Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (3 November)

Further Reading

  • How Facebook and Twitter plan to handle election day disinformation” By Sam Dean — The Los Angeles Times; “How Big Tech is planning for election night” By Heather Kelly — The Washington Post; and “What to Expect From Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on Election Day” By Mike Isaac, Kate Conger and Daisuke Wakabayashi — The New York Times. Social media platforms have prepared for today and will use a variety of measures to combat lies, disinformation, and misinformation from sources foreign and domestic. Incidentally, my read is that these tech companies are more worried as measured by resource allocation about problematic domestic content.
  • QAnon received earlier boost from Russian accounts on Twitter, archives show” By Joseph Menn — Reuters. Researchers have delved into Twitter’s archive of taken down or suspended Russian accounts and are now claiming that the Russian Federation was pushing and amplifying the QAnon conspiracy in the United States (U.S.) as early as November 2017. This revised view of Russian involvement differs from conclusions reached in August that Russia played a small but significant role in the proliferation of the conspiracy.
  • Facial recognition used to identify Lafayette Square protester accused of assault” By Justin Jouvenal and Spencer S. Hsu — The Washington Post. When police were firing pepper balls and rolling gas canisters towards protestors in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C. on 1 June 2020, a protestor was filmed assaulting two officers. A little known and not publicly revealed facial recognition technology platform available to many federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in the Capital area resulted in a match with the footage. Now, a man stands accused of crimes during a Black Lives Matter march, and civil liberties and privacy advocates are objecting to the use of the National Capital Region Facial Recognition Investigative Leads System (NCRFRILS) on a number of grounds, including the demonstrated weakness of these systems to accurately identify people of color, the fact it has been used but not disclosed to a number of defendants, and the potential chilling effect it will have on people going to protests. Law enforcement officials claim there are strict privacy and process safeguards and an identification alone cannot be used as the basis of an arrest.
  • CISA’s political independence from Trump will be an Election Day asset” By Joseph Marks — The Washington Post. The United States’ (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has established its bona fides with nearly all stakeholders inside and outside the U.S. government since its creation in 2018. Many credit its Director, Christopher Krebs, and many also praise the agency for conveying information and tips about cyber and other threats without incurring the ire of a White House and President antithetical to any hint of Russian hacking or interference in U.S. elections. However, today and the next few days may prove the agency’s metal as it will be in uncharted territory trying to tamp down fear about unfounded rumors and looking to discredit misinformation and disinformation in close to real time.
  • Trump allies, largely unconstrained by Facebook’s rules against repeated falsehoods, cement pre-election dominance” By Isaac Stanley-Becker and Elizabeth Dwoskin — The Washington Post. Yet another article showing that if Facebook has a bias, it is against liberal viewpoints and content, for conservative material is allowed even if it breaks the rules of the platform. Current and former employees and an analysis support this finding. The Trump Family have been among those who have benefitted from the kid gloves used by the company regarding posts that would have likely resulted in consequences from other users. However, smaller conservative outlets or less prominent conservative figures have faced consequences for content that violates Facebook’s standards, however.

Other Developments

  • The European Union’s (EU) Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager made a speech titled “Building trust in technology,” in which she previewed one long awaited draft EU law on technology and another to address antitrust and anti-competitive practices of large technology companies. Vestager stated “in just a few weeks, we plan to publish two draft laws that will help to create a more trustworthy digital world.” Both drafts are expected on 2 December and represent key pieces of the new EU leadership’s Digital Strategy, the bloc’s initiative to update EU laws to account for changes in technology since the beginning of the century. The Digital Services Act will address and reform the legal treatment of both online commerce and online content. The draft Digital Markets Act would give the European Commission (EC) more tools to combat the same competition and market dominance issues the United States (U.S.), Australia, and other nations are starting to tackle visa vis companies like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google.
    • Regarding the Digital Services Act, Vestager asserted:
      • One part of those rules will be the Digital Services Act, which will update the E-Commerce Directive, and require digital services to take more responsibility for dealing with illegal content and dangerous products. 
      • Those services will have to put clear and simple procedures in place, to deal with notifications about illegal material on their platforms. They’ll have to make it harder for dodgy traders to use the platform, by checking sellers’ IDs before letting them on the platform. And they’ll also have to provide simple ways for users to complain, if they think their material should not have been removed – protecting the right of legitimate companies to do business, and the right of individuals to freedom of expression. 
      • Those new responsibilities will help to keep Europeans just as safe online as they are in the physical world. They’ll protect legitimate businesses, which follow the rules, from being undercut by others who sell cheap, dangerous products. And by applying the same standards, all over Europe, they’ll make sure every European can rely on the same protection – and that digital businesses of all sizes can easily operate throughout Europe, without having to meet the costs of complying with different rules in different EU countries. 
      • The new rules will also require digital services – especially the biggest platforms – to be open about the way they shape the digital world that we see. They’ll have to report on what they’ve done to take down illegal material. They’ll have to tell us how they decide what information and products to recommend to us, and which ones to hide – and give us the ability to influence those decisions, instead of simply having them made for us. And they’ll have to tell us who’s paying for the ads that we see, and why we’ve been targeted by a certain ad.  
      • But to really give people trust in the digital world, having the right rules in place isn’t enough. People also need to know that those rules really work – that even the biggest companies will actually do what they’re supposed to. And to make sure that happens, there’s no substitute for effective enforcement.  
      • And effective enforcement is a vital part of the draft laws that we’ll propose in December. For instance, the Digital Services Act will improve the way national authorities cooperate, to make sure the rules are properly enforced, throughout the EU. Our proposal won’t change the fundamental principle, that digital services should be regulated by their home country. But it will set up a permanent system of cooperation that will help those regulators work more effectively, to protect consumers all across Europe. And it will give the EU power to step in, when we need to, to enforce the rules against some very large platforms.
    • Vestager also discussed the competition law the EC hopes to enact:
      • So, to keep our markets fair and open to competition, it’s vital that we have the right toolkit in place. And that’s what the second set of rules we’re proposing – what we call the Digital Markets Act – is for. 
      • That proposal will have two pillars. The first of those pillars will be a clear list of dos and don’ts for big digital gatekeepers, based on our experience with the sorts of behaviour that can stop markets working well. 
      • For instance, the decisions that gatekeepers take, about how to rank different companies in search results, can make or break businesses in dozens of markets that depend on the platform. And if platforms also compete in those markets themselves, they can use their position as player and referee to help their own services succeed, at the expense of their rivals. For instance, gatekeepers might manipulate the way that they rank different businesses, to show their own services more visibly than their rivals’. So, the proposal that we’ll put forward in a few weeks’ time will aim to ban this particular type of unfair self-preferencing. 
      • We also know that these companies can collect a lot of data about companies that rely on their platform – data which they can then use, to compete against those very same companies in other markets. That can seriously damage fairness in these markets – which is why our proposal aims to ban big gatekeepers from misusing their business users’ data in that way. 
      • These clear dos and don’ts will allow us to act much faster and more effectively, to tackle behaviour that we know can stop markets working well. But we also need to be ready for new situations, where digitisation creates deep, structural failures in the way our markets work.  
      • Once a digital company gets to a certain size, with the big network of users and the huge collections of data that brings, it can be very hard for anyone else to compete – even if they develop a much better service. So, we face a constant risk that big companies will succeed in pushing markets to a tipping point, sending them on a rapid, unstoppable slide towards monopoly – and creating yet another powerful gatekeeper. 
      • One way to deal with risks like this would be to stop those emerging gatekeepers from locking users into their platform. That could mean, for instance, that those gatekeepers would have to make it easier for users to switch platform, or to use more than one service. That would keep the market open for competition, by making it easier for innovative rivals to compete. But right now, we don’t have the power to take this sort of action when we see these risks arising. 
      • It can also be difficult to deal with large companies which use the power of their platforms again and again, to take over one related market after another. We can deal with that issue with a series of cases – but the risk is that we’ll always find ourselves playing catch-up, while platforms move from market to market, using the same strategies to drive out their rivals. 
      • The risk, though, is that we’ll have a fragmented system, with different rules in different EU countries. That would make it hard to tackle huge platforms that operate throughout Europe, and to deal with other problems that you find in digital markets in many EU countries. And it would mean that businesses and consumers across Europe can’t all rely on the same protection. 
      • That’s why the second pillar of the Digital Markets Act would put a harmonised market investigation framework in place across the single market, giving us the power to tackle market failures like this in digital markets, and stop new ones from emerging. That would give us a harmonised set of rules that would allow us to investigate certain structural problems in digital markets. And if necessary, we could take action to make these markets contestable and competitive.
  • California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) vetoed one of the bills sent to him to amend the “California Consumer Privacy Act” (AB 375) last week. In mid-October, he signed two bills that amended the CCPA but one will only take effect if the “California Privacy Rights Act” (CPRA) (Ballot Initiative 24) is not enacted by voters in the November election. Moreover, if the CPRA is enacted via ballot, then the two other statutes would likely become dead law as the CCPA and its amendments would become moot once the CPRA becomes effective in 2023.
    • Newsom vetoed AB 1138 that would amend the recently effective “Parent’s Accountability and Child Protection Act” would bar those under the age of 13 from opening a social media account unless the platform got the explicit consent from their parents. Moreover, “[t]he bill would deem a business to have actual knowledge of a consumer’s age if it willfully disregards the consumer’s age.” In his veto message, Newsom explained that while he agrees with the spirit of the legislation, it would create unnecessary confusion and overlap with federal law without any increase in protection for children. He signaled an openness to working with the legislature on this issue, however.
    • Newsom signed AB 1281 that would extend the carveout for employers to comply with the CCPA from 1 January 2021 to 1 January 2022. The CCPA “exempts from its provisions certain information collected by a business about a natural person in the course of the natural person acting as a job applicant, employee, owner, director, officer, medical staff member, or contractor, as specified…[and also] exempts from specified provisions personal information reflecting a written or verbal communication or a transaction between the business and the consumer, if the consumer is a natural person who is acting as an employee, owner, director, officer, or contractor of a company, partnership, sole proprietorship, nonprofit, or government agency and whose communications or transaction with the business occur solely within the context of the business conducting due diligence regarding, or providing or receiving a product or service to or from that company, partnership, sole proprietorship, nonprofit, or government agency.” AB 1281 “shall become operative only” if the CPRA is not approved by voters.
    • Newsom also signed AB 713 that would:
      • except from the CCPA information that was deidentified in accordance with specified federal law, or was derived from medical information, protected health information, individually identifiable health information, or identifiable private information, consistent with specified federal policy, as provided.
      • except from the CCPA a business associate of a covered entity, as defined, that is governed by federal privacy, security, and data breach notification rules if the business associate maintains, uses, and discloses patient information in accordance with specified requirements.
      • except information that is collected for, used in, or disclosed in research, as defined.
      • additionally prohibit a business or other person from reidentifying information that was deidentified, unless a specified exception is met.
      • beginning January 1, 2021, require a contract for the sale or license of deidentified information to include specified provisions relating to the prohibition of reidentification, as provided.
  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report requested by the chair of a House committee on a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program to provide subsidies for broadband providers to provide service for High cost areas, typically for people in rural or hard to reach areas. Even though the FCC has provided nearly $5 billion in 2019 through the Universal Service Fund’s (USF) high cost program, the agency lack data to determine whether the goals of the program are being met. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone Jr (D-NJ) had asked for the assessment, which could well form the basis for future changes to how the FCC funds and sets conditions for use of said funds for broadband.
    • The GAO noted:
      • According to stakeholders GAO interviewed, FCC faces three key challenges to accomplish its high-cost program performance goals: (1) accuracy of FCC’s broadband deployment data, (2) broadband availability on tribal lands, and (3) maintaining existing fixed-voice infrastructure and attaining universal mobile service. For example, although FCC adopted a more precise method of collecting and verifying broadband availability data, stakeholders expressed concern the revised data would remain inaccurate if carriers continue to overstate broadband coverage for marketing and competitive reasons. Overstating coverage impairs FCC’s efforts to promote universal voice and broadband since an area can become ineligible for high-cost support if a carrier reports that service already exists in that area. FCC has also taken actions to address the lack of broadband availability on tribal lands, such as making some spectrum available to tribes for wireless broadband in rural areas. However, tribal stakeholders told GAO that some tribes are unable to secure funding to deploy the infrastructure necessary to make use of spectrum for wireless broadband purposes.
    • The GAO concluded:
      • The effective use of USF resources is critical given the importance of ensuring that Americans have access to voice and broadband services. Overall, FCC’s high-cost program performance goals and measures are often not conducive to providing FCC with high-quality performance information. The performance goals lack measurable or quantifiable bases upon which numeric targets can be set. Further, while FCC’s performance measures met most of the key attributes of effective measures, the measures often lacked linkage, clarity, and objectivity. Without such clarity and specific desired outcomes, FCC lacks performance information that could help FCC make better-informed decisions about how to allocate the program’s resources to meet ongoing and emerging challenges to ensuring universal access to voice and broadband services. Furthermore, the absence of public reporting of this information leaves stakeholders, including Congress, uncertain about the program’s effectiveness to deploy these services.
    • The GAO recommended that
      • The Chairman of FCC should revise the high-cost performance goals so that they are measurable and quantifiable.
      • The Chairman of FCC should ensure high-cost performance measures align with key attributes of successful performance measures, including ensuring that measures clearly link with performance goals and have specified targets.
      • The Chairman of FCC should ensure the high-cost performance measure for the goal of minimizing the universal service contribution burden on consumers and businesses takes into account user-fee leading practices, such as equity and sustainability considerations.
      • The Chairman of FCC should publicly and periodically report on the progress it has made for its high-cost program’s performance goals, for example, by including relevant performance information in its Annual Broadband Deployment Report or the USF Monitoring Report.
  • An Irish court has ruled that the Data Protection Commission (DPC) must cover the legal fees of Maximillian Schrems for litigating and winning his case in which the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) struck down the adequacy decision underpinning the European Union-United States Privacy Shield (aka Schrems II). It has been estimated that Schrems’ legal costs could total between €2-5 million for filing a complaint against Facebook, the low end of which would represent 10% of the DPC’s budget this year. In addition, the DPC has itself spent almost €3 million litigating the case.
  • House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) asked that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) review the implications of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2019 proposal to allow half of the Safety Band (i.e. 5.9 GHz spectrum) to be used for wireless communications even though the United States (U.S.) Department of Transportation weighed in against this decision. DeFazio and Graves are asking for a study of “the safety implications of sharing more than half of the 5.9 GHz spectrum band” that is currently “reserved exclusively for transportation safety purposes.” This portion of the spectrum was set aside in 1999 for connected vehicle technologies, according to DeFazio and Graves, and given the rise of automobile technology that requires spectrum, they think the FCC’s proposed proceeding “may significantly affect the efficacy of current and future applications of vehicle safety technologies.” DeFazio and Graves asked the GAO to review the following:
    • What is the current status of 5.9 GHz wireless transportation technologies, both domestically and internationally?
    • What are the views of industry and other stakeholders on the potential uses of these technologies, including scenarios where the 5.9 GHz spectrum is shared among different applications?
    • In a scenario in which the 5.9 GHz spectrum band is shared among different applications, what effect would this have on the efficacy, including safety, of current wireless transportation technology deployments?
    • What options exist for automakers and highway management agencies to ensure the safe deployment of connected vehicle technologies in a scenario in which the 5.9 GHz spectrum band is shared among different applications?
    • How, if at all, have DOT and FCC assessed current and future needs for 5.9 GHz spectrum in transportation applications? 
    • How, if at all, have DOT and FCC coordinated to develop a federal spectrum policy for connected vehicles?
  • The Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have published “A Researcher’s Guide to Some Legal Risks of Security Research,” which is timely given the case before the Supreme Court of the United States to determine whether the “Computer Fraud and Abuse Act” (CFAA). The Cyberlaw Clinic and EFF stated:
    • Just last month, over 75 prominent security researchers signed a letter urging the Supreme Court not to interpret the CFAA, the federal anti-hacking/computer crime statute, in a way that would criminalize swaths of valuable security research.
    • In the report, the Cyberlaw Clinic and EFF explained:
      • This guide overviews broad areas of potential legal risk related to security research, and the types of security research likely implicated. We hope it will serve as a useful starting point for concerned researchers and others. While the guide covers what we see as the main areas of legal risk for security researchers, it is not exhaustive.
    • In Van Buren v. United States, the Court will consider the question of “[w]hether a person who is authorized to access information on a computer for certain purposes violates Section 1030(a)(2) of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act if he accesses the same information for an improper purpose.” In this case, the defendant was a police officer who took money as part of a sting operation to illegally use his access to Georgia’s database of license plates to obtain information about a person. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals denied his appeal of his conviction under the CFAA per a previous ruling in that circuit that “a defendant violates the CFAA not only when he obtains information that he has no “rightful[]” authorization whatsoever to acquire, but also when he obtains information “for a nonbusiness purpose.”
    • As the Cyberlaw Clinic and EFF noted in the report:
      • Currently, courts are divided about whether the statute’s prohibition on “exceed[ing] authorized access” applies to people who have authorization to access data (for some purpose), but then access it for a (different) purpose that violates a contractual terms of service or computer use policy. Some courts have found that the CFAA covers activities that do not circumvent any technical access barriers, from making fake profiles that violate Facebook’s terms of service to running a search on a government database without permission. Other courts, disagreeing with the preceding approach, have held that a verbal or contractual prohibition alone cannot render access punishable under the CFAA.
  • The United Kingdom’s Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) have published “Code of Practice: Cyber Security and Safety” to help engineers develop technological and digital products with both safety and cybersecurity in mind. The IET and NCSC explained:
    • The aim of this Code is to help organizations accountable for safety-related systems manage cyber security vulnerabilities that could lead to hazards. It does this by setting out principles that when applied will improve the interaction between the disciplines of system safety and cyber security, which have historically been addressed as distinct activities.
    • The objectives for organizations that follow this Code are: (a) to manage the risk to safety from any insecurity of digital technology; (b) to be able to provide assurance that this risk is acceptable; and (c) where there is a genuine conflict between the controls used to achieve safety and security objectives, to ensure that these are properly resolved by the appropriate authority.
    • It should be noted that the focus of this Code is on the safety and security of digital technology, but it is recognized that addressing safety and cyber security risk is not just a technological issue: it involves people, process, physical and technological aspects. It should also be noted that whilst digital technology is central to the focus, other technologies can be used in pursuit of a cyber attack. For example, the study of analogue emissions (electromagnetic, audio, etc.) may give away information being digitally processed and thus analogue interfaces could be used to provide an attack surface.

Coming Events

  • On 10 November, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing to consider nominations, including Nathan Simington’s to be a Member of the Federal Communications Commission.
  • On 17 November, the Senate Judiciary Committee will reportedly hold a hearing with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Section 230 and how their platforms chose to restrict The New York Post article on Hunter Biden.
  • On 18 November, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold an open meeting and has released a tentative agenda:
    • Modernizing the 5.9 GHz Band. The Commission will consider a First Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and Order of Proposed Modification that would adopt rules to repurpose 45 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.850-5.895 GHz band for unlicensed operations, retain 30 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.895-5.925 GHz band for the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) service, and require the transition of the ITS radio service standard from Dedicated Short-Range Communications technology to Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything technology. (ET Docket No. 19-138)
    • Further Streamlining of Satellite Regulations. The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would streamline its satellite licensing rules by creating an optional framework for authorizing space stations and blanket-licensed earth stations through a unified license. (IB Docket No. 18-314)
    • Facilitating Next Generation Fixed-Satellite Services in the 17 GHz Band. The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would propose to add a new allocation in the 17.3-17.8 GHz band for Fixed-Satellite Service space-to-Earth downlinks and to adopt associated technical rules. (IB Docket No. 20-330)
    • Expanding the Contribution Base for Accessible Communications Services. The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would propose expansion of the Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) Fund contribution base for supporting Video Relay Service (VRS) and Internet Protocol Relay Service (IP Relay) to include intrastate telecommunications revenue, as a way of strengthening the funding base for these forms of TRS and making it more equitable without increasing the size of the Fund itself. (CG Docket Nos. 03-123, 10-51, 12-38)
    • Revising Rules for Resolution of Program Carriage Complaints. The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would modify the Commission’s rules governing the resolution of program carriage disputes between video programming vendors and multichannel video programming distributors. (MB Docket Nos. 20-70, 17-105, 11-131)
    • Enforcement Bureau Action. The Commission will consider an enforcement action.

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