October 17, 2021

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Unlimited Technology

Tech Newsletter: Biden’s FCC Delay Frustrations

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Welcome to the Tuesday edition of Internet Insider, where we dissect tech and politics unfolding online. Today:

  • Analysis: Biden’s FCC delay frustrations are starting to show
  • New bill would require ransomware victims to immediately disclose payments to hackers
  • Senators want Reddit to do more about ivermectin forums

A side by side of Sen. Ben Ray Luján and President Joe Biden

BREAK THE INTERNET

Biden’s FCC delay frustrations are starting to show

Analysis

We’ve written a lot about President Joe Biden’s months-long delay in filling out the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Advocacy groups and others have been pushing him to nominate someone for months.

Now, that delay is also causing frustrations in Congress

Over the last week, at least two lawmakers have brought up Biden’s delay in filling out the FCC. Meanwhile, a former Republican FCC commissioner has said he’s “perplexed” with how long it has taken.

It’s unclear whether Biden is hearing the growing calls for him to fill out the FCC, but the the commentary on the delay this week has been bipartisan.  

Biden inherited a 2-2 deadlocked FCC when he came into office. But he’s dragged his feet in either naming a fifth commissioner to fill out the agency or even name a full-time chair. He’s only named Jessica Rosenworcel as the acting chair. If he doesn’t act soon, there is an ever-increasing possibility that the FCC could fall into a Republican majority. (Check out the Daily Dot’s deep dive into this here). 

Without a full FCC, the agency can’t vote on any issues that would almost assuredly take a 3-2 vote, like restoring net neutrality rules. 

Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) called Biden’s historic delay in finalizing the makeup of the five-person agency “unacceptable” during a Senate subcommittee hearing on Thursday. 

That ticking clock toward a Republican majority was mentioned by Luján during the hearing. He also endorsed Rosenworcel to become the permanent chair of the agency.

“Under the leadership of Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel, the Federal Communications Commission has been able to make progress here, even with a 2-2 commission. Now imagine the progress that the FCC could make if there were five members. It is simply unacceptable and inexcusable that there’s no urgency from this administration to nominate a fifth commissioner,” the senator said.

“I would say nominate Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel not just for another term, but to be the full chair of the commission. I don’t understand why this has not happened,” he said, later adding: “If there’s not urgency in appointing a fifth FCC commissioner, re-nominating Commissioner Rosenworcel, there’s going to be three FCC commissioners instead of five in January. It’s unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, during a different hearing in the House of Representatives, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said Biden’s delay was “troubling.”

“I think it’s troubling, and I have publicly, repeatedly, called on the administration to name a chair, and I continue to support the acting chairwoman and I think she would be absolutely superb,” Eshoo said. “It’s a very important position, the FCC should not be left without a permanent chair being named.”

Even former FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly, a Republican, has weighed in, saying he was “completely perplexed by the situation.” He also essentially endorsed Rosenworcel to be elevated past acting status as the chair. 

I’m shocked at where we are, I just don’t understand why someone so capable for the vision and also the activities, is being set aside,” he said in part. 

The clock is clearly ticking for Biden, and frustrations are starting to mount. If he lets the FCC fall into a Republican majority, those frustrations will grow louder, and not just from lawmakers

— By Andrew Wyrich, deputy tech editor


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HACKING

New bill would require ransomware victims to immediately disclose payments to hackers

A recently introduced bill would mandate that victims of ransomware attacks disclose payments made to hackers to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The Ransom Disclosure Act requires victims to report ransoms within 24 hours of payment. The bill also mandates DHS to make payment information available to the public via a website. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Deborah Ross (D-N.C.) are co-sponsoring the bill.

Ransomware attacks have been on the rise in recent years, targeting public and private institutions. This year’s high-profile victims included D.C.’s police department and the Colonial Pipeline.  

Cyberattacks rose 62% from 2019 to 2020 worldwide, according to a report from cybersecurity company SonicWall.

In a statement, Warren said the bill will “allow us to learn how much money cybercriminals are siphoning from American entities to finance criminal enterprises—and help us go after them.”

— By Colleen Cronin, contributing writer


Reddit alien holding sign with "no" symbol over syringe

BIG TECH

‘Lives are at stake’: Senators want Reddit to do more about ivermectin forums

A group of senators is urging Reddit to crack down on the “rapid spread of misinformation” about coronavirus, specifically the use of ivermectin to treat it.

In a letter to Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, the senators urged him to “promote evidence-based health information and act swiftly to curb the spread of dangerous medical misinformation on your platform.”

Ivermectin is an anti-parasite drug commonly used for livestock that has some legitimate medical uses in humans under certain circumstances. However, the drug has been pushed by celebrities, conspiracy theorists, and others as a way to treat COVID-19. Health agencies like the CDC and FDA have warned people against using the drug for treating or preventing the virus.

The senators told Huffman: “On your platform, users have been encouraged to take ivermectin formulated for livestock,” later adding, “it is unacceptable to sit on the sidelines during a global pandemic while harmful misinformation runs rampant on your platform.”

The letter also references a push from nearly 500 subreddits in August demanding that Reddit take stronger action on COVID disinformation on the platform. Huffman wrote in response that the platform was a “place for open and authentic discussion and debate.”

In protest of Huffman’s response, dozens of subreddits went private. Ultimately, Reddit announced that it had banned one prominent COVID denial community, and quarantined—preventing the community from appearing in public searches—numerous others.

—A.W.

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