The coronavirus pandemic has led to increased digital dangers, targeting everything from elections to health-care workers to people working from home. World Press Freedom Day is Sunday, and the need for a free press — to separate fact from fiction, to keep you informed — has never been so great.

with Tonya Riley

State and local officials are facing a mountain of new costs as they prepare to hold elections during the coronavirus pandemic — and money provided by Congress so far doesn’t come close to covering it.

Lawmakers approved $400 million for elections in last month’s coronavirus stimulus bill. But running elections safely and securely through November will cost at least $414 million in just five states — Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, according to a new analysis from election security experts.

In each of those states, the federal money covers less than 20 percent of what’s needed and often closer to 10 percent, according to the report from the Alliance for Securing Democracy, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, the R Street Institute and the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security.

States are facing severe funding shortfalls during the pandemic and are unlikely to be able to make up the difference.

What Congress has provided to our election officials to run elections in a pandemic does not come close to what’s needed,” Elizabeth Howard, counsel in the Brennan Center’s democracy program and a former deputy commissioner for the Virginia Department of Elections, said during a call with reporters.

The report underscores the fact the pandemic probably will upend every aspect of the November election in ways that move far beyond an increase in voting by mail.

The analysis for each state includes more than two dozen items ranging from protective equipment for poll workers to single-use pens for voters filling out paper ballots. The lists also include funding for remote election preparation and to boost the security and reliability of online tools for voter registration, absentee ballots requests and ballot tracking similar to a UPS delivery.

The estimates presume a dramatic expansion in voting by mail by people who don’t want to risk going to the polls. They also include extra protections for in-person voting and public education campaigns so voters know about changes well in advance.

The goal is to avoid what happened in Wisconsin, where lawmakers pushed forward with the state’s primary despite public health concerns and with little preparation. The result was a chaotic primary day with blocks-long lines of voters social distancing from each other. About 50 new coronavirus infections have been linked to the election.

Nobody should be facing the choice of their health or exercising the franchise in the coming election. That means we need to prepare now for providing all Americans an opportunity to cast their ballot in new and novel ways,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a former top Department of Homeland Security official who is now a resident senior fellow at the R Street Institute.

The new funds will be a tough sell in Congress, though.

Democrats have pushed for more than $3 billion in additional election money in any new stimulus bill, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has shown no interest in providing additional funding.

Democrats also favor attaching requirements to the funding, such as that states allow all residents to vote by mail and expand early voting days. But those plans are opposed by most Republican lawmakers and many state officials who say they interfere with states’ authority to run elections and could be overly burdensome.

Even the $400 million Congress already approved came with a requirement that states match 20 percent of that money, which many of them will struggle to do.

Utah, for example, will probably be able to collect only about half of the election money Congress gave it because that’s all the state can afford to match, Ricky Hatch, the county clerk and top election official for Weber County, Utah, said during the call.

The report also shows the immense planning and preparation county election officials will have to undertake amid incredibly challenging circumstances.

Rochester Hills, Mich., City Clerk Tina Barton ticked off a bevy of new costs she’s facing.

They include: 

  • Printing for absentee ballots, ballot request forms and privacy envelopes for up to 50,000 of the city’s 55,000 registered voters
  • New high-speed scanners, tabulators and letter openers to process completed ballots
  • Extra secure boxes where residents can drop off absentee ballots if they don’t want to send them through the mail
  • Ultraviolet lights to kill any traces of the virus on mailed-in ballots
  • Extra secure storage for tens of thousands of ballots that arrive before Election Day
  • A bevy of disinfectants to keep in-person polling sites clean plus hand sanitizer for voters and poll workers

Barton is also facing a series of logistical hurdles. 

She’ll have to find new poll workers because the ones she usually relies on are over 70 years old on average and  at higher risk for the virus. She’ll also probably have to pay those workers a premium to get enough people to risk their health to take the job. And she’ll have to figure out how to train them using distance learning or in some other way allowing them to remain socially distant.

She’ll also have to figure out new polling locations to replace ones that were in retirement homes and schools, and design systems so people can enter them and still remain six feet or more apart.

Finally, she’ll have to spend months trying to educate voters about all of the changes so they’re not caught unaware.

As election officials, we are resolved to carrying on with our mission of providing free, fair and accessible elections across this great country,” she said.

“Tattleware” is giving employers high-tech ways to spy on their newly remote workers during the pandemic.

The technologies monitor workers’ every click and keystroke and in some cases provide employers constant audio and visual feeds, Drew Harwell reports.

The software raises serious concerns for privacy advocates. One system, InterGuard, can be installed on a worker’s computer without their awareness. It creates a detailed timeline of how they spent their time online and flags keywords such as “job” in case the worker is looking for another employer, Drew writes.

“You could literally watch a movie of what that person did,” said Brad Miller, chief executive of InterGuard’s parent company, Awareness Technologies. Demand for the surveillance products has skyrocketed during work-from-home orders, InterGuard and other companies say.

Some employers tout the monitoring systems as morale and productivity boosters that combat the isolation of remote work and provide employees with a “virtual water cooler.” But the endless surveillance is stressing some workers out, they tell Drew. And the software might not actually increase productivity in the long run, some analysts say.

“What people crave is human connection. These are the crumbs of human connection,” David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of the remote-work-software firm Basecamp, told Drew. “You don’t end up extracting better, deeper, more creative work by subjecting people to ever harsher measures of surveillance.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray once defended the encryption technology he’s now fighting.

Wray helped Facebook argue against a Justice Department order in 2015 that would have weakened the strong encryption used by the company’s WhatsApp messaging service when he was a partner at the law firm King & Spalding, the New York Times’s Nicole Perlroth and Adam Goldman report. The 2015 case is sealed but Wray’s role was revealed in court documents in a separate case in which WhatsApp is suing the Israeli spyware firm NSO Group.

As FBI director, Wray has become a leading critic of the end-to-end encryption used by WhatsApp — which prevents anyone except the sender and recipient from viewing a message’s content and often frustrates law enforcement investigations. Wray has slammed Facebook for plans to expand end-to-end encryption across its services, calling it a “dream come true for predators and child pornographers.”

The FBI dismissed the contradiction, saying Wray was merely a lawyer advocating for a client. “Like all other lawyers, his duty of loyalty was to his client, and he did not put his personal views ahead of his clients’ interests or allow them to affect the legal work he did for clients,” the bureau said in a statement.

WhatsApp is asking a federal judge in Northern California to disqualify King & Spalding from representing NSO Group because the firm represented WhatsApp in the 2015 case.

President Trump is making it tough for social media to police misinformation during the pandemic.
President Trump’s April 23 comments about treating coronavirus patients with disinfectant injections received backlash from the medical community. (Video: C-SPAN)

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all pledged to remove dangerous misinformation about the coronavirus but balked at taking down posts related to the president’s suggestions that the virus could be combated with disinfectants and ultraviolet lights, Sheera Frenkel and Davey Alba at the New York Times report.

That’s despite the fact the president’s claims are not supported by medical professionals and could be harmful.

The Times found more than 45,000 tweets discussing bleach and UV light cures for the virus and thousands of posts on Facebook and YouTube promoting them as cures. Many of the posts defended Trump’s suggested treatments, including some from politicians.

YouTube and Twitter told the Times Trump’s comments did not violate their policies. Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, said it continues “to remove definitive claims about false cures for Covid-19, including ones related to disinfectant and ultraviolet light.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), meanwhile, wants the social media platforms to do more to inform users when they interact with coronavirus misinformation.

He urged the CEOs of Alphabet, YouTube and Twitter to follow Facebook’s lead in displaying messages to users who interacted with coronavirus misinformation before removing it and sending them correct information from the World Health Organization.

Hill happenings
Some senators are still pushing for remote voting during the pandemic despite opposition from McConnell.

Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) stumped for such a system during a videoconference meeting of a Homeland Security Committee panel on investigations. It could rely on encrypted communication technology that’s commercially available, said Portman, who chairs the panel.

“In my view, senators should be required to authenticate their identity and verify their vote through an encrypted platform,” he said. “There are several off-the-shelf solutions that the Senate could use to create a secure and reliable remote voting platform. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

They were joined by other senators who voiced support for such a system, including Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). McConnell (R-Ky.), however, has insisted the chamber will meet in person beginning next week.

Republicans introduced a data privacy bill that would hold tech companies responsible for data they collect during the pandemic.

The new bill renews a push for federal privacy legislation that had stalled during the pandemic.

Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) co-sponsored the bill.

It  would require companies to:

  •  Obtain consent from people before collecting or processing their data related to the virus
  •  Give users the option to opt out of virus tracking programs
  •  Delete people’s personal information when it is no longer being used to respond to the pandemic

The bill could get rolled into the next coronavirus relief package, Protocol’s Emily Birnbaum reports.

More news from the lawmakers:

Republicans to introduce bill to ban government employees from using Huawei, ZTE products (The Hill)

Zoom meeting of black lawmakers in Delaware was hacked (Associated Press)

Global cyberspace
Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s uncertain health condition could lead to more digital threats from the hermit kingdom, an Atlantic Council analyst says.

If Kim dies, for example, that could prompt a volley of attacks on U.S. infrastructure as potential successors try to demonstrate their strength or as rival factions pursue their own objectives, writes JD Work, a nonresident senior fellow in the Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative.

More global cybersecurity news:

Suspected Chinese hackers aim attacks at Vietnamese government officials (CyberScoop)

Cyber insecurity
Companies going remote need to adopt better cybersecurity practices on Microsoft systems, the U.S. government warns.

The fixes include ensuring employees are taking extra steps to authenticate their identities before accessing work data, DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said in an alert.

More security news:

Coronavirus Tracking Apps Raise Questions About Bluetooth Security (Wall Street Journal)

LabCorp investors file lawsuit, alleging ‘persistent’ failure to secure data – CyberScoop (CyberScoop)

Ransomware mentioned in 1,000+ SEC filings over the past year (ZDNet)

LabCorp sued for allegedly concealing data breaches (TechCrunch)

Cybersecurity journalist Kim Zetter queried Twitter yesterday for the best life and career advice people had received.

Here’s some wisdom to ponder this weekend from the cybersecurity community:

Marcia Hofmann, legal counsel at Twitter:

FireEye director of intelligence analysis John Hultquist:

Researcher Alexa O’Brien:

Cristina Goodwin, assistant general counsel at Microsoft:

  • The House Intelligence Committee will host a hearing on the nomination of John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.
Secure log off

Earnings are in, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk had other thoughts to share with investors:

In an earnings call April 29, Tesla CEO Elon Musk called the coronavirus lockdowns “fascist,” and said people should get back their “freedom.” (Video: Tesla)

A very good boy steals the show on a local news broadcast:

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