moved its advertising from Facebook to YouTube, NYT reports. And “the shifting tactics of partisan publishers pose a challenge to tech platforms in the lead-up to the 2020 election.”

Hate to see that: “How American Politics Became a Meme Theater,” via WIRED. (“Every political moment is now a potential meme — and politicians know it.”)

Funds to fight coronavirus: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is donating $100 million to coronavirus detection and treatment efforts, CNET reports.

Meanwhile: Qualcomm’s chief financial officer expressed concerns over the potential for the coronavirus to upend supply chains across the mobile phone industry, Reuters reports.

Curb appeal: “Can an Alphabet spinoff use phone location data to transform urban planning?” via Protocol.

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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