With help from Cristiano Lima, John Hendel, Leah Nylen and Megan Cassella
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— Busy, busy day on the Hill: Today’s House hearings on facial recognition technology and media market diversity, and a Senate hearing on U.S. preparedness for “industries of the future,” offer an overview on some of the biggest tech discussions unfolding this year.
— Closing arguments: T-Mobile and Sprint will make their final push in Manhattan federal court today to persuade a judge to rule in favor of their $26.5 billion mega-merger.
— Today at the White House: President Donald Trump is expected to sign phase one of a bilateral trade agreement with China, a deal with a range of implications for the tech world.
GREETINGS, TECHLINGS: IT’S WEDNESDAY. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Alexandra Levine.
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WHERE WILL THE HOUSE LAND ON FACIAL RECOGNITION? — The House Oversight Committee this morning will hold its first hearing on facial recognition technology since June, when the panel appeared on the brink of proposing to limit federal agencies’ deployment of the software. But the push stalled with the death last fall of then-Chairman Elijah Cummings, followed by the House’s impeachment battle. “It is clear that, despite the private sector’s expanded use of the technology, it is just not ready for prime time,” new Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) says in her opening remarks, according to excerpts shared with MT.
Here are the top things to watch for today:
— Is a moratorium still in play? Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, Oversight’s top Republican, said in August that the committee was exploring legislation to halt funding for any new or expanded use of the software by federal agencies. Maloney has yet to endorse such a plan, though a committee spokesperson told us in December that “nothing is off the table.” The notion is set to get some pushback today from one witness, ITIF Vice President Daniel Castro, who will cast calls for a moratorium as “misguided.”
— How will lawmakers tackle bias in AI? It will be the first time we’ve heard from many committee leaders since a report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found pervasive racial biases across facial recognition systems. Will lawmakers on the panel offer any new policy solutions? (Democratic lawmakers have proposed legislation to require companies to study and address algorithmic biases.) NIST’s Charles Romine will testify today.
TODAY: HOUSE E&C PROBES MEDIA DIVERSITY — As the House Energy and Commerce telecom subcommittee weighs media diversity issues at this morning’s hearing, some Democrats are already hoping a bipartisan package of bills could result.
— “The chairman has made it abundantly clear that we want all of our bills to be bipartisan,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), who was among the lawmakers who secured an agreement for this hearing, told John on Tuesday, acknowledging that “we might have to make some concessions.” The Senate is the “bigger question” given the impending impeachment trial, Butterfield added.
— The panel will consider three bills and one resolution at today’s legislative hearing, and only two are bipartisan: Missouri GOP Rep. Billy Long’s MEDIA Diversity Act, H.R. 5567 (116), a short bill requiring the FCC to consider marketplace barriers for socially disadvantaged individuals in its marketplace assessments; and H. Res. 549, which reaffirms policymakers’ commitment to media diversity. Witnesses include the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council and National Urban League.
— Only Democrats now back Butterfield’s Expanding Broadcast Ownership Opportunities Act, which would bring back a tax certificate program at the FCC to help foster minority ownership. “Black media ownership used to be a priority for Congress years ago, and somehow it has become less of a priority,” Butterfield told John. “But now there’s renewed interest in giving tax preferences to media broadcast companies that divest and allow minority broadcasters to come into the industry.”
MEANWHILE: SENATE COMMERCE EYES AI, 5G, QUANTUM — The watchword for Senate Commerce this morning is “industries of the future,” the Trump administration phrase capturing its focus on artificial intelligence, 5G wireless technology and quantum computing technology.
— Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) led his colleagues Tuesday in introducing the Industries of the Future Act, which would mandate a government report and six-year coordination council on these related workforce challenges. Testifying are the heads of NIST and the National Science Foundation, plus U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios and FCC Commissioners Mike O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel.
— Separate but related: Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) and Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) are launching the bipartisan Congressional Future of Work Caucus today to develop a strategic approach to future-of-work policy — namely around AI and automation issues, including how the technologies are shaping the U.S. economy and workforce. As of Tuesday night, the caucus was set to launch with 18 members.
T-MOBILE-SPRINT WRAPS IN MANHATTAN FEDERAL COURT — T-Mobile and Sprint will make their final push today to persuade a federal judge to green-light their $26.5 billion merger. The attorneys general from California, New York and 11 other states challenged the deal and argued at a two-week bench trial last month that the merger would lead to higher consumer prices. But the Nos. 3 and 4 wireless carriers say their combination is the only way they can deploy 5G nationwide. Closing arguments begin at 10 a.m. in Manhattan.
— U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero, a 79-year-old Clinton appointee, frequently questioned the parties during the December trial, and his questions this morning may shed light on how he intends to rule. (Wall Street analysts estimate a 20 percent to 25 percent chance the deal goes through.) But Marrero’s decision, expected in the coming months, won’t be the final word; federal authorities blessed the transaction on the condition T-Mobile and Sprint sell some assets to DISH Network, allowing the satellite TV provider to offer its own cellular network. A D.C. federal judge is overseeing that aspect of the deal but has so far delayed any decision pending the New York trial.
TRUMP TO SIGN FIRST PHASE OF CHINA TRADE DEAL — It’s finally time: Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and his team are expected at the White House later this morning to sign phase one of a bilateral trade agreement with President Trump. Administration officials have said the 86-page text of the agreement will be released in conjunction with the signing.
— A framework: The clearest indication so far as to what the deal entails is the two-page fact sheet USTR released in December. That document said the agreement includes “substantial additional purchases” of U.S. items and a dispute resolution system, and it also requires changes in areas of intellectual property, technology transfer, agriculture, financial services, and currency and foreign exchange.
— Questions remain about how significant the first phase of the agreement really is when major structural issues surrounding China’s use of subsidies, for example, are left unaddressed. Other issues left for the next phase include state-owned enterprises and technology policy.
— Tariff talk: USTR is emphasizing that there are no commitments, written or verbal, to remove the duties currently in place on roughly $370 billion of Chinese goods.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE HOUSE ANTITRUST PROBE — The House antitrust subcommittee will hold its fifth hearing on competition in the tech sector on Friday in Colorado — but it won’t be the last in the panel’s wide-ranging investigation, subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said Tuesday. And he’s still planning to hear more from the CEOs of Silicon Valley’s most powerful companies before the panel wraps up its probe.
— “All the companies have agreed to cooperate completely with the investigation and I expect that when we get to the point of asking them to appear they will cooperate as well,” Cicilline said of the CEOs. Cicilline told Cristiano he spoke to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook at the initial stages of the investigation — in addition to his meeting with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in September — but still hopes to have them and other CEOs testify, whether at a hearing, a deposition or by some other means.
Jessica González, former executive vice president and general counsel at the National Hispanic Media Coalition, today becomes co-CEO of Free Press and Free Press Action, joining Craig Aaron, who has been the organization’s CEO since 2011. … Meagan Sunn, former technology and telecommunications counsel to Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez and the majority staff of the House Small Business Committee, is joining the Goodfriend Group, a D.C. public policy and lobbying firm specializing in tech, telecom and media, as senior director and counsel for public policy and government affairs. … Adelina Cooke is joining Workday’s U.S. federal policy team as a senior manager. … TechCongress announced its 2020 Congressional Innovation Fellows, six tech and cyber experts who will spend a year serving as tech policy advisors on the Hill.
Keeping Huawei at bay: A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation aimed at coming up with 5G alternatives to Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE, John reports for Pros.
Apple vs. DOJ, continued: “Apple on Tuesday rejected the Justice Department’s claim that it has refused to help investigators unlock two iPhones that belonged to the shooter in the Pensacola, Fla., naval base attack,” POLITICO reports.
Plus: Apple is lawyering up over the encryption issue, NYT reports.
Amazon, FedEx shake hands: About a month after Amazon banned its third-party sellers from using FedEx Ground for Prime shipments, citing concerns that FedEx couldn’t keep up with the demands of the holiday season, Amazon lifted that ban, WSJ reports.
JEDI latest, ICYMI: Amazon will ask a court to stop Microsoft from starting work on the Pentagon’s cloud computing program, POLITICO reports.
Opinion: “Why Elizabeth Warren Feels ‘Very Uneasy’ Online,” via NYT.
Senate snail mail: In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, raised alarm about the State Department’s ability to thwart mounting cyber threats from Iran.
Those cookies are going stale: As user privacy and data concerns grow, Google announced plans to phase out third-party cookies in its Chrome browser within two years.
Swipe left: A new analysis from a Norwegian consumer group found that “German period and fertility trackers MyDays and Clue are both sending user data and sometimes location information to Google, Facebook and other ad tech companies,” POLITICO reports. The report also found that the LGBTQ-focused dating app Grindr “shares large amounts of data, including GPS location, with Twitter’s advertising subsidiary MoPub.”
What’s more: Consumer and privacy groups are calling on Congress, the FTC and several state AGs to investigate those allegations that several popular health and dating apps are violating privacy protections, including the GDPR.
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