Further Reading and Other Developments (20 June)

First things first, if you would like to receive my Technology Policy Update, email me. You can find some of these Updates from 2019 and 2020 here.

Other Developments

  • The House Financial Services Committee’s National Security, International Development, and Monetary Policy Subcommittee held a virtual hearing titled “Cybercriminals and Fraudsters: How Bad Actors Are Exploiting the Financial System During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee’s Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee held a hearing titled “Oversight of FCC Spectrum Auctions Program.”
  • The Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing on a number of nominations, including a re-nomination of Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Michael O’Reilly for another full term.
  • The Department of Commerce’s Industry and Security Bureau released an interim final rule to amend “the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) to authorize the release of certain technology to Huawei and its affiliates on the Entity List without a license if such release is made for the purpose of contributing to the revision or development of a “standard” in a “standards organization.” The Department added in its press release “The rule returns U.S. industry to the status quo ante, from an Entity List perspective, with respect to disclosures of such technology to Huawei and its affiliates in legitimate standards development contexts only, and not for commercial purposes. Disclosures for commercial purposes remain “subject to the EAR” and are still subject to recordkeeping and all other applicable EAR requirements.” Comments are due on 17 August 2020.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its “Safety Recommendation Report” that “called for a change in air cargo shipping requirements for some types of lithium-ion batteries” following its investigation “into the shipment of lithium-ion batteries that ignited while in transport on a delivery truck in Canada.” The NTSB recommended that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration:
    • Propose to the International Civil Aviation Organization to remove its special provision A88 from its Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air allowing special permits for low-production or prototype lithium-ion cells or batteries shipped by airplane and eliminate any exceptions to the testing of United Nations Manual of Tests and Criteria, Part III, Sub-section 38.3 requirements for all lithium-ion batteries before transport by air.( A-20-31)
    • Once the International Civil Aviation Organization removes special provision A88 from the Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air, remove the exemption from United Nations Manual of Tests and Criteria, Part III, Sub-section 38.3 testing from Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations 173.185(e) for low-production or prototype lithium-ion batteries, when transported by air. (A-20-32)
  • The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Partnership for Countering Influence Operations (PCIO) released “The Challenges of Countering Influence Operations” with these “Key Takeaways:”
    • Influence operations defy easy categorization. Influence operations often fail to fit neatly into boxes outlined by individual policies or legislation. They are run in a complex environment where actors overlap, borders are easily crossed and blurred, and motives are mixed—making enforcement challenging. In this case study, actors share highly politicized online content but also appear to benefit financially from their actions, making it difficult to ascertain whether their motives are primarily political, commercial, or both.
    • Relevant policies by social media platforms tend to be a patchwork of community standards that apply to individual activities of an influence campaign, not the operation as a whole. Policies published by social media companies often focus on individual components of influence operations. This approach attempts to neatly categorize and distinguish actors (foreign versus domestic), motives (political influence and profit), activities (including misrepresentation, fraud, and spamming behavior), and content (such as misinformation, hate speech, and abuse). This piecemeal approach to enforcement raises questions about whether officials within social media platforms fully understand how influence operations work and how such campaigns are more than the individual behaviors that compose them.
    • Social media networks have more opportunities to counter influence operations through their platform policies than governments do with existing legislation. Social media companies have implemented various policies to govern how their platforms are used, providing opportunities for combating influence operations. They also have greater access to information about how their platforms are used and have domain-specific expertise that allows them to create more tailored solutions. Fewer avenues exist for countering such influence operations using government-led legal mechanisms. This is not only because of the relative paucity of laws that govern online activity but also because law enforcement requires attribution before they can act, and such attribution can be difficult to ascertain in these cases. This means that governments have generally done little to help private industry actors determine what kinds of influence operations are unacceptable and should be combated. In the absence of such guidance, industry actors are de facto drawing those lines for society. Governments could do more to help guide industry players as they determine the boundaries of acceptable behavior by participating in multi-stakeholder efforts—some of which have been set up by think tanks and nonprofits—and by considering legal approaches that emphasize transparency rather than criminalization.
    • The influence operations uncovered by media scrutiny are not always as easy to counter as those writing about them might hope. Savvy influence operators understand how to evade existing rules, so that their activities and content do not breach known policies or legislation. Media coverage that showcases examples of influence operations seldom explains whether and how these operators violate existing platform policies or legislation. This is a problem because distasteful influence operations do not always overtly violate existing policies or laws—raising questions about where the lines are (and should be) between what is tolerable and what is not, and, moreover, who should be determining those lines. Even when existing policies clearly do apply, these questions persist. Stakeholders should more clearly assess what constitutes problematic behavior before rushing to demand enforcement.
  • A number of privacy and civil liberties groups released “principles to protect the civil rights and privacy of all persons, especially those populations who are at high risk for the virus and communities of color, when considering the deployment of technological measures in response to the COVID-19 crisis.” These groups also sent these principles in letters to both the House and the Senate.
  • The Technology Coalition, formed 15 years ago “when industry leaders came together to fight online child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA),” announced “Project Protect: A plan to combat online child sexual abuse – a renewed investment and ongoing commitment to our work seeking to prevent and eradicate online CSEA” with these elements:
    • Execute a Strategic “Five Pillar” Plan to reinforce the cross-industry approach to combating CSEA, putting in place the structure, membership models, and staffing needed to support the Technology Coalition’s long term objectives.
    • Establish a multi-million dollar Research and Innovation Fund to build crucial technological tools needed to more effectively prevent and work to eradicate CSEA.
    • Commit to publishing an Annual Progress Report on industry efforts to combat CSEA.
    • Create an annual Forum for CSEA experts bringing together industry, governments, and civil society to share best practices and drive collective action.
  • Amnesty International’s Security Lab named Bahrain, Kuwait and Norway as having “some of the most invasive COVID-19 contact tracing apps around the world, putting the privacy and security of hundreds of thousands of people at risk.”
  • The Knight Foundation and Gallup released “Free Expression, Harmful Speech, and Censorship in a Digital World,” “a study to gauge Americans’ opinions on [social media companies, the internet, and the role of government], delving specifically into two potential paths forward — amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which largely shields internet companies from legal liability for content shared on their sites, and the relatively new notion of content oversight boards” with these topline findings:
    • Americans prefer social media apps and sites to be places of open expression.
    • Even as Americans voice a preference for open expression, there are several forms of online content that many say should be restricted or never allowed
    • Many Americans have personally been targeted by harmful online behavior.
    • Americans are somewhat divided on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which largely shields major internet companies from liability for content posted on their websites and apps by third parties.
    • A majority of Americans do not trust social media companies to make the right decisions about what content appears on their sites or apps.
    • Despite misgivings about major internet companies making the right decisions related to harmful online content, Americans are more likely to favor the companies, rather than government, setting policies to regulate such content
    • Americans’ opinions of content oversight boards are largely favorable, tending to prefer them to social media companies or the government to make decisions about what can and cannot appear on social media websites and apps. 
    • Americans’ favorability toward content oversight boards increases when they know more about them.
    • The most important content oversight board attributes for Americans are transparency and diversity, followed closely by independence — i.e., who appoints board members. Less valuable is the board’s ability to compel social media companies to enact its decisions or guidelines.
    • Americans’ trust in a social media company will not automatically increase solely because the company adopts a content oversight board. Rather, trust can be gained based on the board’s features relating to its independence, transparency, diversity and ability to enforce decisions.
  • Graphika released a report titled “Exposing Secondary Infektion: Forgeries, interference, and attacks on Kremlin critics across six years and 300 sites and platforms,” “a long-running Russian information operation, encompassing multiple campaigns on social media run by a central entity, which was already active in 2014 and that was still running in early 2020.”
  • The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and Amnesty International released a report on “nine Indian lawyers, activists, and journalists….targeted in 2019 in a coordinated malware campaign” with “NetWire, a commercially available spyware.”

Further Reading

  • The Economy Is Reeling. The Tech Giants Spy Opportunity.” – The New York Times. All of the large technology companies are continuing the same pace of acquisition and product roll outs as last year. Critics fear that companies’ expansion through buying new businesses, technologies, and platforms will further cement their dominance of the United States (US) and world economies. Moreover, these companies have also been rolling out new services to compete with upstarts (e.g. Google’s meeting service to try to grab market share from Zoom.) It remains to be seen whether antitrust and anti-competitive actions in the US, European Union and elsewhere will stop or even reverse the continued growth of Google, Apple, Amazon, and others.
  • Amazon’s Ring has 29 new police agreements since the killing of George Floyd” – Protocol. In spite of its pledge to hold off on selling its facial recognition technology to police departments for a year, Amazon has continued to sign up local law enforcement for participation in partnerships using its Ring and Neighbors technology platforms. These systems make available to police footage from the camera/doorbell system Amazon is marketing as a security must have. Critics of the system and how Amazon operates it argue it has already disproportionately affected African Americans and other minorities in gentrifying areas and offers a workaround to warrant requirements for officers would not need to go to court to obtain this footage since private parties are not bound by the Fourth Amendment like government agencies.
  • Big Tech’s Pandemic Power Grab” – The Atlantic. This article foresees government regulation of large technology companies in the United States (US) that solidifies their preeminence, in large part, because these companies have been partnering with and working for the US government. And, in making this bargain, these companies are using every lever and all the leverage at their disposal to strike the type of bargain they want. There may be pushback against this impulse to grow, but it is worth keeping in mind that the trustbusting era in the US may have divided up corporate giants like Standard Oil but their progeny are still very powerful (e.g. Exxon Mobil.)
  • New York lawmakers want to outlaw geofence warrants as protests grow” – Protocol. A bill introduced in April to address the law enforcement practice of requesting geofencing data from technology companies receives renewed scrutiny in the New York State legislature in the midst of protests against racism and police violence in the United States. The article cites a Google filing in a Virginia lawsuit alleging “Between 2017 and 2018, Google saw a 1,500% increase in geofence requests…[and] [b]etween 2018 and 2019, that figure shot up another 500%.” Technology companies with troves of data on where people are at virtually every hour of the day are treading carefully as critics of geofence requests and warrants are pushing to ban law enforcement agencies from using these data.
  • Australian leader says unnamed state increasing cyberattacks” – Associated Press. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters “Australian organizations are currently being targeted by a sophisticated state-based cyber actor.” He contended “[t]his activity is targeting Australian organizations across a range of sectors, including all levels of government, industry, political organizations, education, health, essential service providers and operators of other critical infrastructure.” In concert with Morrison’s statement, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) and the Department of Home Affairs issued an advisory describing “the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) identified during the ACSC’s investigation of a cyber campaign targeting Australian networks.” Some experts are saying it must be the People’s Republic of China (PRC), especially after Canberra named the PRC as the entity that hacked into Parliament.
  • Eric Schmidt: Huawei has engaged in unacceptable practices” – BBC News. The former Google head claims the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has accessed Huawei’s routers to exfiltrate information. Schmidt conceded that Huawei’s products are superior to other offerings on the market, which poses a challenge for networks and nations. He also flagged the research and development budgets Huawei and other PRC companies have that eclipse other multinationals.
  • French Court Strikes Down Most of Online Hate Speech Law” – The New York Times. A French court struck down the core of President Emmanuel Macron’s new statute to police offensive online speech, finding two provisions would impinge freedom of expression. Macron’s party has vowed to take another run at such legislation.
  • Europe threatens digital taxes without global deal, after U.S. quits talks” – Reuters. After the United States withdrew from Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) talks on digital taxes, prompting promises from the European Union to proceed with such taxes.

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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