Podcast: Google’s Double Standard for Conservative, Liberal News Sites

The Federalist’s David Harsanyi joins us today to discuss why Google is presenting “fact checks” to some conservative news sites like The Federalist and The Daily Caller, but not to other sites that have gotten issues wrong, such as CNN. Plus: we talk about whether Democrats are embarrassed about their tax reform “no” votes in light of all the bonuses and wage increases, and Meghan McCain’s fiery interview with Michael Wolff, author of “Fire and Fury.”

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Death Threats Against FCC Chairman Are Unprecedented and Must Stop

When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rolled back President Barack Obama’s “net neutrality” policy, Chairman Ajit Pai told reporters, “It’s not going to kill democracy.”

But could it kill him?

Federal officials are certainly concerned, now that a flood of death threats has reached a level most insiders say they’ve never seen. This is “routine for presidents and vice presidents,” sources say, “but highly unusual for heads of government agencies like the FCC.”

For the 44-year-old chief, the risks of the job were clear from his earliest days at the FCC. He tells horrifying stories about his house being surrounded by protestors, some lurking under his windows with signs of his children’s names.

“My kids are 5 and 3,” he told the Wall Street Journal in 2014. “It’s not pleasant.”

Now, the dangers to Pai and his family are so serious that the FCC head was forced to back out of a speech at one of the most important tech events of the year, the Consumer Electronics Show.

“Basically, if these threats are credible, you need armored vehicles—and I mean plural—not to mention area sweeps, aerial support, and Secret Service directly manning the commissioner at all times,” said a security expert familiar with the situation.

“There’s not the budget for staffing the Consumer Electronics Show from threats of that level,” he went on, explaining that Pai’s “detail is ill-equipped to protect against snipers, attackers, bombs, gas attacks, vehicular blockades, and other assassination attempts.”

Of course, the question on everyone’s minds is: Who cares this much about net neutrality?

Most people don’t even know what the FCC stands for, let alone who heads it. If it weren’t for Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction or Bono’s fleeting expletive, half the country probably wouldn’t know the agency existed.

As for net neutrality (which is about as misnamed as “marriage equality”), the issue has never been the stuff of mainstream political passion. It didn’t even get a passing mention in the presidential debates.

So what is it about this issue that’s leading an army of the far left to threaten an innocent man’s life?

Like most things, the crusade against Pai began in the dark shadows of Obama’s favorite radicals.

“The tech left, funded largely by George Soros, decided to champion under the banner of a benign-sounding ‘net neutrality’ campaign and seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grab the moral high ground in their determination to allow the giant edge providers to censor the internet to suit their ideological preferences—ridding the internet of conservative and libertarian content,” Roger Stone explains in an eye-opening column for the Daily Caller.

Obama added the idea to his toolshed of unconstitutional crackdowns, all but demanding the FCC implement the policy in 2015.

As then-Commissioner Pai vented,

“Why is the FCC turning its back on internet freedom? Is it because we now have evidence that the internet is not open? No. Is it because we have discovered some problem with our prior interpretation of the law? No. We are flip-flopping for one reason and one reason alone. President Obama told us to do so.”

Essentially, Stone explains, the FCC “legalized censorship, allowing Soros-funded groups to run rampant spreading the most violent messages possible, while at the same time aggressively censoring Donald Trump supporters and patriotic Americans who desire only to make their country great again.”

The very opposite, he points out, of neutrality. Or, conservatives might add, the FCC’s mission.

For Pai, things only got worse. HBO host John Oliver kicked off a campaign called “Go FCC Yourself,” determined to gin up outrage (and worse) against the FCC chair. Liberals blocked the Pais’ driveway, while others savaged him on the FCC site, unloading on Pai as a “dirty, sneaky Indian.”

The rampage got so out of control that Oliver had to call on his own flock to tone down the threats. They didn’t.

The Pai doorbell rang every half hour “with pizza deliveries that they had not ordered,” Commentary Magazine’s Noah Rothman explained in his column about Pai’s tormentors. His neighborhood was plastered with fliers of Pai and his vitals, like something out of the FBI’s Most Wanted.

“Is this really the world you want Annabelle and Alexander to inherit,” read a hand-made sign affixed to a lamppost outside Pais’ residence in November, making a point to emphasize the names of Pai’s two children. “They will come to know the truth: Dad murdered democracy in cold blood,” read another.

The harassment of Pai and his family is a national outrage that should be a headline in every news outlet in America—especially considering the irony of the left’s position. These fanatics are attacking Pai on the same internet they’re complaining isn’t neutral. Only a liberal could keep a straight face.

For the rest of society, it’s just another example of the left’s ruthless and relentless intolerance. An intolerance, sadly, that too many in the media ignore—if not embrace.

As Pai said on “Washington Watch” in November, this culture of cruelty must stop.

“I cannot say in strong enough terms how much I reject this notion that people who are passionate about an issue … should go after public officials personally and their families—particularly the families. In my case, it’s been extremely unpleasant, to say the least, to have to think about these things and worry about them.

Even today, there are criminal charges filed against a man who called up Congressman [John] Katko in upstate New York and said, ‘If you don’t vote for net neutrality, I will kill you and your family…’ There’s no place in civilized society for that.”

Disagreements used to be an opportunity for debate. Now, we don’t even pretend to look for consensus.

In this post-civil world, some Americans have simply lost the desire for common courtesy—and excusing the bad behavior of an enlightened few as “justice” or “reasonable resistance” doesn’t help.

In the last decade, conservatives have paid the price for their convictions with their careers, businesses, life savings, and security. If anyone misses real neutrality, it’s us.

This was originally published in Tony Perkins’ Washington Update, which is written with the aid of Family Research Council senior writers.

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Podcast: Former Employee Sues Google, Alleges Discrimination Against Conservatives

Former Google employee James Damore is suing Google, accusing the tech giant of discrimination against conservatives and whites. The Heritage Foundation’s Mike Gonzalez joins us to discuss that lawsuit, Silicon Valley’s diversity problem, and why the Census should stop dividing Americans into six ethnic categories. Plus: President Donald Trump shows his love for the national anthem, and the author of “Fire and Fury” won’t release the tape recordings.

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‘Internet of Things’ Devices Have Their Security Risks. How Regulators Should Address Them.

Most Americans own some sort of “smart” device, whether it’s a smartphone, a smart thermostat, or a smart fitness tracker.

These devices are benefiting Americans in countless ways, from helping them become more energy-efficient, to saving money and even tracking their health.

But many of these devices can also pose a security risk to unsuspecting consumers. It’s up to consumers to decide whether the sticker price is worth the personal risks from these “internet of things” devices.

Every year, The Heritage Foundation publishes papers highlighting some of the most significant cyber incidents involving both the public and private sectors. This year’s papers include a list of cyber incidents that involve the interconnected devices.

These devices extend beyond just the desktop computer and begin to combine real-world information with data analytics and automation. Internet of things devices include heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems; baby-monitoring devices; automatic transportation services; and other office and home devices.

These devices continue to multiply in number, given their utility and relatively low costs. By the year 2021, 73 million households in North America are forecast to be a “smart home” or contain some smart device other than smartphones.

>>> Understanding the Internet of Things

The purpose of this list is to highlight everyday devices that consumers might not have realized had become connected, and the risks that can pose.

Still, regulators should remain wary of imposing new rules that harm the development of internet of things devices. Consumers’ demand for these devices will continue to drive investments in both markets for cheap devices with poor security, and markets for expensive, secure devices.

Increasing the cost of devices through burdensome regulation might impede the creation of all new devices. Congress should be content that within these markets, assuming equal costs, consumers will naturally tend toward buying devices that are more secure.

Internet of Things Devices at Risk

Wireless Routers: Wireless routers have become the common connecting device between consumers, wireless devices, and the internet. However, if manufactured with poor security, hackers can find ways to access almost any devices that are connected, such as a desktop computer or smartphone.

The Smart Fish Tank: A smart fish tank—used to monitor and automate features, such as water temperature—was reportedly used to breach the networks of a casino. Hackers were then able to use the access they gained to siphon information from the casino’s networks.

Wireless Pacemakers: Instead of risking patients’ health by putting them back under the knife during complications, manufacturers are opting for safer, wireless connections to these devices.

A trade-off is made between the physical risks of surgery with the potential risks of a cyber incident. Pacemakers with poor security are at risk of being tampered with by malicious cyber activity. In August, the FDA recalled 465,000 pacemakers it identified as having a cybersecurity vulnerability.

The Smart Car Wash: Car wash owners may find it appealing to control their systems over the internet, but vulnerable systems could be taken over by hackers to cause physical damage to both vehicles and their passengers.

Internet Security Cameras: These devices are great for monitoring office security or for checking who’s at the front door. However, poorly protected internet-enabled security cameras can be accessed by hackers to spy on unsuspecting families.

Internet-Connected Toys: Parents who travel or have limited interaction with their children could see the appeal in being able to have a conversation with their child through one of these devices. This appeal is quickly lost once hackers are able to hear personal conversations or deliver their own messages through these fuzzy creatures.

Smart Lightbulbs: These devices let consumers change the lighting throughout their homes with the use of an application on their phone.

It’s a nuisance if hackers are able to turn the lights on and off without consumers’ consent, but a larger problem comes from these interconnected devices and malware being able to jump across them, spreading like a virus.

Smart Meters: These devices could be used by hackers to collect information on homeowners, mess with the electricity, and even increase the monthly electricity bills.

Solar Panels: Like smart meters, solar panels connected to the internet are potentially at risk from being targeted by hackers. Dutch researchers found vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to control the flow of electricity and potentially affect local power supplies.

Consumers should be cautious what information their new devices collect and how that affects everyday life. But policymakers must also be concerned about the risks these devices would pose when unified in a single cyberattack, often referred to as a botnet attack.

Last October, Dyn, a New Hampshire-based computer firm whose specialty is providing the means to access websites through its servers, was temporarily taken offline by a botnet attack known as Mirai.

Mirai created a botnet from internet of things security cameras, DVRs, and routers. Attempting to access Dyn’s services all at once, the overload of traffic was too much for Dyn.

A German internet service provider was temporarily taken offline a month later by a similar attack, which used a variation of Mirai.

Mirai was able to scan the internet for internet of things devices and use a pre-configured list of 61 common passwords to take control of vulnerable devices. A list of 1,700 common internet of things passwords used by manufacturers has been leaked online since.

Advancing Innovation and Security

New technology can seem complicated and, therefore, scary. To protect both consumers and producers of internet of things devices, Congress should take the following steps:

  1. Promote third-party security researchers. Third-party researchers, and even cybersecurity firms working on behalf of tech companies, are important for finding security flaws in new devices. Greater knowledge of security flaws enables consumers to make safer choices. Congress should promote the necessary services these individuals and companies provide. 
  2. Recognize that the markets of internet of things devices are diverse. The market for internet of things devices as a whole is still relatively new. For the foreseeable future, even within the markets for devices such as security cameras or wireless routers, demand will continue to exist for cheap, unsecure devices and expensive, secure devices. Congress should recognize the diversity in these markets and avoid restricting consumers’ choices.
  3. Limit government regulation on internet of things security. In the wake of a cybersecurity incident, Congress is quick to come down heavy-handedly to impose new regulations on companies. These regulations are often quick to become out of date and impose more costs on companies than actually benefit consumers.

The government should focus on making sure its own systems are secure before attempting to impose security regulations on others.

The internet of things and other emerging technologies will be beneficial for American consumers, even as they give rise to threats that are not currently foreseeable. Congress should avoid attempting to solve potential problems with slow and static regulations.

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Tech Companies That Support Net Neutrality Aren’t as Virtuous as You Think

Last week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai delivered a speech on his plan to undo Obama-era “net neutrality” regulations, which the commission is set to vote on later this month.

In the speech, Pai sharply called out social media platforms for virtue-signaling their support of a “free and open internet” while simultaneously ramping up content filtering and censorship.

Regardless of where you come down on net neutrality, Pai is making an important point about how we approach regulation of the internet and the norms surrounding it.

You don’t have to look far to see how the rhetoric around net neutrality has, sometimes dangerously, lost touch with reality. The intensity of this discussion has been driven by celebrities, internet companies, and activist groups who want to raise the stakes and rally their side.

While there’s nothing wrong with this strategy in theory—reasonable people can have different perspectives on internet regulation and have a right to express their views—esoteric regulatory arcana and extreme populist sentiment are often a bad combination.

In this instance, inflamed rhetoric has led to political polarization, sidelining of the facts, and racist attacks on Pai, effectively poisoning the well for productive compromise and debate on the merits of the issue.

Getting to Pai’s point, this amped-up rhetoric has also led to some strange hypocrisies from the internet companies and activists pushing for Title II regulation. In Pai’s remarks, he calls them to task:

[D]espite all the talk about the fear that broadband providers could decide what internet content consumers can see, recent experience shows that so-called edge providers are in fact deciding what content they see. These providers routinely block or discriminate against content they don’t like.

Earlier this year, a range of social media companies that included Reddit and Twitter organized a “Day of Action” campaign to drive comments to the Federal Communications Commission over net neutrality.

Below the heading “Why is net neutrality important?”, the organizers said the internet should be an open platform for “free expression, and exchange of ideas.” Another campaign site, organized by the Internet Association, lists the power to block or restrict content as a top reason to support the current rules.

Twitter once described itself as “the free speech wing of the free speech party.” In a blog post on why it supports net neutrality, the social network explains that “free expression is part of our company DNA.”

Similarly, Mark Zuckerberg explained why his company supports net neutrality in a post on Facebook, saying that an open internet means service providers shouldn’t be able to “block you from seeing certain content.“

Activist groups have also emphasized the concern that, without net neutrality, companies would be free to filter content and stop online movements like Black Lives Matter.

Unfortunately, as Pai highlights, the record of these companies hasn’t held up to their rhetoric on free expression. Groups like Techdirt and EFF (who also support net neutrality), have also fiercely criticized the trend of platforms taking a bigger role in policing speech.

For example, just this year Twitter suspended libertarian-leaning law professor and pundit Glenn Reynolds, suspended legal blogger and free speech advocate Ken White (“Popehat”), shut down a Republican congresswoman’s campaign ad about abortion, and suspended actress Rose McGowan for tweeting about Harvey Weinstein.

Reddit’s CEO admitted he personally edited other users’ comments on a pro-Trump subreddit.

More recently, in the wake of Charlottesville, Reddit moved to implement stricter moderation policies targeted at the alt-right. Last year, Facebook’s trending stories section was outed for allegedly suppressing conservative viewpoints, raising the eyebrows of conservative lawmakers like Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

This year, Facebook temporarily banned Republican Senate candidate Austin Petersen from the network for featuring a rifle giveaway. Conservative pundit Lauren Southern was suspended from Facebook for comments on President Donald Trump’s immigration policy. There are plenty of other examples.

These companies are generally within their legal rights to filter or block content as they see fit. Additionally, some incidents may be the result of genuine human error. It should also go without saying that filtering or censoring illegal activity—such as terrorism or copyright infringement—is a separate issue.

Nonetheless, when you look into the way these companies moderate speech as a whole, it reflects quite poorly on how they uphold the values they espouse in their activism.

The problem is deeper than just social media. Matthew Prince is CEO of Cloudflare, a company that participated in the Day of Action in July. The following month, Prince was in the spotlight for terminating the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer for being “—holes.” In the process, he opened a debate on the role of infrastructure companies in content regulation.

Not long after, in an effort to make a point about net neutrality, Prince suggested he could block Pai’s own ability to access the internet.

In a blog post from August, Prince made the case for why we need a better framework for content regulation at different layers of the internet, which are traditionally (and rightly) held to different standards. In this, he emphasized the need for due process and more transparent, consistent enforcement.

Perhaps these principles would be good for Prince, as well as other companies, to adopt—particularly if norms and practices continue to shift, as they seem to be doing post-Charlottesville.

At minimum, the proliferation of these kinds of enforcement efforts by platforms and service providers—such as reactionary community standards updates following the news cycle, or a CEO waking up and deciding that someone is an “—hole”—suggest activists might want to take a broader view of how internet policy interfaces with free expression (particularly for those who hold themselves out as neutral platforms or conduits).

Regardless of what you think of net neutrality or its application in the Open Internet Order, you should listen to the point Pai is making about the bigger picture.

This doesn’t mean we should embrace the overblown panic over social media, big tech, and the calls for expansive new regulations. But it does suggest that we should be more skeptical of virtue-signaling by companies that may just be looking out for their business interests, and the doublethink of the many activists who seem to be looking the other way.

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