PandaDoc employees arrested in Belarus after founders protest against Lukashenko regime

Yesterday the four employees (pictured) of US-headquartered enterprise startup PandaDoc were arrested in Minsk by the Belarus police, in what appears to be an act of state-led retaliation, after the company’s founders joined protests against the 26 year-long regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko is widely believed by international observers to have rigged the country’s recent elections in his favor, preventing the election of opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

PandaDoc — which has raised $51.1M and is now headquartered in San Francisco after debuting at a TechCrunch Meetup in Berlin in 2013 — issued a statement saying their Minsk development office was raided by police and the ‘Financial Investigation Department’ yesterday morning.

PandaDoc has released a statement on a new web site, SavePandaDoc, outlining the incident, saying employees had been prevented from leaving the office, refused access to lawyers, and a director was taken away by Police.

One of the founders of the company, Mikita Mikado, who lives in the US, has also released a statement to this effect on his Instagram and Youtube.

Four of the arrested PandaDoc employees have been charged with embezzling 107,000 BYR ($41,000) from company and therefore avoiding tax. The employees have been detained for two months.

However, PandaDoc released a statement saying: “We declare that this accusation is completely untrue and has no basis whatsoever. All activities of the company were carried out in full compliance with the legislation, which is confirmed by repeated international audits and inspections.”

Now held in custody are (also pictured):

Yulia Shardiko, Chief Accountant
Dmitry Rabtsevich, Director
Victor Kuvshinov, Product Director
Vladislav Mikholap, HR

Although the company HQ is in San Francisco, it has a large office on the Belarusian High Technologies Park, which was set up by the government supposedly to support the tech industry.

PandaDoc said the police raid was likely linked to the fact that the founders of PandaDoc, in particular Mikado, have protested publicly against the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, but have done so strictly in a personal capacity.

Mikado recently became a leading voice in the protest movement. He set up an initiative, ProtectBelarus.org, offering Belarusian police officers who had decided to disobey orders to beat and torture protesters financial aid and re-training in the tech industry.

Belarussian police officers are effectively ‘indentured employees’ because they are paid in large sums at the beginning of their contract, but this immediately becomes a debt to the state the moment they decide to break leave their contract.

In a statement, Mikado said that as of August 29th, the platform had received more than 6,000 messages and almost 600 requests for help. The platform is run by volunteers and has no relation to PandaDoc, the company.

Mikado said in a statement: “We are asking international tech community to support PandaDoc by sharing this message and reaction to it with a #SavePandaDoc tag.”

“There is no more law. The authorities do not even try to act according to the law, they simply fabricate cases for political orders that come from above. And if you thought that this would not affect you, then we can safely assure you of the opposite – it has already affected everyone,” the statement reads.

“We will not be silent anymore! The country is full of legal chaos. The actions of the authorities cannot be called anything except genocide and repression. The further it goes, the longer the road back. And soon there will be a cliff. We demand to immediately release our colleagues, close the criminal case, let the company work normally and bring benefits and income, including to the state.”

The company now says it will be forced to close the company in Belarus and “will begin to establish an alternative to the Park of High Technologies outside the Republic of Belarus.”

PandaDoc only recently raised $30 million in a Series B extension from One Peak, Microsoft Venture Fund M12 and EBRD Venture Fund.

After the Belarusian presidential election on August 9th (which was not recognized as free and fair by the EU, the UK and the US due to widely reported and documented vote-rigging in favor of Lukashenko) the police violently cracked down on peaceful protests, leading to six reported deaths and 450 UN-documented cases of police torture.

Elizabeth Warren for President open-sources its 2020 campaign tech

Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren may have ended her 2020 presidential run, but the tech used to drive her campaign will live on.

Members of her staff announced they would make public the top apps and digital tools developed in Warren’s bid to become the Democratic nominee for president.

“In our work, we leaned heavily on open source technology — and want to contribute back to that community…[by] open-sourcing some of the most important projects of the Elizabeth Warren campaign for anyone to use,” the Warren for President Tech Team said.

In a Medium post, members of the team — including chief technology strategist Mike Conlow and chief technology officer Nikki Sutton — previewed what would be available and why.

“Our hope is that other Democratic candidates and progressive causes will use the ideas and code we developed to run stronger campaigns and help Democrats win,” the post said.

Warren’s tech team listed several of the tools they’ve turned over to the open source universe via GitHub.

One of those tools, Spoke, is a peer to peer texting app, originally developed by MoveOn, which offered the Warren Campaign high volume messaging at a fraction of the costs of other vendor options. The team used it to send four million SMS messages on Super Tuesday alone.

Pollaris is a location lookup tool with an API developed to interface directly with Warren’s official campaign website and quickly direct supporters to their correct polling stations.

One of Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign app, Caucus, designed for calculating delegates. (Image: supplied)

Warren’s tech team will also open-source Switchboard (FE and BE) — which recruited and connected volunteers in primary states — and Caucus App, a delegate calculating and reporting tool.

The campaign’s Redhook tool took in web hook data in real time and experienced zero downtime.

“Our intention in open sourcing it is to demonstrate that some problems campaigns face do not require vendor tools and are solved…efficiently with a tiny bit of code,” said the Tech Team.

Elizabeth Warren ended her 2020 presidential bid on March 4 after failing to win a primary. Among her many policy proposals, the Massachusetts senator had proposed breaking up big tech companies, such as Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Her campaign will continue to share the tech tools they used on open source channels.

“We’ll have more to say in the coming weeks on all that we did with technology on our campaign,” the team said.

U.S. and Canada border to close to all but essential travel and trade, says Trump

The U.S./Canada border has remained open despite measures by both countries to block and limit international flights and mobility in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but that is changing today as the two countries have agreed, “by mutual consent,” to suspend any movement between the two beyond “essential traffic” and “trade,” as first revealed via President Donald Trump on Twitter.

Earlier this week, Canada announced during a press conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that it would be closing its borders to all non-citizens and residents, with the exception of American citizens. He was asked multiple times during the Q&A session at that briefing about why the U.S. was exempted, given that the rate of new cases in the U.S. was now large and growing larger at a rapid pace.

Trudeau said that closing the border to the U.S. was still on the table as an option, but emphasized the intertwined nature of the economies of both countries as one key factor in why they were not included in the original travel limitations. The exception for traffic deemed “essential” as well as for trade transportation between the two countries in the measures announced by Trump today appear to be an attempt to keep at least part of that economic activity intact.

Early reports, including from the Globe and Mail, suggest that the definition of non-essential travel as barred in this case applies primarily to “tourism and cross-border shopping.” We don’t yet know the full extent of the border closure, or what will qualify as “essential” travel between Canada and the U.S. in detail, so stay tuned as we learn more about this latest travel restriction development.

Developing…

Silicon Valley could be Biden’s funding lifeline post South Carolina

Presidential candidate Joe Biden is likely to throw a fundraising lifeline to Silicon Valley donors after his commanding South Carolina victory and heading into the next wave of primaries.

A pro-Biden super Pac, Unite the Country — whose past backers include senior tech figures — is picking up efforts to tap wealthy donors, Treasurer Larry Rasky told CNBC, after the group made several ad-buys in Super-Tuesday states (per a February 28 Federal Election Committee filing).

Past Unite the Country’s benefactors include LinkedIn founder and Greylock Partners VC Reid Hoffman (who contributed $500,000) and Angel Investor Ronald Conway ($250,000), according to FEC data.

Source: FEC filing

Biden revived his presidential-bid from life-support with a resounding 29 point win over Bernie Sanders in Saturday’s South Carolina primary.

But after flailing in the first three contests — Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada — the former Vice-President’s campaign has reportedly been running on financial fumes.

The last Federal Election Campaign disclosures before South Carolina’s democratic primary showed Biden with $7.1 million cash on hand, compared to Sanders’ nearly $17 million.

The race to become the Democratic-nominee for president is consolidating, post South Carolina, to a Sanders-Biden match-up — after Mayor Pete Buttigieg and billionaire Tom Steyer dropped out. Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who entered the race late, will be on the ballot for the first-time on Super Tuesday, though its not clear if he’ll shift dynamics between the front-runners.

To capture Sanders, who now leads Biden in the delegate count by, Biden will need to close the fundraising gap between himself and the Vermont Senator, who doesn’t accept super Pac funds and has raised a large portion of his total $126 million presidential fundraising haul to date from small contributions by individual donors.

Source: NBC News

For Democrats, fundraising is a big focus of campaign efforts in uncontested states (like New York and California) where they are nearly certain to win in the general-election. Areas with affluent residents, such as the Bay Area and Manhattan, have served as piggy-banks for tapping wealthy donors.

But a fundraising push by Biden and surrogates in Silicon Valley could further expose a political rift within big tech: that of founders and senior executives favoring a moderate candidate, while rank-and file workers “feel the Bern” on campaign donations.

FEC data and analysis by and the LA Times and the Center for Responsive Politics indicate Bernie Sanders has substantially outperformed all candidates in raising small-donations from workers in tech companies. By Times reporting, Sanders has raised, $1 million, or nearly four-times as much as Biden, in small donations from employees at Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook.

This preference divide within big-tech could align with the differences in each candidate’s policy platforms. Biden’s positions are generally milder on initiatives to police and potentially split up big-tech companies, such as Facebook.

Sanders has been vocal about driving policies that address-the pay gap across major tech companies and has called for breaking up Facebook and Amazon.

Founders and tech-workers in California will have a non-monetary option to express their preferences in voting booths tomorrow — as the Golden State is one of 13 in the super Tuesday primary contest, which rolls into more primaries, more fundraising and a decision on the 2020 presidential nominee at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee this July.

To curb lobbying power, Elizabeth Warren wants to reinstate the Office of Technology Assessment

In a move to correct the imbalance of power between technologically sophisticated corporations and the lawmakers who regulate them, presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren is proposing that Congress reinstate the Office of Technology Assessment.

It’s a move that gets deep into the weeds of how policy making in Washington works, but it’s something that Warren sees as essential to leveling the playing field between well-paid corporate lobbyists who are experts in their fields and over-worked under-staffed congressional members who lack independent analysts to explain highly technical issues.

“Lobbyists are filling in the gaps in congressional resources and expertise by providing Congress information from the perspective of their paying corporate clients. So let’s fix it,” writes Warren.

It’s one of the key planks in Warren’s latest policy proposal and an attempt to tip the scales against corporations and their lobbyists. With the move Warren clearly has her eye on technology companies and their representatives, who often are the very people Congressional lawmakers rely on to explain how rule-making would impact their industries.

“[Members] of Congress aren’t just dependent on corporate lobbyist propaganda because they’re bought and paid for. It’s also because of a successful, decades-long campaign to starve Congress of the resources and expertise needed to independently evaluate complex public policy questions,” Warren writes.

“For every bad faith actor in Congress bought off by the big banks, there are others who are genuinely trying to grapple with the technical aspects of financial reform. But as the issues facing Congress have grown more complex, resources to objectively and independently analyze them have been slashed. Republicans eliminated an independent office of experts dedicated to advising Congress on technical and scientific information,” the Senator says.

The lack of independent analysis stymies Congressional oversight in areas from banking and finance reform, to the oversight of technology companies, to the potential to effectively pass laws that will respond to the threat of climate change. Committees that oversee science and technology have seen their staff levels fall by over 40 percent in the past decade, according to Warren and staff salaries have failed to keep up with inflation, meaning that policymakers in Washington can’t compete for the same level of talent that private companies and lobbyists can afford several times over.

Sen. Warren saw this firsthand when she worked at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau .

“Financial reform was complicated, and the bank lobbyists used a clever technique: They bombarded the members of Congress with complex arguments filled with obscure terms. Whenever a congressman pushed back on an idea, the lobbyists would explain that although the congressman seemed to be making a good point, he didn’t really understand the complex financial system,” she writes. “And keep in mind, the lobbyists would tell the congressman, that if you get this wrong, you will bring down the global economy.”

The inability of lawmakers to understand basic facts about the technologies they’re tasked with regulating was on full display during the Senate hearings into the role technology companies played in the Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Issues from net neutrality to end-to-end encryption, or online advertising to the reduction of carbon emissions all rely on Congress having a sound understanding of those issues and how regulation may change an industry.

Right now, it’s case of which multi-billion dollar company can buy the best lobbyists — as is the case with Alphabet and Yelp or Facebook and Snap.

Under the auspices of Warren’s anti-corruption plan, the Senator is calling for the reinstatement and modernization of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, a significant increase to salaries for congressional staffers and stronger funding for agencies that support congressional lawmaking.

The OTA was created in the seventies to help members of Congress understand science and technology issues that they’d be regulating. Over the tenure of the agency, it created over 750 reports — including two landmark studies on the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming in the 90s, which brought it to the attention of conservative lawmakers that defunded it in 1995.

At the time, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said the agency was “used by liberals to cover up political ideology.”

Under Warren’s plan the OTA would be lead by an independent director to avoid partisan manipulation. The newly re-formed agency would have the power to commission its own reports and respond to requests from lawmakers to weigh in on rule-making, help congressional legislators prepare for hearings, and write regulatory letters.

Warren also calls for funding to be increased for the other congressional support agencies — the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Government Accountability Office. Combined these agencies have lost half of their staff.

Money for the increased activities of the agencies would come from a tax on “excessive lobbying”. The . goal would be “to reverse these cuts and further strengthen support agencies that members of Congress rely on for independent information,” according to the Warren plan.

“These reforms are vital parts of my plan to free our government from the grip of lobbyists – and restore the public’s trust in its government in the process,” Warren writes.

Trump agrees to reopen the federal government through mid-February

On Friday, President Trump announced his intentions to back off of his demand for border wall funding, allowing the federal government to reopen for three weeks through February 15. The president touted the decision to reopen the government as a deal in spite of his failure to obtain a multi-billion-dollar agreement toward a physical perimeter for the southern border.

At 35 days, the federal shutdown has been the lengthiest to ever grind the U.S. government to a halt. Under the current terms of the proposal, the federal government would re-open, bringing hundreds of thousands of federal employees back to work, as negotiations around a border wall compromise take place. It would also provision back pay for the roughly 800,000 federal workers who have missed paychecks as part of the ordeal.

The Senate is expected to bring the proposal to reopen the government to a vote soon, with the House likely to quickly follow suit. While Trump’s decision on Friday shows the president backing down, he again raised the spectre of declaring a national emergency if his demands are not met.

Often framed as a political standoff between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the president, the shutdown resulted in far-reaching potential consequences for American safety, from unpaid TSA agents to understaffed intelligence agencies unable to monitor and respond to ongoing cybersecurity threats.

Though less consequential, companies have also seen their IPO plans put on ice, waiting out the shutdown to see how to proceed. Even with the government poised to reopen, the SEC remains clogged up with a pile of IPO filings that must be processed before companies can move forward with their plans, making for an unpredictable landscape for companies like Uber, Lyft, Cloudflare and other big-name anticipated 2019 IPOs. Even with the government reopening, a three-week window might not offer enough stability for companies eager to set the paperwork into motion.

Between lapsed cybersecurity and derailed IPO timelines, it may be some time before we know the true damage that the nearly month-long shutdown caused, but the implications will likely stretch well beyond the considerable emotional and financial toll on workers and their families.

Presidential Candidates Must Articulate Decisive Cybersecurity Plans

peoplepolitician Traditionally, physical security and cybersecurity have been considered two separate entities. The cybersecurity threat, while significant, was often relegated to the sphere of enterprises, individual privacy, intellectual property loss and financial theft. Physical security, on the other hand, meant potential risk to human safety and lives — and was naturally taken more seriously. Read More