Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (9 December)

Further Reading

  • Secret Amazon Reports Expose the Company’s Surveillance of Labor and Environmental Groups” By Lauren Kaori Gurley — Vice’s Motherboard. Yet another article by Vice drawing back the curtain on Amazon’s labor practices, especially its apparently fervent desire to stop unionizing. This piece shines light on the company’s Global Security Operations Center that tracks labor organizing and union activities among Amazon’s workers and monitors environmental and human rights on social media. The company has even hired Pinkerton operatives to surveil its warehouse employees. Although the focus is on Europe because the leaked emails on which the story is based pertain to activities on that continent, there is no reason to expect the same tactics are not being used elsewhere. Moreover, the company may be violating the much stricter laws in Europe protecting workers and union activities.
  • Cyber Command deployed personnel to Estonia to protect elections against Russian threat” By Shannon Vavra — cyberscoop.  It was recently revealed that personnel from the United States (U.S.) Cyber Command were deployed to Estonia to work with the latter country’s Defense Forces Cyber Command to fend off potential Russian attacks during the U.S. election. This follows another recent “hunt forward” mission for Cyber Command in Montenegro, another nation on the “frontline” of Russian hacking activities. Whether this has any effect beyond building trust and capacity between nations opposed to state-sponsored hacking and disinformation is unclear.
  • How China Is Buying Up the West’s High-Tech Sector” By Elizabeth Braw — Foreign Policy. This piece by a fellow at the ring wing American Enterprise Institute (AEI) makes the case that reviewing and potentially banning direct foreign investment by People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the United States (U.S.), European Union (EU), and European nations is probably not cutting off PRC access to cutting edge technology. PRC entities are investing directly or indirectly as limited partners in venture capital firms and are probably still gaining access to new technology. For example, an entity associated with the University of Cambridge is working with Huawei on a private 5G wireless network even though London is advancing legislation and policy to ban the PRC giant from United Kingdom (UK) networks. The author advocates for expanding the regulation of foreign investment to include limited partnerships and other structures that are apparently allowing the PRC to continue investing in and reaping the benefit of Western venture capital. There is hope, however, as a number of Western nations are starting government-funded venture capital firms to fund promising technology.
  • Twitter expands hate speech rules to include race, ethnicity” By Katie Paul — Reuters. The social media platform announced that it “further expanding our hateful conduct policy to prohibit language that dehumanizes people on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin.” A human rights group, the Color of Change, that was part of a coalition to pressure Twitter and other platforms called the change “essential concessions” but took issue with the timing, stating it would have had more impact had it been made before the election. A spokesperson added “[t]he jury is still out for a company with a spotty track record of policy implementation and enforcing its rules with far-right extremist users…[and] [v]oid of hard evidence the company will follow through, this announcement will fall into a growing category of too little, too late PR stunt offerings.”
  • White House drafts executive order that could restrict global cloud computing companies” By Steven Overly and Eric Geller — Politico. The Trump Administration may make another foray into trying to ban foreign companies from United States (U.S.) key critical infrastructure, and this time would reportedly bar U.S. cloud companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and others from partnering with foreign companies or entities that pose risk to the U.S. through the use of these U.S. systems to conduct cyber-attacks. This seems like another attempt to strike at the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) technology firms. If issued, it remains to be seen how a Biden Administration would use or implement such a directive given that there is not enough time for the Trump government to see things through to end on such an order. In any event, one can be sure that tech giants have already begun pressing both the outgoing and incoming Administration against any such order and most likely Congress as well.

Other Developments

  • A bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives issued the framework for a $908 billion COVID-19 stimulus package that is reportedly the subject of serious in Congress. The framework details $10 billion for broadband without no detail on how these funds would be distributed.
  • The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced the signing of the Australian Product Safety Pledge, “a voluntary initiative that commits its signatories to a range of safety related responsibilities that go beyond what is legally required of them” in e-commerce. The ACCC stated “AliExpress, Amazon Australia, Catch.com.au and eBay Australia, who together account for a significant share of online sales in Australia, are the first businesses to sign the pledge, signifying their commitment to consumers’ safety through a range of commitments such as removing unsafe product listings within two days of being notified by the ACCC.” The pledge consists of 12 commitments:
    • Regularly consult the Product Safety Australia website and other relevant sources for information on recalled/unsafe products. Take appropriate action[1] on these products once they are identified.
    • Provide a dedicated contact point(s) for Australian regulatory authorities to notify and request take-downs of recalled/unsafe products.
    • Remove identified unsafe product listings within two business days of the dedicated contact point(s) receiving a take-down request from Australian regulatory authorities. Inform authorities on the action that has been taken and any relevant outcomes.
    • Cooperate with Australian regulatory authorities in identifying, as far as possible, the supply chain of unsafe products by responding to data/information requests within ten business days should relevant information not be publicly available.
    • Have an internal mechanism for processing data/information requests and take-downs of unsafe products.
    • Provide a clear pathway for consumers to notify the pledge signatory directly of unsafe product listings. Such notifications are treated according to the signatory’s processes and where responses to consumers are appropriate, they are given within five business days.
    • Implement measures to facilitate sellers’ compliance with Australian product safety laws. Share information with sellers on compliance training/guidance, including a link to the ACCC’s Selling online page on the Product Safety Australia website.
    • Cooperate with Australian regulatory authorities and sellers to inform consumers[2] about relevant recalls or corrective actions on unsafe products.
    • Set up processes aimed at preventing or restricting the sale of banned, non-compliant and recalled products as appropriate.
    • Put in place reasonable measures to act against repeat offenders selling unsafe products, including in cooperation with Australian regulatory authorities.
    • Take measures aimed at preventing the reappearance of unsafe product listings already removed.
    • Explore the potential use of new technologies and innovation to improve the detection and removal of unsafe products.
  • Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL) introduced “The Federal Cybersecurity Oversight Act” (S.4912) that would amend the “Federal Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2015” (P.L. 114-113) to restrict the use of exceptions to longstanding requirements that federal agencies use measures such as multi-factor authentication and encryption. Currently federal agencies exempt themselves on a number of grounds. Wyden and Underwood’s bill would tighten this process by making the exceptions good only for a year at a time and require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approve the execption. In a fact sheet, they claimed:
    • [T]he bill requires the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to approve all waivers, which can currently be self-issued by the head of the agency. To request a waiver, the agency head will have to certify that:
      • It would be excessively burdensome to implement the particular requirement;
      • The particular requirement is not necessary to secure the agency system and data; and
      • The agency has taken all necessary steps to secure the agency system and data.
  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked at the United States (U.S.) longstanding efforts to buy common services and equipment in bulk known as Category Management. The GAO found progress but saw room for considerably more progress. GAO noted:
    • Since 2016, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has led efforts to improve how agencies buy these products and services through the category management initiative, which directs agencies across the government to buy more like a single enterprise. OMB has reported the federal government has saved $27.3 billion in 3 years through category management.
  • The GAO concluded:
    • The category management initiative has saved the federal government billions of dollars, and in some instances, enhanced agencies’ mission capabilities. However, the initiative has opportunities to accomplish much more. To date, OMB has focused primarily on contracting aspects of the initiative, and still has several opportunities to help agencies improve how they define their requirements for common products and services. OMB can take concrete steps to improve how agencies define these requirements through more robust guidance and training, changes to leadership delegations and cost savings reporting, and the development of additional metrics to measure implementation of the initiative.
    • Additionally, OMB can lead the development of a coordinated strategy that addresses government-wide data challenges hindering agencies’ efforts to assess their spending and identify prices paid for common products and services.
    • Finally, OMB can tailor additional training courses to provide more relevant information to agency personnel responsible for small business matters, and improve public reporting about the impact of category management on small businesses. In doing so, OMB can enhance the quality of the information provided to the small business community and policymakers. Through these efforts to further advance the category management initiative, OMB can help federal agencies accomplish their missions more effectively while also being better stewards of taxpayer dollars.
    • The GAO made the following recommendations:
      • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should emphasize in its overarching category management guidance the importance of effectively defining requirements for common products and services when implementing the category management initiative. (Recommendation 1)
      • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should work with the Category Management Leadership Council and the General Services Administration’s Category Management Program Management Office, and other appropriate offices, to develop additional tailored training for Senior Accountable Officials and agency personnel who manage requirements for common products and services. (Recommendation 2)
      • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should account for agencies’ training needs, including training needs for personnel who define requirements for common products and services, when setting category management training goals. (Recommendation 3)
      • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should ensure that designated Senior Accountable Officials have the authority necessary to hold personnel accountable for defining requirements for common products and services as well as contracting activities. (Recommendation 4)
      • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should report cost savings from the category management initiative by agency. (Recommendation 5)
      • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should work with the Category Management Leadership Council and the Performance Improvement Council to establish additional performance metrics for the category management initiative that are related to agency requirements. (Recommendation 6)
      • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should, in coordination with the Category Management Leadership Council and the Chief Data Officer Council, establish a strategic plan to coordinate agencies’ responses to government-wide data challenges hindering implementation of the category management initiative, including challenges involving prices-paid and spending data. (Recommendation 7)
      • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should work with the General Services Administration’s Category Management Program Management Office and other organizations, as appropriate, to develop additional tailored training for Office of Small Disadvantaged Business Utilization personnel that emphasizes information about small business opportunities under the category management initiative. (Recommendation 8)
      • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should update its methodology for calculating potentially duplicative contract reductions to strengthen the linkage between category management actions and the number of contracts eliminated. (Recommendation 9)
      • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should identify the time frames covered by underlying data when reporting on how duplicative contract reductions have impacted small businesses. (Recommendation 10)
  • The chair and ranking member of the House Commerce Committee are calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take preparatory steps before Congress provides funding to telecommunications providers to remove and replace Huawei and ZTE equipment. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone Jr (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) noted the “Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act” (P.L. 116-124):
    • provides the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with several new authorities to secure our communications supply chain, including the establishment and administration of the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program (Program). Through this Program, small communications providers may seek reimbursement for the cost of removing and replacing suspect network equipment. This funding is critical because some small and rural communications providers would not otherwise be able to afford these upgrades. Among the responsibilities entrusted to the FCC to carry out the Program is the development of a list of suggested replacements for suspect equipment, including physical and virtual communications equipment, application and management software, and services.
    • Pallone and Walden conceded that Congress has not yet provided funds but asked the FCC to take some steps:
      • First, the FCC should develop and release the list of eligible replacement equipment, software, and services as soon as possible. Second, the agency should reassure companies that they will not jeopardize their eligibility for reimbursement under the Program just because replacement equipment purchases were made before the Program is funded, assuming other eligibility criteria are met.
  • The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) wrote one of the whistleblowers at the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) and indicated it has ordered the head of USAGM to investigate the claims of malfeasance at the agency. The OSC stated:
    • On December 2, 2020, after reviewing the information you submitted, we directed the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of USAGM to order an investigation into the following allegations and report back to OSC pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 1213(c). Allegations to be investigated include that, since June 2020, USAGM:
      • Repeatedly violated the Voice of America (VOA) firewall—the law that protects VOA journalists’ “professional independence and integrity”;
      • Engaged in gross mismanagement and abuse of authority by:
        • Terminating the Presidents of each USAGM-funded network— Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN), and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB)—as well as the President and the CEO of the Open Technology Fund (OTF);
        • Dismissing the bipartisan board members that governed the USAGM- funded networks, replacing those board members with largely political appointees, and designating the USAGM CEO as Chairman;
        • Revoking all authority from various members of USAGM’s Senior Executive Service (SES) and reassigning those authorities to political appointees outside of the relevant offices;
        • Removing the VOA Editor for News Standards and Best Practices—a central figure in the VOA editorial standards process and a critical component of the VOA firewall—from his position and leaving that position vacant;
        • Similarly removing the Executive Editor of RFA;
        • Suspending the security clearances of six of USAGM’s ten SES members and placing them on administrative leave; and
        • Prohibiting several offices critical to USAGM’s mission—including the Offices of General Counsel, Chief Strategy, and Congressional and Public Affairs—from communicating with outside parties without the front office’s express knowledge and consent;
      • Improperly froze all agency hiring, contracting, and Information Technology migrations, and either refused to approve such decisions or delayed approval until the outside reputation and/or continuity of agency or network operations, and at times safety of staff, were threatened;
      • Illegally repurposed, and pressured career staff to illegally repurpose, congressionally appropriated funds and programs without notifying Congress; and
      • Refused to authorize the renewal of the visas of non-U.S. citizen journalists working for the agency, endangering both the continuity of agency operations and those individuals’ safety.

Coming Events

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold an executive session at which the “Online Content Policy Modernization Act” (S.4632), a bill to narrow the liability shield in 47 USC 230, may be marked up on 10 December.
  • 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.

Image by Makalu from Pixabay

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