Washington Post

The secretive brain trust of Silicon Valley insiders who are helping Trump

Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel is putting together a brain trust of Silicon Valley insiders to share ideas with the transition team for President-elect Donald Trump. But he’s having trouble finding takers.

In recent days, the Facebook board member and PayPal cofounder - who is also a member of the Trump transition - has been appealing to fellow entrepreneurs of all political stripes to share their best ideas and possibly join the incoming administration. Thiel has been carrying around an iPad with an editable list of possible candidates, say people familiar with Thiel’s thinking who did not want to be named because the venture capitalist has not made his effort public. Those who have been approached by Thiel have been asked to add other names to the shortlist.

President-elect Trump’s pick for attorney general could be bad news for Silicon Valley

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general probably wouldn’t have been the tech industry’s first choice. Sen Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is on the opposite side of several issues that are close to Silicon Valley’s heart and related to the Justice Department. Here are some key areas where tech giants could clash with Sen Sessions if his nomination is successful:

Encryption: When Apple and the Department of Justice faced off over an encrypted iPhone used by one of the shooters in a mass killing in San Bernardino (CA), the tech industry rallied around Apple. But Sen Sessions came out strong on the government’s side.

E-mail privacy: Reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to require the government to get a warrant to search the contents of your inbox is something Congress (and the public) generally supports — even if they haven’t managed to get it done yet. But earlier in 2016, Sen Sessions proposed an amendment to an ECPA reform bill that alarmed some privacy advocates.

Immigration: Sen Sessions is a longtime proponent of more limits on immigration. In October, he suggested that the United States may want to do away with the H-1B visa program, which allows companies to recruit foreign workers if they can’t fill positions domestically. That puts him at odds with the tech industry, which generally wants to expand that program. In fact, a group backed by Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg called FWD.us supports immigration reform — including more H-1B visas. In 2014, an ad campaign from the group rattled Sen Sessions so much that he lashed out at Zuckerberg during a speech on the Senate floor.

How AT&T defends its free data policy to skeptical regulators

Parent company AT&T is defending a feature with DirecTV before regulators who said in Nov that they harbor “serious concerns” about the practice, in a fight over how consumers get to experience video on their mobile devices. The program allows consumers to watch as much DirecTV as they want on their AT&T cellphone plans without that consumption eating into customers' monthly data allotments. The exemptions, which AT&T will also apply to its new streaming video app, DirecTV Now, are perfectly good for consumers, the company said in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission.

“Consumers have enthusiastically embraced Data Free TV,” the letter reads. (AT&T owns DirecTV.) As AT&T uses Data Free TV to promote its proprietary services to consumers, other companies could be harmed by the move, critics have said. For example, if Netflix refused to play on AT&T's terms, consumers who watched “Orange is the New Black” on AT&T's data network could find that they were depleting their available data. This would lead to DirecTV having an advantage over Netflix. And the gap would become even more pronounced for smaller media and Internet companies, skeptics say. In its letter, AT&T responded to those claims by arguing that its practice of exempting DirecTV is good for consumers and that it doesn't exclusively benefit its own bottom line. “AT&T makes its sponsored data program available to all content providers on the same terms and conditions,” the letter said. “In fact, AT&T went further in meeting the nondiscrimination requirement than traditional law would require.”

Hackers can now report bugs in Defense Dept. websites without fear of prosecution

The Defense Department became the first US government agency to launch a policy enabling researchers to report bugs or flaws they discover in its websites without fear of prosecution. Calling it a “see something, say something” policy for the digital domain, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said the program is aimed at improving the security of the Pentagon’s unclassified, public-facing networks. The Army also opened registration for Hack the Army, a challenge in which researchers and hackers scour Army sites for software flaws and compete for thousands of dollars in bounty rewards. The Army contest explicitly authorizes researchers to try to hack a limited set of Army systems to find weaknesses. Meanwhile, the new policy is aimed at creating a way for hackers or researchers who come across flaws to report them without exposing themselves to criminal liability.

“This is a historic moment for hackers and the U.S. government,” said Katie Moussouris, founder of Luta Security and an adviser to the Pentagon on the new policy. “For the first time since hacking became a felony offense over 30 years ago, the Department of Defense has now opened the doors for ongoing vulnerability disclosure from helpful hackers who want to help secure these systems without fear of legal prosecution.”

Trump’s big infrastructure plan? It’s a trap.

[Commentary] As the White House official responsible for overseeing implementation of President Barack Obama’s massive infrastructure initiative, the 2009 Recovery Act, I’ve got a simple message for Democrats who are embracing President-elect Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan: Don’t do it. It’s a trap.

Backing Trump’s plan is a mistake in policy and political judgment they will regret, as did their Democratic predecessors who voted for Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts in 1981 and George W. Bush’s cuts in 2001. First, Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. Moreover, as others have noted, desperately needed infrastructure projects that are not attractive to private investors — municipal water-system overhauls, repairs of existing roads, replacement of bridges that do not charge tolls — get no help from Trump’s plan. And contractors? Well, they get a “10 percent pretax profit margin,” according to the plan. Combined with Trump’s sweeping business tax break, this would represent a stunning $85 billion after-tax profit for contractors — underwritten by the taxpayers. Second, as a result of the above, Trump’s plan isn’t really a jobs plan, either. Third, because there is no proposed funding mechanism for Trump’s tax breaks, they will add to the deficit — perhaps as much as $137 billion. Thus, Democrats should know that every dollar spent on the Trump tax scheme to enrich construction investors and contractors is a dollar that will later be cut from schools, hospitals and seniors. Fourth, if the Republican approach to the Recovery Act is any indication, the Trump plan will come chock-full of policy changes that undermine core Democratic principles.

[Klain served as assistant to President Obama and oversaw the team implementing the American Recovery and Renewal Act from 2009-2011. He was an adviser to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign.]

Pentagon and intelligence community chiefs have urged President Obama to remove the head of the NSA

The heads of the Pentagon and the nation’s intelligence community have recommended to President Barack Obama that the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael Rogers, be removed. The recommendation, delivered to the White House on Oct 2016, was made by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr, according to several US officials familiar with the matter.

Action has been delayed, some administration officials said, because relieving Adm. Rogers of his duties is tied to another controversial recommendation: to create separate chains of command at the NSA and the military’s cyberwarfare unit, a recommendation by Clapper and Carter that has been stalled because of other issues. The news comes as Adm. Rogers is being considered by President-elect Donald Trump to be his nominee for director of national intelligence to replace Clapper as the official who oversees all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. In a move apparently unprecedented for a military officer, Adm. Rogers, without notifying superiors, traveled to New York to meet with Trump at Trump Tower. That caused consternation at senior levels of the administration, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal personnel matters.

Will Trump care about student data privacy?

Parents, teachers and privacy advocates are urging a federal commission not to bend to requests to change a federal law so that a centralized federal database of students’ personal data can be established. The Education Department has plans to build a system of records that will collect detailed data on thousands of students — even though experts say there are not sufficient safeguards to protect student privacy. How President-elect Donald Trump would feel about such a database is unclear. He has criticized a strong federal role in education — and even threatened to eliminate the Education Department, but he has not made an issue of student data privacy.

Stephen Bannon: A media bubble destroyed the Clinton campaign

We’ve seen all manner of blame-throwing ever since Hillary Clinton, polling’s prohibitive favorite in the 2016 presidential race, tanked in key states when voters actually did their thing. Her campaign chairman, John Podesta, for instance, cited a “hostile press corps” that presumably obsessed over the candidate’s email scandal. In an interview, incoming White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon advances another view. “The media bubble is the ultimate symbol of what’s wrong with this country,” Bannon said. “It’s just a circle of people talking to themselves who have no f—ing idea what’s going on. If The New York Times didn’t exist, CNN and MSNBC would be a test pattern. The Huffington Post and everything else is predicated on The New York Times. It’s a closed circle of information from which Hillary Clinton got all her information — and her confidence. That was our opening.”

President-elect Trump’s new lobbying rules could ‘drain the swamp.’ But they may be illegal and are porous.

President-elect Donald Trump’s new proposals to crack down on lobbyists’ influence in Washington read like the most stringent attempt in recent history to rein in the booming influence industry. But the reality could be much different. Ethics experts and lobbyists say the new rules intended to “drain the swamp” of the special interests that President-elect Trump believes control the nation’s capital are rife with holes, appear vague and could be unconstitutional. And their biggest immediate impact is to make it more difficult for the Trump transition, which is already scrambling to fill thousands of government jobs in the next several weeks, to find qualified people to work in the administration. “It’s going to be really difficult to fully flesh out a working government if you’re not able to collect the talent of people who know how to pull the levers of government,” said Democratic lobbyist Zach Williams, a partner at the lobby firm Forbes-Tate.

Police are spending millions of dollars to monitor the social media of protesters and suspects

Hundreds of local police departments across the United States have collectively spent about $4.75 million on software tools that can monitor the locations of activists at protests or social media hashtags used by suspects, according to new research. The research, by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit organization focusing on criminal justice issues, aims to take a comprehensive look at the fast-growing phenomenon of social media-monitoring by law enforcement. Using public records, the Brennan Center tracked spending by 151 local law enforcement agencies that have contracted with start-ups that siphon data from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other sites, largely out of the public eye. Top spenders were the City of Los Angeles, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the County of Sacramento, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the County of Macomb, which is a large county in Michigan. Each spent roughly $70,000 over the past three years, Brennan found.