With help from John Hendel and Eric Geller
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— Tech awaits debate night: The 2020 Democrats’ presidential field has shrunk by three candidates since their last debate, but tech’s harshest critics remain as hopefuls take the stage tonight in Iowa.
— Facial recognition fight meets student activism: Digital rights and student activists are launching a campaign to oppose proposals for biometric surveillance at colleges and universities.
— Barr slams Apple’s encryption as a ‘grave problem’ in terror case: Attorney General William Barr publicly called out the iPhone maker as he ratchets up the pressure on tech companies to provide a backdoor to scrambled communications.
GREETINGS, TECHLINGS: IT’S TUESDAY. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Alexandra Levine.
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JUST LIKE THAT, IT’S (ANOTHER) DEBATE NIGHT — Three candidates — Cory Booker, Marianne Williamson and Julián Castro — have dropped out of the 2020 race since POLITICO co-hosted the last Democratic debate, but tech’s most ardent critics are still standing and will take the stage tonight in Iowa. Since that debate, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar have attacked Facebook’s decision to continue allowing politicians to lie in campaign ads, and Sen. Bernie Sanders has kept up his attacks on Amazon.
— Billionaire businessman Tom Steyer, meanwhile, has been outpacing the rest of the Democratic field in spending on Facebook ads, while Silicon Valley favorite Pete Buttigieg has continued leaning on the tech world for campaign dollars.
— We’re tracking tonight’s debate for more tech talk, and you can, too: Here’s where 2020 Dems stand on everything from breakups of tech giants and regulations on social media to online privacy and rural broadband.
FACIAL RECOGNITION FACES PUSHBACK ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES — The digital rights group Fight for the Future and activists from Students for Sensible Drug Policy launched a campaign today opposing the potential rollout of biometric surveillance at colleges and universities. They want administrators to commit to banning the technology from campuses and are encouraging student governments to pass resolutions demanding as much. (Facial recognition tools are already being deployed in schools.)
— “Students have an obligation to prevent this technology going mainstream, beginning with university campuses, where we have the most power and we know how to win,” said Erica Darragh, a board member at the student group. Fight for the Future Deputy Director Evan Greer added that “schools that are already using this technology are conducting unethical experiments on their students.”
— Next up: The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on facial recognition on Wednesday morning, while states — wary of sluggish efforts on the issue in Congress — will continue taking steps on their own, as we reported in MT.
ACCESS STILL DENIED IN DOJ-APPLE ENCRYPTION FEUD — Barr on Monday held up the investigation of last month’s deadly shooting at a Pensacola, Fla., naval base as the latest example of the perils of warrant-proof encryption. It was his most high-profile slap yet at Apple and other tech companies for their refusal to unlock scrambled communications for federal law enforcement.
— “We’re seeing an increasing number of these cases … and it’s becoming a grave problem,” Barr told reporters at a news conference about the Dec. 6 attack. DOJ has asked Apple for help unlocking the deceased shooter’s two iPhones, but the phones remain locked. Apple told POLITICO that it did what it could to help, but Barr said the company “has not given us any substantive assistance.” He added: “We call on Apple and other technology companies to help us find a solution so that we can better protect the lives of Americans and prevent future attacks.”
— Barr declined to comment on whether prosecutors would take Apple to court, as the Obama administration did — to decidedly mixed results — after a terrorist-inspired mass shooting in December 2015 in San Bernardino, Calif. But he said the stakes are high. “We don’t want to get into a world where we have to spend months and even years exhausting efforts when lives are in the balance,” Barr said at the end of the news conference.
KENNEDY TO PAI: KEEP ME POSTED ON AIRWAVES SALE — Senate appropriator John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), who oversees funding for the FCC, made good on his recent pledge that he would be watching the commission “like a hawk” as it preps a sale of 5G-friendly C-band spectrum. He fired off a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, released Monday, asking the agency chief to “keep me apprised of any and all developments in respect to the FCC’s auction plans and subsequent auction schedule” and that Kennedy be “given notice of any proposal the FCC considers in regards to compensation for the satellite companies currently operating within the C-Band.” Remember, hearings are likely coming, as John reported last week.
LET THERE BE LIGHT — The FCC announced on Monday that it has reached a $1.13 million settlement with Scripps Broadcasting over an investigation into the lighting surrounding some of the TV towers Scripps had acquired from Cordillera Communications, amid concerns that they could be too dark for pilots to see. The broadcaster is assenting to a compliance plan to ensure proper monitoring of the brightness surrounding these towers.
— “The Commission takes seriously its role in ensuring that antenna structures do not pose a hazard to aviation safety,” the FCC wrote in its consent decree. “Regular, consistent monitoring of antenna structure lighting systems is potentially a life-saving measure, as it ensures that owners quickly learn of — and can correct — malfunctioning obstruction lights.” This FCC probe began in 2018 following a plane’s collision with a TV tower in Louisiana.
Paul A. Jackson, associate bureau chief of the FCC’s media bureau, is set to replace Tim Strachan as director of the agency’s Office of Legislative Affairs. … Andrew Long, former vice president and assistant chief counsel for regulatory at Time Warner Cable, has joined the staff of the Free State Foundation as a senior fellow. … Terry Wade will be the new executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch. … Atlassian is the newest member company of BSA | The Software Alliance; Atlassian’s general counsel, Erika Fisher, is joining the trade group’s board of directors.
And over at CTIA, which represents the U.S. wireless communications industry: Kevin Ryan has been promoted to vice president of policy communications; Kathryn Dall’Asta to deputy general counsel; Beth Cooley to assistant vice president of state legislative affairs; Kara Graves to assistant vice president of regulatory affairs; and Hank Kilgore to assistant vice president of government affairs. Chris Salemme will also take on an elevated director of government affairs position, managing House Democrats.
Hack attack: “Russian hackers targeted the Ukrainian gas company that’s a major focus of impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, according to a cybersecurity firm that says it discovered the attacks on Burisma Holdings,” POLITICO reports.
Just as Bezos touched down in India: “The Competition Commission of India, the country’s antitrust regulator, opened a formal investigation on Monday into the practices of Amazon and Flipkart, the Indian e-commerce giant mostly owned by Walmart,” NYT reports.
Coming clean: Amazon is angling to provide law enforcement with more data on fakes and counterfeit goods listed on the e-commerce site, Reuters reports.
That was fast: Away co-founder Steph Korey, who stepped down recently over allegations that she had created a toxic workplace culture at the luggage company, is back at the helm as co-chief executive, NYT reports.
Opinion, ICYMI: Internet Association President and CEO Michael Beckerman called on the Senate to pass USMCA because of the agreement’s strong digital provisions, including intermediary liability protections, he wrote in The Hill.
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