Further Reading, Other Development, and Coming Events (7 December)

Further Reading

  • Facebook steps up campaign to ban false information about coronavirus vaccines” By Elizabeth Dwoskin — The Washington Post. In its latest step to find and remove lies, misinformation, and disinformation, the social media giant is now committing to removing and blocking untrue material about COVID-19 vaccines, especially from the anti-vaccine community. Will the next step be to take on anti-vaccination proponents generally?
  • Comcast’s 1.2 TB data cap seems like a ton of data—until you factor in remote work” By Rob Pegoraro — Fast Company. Despite many people and children working and learning from home, Comcast is reimposing a 1.2 terabyte limit on data for homes. Sounds like quite a lot until you factor in video meetings, streaming, etc. So far, other providers have not set a cap.
  • Google’s star AI ethics researcher, one of a few Black women in the field, says she was fired for a critical email” By Drew Harwell and Nitasha Tiku — The Washington Post. Timnit Gebru, a top flight artificial intelligence (AI) computer scientist, was fired for questioning Google’s review of a paper she wanted to present at an AI conference that is likely critical of the company’s AI projects. Google claims she resigned, but Gebru says she was fired. She has long been an advocate for women and minorities in tech and AI and her ouster will likely only increase scrutiny of and questions about Google’s commitment to diversity and an ethical approach to the development and deployment of AI. It will also probably lead to more employee disenchantment about the company that follows in the wake of protests about Google’s involvement with the United States Department of Defense’s Project Maven and hiring of former United States Department of Homeland Security chief of staff Miles Taylor who was involved with the policies that resulted in caging children and separating families on the southern border of the United States.
  • Humans Can Help Clean Up Facebook and Twitter” By Greg Bensinger — The New York Times. In this opinion piece, the argument is made that social media platforms should redeploy their human monitors to the accounts that violate terms of service most frequently (e.g., President Donald Trump) and more aggressively label and remove untrue or inflammatory content, they would have a greater impact on lies, misinformation, and disinformation.
  • Showdown looms over digital services tax” By Ashley Gold — Axios. Because the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has not reached a deal on digital services taxes, a number of the United States (U.S.) allies could move forward with taxes on U.S. multinationals like Amazon, Google, and Apple. The Trump Administration has variously taken an adversarial position threatening to retaliate against countries like France who have enacted a tax that has not been collected during the OECD negotiations. The U.S. also withdrew from talks. It is probable the Biden Administration will be more willing to work in a multi-lateral fashion and may strike a deal on an issue that it not going away as the United Kingdom, Italy, and Canada also have plans for a digital tax.
  • Trump’s threat to veto defense bill over social-media protections is heading to a showdown with Congress” By Karoun Demirjian and Tony Romm — The Washington Post. I suppose I should mention of the President’s demands that the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) contain a repeal of 47 U.S.C. 230 (Section 230 of the Communications Act) that came at the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute of negotiations on a final version of the bill. Via Twitter, Donald Trump threatened to veto the bill which has been passed annually for decades. Republicans were not having it, however, even if they agreed on Trump’s desire to remove liability protection for technology companies. And yet, if Trump continues to insist on a repeal, Republicans may find themselves in a bind and the bill could conceivably get pulled until President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in. On the other hand, Trump’s veto threats about renaming military bases currently bearing the names of Confederate figures have not been renewed even though the final version of the bill contains language instituting a process to do just that.

Other Developments

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee held over its most recent bill to narrow 47 U.S.C. 230 (Section 230 of the Communications Act) that provides liability protection for technology companies for third-party material posted on their platforms and any decisions to edit, alter, or remove such content. The committee opted to hold the “Online Content Policy Modernization Act” (S.4632), which may mean the bill’s chances of making it to the Senate floor are low. What’s more, even if the Senate passes Section 230 legislation, it is not clear there will be sufficient agreement with Democrats in the House to get a final bill to the President before the end of this Congress. On 1 October, the committee also decided to hold over bill to try to reconcile the fifteen amendments submitted for consideration. The Committee could soon meet again to formally markup and report out this legislation.
    • At the earlier hearing, Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) submitted an amendment revising the bill’s reforms to Section 230 that incorporate some of the below amendments but includes new language. For example, the bill includes a definition of “good faith,” a term not currently defined in Section 230. This term would be construed as a platform taking down or restricting content only according to its publicly available terms of service, not as a pretext, and equally to all similarly situated content. Moreover, good faith would require alerting the user and giving him or her an opportunity to respond subject to certain exceptions. The amendment also makes clear that certain existing means of suing are still available to users (e.g. suing claiming a breach of contract.)
    • Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) offered a host of amendments:
      • EHF20913 would remove “user[s]” from the reduced liability shield that online platforms would receive under the bill. Consequently, users would still not be legally liable for the content posted by another user.
      • EHF20914 would revise the language the language regarding the type of content platforms could take down with legal protection to make clear it would not just be “unlawful” content but rather content “in violation of a duly enacted law of the United States,” possibly meaning federal laws and not state laws. Or, more likely, the intent would be to foreclose the possibility a platform would say it is acting in concert with a foreign law and still assert immunity.
      • EHF20920 would add language making clear that taking down material that violates terms of service or use according to an objectively reasonable belief would be shielded from liability.
      • OLL20928 would expand legal protection to platforms for removing or restricting spam,
      • OLL20929 would bar the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from a rulemaking on Section 230.
      • OLL20930 adds language making clear if part of the revised Section 230 is found unconstitutional, the rest of the law would still be applicable.
      • OLL20938 revises the definition of an “information content provider,” the term of art in Section 230 that identifies a platform, to expand when platforms may be responsible for the creation or development of information and consequently liable for a lawsuit.
    • Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) offered an amendment that would create a new right of action for people to sue large platforms for taking down his or her content if not done in “good faith.” The amendment limits this right only to “edge providers” who are platforms with more than 30 million users in the U.S. , 300 million users worldwide, and with revenues of more than $1.5 billion. This would likely exclude all platforms except for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and a select group of a few others.
    • Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) offered an amendment that removes all Section 230 legal immunity from platforms that collect personal data and then uses an “automated function” to deliver targeted or tailored content to a user unless a user “knowingly and intentionally elect[s]” to receive such content.
  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Work of the Future Task Force issued its final report and drew the following conclusions:
    • Technological change is simultaneously replacing existing work and creating new work. It is not eliminating work altogether.
    • Momentous impacts of technological change are unfolding gradually.
    • Rising labor productivity has not translated into broad increases in incomes because labor market institutions and policies have fallen into disrepair.
    • Improving the quality of jobs requires innovation in labor market institutions.
    • Fostering opportunity and economic mobility necessitates cultivating and refreshing worker skills.
    • Investing in innovation will drive new job creation, speed growth, and meet rising competitive challenges.
    • The Task Force stated:
      • In the two-and-a-half years since the Task Force set to work, autonomous vehicles, robotics, and AI have advanced remarkably. But the world has not been turned on its head by automation, nor has the labor market. Despite massive private investment, technology deadlines have been pushed back, part of a normal evolution as breathless promises turn into pilot trials, business plans, and early deployments — the diligent, if prosaic, work of making real technologies work in real settings to meet the demands of hard-nosed customers and managers.
      • Yet, if our research did not confirm the dystopian vision of robots ushering workers off of factor y floors or artificial intelligence rendering superfluous human expertise and judgment, it did uncover something equally pernicious: Amidst a technological ecosystem delivering rising productivity, and an economy generating plenty of jobs (at least until the COVID-19 crisis), we found a labor market in which the fruits are so unequally distributed, so skewed towards the top, that the majority of workers have tasted only a tiny morsel of a vast har vest.
      • As this report documents, the labor market impacts of technologies like AI and robotics are taking years to unfold. But we have no time to spare in preparing for them. If those technologies deploy into the labor institutions of today, which were designed for the last century, we will see similar effects to recent decades: downward pressure on wages, skills, and benefits, and an increasingly bifurcated labor market. This report, and the MIT Work of the Future Task Force, suggest a better alternative: building a future for work that har vests the dividends of rapidly advancing automation and ever-more powerful computers to deliver opportunity and economic security for workers. To channel the rising productivity stemming from technological innovations into broadly shared gains, we must foster institutional innovations that complement technological change.
  • The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) Wojciech Wiewiorówski published his “preliminary opinion on the European Commission’s (EC) Communication on “A European strategy for data” and the creation of a common space in the area of health, namely the European Health Data Space (EHDS).” The EDPS lauded the goal of the EHDS, “the prevention, detection and cure of diseases, as well as for evidence-based decisions in order to enhance effectiveness, accessibility and sustainability of the healthcare systems.” However, Wiewiorówski articulated his concerns that the EC needs to think through the applicability of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), among other European Union (EU) laws before it can legally move forward. The EDPS stated:
    • The EDPS calls for the establishment of a thought-through legal basis for the processing operations under the EHDS in line with Article 6(1) GDPR and also recalls that such processing must comply with Article 9 GDPR for the processing of special categories of data.
    • Moreover, the EDPS highlights that due to the sensitivity of the data to be processed within the EHDS, the boundaries of what constitutes a lawful processing and a compatible further processing of the data must be crystal-clear for all the stakeholders involved. Therefore, the transparency and the public availability of the information relating to the processing on the EHDS will be key to enhance public trust in the EHDS.
    • The EDPS also calls on the Commission to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the parties involved and to clearly identify the precise categories of data to be made available to the EHDS. Additionally, he calls on the Member States to establish mechanisms to assess the validity and quality of the sources of the data.
    • The EDPS underlines the importance of vesting the EHDS with a comprehensive security infrastructure, including both organisational and state-of-the-art technical security measures to protect the data fed into the EHDS. In this context, he recalls that Data Protection Impact Assessments may be a very useful tool to determine the risks of the processing operations and the mitigation measures that should be adopted.
    • The EDPS recommends paying special attention to the ethical use of data within the EHDS framework, for which he suggests taking into account existing ethics committees and their role in the context of national legislation.
    • The EDPS is convinced that the success of the EHDS will depend on the establishment of a strong data governance mechanism that provides for sufficient assurances of a lawful, responsible, ethical management anchored in EU values, including respect for fundamental rights. The governance mechanism should regulate, at least, the entities that will be allowed to make data available to the EHDS, the EHDS users, the Member States’ national contact points/ permit authorities, and the role of DPAs within this context.
    • The EDPS is interested in policy initiatives to achieve ‘digital sovereignty’ and has a preference for data being processed by entities sharing European values, including privacy and data protection. Moreover, the EDPS calls on the Commission to ensure that the stakeholders taking part in the EHDS, and in particular, the controllers, do not transfer personal data unless data subjects whose personal data are transferred to a third country are afforded a level of protection essentially equivalent to that guaranteed within the European Union.
    • The EDPS calls on Member States to guarantee the effective implementation of the right to data portability specifically in the EHDS, together with the development of the necessary technical requirements. In this regard, he considers that a gap analysis might be required regarding the need to integrate the GDPR safeguards with other regulatory safeguards, provided e.g. by competition law or ethical guidelines.
  • The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) extended a guidance memorandum directing agencies to consolidate data centers after Congress pushed back the sunset date for the program. OMB extended OMB Memorandum M-19-19, Update to Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) through 30 September 2022, which applies “to the 24 Federal agencies covered by the Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act of 1990, which includes the Department of Defense.” The DCOI was codified in the “Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform” (FITARA) (P.L. 113-291) and extended in 2018 until October 1, 2020. And this sunset was pushed back another two years in the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (P.L. 116-92).
    • In March 2020, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued another of its periodic assessments of the DCOI, started in 2012 by the Obama Administration to shrink the federal government’s footprint of data centers, increase efficiency and security, save money, and reduce energy usage.
    • The GAO found that 23 of the 24 agencies participating in the DCOI met or planned to meet their FY 2019 goals to close 286 of the 2,727 data centers considered part of the DCOI. This latter figure deserves some discussion, for the Trump Administration changed the definition of what is a data center to exclude smaller ones (so-called non-tiered data centers). GAO asserted that “recent OMB DCOI policy changes will reduce the number of data centers covered by the policy and both OMB and agencies may lose important visibility over the security risks posed by these facilities.” Nonetheless, these agencies are projecting savings of $241.5 million when all the 286 data centers planned for closure in FY 2019 actually close. It bears note that the GAO admitted in a footnote it “did not independently validate agencies’ reported cost savings figures,” so these numbers may not be reliable.
    • In terms of how to improve the DCOI, the GAO stated that “[i]n addition to reiterating our prior open recommendations to the agencies in our review regarding their need to meet DCOI’s closure and savings goals and optimization metrics, we are making a total of eight new recommendations—four to OMB and four to three of the 24 agencies. Specifically:
      • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should (1) require that agencies explicitly document annual data center closure goals in their DCOI strategic plans and (2) track those goals on the IT Dashboard. (Recommendation 1)
      • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should require agencies to report in their quarterly inventory submissions those facilities previously reported as data centers, even if those facilities are not subject to the closure and optimization requirements of DCOI. (Recommendation 2)
      • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should document OMB’s decisions on whether to approve individual data centers when designated by agencies as either a mission critical facility or as a facility not subject to DCOI. (Recommendation 3)
      • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should take action to address the key performance measurement characteristics missing from the DCOI optimization metrics, as identified in this report. (Recommendation 4)
  • Australia’s Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) released its first report on how well the nation’s security services did in observing the law with respect to COVID  app  data. The IGIS “is satisfied that the relevant agencies have policies and procedures in place and are taking reasonable steps to avoid intentional collection of COVID app data.” The IGIS revealed that “[i]ncidental collection in the course of the lawful collection of other data has occurred (and is permitted by the Privacy Act); however, there is no evidence that any agency within IGIS jurisdiction has decrypted, accessed or used any COVID app data.” The IGIS is also “satisfied  that  the intelligence agencies within IGIS jurisdiction which have the capability to incidentally collect a least some types of COVID app data:
    • Are aware of their responsibilities under Part VIIIA of the Privacy Act and are taking active steps to minimise the risk that they may collect COVID app data.
    • Have appropriate  policies  and  procedures  in  place  to  respond  to  any  incidental  collection of COVID app data that they become aware of. 
    • Are taking steps to ensure any COVID app data is not accessed, used or disclosed.
    • Are taking steps to ensure any COVID app data is deleted as soon as practicable.
    • Have not decrypted any COVID app data.
    • Are applying the usual security measures in place in intelligence agencies such that a ‘spill’ of any data, including COVID app data, is unlikely.
  • New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has released its annual Cyber Threat Report that found that “nationally significant organisations continue to be frequently targeted by malicious cyber actors of all types…[and] state-sponsored and non-state actors targeted public and private sector organisations to steal information, generate revenue, or disrupt networks and services.” The NCSC added:
    • Malicious cyber actors have shown their willingness to target New Zealand organisations in all sectors using a range of increasingly advanced tools and techniques. Newly disclosed vulnerabilities in products and services, alongside the adoption of new services and working arrangements, are rapidly exploited by state-sponsored actors and cyber criminals alike. A common theme this year, which emerged prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, was the exploitation of known vulnerabilities in internet-facing applications, including corporate security products, remote desktop services and virtual private network applications.
  • The former Director of the United States’ (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) wrote an opinion piece disputing President Donald Trump’s claims that the 2020 Presidential Election was fraudulent. Christopher Krebs asserted:
    • While I no longer regularly speak to election officials, my understanding is that in the 2020 results no significant discrepancies attributed to manipulation have been discovered in the post-election canvassing, audit and recount processes.
    • This point cannot be emphasized enough: The secretaries of state in Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania, as well officials in Wisconsin, all worked overtime to ensure there was a paper trail that could be audited or recounted by hand, independent of any allegedly hacked software or hardware.
    • That’s why Americans’ confidence in the security of the 2020 election is entirely justified. Paper ballots and post-election checks ensured the accuracy of the count. Consider Georgia: The state conducted a full hand recount of the presidential election, a first of its kind, and the outcome of the manual count was consistent with the computer-based count. Clearly, the Georgia count was not manipulated, resoundingly debunking claims by the president and his allies about the involvement of CIA supercomputers, malicious software programs or corporate rigging aided by long-gone foreign dictators.

Coming Events

  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will hold a webinar on the Draft Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) 201-3 on 9 December.
  • On 9 December, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing titled “The Invalidation of the EU-US Privacy Shield and the Future of Transatlantic Data Flows” with the following witnesses:
    • The Honorable Noah Phillips, Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission
    • Ms. Victoria Espinel, President and Chief Executive Officer, BSA – The Software Alliance
    • Mr. James Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Services, International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce
    • Mr. Peter Swire, Elizabeth and Tommy Holder Chair of Law and Ethics, Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business, and Research Director, Cross-Border Data Forum
  • On 10 December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold an open meeting and has released a tentative agenda:
    • Securing the Communications Supply Chain. The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would require Eligible Telecommunications Carriers to remove equipment and services that pose an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of its people, would establish the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program, and would establish the procedures and criteria for publishing a list of covered communications equipment and services that must be removed. (WC Docket No. 18-89)
    • National Security Matter. The Commission will consider a national security matter.
    • National Security Matter. The Commission will consider a national security matter.
    • Allowing Earlier Equipment Marketing and Importation Opportunities. The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would propose updates to its marketing and importation rules to permit, prior to equipment authorization, conditional sales of radiofrequency devices to consumers under certain circumstances and importation of a limited number of radiofrequency devices for certain pre-sale activities. (ET Docket No. 20-382)
    • Promoting Broadcast Internet Innovation Through ATSC 3.0. The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would modify and clarify existing rules to promote the deployment of Broadcast Internet services as part of the transition to ATSC 3.0. (MB Docket No. 20-145)

© 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.

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

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