The Morning Jolt

Science & Tech

Tech the Season

Sen. Ron Wyden (Reuters photo: Mike Theiler)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Regulation is coming to Silicon Valley, including a proposal to throw tech-company CEOs in jail if they’re not honest about violations of users’ privacy; Ivanka Trump somehow managed to miss all of the controversy about Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016; and the director of the upcoming film Vice declares he prefers the Trump administration to the Bush administration.

There will be a Morning Jolt tomorrow, before I begin my annual trek up Interstate 95, but there will be no Jolt on Thanksgiving Thursday or Black Friday. The annual Cyber Monday giftlist edition, showcasing all of the new books by my colleagues and friends, will arrive after that.

Senate Democrat Proposes Throwing Social Media CEOs in Jail for Violating Privacy

Back in August, I wrote about all of the reasons to feel optimistic about the future of the United States. In my lifetime, we’ve seen massive improvements in areas like crime, drunk driving, teen pregnancy, abortion rates, infant mortality, AIDS treatments, high school graduation rates, smoking, air travel safety, and teen drug use.

But a lot of what’s changed in American life in the past generation is technology. The Internet, cellular phones, emails, mobile broadband, the almost unlimited options of Amazon and the rise of e-commerce, Uber and Lyft, DARPA’s transformation of warfare, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, on-demand streaming services for entertainment, ubiquitous hand-held maps on our phones, Fitbits and other wearable health devices, YouTube “stars”, the NSA’s surveillance abilities . . . someone who time traveled from just the year 2000 would not recognize most of that.

Which raises the question of whether those of us who care about politics and who want to shape the future of the country spend too much time focusing on who’s in power in Washington and not enough time thinking about the little ways technology changes our life, bit by bit (no pun intended), year by year.

It increasingly appears inevitable that 2019 will bring serious efforts to more heavily regulate America’s tech goliaths . . .  and there’s a strangely broad and bipartisan agreement over it. People think that President Trump and House Democrats won’t be able to work together anywhere, but they both think poorly of Silicon Valley and the social media giants.

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, literally wants to threaten tech CEOs with jail time.

Wyden proposes a national “Do Not Track” database that allows US consumers to opt-out from websites storing their personal information.

Wyden is targeting companies that make more $50 million and store information on more than 1 million users.

Those companies would also have to submit an “annual data protection report” ensuring compliance with the law. The report must include any regulations they possibly violated and include statements from the company’s CEO, chief privacy officer and chief information security officer.

If an executive intentionally misleads the government, he or she could be held criminally responsible. Under the proposed bill, executives could be fined as much as $5 million and be imprisoned as long as 20 years if they are found guilty.

Wyden also proposes the FTC hire a new chief technologist and 50 new staffers to monitor privacy abuses.

Apple’s Tim Cook is talking about new regulations as a certainty.

I’m a big believer in the free market. But we have to admit when the free market is not working. And it hasn’t worked here. I think it’s inevitable that there will be some level of regulation,” Cook said in an interview with Axios. “I think the Congress and the administration at some point will pass something.

The odd thing is, the tech executives appear pretty eager to turn on each other, judging by this interview with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.

Benioff addressed issues facing Silicon Valley in a wide-ranging interview with journalist Kara Swisher that aired Sunday on MSNBC.

When asked if tech could “redeem itself in 2019,” Benioff answered, “No.”

… Benioff has been a vocal critic of his peers, most recently opposing CEOs including Jack Dorsey of Square and Twitter by favoring a tax on businesses including Salesforce intended to help mitigate San Francisco’s homelessness. During the interview, Benioff said his peers are responsible for the problems that have resulted from actions their companies have taken.

“They’re 100 percent responsible for the disasters that they’re creating, not just for their brand but in society itself because they just won’t say, ‘We’re gonna make sure trust is our highest value,'” Benioff said, adding that the proof was in the fact that executives, employees and customers were “walking out” of these companies. “And that’s gonna continue to happen if they don’t change their values.”

What’s really weird is that Big Tech has millions upon millions of users, but so few defenders.

But Her Emails! Wait, No, Not that ‘Her’, the Other Her’s Emails!

Gee, it’s just a crying shame that the 2016 presidential campaign didn’t include any discussion of the consequences of doing government work on a personal email account. If only the Republican nominee had brought it up from time to time! If only the party had made that sort of thing a central piece of their argument against the Democratic nominee! If only there had been some sort of catchy three-word chant that could summarize the consequences of violating the law on personal email and sensitive government information!

Ah, well, it’s just unfortunate that Ivanka Trump never heard about that whole controversy involving Hillary Clinton and her emails while she was Secretary of State. That scandal certainly didn’t get much media coverage, right?

White House ethics officials learned of Trump’s repeated use of personal email when reviewing emails gathered last fall by five Cabinet agencies to respond to a public records lawsuit. That review revealed that throughout much of 2017, she often discussed or relayed official White House business using a private email account with a domain that she shares with her husband, Jared Kushner.

The discovery alarmed some advisers to President Trump, who feared that his daughter’s prac­tices bore similarities to the personal email use of Hillary Clinton, an issue he made a focus of his 2016 campaign. He attacked his Democratic challenger as untrustworthy and dubbed her “Crooked Hillary” for using a personal email account as secretary of state.

Some aides were startled by the volume of Ivanka Trump’s personal emails — and taken aback by her response when questioned about the practice. She said she was not familiar with some details of the rules, according to people with knowledge of her reaction.

The best, and perhaps most important, defense of Ivanka Trump is that none of the information she dealt with was classified — so this is a breach of policy, but not a prosecutable crime. But other evidence from last year suggests that Ivanka was . . . just part of the crowd:

The disclosures came a day after news surfaced that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, used a private email account to send or receive about 100 work-related emails during the administration’s first seven months. But Mr. Kushner was not alone. Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief White House strategist, and Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, also occasionally used private email addresses. Other advisers, including Gary D. Cohn and Stephen Miller, sent or received at least a few emails on personal accounts, officials said.

The public will take the wrong lesson from this — that as Hillary Clinton claimed, everyone used personal email accounts for government work, and that the practice had no serious consequences.

Is this Really the Moment for an Anti-Neoconservatism Screed in Movie Theaters?

Ben Shapiro warns that the new Dick Cheney biopic, Vice, is just predictable anti-Bush agitprop and spotlights this surprising quote from director Adam McKay: “I would choose Trump over Bush and Cheney . . . Donald Trump has no belief system. So I would take the hyenas, the random wild animals running through the White House over Cheney any day of the week.”

It will be interesting if modern audiences and the chattering class agrees with that assessment.

Dick Cheney didn’t come from fabulous wealth, he’s not stunningly handsome, he’s not a whirling dervish of raw political charisma, although some of us find his bluntness appealing. He grew up far from any center of power in Casper, WY.; got into Yale but nearly flunked out, then transferred to the University of Wyoming, and married his high school sweetheart at 23.

Somehow, despite having no famous family or wealth or connections, Cheney steadily climbed the ladder and the most powerful people in Washington entrusted him with one high-profile job after another: White House chief of staff, presidential campaign manager, congressman, House Minority Whip, Secretary of Defense. The trailer for Vice humorously suggests that if Cheney had been a more traditional vice president, it would have been a step down. And then he becomes vice president and the boss of his old boss, Donald Rumsfeld. (I picked up a vibe of “Don’t hate the player, hate the game” from the trailer, but maybe that’s just me.)

It’s going to be interesting watching the attempt to make Bush-era neoconservatism look scary in today’s environment. This would be the pro-NATO and pro-NATO-expansion, pro-democracy, anti-Russian (at least from Cheney), anti-dictator, human-rights-focused political philosophy that is pretty much everything Trump defines himself in opposition to today.

Neoconservatism includes no white nationalism, it’s pro-women’s rights and gay rights in most contexts, and it supports free trade and legal immigration. It’s the opposite of isolationism and in fact preaches a duty to help the world (by, er, invading other counties and killing dictators). It grew out of disillusioned New Dealers who wanted policies strong enough to stand up to the Soviet Union.

And Adam McKay wants to argue that was a bigger threat to all he holds dear than Trumpism?

ADDENDUM: Every once in a while, I’ll watch two folks in the conservative movement get into a nasty fight with each other, and I’ll wince. We’re always going to have disagreements, but there’s value in trying to keep a respectful tone when arguing with allies. This isn’t that big of a movement, folks, and the person who you’re denouncing one day may be the person who you need a favor from another day. I was reminded of this when I read that Mark Levin had some kind words for something I wrote about the Amazon deal last week. I recall tangling with Levin during that 2010 Delaware Senate primary between Mike Castle and Christine O’Donnell. You may recall Castle was just barely a Republican, O’Donnell was . . . er, “not a witch,” and she won the primary by six points . . . and then lost the general election by 17 points. I had forgotten that in 2011, she wrote a book with the subtitle . . . Let’s Do What It Takes to Make America Great Again. She wasn’t a witch, she was a prophet!



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