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Senate Authorizes Subpoenas for Big Tech CEOs

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On Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee authorized subpoenas for the testimonies of the heads of Facebook, Twitter, Google and its parent company Alphabet Inc. in a rare move amid a contentious election, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Senators cited the need to review Section 230, which gives these companies legal immunity with regards to controlling the content on their sites, along with privacy and additional issues.

The unanimous vote in the Senate shows the bipartisan support for reforming Section 230,” said Commissioner Brendan Barr of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in an exclusive comment to this reporter.

These large social media companies, often pejoratively called “Big Tech,” have received increasing criticism over the past few years for issues relating to the collection and use privacy and metadata of their users, the spreading of conspiracy theories and misinformation by some users, and what to do about hate speech on the platforms.

Apple, while not a social media platform, is regularly classified, too, as “Big Tech.” Holding these corporate giants accountable has made strange bedfellows out of both Republicans and Democrats, especially among their more “populist” factions.

The committee voted unanimously to authorize these subpoenas and then debated whether the hearing should take place before or after the November 3 election. While some Democrats expressed that they think it should happen after, the Republicans, who control the committee, seem likely to move forward with the hearings swiftly.

“On the eve of a momentous and highly charged election,” said committee chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), “it is imperative that this committee of jurisdiction and the American people receive a full accounting from the heads of these companies about their content moderation practices.”

The subpoenas were necessary, he added, because the CEOs had “declined to participate.”

While the highest-ranked Democrat on the committee, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), agreed to support the measure once the subpoenas’ intent was expanded to cover privacy concerns, she has some worries. “What I don’t want to see is a chilling effect on individuals who are in a process of trying to crack down on hate speech and misinformation about Covid during a pandemic,” she said.

“The unanimous vote in the Senate shows the bipartisan support for reforming Section 230,” said Commissioner Brendan Barr of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in an exclusive comment to this reporter. “The momentum now favors the adoption of commonsense reforms that will bring much needed accountability to Big Tech. I commend Senator Wicker and the Committee for ensuring that these Silicon Valley CEOs will respond to congressional oversight.”

The committee had originally asked the CEOs on September 18 to testify, according to people familiar with the matter, the Wall Street Journal reports. After six days, Sen. Wicker announced plans to progress toward authorizing subpoenas, which is exceptionally quick by congressional standards. This speediness indicates the committee’s feeling of urgency to get public testimonies out of the “Big Tech” CEOs.

A spokeswoman for the committee, according to the same Journal piece, said that the panel will reach out to the companies again to schedule a hearing and, if the witnesses don’t appear in a timely manner, would formally issue them subpoenas.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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GOP bill proposes extra measures to ensure noncitizens are unable to vote in federal elections

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GOP members of both the U.S. House and Senate introduced a bill to add safeguards to ensure that non U.S. citizens who are already prohibited from voting in federal elections, do not do so. The bill seeks to amend the National Voter Registration Act to require documentary proof of United States citizenship to register to vote.

The Center Square reports that It would require states to obtain proof of citizenship – in person – when registering an individual to vote. Applicants would have to provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote in person, when applying for a motor vehicle license, and when applying to vote by mail. The bill lists accepted citizenship documentation and requirements for voter registration agencies.

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, led a coalition of 49 Republicans to introduce the Safeguard American Voter Eligibility (SAVE) Act in the U.S. House. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, with several cosponsors, introduced the same bill in the Senate.

Citing the border crisis and the greatest number of foreign nationals illegally entering the country in U.S. history, the measure’s supporters expressed alarm that instead of being deported, many are being registered to vote.

“There is currently an unprecedented and a clear and present danger to the integrity of our election system,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said. “And that is the threat of non-citizens and illegal aliens voting in our elections. In the last five and a half months or so, I’ve been to over 101 cities doing events all around the country in more than half the states. The first or second question that I’m asked in every public forum is about election security. Americans are deeply concerned about this. And it doesn’t matter where you live or whether you’re in a blue state or a red state, everyone’s concerned.”

Johnson blamed President Joe Biden and his administration’s policies for for what he described as widespread concern about election integrity.

“… we now have so many non-citizens in the country that if only one out of 100 of those voted, they would cast hundreds of thousands of votes,” the speaker added. “And since our elections are so razor thin in these days that we’re in, just a few precincts in a few states decide the makeup of Congress and who is elected to the White House. This is a dangerously high number, and it’s a great concern to millions and millions of Americans. It could obviously change the outcome of our elections, and this is not an empty threat or concern.”

It is already a federal crime for non-citizens to vote in a federal election. Despite this, Johnson said, “no current mechanism to ensure only those registering or voting are actually citizens. … If a nefarious actor wants to intervene in our elections, all they have to do is check a box on a form and sign their name. That’s it. That’s all that’s required. And there’s a very small chance that illegal would get caught [because] states do not have the election infrastructure in place to confirm what they’ve said.”

Johnson said noncitizens “can simply go to their local welfare office or the DMV and register to vote there,” adding that “states are currently prohibited from asking someone to prove that they’re a citizen when they use the federal voter registration form.”

He also gave examples of “a growing number of localities” that are “blurring the lines for non-citizens by allowing them to vote in municipal local elections.

“You might not know this, but non-citizens are voting,” he warned Americans. “Democrats have expressed a desire to turn on citizens and voters. That’s what this open border has been all about.”

Roy said the proposed SAVE Act “would thwart Democrat efforts to cement one-party rule by upholding and strengthening current law that permits only U.S. citizens to vote in Federal elections.”

Lee said the bill should “pass right away” and unanimously in both houses of Congress. “The only reason to oppose this … would be if you want noncitizens to vote.”

It also would create a new program requiring the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration to share information with state registration systems. States would be required to identify noncitizens attempting to register to vote by accessing data in DHS’ Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program and the SSA’s Social Security Number Verification Service. The information would be compared with data from state agencies that supply state identification cards or driver’s licenses.

The bill also would require states to remove non-citizens from existing voter rolls and increases federal penalties for those who register non-citizens to vote in federal elections.

 

 

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