Bloomberg: Dish is close to a $6 billion deal with Sprint and T-Mobile

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Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve heard that getting DoJ approval for T-Mobile’s proposed $26 billion purchase of Sprint will require making moves to create a new national wireless carrier as a competitor. That could be achieved by selling off Boost Mobile and enough spectrum to make a service viable, however they needed to find a buyer. Now Bloomberg reports that Dish Network is in talks and could announce this week that it will be the company to do it, rather than possibles like Altice and Charter (Amazon wasn’t mentioned).

The price? Apparently about $6 billion. The pair promised the FCC they would sell Boost Mobile, and if talks don’t fall through, then their hope is that this would help get approval and overcome a lawsuit filed by several state AGs. For its part, Dish has long harbored wireless ambitions, and acted to make them come true. It was even proposed as a buyer for divested T-Mobile assets during merger talks with AT&T back in 2011. We’ll see if it happens this time or if things fall apart on the 1-yard line all over again.

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Alphabet, Apple, Amazon and Facebook are in the crosshairs of the FTC and DOJ

The last time that technology companies faced this kind of scrutiny was Google’s antitrust investigation, or the now twenty-one year old lawsuit brought by the Justice Department and multiple states against Microsoft.

But times have changed since Google had its hearing before a much friendlier audience of regulators under President Barack Obama .

These days, Republican and Democratic lawmakers are both making the case that big technology companies hold too much power in American political and economic life.

Issues around personal privacy, economic consolidation, misinformation and free speech are on the minds of both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in next years Presidential election have made investigations into the breakup of big technology companies central components of their policy platforms.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers and agencies began stepping up their rhetoric and planning for how to oversee these companies beginning last September, when the Justice Department brought a group of the nation’s top prosecutors together to discuss technology companies’ growing power.

News of the increasing government activity sent technology stocks plummeting. Amazon shares were down $96 per-share to $1,680.05 — an over 5% drop on the day. Shares of Alphabet tumbled to $1031.53, a $74.76 decline or 6.76%. Declines at Facebook and Apple were more muted, with Apple falling $2.97, or 1.7%, to $172.32 and Facebook sliding $14.11 (or 7.95%) to $163.36.

In Senate confirmation hearings in January, the new Attorney General William Barr noted that technology companies would face more time under the regulatory microscope during his tenure, according to The Wall Street Journal .

“I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the antitrust enforcers,” Barr said. “You can win that place in the marketplace without violating the antitrust laws, but I want to find out more about that dynamic.”

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US regulators carve up oversight of Amazon and Google

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If there weren’t already signs that American regulators expect to crack down on tech giants, there are now. Washington Post sources said that the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission have carved out their competitive oversight of Amazon and Google, with the DOJ gaining “more jurisdiction” over Google and the FTC watching over Jeff Bezos’ outfit. It wasn’t certain just what the agencies intended, although recent rumors had the DOJ prepping an antitrust probe for Google. These kinds of jurisdictional moves are frequently precedents to regulatory action.

Both the DOJ and FTC have declined to comment on the rumor.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see action. The FTC created a task force precisely to investigate antitrust issues in the tech industry, and companies like Google have faced antitrust crackdowns in Europe. Whether or not anything happens in the near future, this could also serve as a warning to Amazon and Google — officials are wary of their behavior, and it might not take much to prompt formal investigations.

As it is, there are longer-term concerns. Democratic presidential hopefuls have more than once suggested that tech companies might need breaking up, some making that point more forcefully than others. The division of responsibilities between the DOJ and FTC could prove important if there’s a change in US leadership that leads to stricter controls on tech firms.

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WSJ: Justice Department 'preparing' Google antitrust investigation

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Late Friday, the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post reported, based on it anonymous sources, that the Department of Justice is preparing an antitrust probe of Google. The company has faced several similar inquiries from EU officials with billions in fines as a result, and in one case it caused Google to separate Chrome and Search from Android in the region.

There was also a major 2011 investigation in the US from the FTC — that concluded in a settlement where the company promised to change its policies — but this may be the first time the DoJ takes the lead. There aren’t many details about what may be scrutinized, beyond search and other businesses. Late last year DoJ antitrust head Makan Delrahim said there needs to be “credible evidence” of anticompetitive practices before his department issues corrective measures.

What’s particularly notable now, however is that it comes amid growing calls from politicians like Senator Elizabeth Warren to break up big tech companies. We don’t know if that could be on the table for giants like Google and Facebook (which is still in the middle of its own negotiations with the FTC), but this is only the beginning. Both the DoJ and Google have not commented publicly on the reports.

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National security journalism just became a national security threat

Six years ago, British intelligence officers walked into the offices of The Guardian newspaper in London and demanded its staff destroy computers they believed stored highly classified documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In the basement of the newspaper’s offices, editors used angle-grinders and drills to destroy the computers in an effort to render its data unusable after “weeks of tense negotiations” between the newspaper and the British government, which faced pressure from U.S. authorities to return the leaked top secret documents. The U.S. and Britain are close intelligence sharing partners. Despite the fact that there were several copies of the NSA documents — including in the U.S — the newspaper faced a threat of punitive legal action or prosecution if they declined.

“The only way of protecting the Guardian’s team was for the paper to destroy its own computers,” said Luke Harding, a Guardian journalist.

In the years of citing this case in why press freedoms are so important, the Americans always respond: “Wait, that happened?”

The Guardian’s situation would never happen in the U.S. It’s not uncommon for national security reporters to obtain classified information or rely on government employees providing secret information, particularly to uncover abuses of power or the law. As the only named profession in the U.S. constitution, the U.S. press is a shining example of holding the powers to account no matter what.

But the most recent charges laid against Julian Assange has put those press freedoms under threat.

Julian Assange, widely regarded as a liar, a proponent of misinformation, and loathed by many for generally being a shitbag, has been defended by some of his biggest critics since the latest round of charges were announced against him.

Assange last week became the first person to be charged for publishing classified information under the Espionage Act, a law that predates the Great Depression by an entire decade, and used to prosecute foreign spies and government whistleblowers.

“This is exactly what national security reporters and their news publications often ask government officials or contractors to do,” said Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School and former government lawyer, in a post on Lawfare.

In fact, that’s exactly what I’ve done. In 2017, following the fifth security lapse at NSA in as many years, I obtained and published classified documents relating to the government’s Ragtime program and the Red Disk intelligence sharing platform. While it’s not unheard of for reporters to face government investigations for doing their jobs, not a single journalist has been charged for obtaining or publishing classified information in the past hundred years since the Espionage Act became law.

It’s no surprise that the indictment has rattled news organizations and reporters, who have published classified information like off-grid torture sites and global government surveillance provided by anonymous sources and whistleblowers, for fear they may also suffer a similar prosecution.

Washington Post editor Marty Baron said in a statement: “Dating as far back as the Pentagon Papers case and beyond, journalists have been receiving and reporting on information that the government deemed classified. Wrongdoing and abuse of power were exposed. With the new indictment of Julian Assange, the government is advancing a legal argument that places such important work in jeopardy and undermines the very purpose of the First Amendment.”

Assange, through WikiLeaks, published numerous troves of highly classified diplomatic cables and military videos showing the killing of civilians including a Reuters camera crew, provided by former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was herself charged under the act and imprisoned before her sentence was later commuted. The government’s latest indictment accused Assange of publishing “unredacted names of human sources,” which “risked serious harm to United States national security.”

Some of Assange’s most vocal critics have said the U.S. is prosecuting Assange for “the last good thing he did”. Since his publications, Assange has sullied his own name and reputation, not least by working with Russia to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign by releasing embarrassing stolen emails.

None of that has any bearing on the charges of publishing classified material.

The Justice Department said Assange is “no journalist.” But the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech and press freedoms, doesn’t distinguish between whether someone is a journalist or not.

“The First Amendment gives journalists no special rights,” says national security lawyer Elizabeth Goitein. in a Washington Post op-ed. “In prohibiting abridgments of ‘the freedom of speech, or of the press,’ it gives equal protection to those who speak, those who write, those who report, and those who publish.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter whether Assange is a journalist or not.

Under U.S. law, all — regardless of whether a person is a reporter or not — are protected by the same freedoms. With a successful prosecution of Assange, there’s nothing stopping the U.S. government from laying charges against any other American — journalist or otherwise — for receiving and publishing classified information.

“This is not about Julian Assange,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, a prominent lawmaker and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “This is about the use of the Espionage Act to charge a recipient and publisher of classified information.”

“Assange’s case could set a dangerous precedent with regard to the kinds of activities that the First Amendment does not protect — a precedent that could chill even the most careful, skilled professional journalists from pursuing stories involving national security secrets,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, in an op-ed.

The Washington Post reported Friday that the Obama administration considered bringing charges against Assange years ago but was concerned that the charges would prosecute conduct “too similar” to that of reporters at established news organizations.

But now that the Trump administration has brought charges against Assange, journalists once branded by the president the “enemy of the people” could soon be treated as enemies of the state.

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