Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (30 July)

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.

Here are Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events.

Coming Events

  • On 30 July, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s Security Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled “The China Challenge: Realignment of U.S. Economic Policies to Build Resiliency and Competitiveness” with these witnesses:
    • The Honorable Nazak Nikakhtar, Assistant Secretary for Industry and Analysis, International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce
    • Dr. Rush Doshi, Director of the Chinese Strategy Initiative, The Brookings Institution
    • Mr. Michael Wessel, Commissioner, U.S. – China Economic and Security Review Commission
  • On 30 July, the House Armed Services Committee’s Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled “Review of the Recommendations of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission” with these witnesses:
    • Senator Angus King (I-ME), Chairman, Cyberspace Solarium Commission
    • Representative Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Chairman, Cyberspace Solarium Commission
    • The Honorable Patrick Murphy, Commissioner, Cyberspace Solarium Commission
    • Mr. Frank Cilluffo, Commissioner, Cyberspace Solarium Commission
  • On 31 July, the House Intelligence Committee will mark up its Intelligence Authorization Act.
  • On 31 July the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress will hold a business meeting “to consider proposed recommendations.”
  • On 3 August the House Oversight and Reform Committee will hold a hearing on the tenth “Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act” (FITARA) scorecard on federal information technology.
  • On 4 August, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing titled “Findings and Recommendations of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission” with these witnesses:
    • Senator Angus S. King, Jr. (I-ME), Co-Chair, Cyberspace Solarium Commission
    • Representative Michael J. Gallagher (R-WI), Co-Chair, Cyberspace Solarium Commission
    • Brigadier General John C. Inglis, ANG (Ret.), Commissioner, Cyberspace Solarium Commission
  • On 6 August, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold an open meeting to likely consider the following items:
    • C-band Auction Procedures. The Commission will consider a Public Notice that would adopt procedures for the auction of new flexible-use overlay licenses in the 3.7–3.98 GHz band (Auction 107) for 5G, the Internet of Things, and other advanced wireless services. (AU Docket No. 20-25)
    • Radio Duplication Rules. The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would eliminate the radio duplication rule with regard to AM stations and retain the rule for FM stations. (MB Docket Nos. 19-310. 17-105)
    • Common Antenna Siting Rules. The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would eliminate the common antenna siting rules for FM and TV broadcaster applicants and licensees. (MB Docket Nos. 19-282, 17-105)
    • Telecommunications Relay Service. The Commission will consider a Report and Order to repeal certain TRS rules that are no longer needed in light of changes in technology and voice communications services. (CG Docket No. 03-123)
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will hold the “Exploring Artificial Intelligence (AI) Trustworthiness: Workshop Series Kickoff Webinar,” “a NIST initiative involving private and public sector organizations and individuals in discussions about building blocks for trustworthy AI systems and the associated measurements, methods, standards, and tools to implement those building blocks when developing, using, and testing AI systems” on 6 August.
  • On 18 August, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will host the “Bias in AI Workshop, a virtual event to develop a shared understanding of bias in AI, what it is, and how to measure it.”

Other Developments

  • Senate Armed Services Committee Chair James Inhofe (R-OK) has publicly placed a hold on the re-nomination of Federal Communications Commission member over the agency’s April decision to permit Ligado to proceed with its plan “to deploy a low-power terrestrial nationwide network in the 1526-1536 MHz, 1627.5-1637.5 MHz, and 1646.5-1656.5 MHz bands that will primarily support Internet of Things (IoT) services.” This is the latest means of pressing the FCC Inhofe and allies on Capitol Hill and in the Trump Administration have taken. In the recently passed “National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021” (S.4049) there is language requiring “the Secretary of Defense to enter into an agreement with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct an independent technical review of the Order and Authorization adopted by the FCC on April 19, 2020 (FCC 20–48). The independent technical review would include a comparison of the two different approaches used for evaluation of potential harmful interference. The provision also would require the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine to submit a report on the independent technical review.” This provision may make it into the final FY 2021 NDAA, which would stop Ligado from proceeding before the conclusion of the study.
  • Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) has released yet another bill amending 47 USC 230 (aka Section 230), the “Behavioral Advertising Decisions Are Downgrading Services (BAD ADS) Act,” that “remove Section 230 immunity from Big Tech companies that display manipulative, behavioral ads or provide data to be used for them.” Considering that targeting advertising forms a significant part of the revenue stream for such companies, this seems to be of a piece with other bills of Hawley’s and others to pressure social media platforms. Hawley noted he “has been a leading critic of Section 230’s protection of Big Tech firms and recently called for Twitter to lose immunity if it chooses to editorialize on political speech.”
  • The United States National Counterintelligence and Security Center (US NCSC) issued a statement on election security on the 100th day before the 2020 Presidential Election. US NCSC Director William Evanina described the risks facing the US heading into November but did not detail US efforts to address and counter the efforts of foreign nations to influence and disrupt Presidential and Congressional elections this fall. The US NCSC explained it is working with other federal agencies and stakeholders, however.
    • US NCSC Director William Evanina explained the purpose of the press release is to “share insights with the American public about foreign threats to our election and offer steps to citizens across the country to build resilience and help mitigate these threats…[and] to update Americans on the evolving election threat landscape, while also safeguarding our intelligence sources and methods.” Evanina noted “Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has been providing robust intelligence-based briefings on election security to the presidential campaigns, political committees, and Congressional audiences.” Including the assertion “[i]n leading these classified briefings, I have worked to ensure fidelity, accountability, consistency and transparency with these stakeholders and presented the most timely and accurate information we have to offer” may be Evanina’s way of pushing back on concerns that the White House has placed people loyal to the President at the top of some IC entities who may lack independence. Top Democrats
    • The US NCSC head asserted “[e]lection security remains a top priority for the Intelligence Community and we are committed in our support to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), given their leadership roles in this area.”
    • Evanina claimed “[a]t this time, we’re primarily concerned with China, Russia and Iran — although other nation states and non-state actors could also do harm to our electoral process….[and] [o]ur insights and judgments will evolve as the election season progresses:
      • China is expanding its influence efforts to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and counter criticism of China. Beijing recognizes its efforts might affect the presidential race.
      • Russia’s persistent objective is to weaken the United States and diminish our global role. Using a range of efforts, including internet trolls and other proxies, Russia continues to spread disinformation in the U.S. that is designed to undermine confidence in our democratic process and denigrate what it sees as an anti-Russia “establishment” in America.
      • Iran seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions and divide the country in advance of the elections. Iran’s efforts center around online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content.
    • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Mark Warner (D-VA) released their response to the NCSC statement:
      • The statement just released by NCSC Director William Evanina does not go nearly far enough in arming the American people with the knowledge they need about how foreign powers are seeking to influence our political process. The statement gives a false sense of equivalence to the actions of foreign adversaries by listing three countries of unequal intent, motivation and capability together. The statement, moreover, fails to fully delineate the goal, nature, scope and capacity to influence our election, information the American people must have as we go into November. To say without more, for example, that Russia seeks to ‘denigrate what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment’ in America’ is so generic as to be almost meaningless. The statement omits much on a subject of immense importance.
      • “In our letter two weeks ago, we called on the FBI to provide a defensive briefing to the entire Congress about specific threats related to a concerted foreign disinformation campaign, and this is more important than ever.  But a far more concrete and specific statement needs to be made to the American people, consistent with the need to protect sources and methods.  We can trust the American people with knowing what to do with the information they receive and making those decisions for themselves. But they cannot do so if they are kept in the dark about what our adversaries are doing, and how they are doing it.  When it comes to American elections, Americans must decide.”
    • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Marco Rubio (R-FL) issued their own statement:
      • We are disappointed by the statement from Senator Schumer, Senator Warner, Speaker Pelosi, and Representative Schiff about Bill Evanina, the Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center. Evanina is a career law enforcement and intelligence professional with extensive experience in counterintelligence. His reputation as a straight-shooter immune from politics is well-deserved. It is for this reason that Evanina received overwhelming support from the Senate when he was confirmed to be Director of the NCSC and again when the Administration tapped him to lead the nation’s efforts to protect the 2020 elections from foreign interference.
      • We believe the statement baselessly impugns his character and politicizes intelligence matters. Their manufactured complaint undercuts Director Evanina’s nonpartisan public outreach to increase Americans’ awareness of foreign influence campaigns right at the beginning of his efforts.
      • Prior to their public statements, Director Evanina had previewed his efforts and already offered to provide another round of briefings to the Congress on the threat and steps the US government has taken over the last three and a half years to combat it. We believe the threat is real, and is more complex than many partisans may wish to admit. We welcome these briefings, and hope our colleagues will listen to the career professionals who have been given this mission.
      •  We will not discuss classified information in public, but we are confident that while the threat remains, we are far better prepared than four years ago. The intelligence community, law enforcement, election officials, and others involved in securing our elections are far better postured, and Congress dramatically better informed, than any of us were in 2016—and our Democrat colleagues know it.
  • The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) and the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) issued “new Cloud Security Guidance co-designed with industry to support the secure adoption of cloud services across government and industry.” The agencies stated this new release “will guide organisations including government, Cloud Service Providers (CSP), and Information Security Registered Assessors Program (IRAP) assessors on how to perform a comprehensive assessment of a cloud service provider and its cloud services, so a risk-informed decision can be made about its suitability to handle an organisation’s data.” ACSC and DTA added “The Cloud Security Guidance is supported by forthcoming updates to the Australian Government Information Security Manual (ISM), the Attorney-General’s Protective Security Policy Framework (PSPF), and the DTA’s Secure Cloud Strategy.”
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) studied how well facial recognition technology and services could identify people wearing masks and, to no great surprise, the results were not good with respect to accuracy. NIST stressed that the facial recognition technology were not calibrated for masks in qualifying its results. In its Interagency Report NISTIR 8311, NIST found
    • Algorithm accuracy with masked faces declined substantially across the board. Using unmasked images, the most accurate algorithms fail to authenticate a person about 0.3% of the time. Masked images raised even these top algorithms’ failure rate to about 5%, while many otherwise competent algorithms failed between 20% to 50% of the time.
    • Masked images more frequently caused algorithms to be unable to process a face, technically termed “failure to enroll or template” (FTE). Face recognition algorithms typically work by measuring a face’s features — their size and distance from one another, for example — and then comparing these measurements to those from another photo. An FTE means the algorithm could not extract a face’s features well enough to make an effective comparison in the first place.
    • The more of the nose a mask covers, the lower the algorithm’s accuracy. The study explored three levels of nose coverage — low, medium and high — finding that accuracy degrades with greater nose coverage.
    • While false negatives increased, false positives remained stable or modestly declined. Errors in face recognition can take the form of either a “false negative,” where the algorithm fails to match two photos of the same person, or a “false positive,” where it incorrectly indicates a match between photos of two different people. The modest decline in false positive rates show that occlusion with masks does not undermine this aspect of security.
    • The shape and color of a mask matters. Algorithm error rates were generally lower with round masks. Black masks also degraded algorithm performance in comparison to surgical blue ones, though because of time and resource constraints the team was not able to test the effect of color completely.
    • NIST explained this report
      • is the first of a series of reports on the performance of face recognition algorithms on faces occluded by protective face masks [2] commonly worn to reduce inhalation of viruses or other contaminants. This study is being run under the Ongoing Face Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT) executed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This report documents accuracy of algorithms to recognize persons wearing face masks. The results in this report apply to algorithms provided to NIST before the COVID-19 pandemic, which were developed without expectation that NIST would execute them on masked face images.
  • The United States National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) inside the White House announced the establishment of the Quantum Leap Challenges Institutes program and “$75 million for three new institutes designed to have a tangible impact in solving” problems associated with quantum information science and engineering. NSF added “Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes also form the centerpiece of NSF’s Quantum Leap, an ongoing, agency-wide effort to enable quantum systems research and development.” NSF and OSTP named the following institutes:
    • NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Present and Future Quantum Computing. Today’s quantum computing prototypes are rudimentary, error-prone, and small-scale. This institute, led by the University of California, Berkeley, plans to learn from these to design advanced, large-scale quantum computers, develop efficient algorithms for current and future quantum computing platforms, and ultimately demonstrate that quantum computers outperform even the best conceivable classical computers.
  • The United States Department of Energy (DOE) published its “Blueprint for the Quantum Internet” “that lays out a blueprint strategy for the development of a national quantum internet, bringing the United States to the forefront of the global quantum race and ushering in a new era of communications” and held an event to roll out the new document and approach. The Blueprint is part of the Administration’s effort to implement the “National Quantum Initiative Act” (P.L. 115-368), a bill “[t]o provide for a coordinated Federal program to accelerate quantum research and development for the economic and national security of the United States.” Under Secretary of Energy for Science Paul Dabbar explained in a blog post that “[t]he Blueprint lays out four priority research opportunities to make this happen:
    • Providing the foundational building blocks for Quantum Internet;
    • Integrating Quantum networking devices;
    • Creating repeating, switching, and routing technologies for Quantum entanglement;
    • Enabling error correction of Quantum networking functions.
  • The European Commission (EC) is requesting feedback until 10 September on its impact assessment for future European Union legislation on artificial intelligence (AI). The EC explained “the  overall  policy  objective  is  to  ensure  the  development  and  uptake  of lawful  and trustworthy  AI across the Single Market through the creation of an ecosystem of trust.” Earlier this year, as part of its Digital Strategy, the EC recently released a white paper earlier this year, “On Artificial Intelligence – A European approach to excellence and trust,” in which the Commission articulates its support for “a regulatory and investment oriented approach with the twin objective of promoting the uptake of AI and of addressing the risks associated with certain uses of this new technology.” The EC stated that “[t]he purpose of this White Paper is to set out policy options on how to achieve these objectives…[but] does not address the development and use of AI for military purposes.”

Further Reading

  • Google Takes Aim at Amazon. Again.” – The New York Times. For the fifth time in the last decade, Google will try to take on Amazon, in part, because the latter’s dominance in online retailing is threatening the former’s dominance in online advertising. Google is offering a suite of inducements for retailers to use its platform, Google Shopping. One wonders if Google gains traction whether Amazon would point to the competition as proof it is not engaged in anti-competitive practices to regulators.
  • Twitter’s security woes included broad access to user accounts” – Ad Age. This piece details the years long tension inside the social media giant between strengthening internal security and developing features to make more money. Not surprisingly, the latter consideration almost always trumped the former, a situation exacerbated by Twitter’s growing use of third-party contractors to handle back end functions, including security. Apparently, many contractors would spy on celebrities’ accounts, sometimes using workarounds to defeat Twitter’s security. Even though this article claims it was only contractors, one wonders if some Twitter employees were doing the same. Whatever the case, Twitter’s board has been warned about weak security for years and opted against heeding this advice, a factor that likely allowed the platform to get hacked a few weeks ago. Worse still, the incentives do not seem aligned to drive better security in the future. 
  • We’re in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. Big Tech is already preparing for the next one.” – Protocol. For people who think large technology companies have not had a prominent enough role during the current pandemic, this news will be reassuring. The Consumer Technology Association (CTA), a non-profit organized under Section 501(c)(6) of United States’ tax laws, has commenced with a “Public Health Tech Initiative” “[t]o ensure an effective public sector response to future pandemics like COVID-19.” This group “will explore and create recommendations for the use of technology in dealing with and recovering from future public health emergencies.”
  • Car Companies Want to Monitor Your Every Move With Emotion-Detecting AI” – Vice’s Motherboard. A number of companies are selling auto manufacturers on a suite of technology that could record everything that happens in your car, including facial analysis algorithms, for a variety of purposes with financial motives such as behavioral advertising, setting insurance rates, and others. The United States does not have any laws that directly regulate such practices whereas the European Union does, suggesting such technology would be deployed less in Europe.
  • Russian Intelligence Agencies Push Disinformation on Pandemic” – The New York Times. United States (US) intelligence agencies declassified and share intelligence with journalists purporting to show how Russian Federation intelligence agencies have adapted their techniques in their nonstop disinformation campaign against the US, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and others. As Facebook, Twitter, and others have grown adept at locating and removing content from obvious Russian outlets like RT and Sputnik, Russian agencies are utilizing more subtle techniques, aiming at the same goal of undermining confidence among Americans and elsewhere in the government.

© 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.

Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (22 July)

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.

Here are Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events.

Coming Events

  • On 22 July, the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee will markup a number of bills and nominations, including:
    • The nomination of Derek Kan to the Office of Management and Budget’s Deputy Director
    • The “Federal Emergency Pandemic Response Act” (S.4204)
    • The “Securing Healthcare and Response Equipment Act of 2020” (S.4210)
    • The “National Response Framework Improvement Act of 2020” (S.4153)
    • The “National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center Pandemic Modeling Act of 2020” (S.4157)
    • The “PPE Supply Chain Transparency Act of 2020” (S.4158)
    • The “REAL ID Act Modernization Act” (S.4133)
    • The “Safeguarding American Innovation Act” (S.3997)
    • The “Information Technology Modernization Centers of Excellence Program Act” (S.4200)
    • The “Telework for U.S. Innovation Act” (S.4318)
    • The “GAO Database Modernization Act” (S.____)
    • The “CFO Vision Act of 2020” (S.3287)
    • The “No Tik Tok on Government Devices Act” (S. 3455)
    • The “Cybersecurity Advisory Committee Authorization Act of 2020” (S. 4024)
  • On 23 July, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “The State of U.S. Spectrum Policy” with the following witnesses:
    • Mr. Tom Power, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, CTIA
    • Mr. Mark Gibson, Director of Business Development, CommScope
    • Dr. Roslyn Layton, Visiting Researcher, Aalborg University
    • Mr. Michael Calabrese, Director, Wireless Future Project, Open Technology Institute at New America
  • On  27 July, the House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Subcommittee will hold its sixth hearing on “Online Platforms and Market Power” titled “Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google” that will reportedly have the heads of the four companies as witnesses.
  • On 6 August, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold an open meeting to likely consider the following items:
    • C-band Auction Procedures – The Commission will consider a Public Notice that would adopt procedures for the auction of new flexible-use overlay licenses in the 3.7–3.98 GHz band (Auction 107) for 5G, the Internet of Things, and other advanced wireless services. (AU Docket No. 20-25)
    • Radio Duplication Rules – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would eliminate the radio duplication rule with regard to AM stations and retain the rule for FM stations. (MB Docket Nos. 19-310. 17-105)
    • Common Antenna Siting Rules – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would eliminate the common antenna siting rules for FM and TV broadcaster applicants and licensees. (MB Docket Nos. 19-282, 17-105)
    • Telecommunications Relay Service – The Commission will consider a Report and Order to repeal certain TRS rules that are no longer needed in light of changes in technology and voice communications services. (CG Docket No. 03-123)
    • Inmate Calling Services – The Commission will consider a Report and Order on Remand and a Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would respond to remands by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and propose to comprehensively reform rates and charges for the inmate calling services within the Commission’s jurisdiction.  (WC Docket No. 12-375)

Other Developments

  • Acting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Russell Vought was confirmed by the Senate by a 51-45 vote. OMB has been without a Senate-confirmed Director since Mick Mulvaney resigned at the end of March, but he was named acting White House Chief of Staff in January 2019, resulting in Vought serving as the acting OMB head since that time.
  • Former Vice President and Democratic candidate for President Joe Biden issued a statement on Russian interference with the 2020 election that laid out his plan to respond and retaliate against these ongoing activities. His very high-level plan is a list of currently used methods of combatting cyber-attacks, much of which he would be able to undertake without Congressional assent. Biden contended “[d]espite the exposure of Russia’s malign activities by the U.S. Intelligence Community, law enforcement agencies, and bipartisan Congressional committees, the Kremlin has not halted its efforts to interfere in our democracy.” Biden said “[i]n spite of President [Donald] Trump’s failure to act, America’s adversaries must not misjudge the resolve of the American people to counter every effort by a foreign power to interfere in our democracy, whether by hacking voting systems and databases, laundering money into our political system, systematically spreading disinformation, or trying to sow doubt about the integrity of our elections.” He vowed:
    • If elected president, I will treat foreign interference in our election as an adversarial act that significantly affects the relationship between the United States and the interfering nation’s government.
    • I will direct the U.S. Intelligence Community to report publicly and in a timely manner on any efforts by foreign governments that have interfered, or attempted to interfere, with U.S. elections.
    • I will direct my administration to leverage all appropriate instruments of national power and make full use of my executive authority to impose substantial and lasting costs on state perpetrators.
    • These costs could include financial-sector sanctions, asset freezes, cyber responses, and the exposure of corruption.
    • A range of other actions could also be taken, depending on the nature of the attack.
    • I will direct our response at a time and in a manner of our choosing.
    • In addition, I will take action where needed to stop attempts to interfere with U.S. elections before they can impact our democratic processes.
    • In particular, I will direct and resource the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Department of State, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Foreign Interference Task Force to develop plans for disrupting foreign threats to our elections process.
    • This will be done, wherever possible, in coordination with our allies and partners, so that we are isolating the regimes that seek to undermine democracies and civil liberties.
  • Top Democrats in Congress have written the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) requesting “a defensive counterintelligence briefing to all Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate regarding foreign efforts to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Mark Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray in which they claimed “that Congress appears to be the target of a concerted foreign interference campaign, which seeks to launder and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity, public debate, and the presidential election in November.”
  • District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine (D) has inserted himself into the struggle raging over the Trump Administration’s remaking of the United States (US) Agency for Global Media (USAGM), in part, by installing Michael Pack as the head of USAGM. He filed suit “to resolve a dispute between two dueling Boards of Directors that has paralyzed the Open Technology Fund (OTF), a District nonprofit…which supports encryption and anti-censorship tools for people living in repressive societies…an independent nonprofit corporation organized and created under District law that receives grant funding from the USAGM” per his press release. Racine claimed:
    • The USAGM CEO does not have authority over OTF’s Board or officers: OTF is an independent D.C. nonprofit corporation, which governs itself under local law and under its own bylaws. While USAGM provides grant funding for OTF’s work, it does not have authority over OTF’s governance. OAG asserts that OTF’s bylaws are clear and that only the organization’s Board of Directors—not USAGM, its leadership, or any other body—has the authority to appoint or remove OTF directors.
    • Dueling Boards have paralyzed OTF: Two Boards are currently claiming authority over OTF, and without clarity as to which Board is properly in place, the organization is effectively leaderless. It is also unable to authorize decisions necessary for carrying out its functions, including decisions to authorize funding partner organizations have already been promised, and decisions related to potential new partnership. The leadership crisis has also left employees of the organization at risk of losing their jobs.
    • The original Board of Directors is the valid Board: OAG asserts that because Pack did not have authority under either District law or OTF’s bylaws to dismiss OTF’s Board of Directors, the Court should recognize OTF’s original Board as valid.
    • Any actions taken on behalf of OTF by Michael Pack or his replacement Board should be voided: Michael Pack did not have authority as USAGM CEO to dismiss or appoint Directors on behalf of OTF. As a result, any actions Pack or the replacement Board have taken on behalf of OTF should be invalidated.
  • The Department of Commerce’s (DOC) Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has announced further action against entities from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by adding “to the Entity List 11 Chinese companies implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of the PRC’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor, involuntary collection of biometric data, and genetic analyses targeted at Muslim minority groups from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR)” according to the agency’s press release. DOC claimed “[t]oday’s action will result in these companies facing new restrictions on access to U.S.-origin items, including commodities and technology…[and] will supplement BIS’s two tranches of Entity List designations in October 2019 and June 2020, actions that together added 37 parties engaged in or enabling PRC’s repression in Xinjiang.”

Further Reading

  • Google Promises Privacy With Virus App but Can Still Collect Location Data” – The New York Times. Google’s version of the contact racing app developed with Apple has a feature the other company does not: it prompts users to turn on the Android device’s location setting. This feature would seem to be contrary to the claims made by Google and Apple that their Bluetooth tracing system does not collect sensitive location data. In fact, the companies refused to request of the governments of the United Kingdom and France, among others, to change settings on their smartphones to allow for centralized information collection on possible COVID-19 transmission. A number of European nations have pressed Google to remove this feature, and a Google spokesperson claimed the Android Bluetooth tracing capability did not use location services, begging the question why the prompt appears.
  • Inside the Federal Trade Commission’s Facebook probe” – Axios. The anonymous sources inside the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cautioning that the agency will not likely pursue an anti-trust action against Facebook before next year may be part of an inner-agency quarrel slowing down the inquiry. Allegedly, the FTC’s Bureau of Competition and its Office of Policy Planning are at odds over the drafting of guidance that will govern the Facebook and other anti-trust investigations. The latter wants to keep the current standards of harm to consumers in terms of price changes, which the former thinks are inapplicable in the provision of free services. How this struggle plays out may well inform the agency’s approach to Facebook and other tech companies.
  • Beware the ‘But China’ Excuses” – The New York Times. This article cautions people from putting too much stock in the claims by the Trump Administration and technology companies that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the seeming threat they say it is. If the PRC is such a threat, the United States might consider investing more in basic research and development (R&D) and in some critical tech sectors to develop and build their products in the US. Also the notion advanced by some tech sector CEOs that breaking up the tech giants will ultimately benefit PRC competitors is scrutinized.
  • DHS Authorizes Domestic Surveillance to Protect Statues and Monuments” – Lawfare. One of my law school professors and a colleague examine a Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Intelligence & Analysis (I&A) that authorizes intelligence and information collection on those who present threats to monuments, memorials, and statues that seems like a Trojan Horse by which DHS could surveil and mobilize protestors in the streets of American cities. The surveillance cannot be electronic surveillance, but then DHS could ask a sister agency to conduct such activity if needed.
  • Two more cyber-attacks hit Israel’s water system” – ZDNet. It appears Iran has responded to Israel’s cyber attacks that led to a number of problems at facilities in Tehran. This is the latest in an ongoing battle between the two Middle Eastern enemies that may escalate further.

© 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.

Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (21 July)

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.

Here are Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events.

Coming Events

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will hold its fifth annual PrivacyCon on 21 July and has released its agenda.
  • On 22 July, the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee will markup a number of bills and nominations, including:
    • The nomination of Derek Kan to the Office of Management and Budget’s Deputy Director
    • The “Federal Emergency Pandemic Response Act” (S.4204)
    • The “Securing Healthcare and Response Equipment Act of 2020” (S.4210)
    • The “National Response Framework Improvement Act of 2020” (S.4153)
    • The “National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center Pandemic Modeling Act of 2020” (S.4157)
    • The “PPE Supply Chain Transparency Act of 2020” (S.4158)
    • The “REAL ID Act Modernization Act” (S.4133)
    • The “Safeguarding American Innovation Act” (S.3997)
    • The “Information Technology Modernization Centers of Excellence Program Act” (S.4200)
    • The “Telework for U.S. Innovation Act” (S.4318)
    • The “GAO Database Modernization Act” (S.____)
    • The “CFO Vision Act of 2020” (S.3287)
    • The “No Tik Tok on Government Devices Act” (S. 3455)
    • The “Cybersecurity Advisory Committee Authorization Act of 2020” (S. 4024)
  • On 23 July, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “The State of U.S. Spectrum Policy” with the following witnesses:
    • Mr. Tom Power, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, CTIA
    • Mr. Mark Gibson, Director of Business Development, CommScope
    • Dr. Roslyn Layton, Visiting Researcher, Aalborg University
    • Mr. Michael Calabrese, Director, Wireless Future Project, Open Technology Institute at New America
  • On  27 July, the House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Subcommittee will hold its sixth hearing on “Online Platforms and Market Power” titled “Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google” that will reportedly have the heads of the four companies as witnesses.
  • On 6 August, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold an open meeting to likely consider the following items:
    • C-band Auction Procedures – The Commission will consider a Public Notice that would adopt procedures for the auction of new flexible-use overlay licenses in the 3.7–3.98 GHz band (Auction 107) for 5G, the Internet of Things, and other advanced wireless services. (AU Docket No. 20-25)
    • Radio Duplication Rules – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would eliminate the radio duplication rule with regard to AM stations and retain the rule for FM stations. (MB Docket Nos. 19-310. 17-105)
    • Common Antenna Siting Rules – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would eliminate the common antenna siting rules for FM and TV broadcaster applicants and licensees. (MB Docket Nos. 19-282, 17-105)
    • Telecommunications Relay Service – The Commission will consider a Report and Order to repeal certain TRS rules that are no longer needed in light of changes in technology and voice communications services. (CG Docket No. 03-123)
    • Inmate Calling Services – The Commission will consider a Report and Order on Remand and a Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would respond to remands by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and propose to comprehensively reform rates and charges for the inmate calling services within the Commission’s jurisdiction.  (WC Docket No. 12-375)

Other Developments

  • A United States court has denied a motion by an Israeli technology company to dismiss an American tech giant’s suit that the former infected its messaging system with malware for purposes of espionage and harassment. In October 2019, WhatsApp and Facebook filed suit against the Israeli security firm, NSO Group, alleging that in April 2019, it sent “malware to approximately 1,400 mobile phones and devices…designed to infect the Target Devices for the purpose of conducting surveillance of specific WhatsApp users.” This step was taken, Facebook and WhatsApp claim, in order to circumvent WhatApp’s end-to-end encryption. The social media companies are suing “for injunctive relief and damages pursuant to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030, and the California Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act, California Penal Code § 502, and for breach of contract and trespass to chattels.” In the District Court’s ruling from last week, it rejected the NSO Group’s claims that it deserved sovereign immunity from the lawsuit because it was working for sovereign governments among others and will allow WhatsApp and Facebook to proceed with their suit.
  • The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) published a report “on how EU institutions, bodies and agencies (EUIs) carry out Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs) when processing information that presents a high risk to the rights and freedom of natural persons” according to the EDPS’ press release. The EDPS detailed its lessons learned, suggestions on how EU institutions could execute better DPIAs, and additional guidance on how DPIAs should be performed in the future.
  • The Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe rendered his opinion in case concerning the possible lability of YouTube and Uploaded for a user posting copyrighted materials without the consent of the owners. In a CJEU summary, Øe found “as EU law currently stands, online platform operators, such as YouTube and Uploaded, are not directly liable for the illegal uploading of protected works by the users of those platforms.” Øe noted that “Directive  2019/790 on  copyright  and  related rights  in  the  Digital  Single  Market introduces, for online platform operators such as YouTube, a new liability regime specific to works illegally uploaded by  the  users  of  such  platforms….which  must  be  transposed  by  each Member State into its national law by 7 June 2021at the latest, requires, inter alia, those operators to obtain an authorisation from the rightholders, for example by concluding a licensing agreement, for the works uploaded by users of their platforms.” The Advocate General’s decisions are not binding but work to inform the CJEU as it decides cases, but it is not uncommon for the CJEU to incorporate the Advocate General’s findings in their decisions.
  • The United Kingdom’s Parliament’s House of Lords’ Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies released its report regarding “a pandemic of ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’…[that] [i]f allowed to flourish these counterfeit truths will result in the collapse of public trust, and without trust democracy as we know it will simply decline into irrelevance.” The committee explained the report “addresses a number of concerns, including the urgent case for reform of electoral law and our overwhelming need to become a digitally literate society” including “forty-five  recommendations  which,  taken  together,  we  believe could serve as a useful response to a whole series of concerns.”
  • Belgium’s data protection authority, the Autorité de protection des données, has fined Google €600,000 for violations related to the company’s failure to heed the right to be forgotten as enforced under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released two crosswalks undertaken by outside entities comparing the NIST Privacy Framework: A Tool for Improving Privacy through Enterprise Risk Management to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and ISO/IEC 27701, private sector privacy guidance:
    • The Enterprivacy Consulting Group’s crosswalk for the GDPR-Regulation 2016/679.
  • Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) sent Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey a second letter regarding the Twitter hack and asserted:
    • [R]eports also indicate that screenshots of Twitter’s internal tools have been circulating within the hacking community. One such screenshot indicates that Twitter employs tools allowing it to append “Search Blacklist,” “Trends Blacklist,” “Bounced,” and “ReadOnly” flags to user accounts. Given your insistence in testimony to Congress that Twitter does not engage in politically biased “shadowbanning” and the public interest in Twitter’s moderation practices, it is notable that Twitter reportedly suspended user accounts sharing screenshots of this panel.
    • Hawley posed a series of questions seeking to root out a bias against conservative viewpoints on the platform, a frequently leveled charge.
  • The Ranking Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, House Energy and Commerce Committee, and House Financial Services Committee wrote President Donald Trump to “encourage you to consider utilizing your ability under existing authorities to sanction PRC-linked hackers” for “targeting U.S. institutions and “attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property (IP) and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research.” In a May unclassified public service announcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and CISA named the People’s Republic of China as a nation waging a cyber campaign against U.S. COVID-19 researchers. The agencies stated they “are issuing this announcement to raise awareness of the threat to COVID-19-related research.” Last week, The United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Canada’s Communications  Security Establishment (CSE), United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) and the United States’ Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security  Agency (CISA) issued a joint advisory on a Russian hacking organization’s efforts have “targeted various organisations involved in COVID-19 vaccine development in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, highly likely with the intention of stealing information and intellectual property relating to the development and testing of COVID-19 vaccines.”

Further Reading

  • Twitter’s security holes are now the nation’s problem“ – Politico; “Twitter hack triggers investigations and lawmaker concerns” – The Washington Post; “Hackers Convinced Twitter Employee to Help Them Hijack Accounts” – Vice’s Motherboard; “Twitter Struggles to Unpack a Hack Within Its Walls” and “Hackers Tell the Story of the Twitter Attack From the Inside” – The New York Times. After the hacking last week that took over a number of high profile people’s accounts (e.g. Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, etc.), policymakers in Washington are pressing Twitter for explanations and remediation to prevent any such future attacks, especially in the run up to the 2020 election. Reportedly, a group of hackers looking to push a Bitcoin scam took over accounts of famous people and then made it appear they were selling Bitcoin. Republicans and Democrats in the United States’ capital are alarmed that such a hack by another nation could throw the country and world into chaos. One media outlet is reporting the hackers provided proof they bribed a Twitter employee with access to administrative credentials to pull off the hack. Another is reporting that a hacker got into Twitter’s Slack channel where the credentials were posted. Nonetheless, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has opened an inquiry. It is unclear whether the hackers accessed people’s DM’s, and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) noted he has secured a commitment from the company in 2018 to use encryption to secure DMs that has not yet been implemented. The company will have to answer more tough questions at a time when it is in the crosshairs of the rump Administration for alleged abuses of 47 U.S.C. 230 in stifling conservative viewpoints after the platform fact checked the President and has taken down a range of accounts. And, of course, working in the background is the company’s 2011 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in which the agency claimed Twitter violated the FTC Act by “engag[ing] in a number of practices that, taken together, failed to provide reasonable and appropriate security to: prevent unauthorized access to nonpublic user information and honor the privacy choices exercised by its users in designating certain tweets as nonpublic…[and by] fail[ing] to prevent unauthorized administrative control of the Twitter system.” If the agency investigates and finds similar misconduct, they could seek sizeable monetary damages in federal court.
  • F.T.C.’s Facebook Investigation May Stretch Past Election” – The New York Times. Even though media accounts say the United States Department of Justice will bring an antitrust action against Google possibly as early as this month, it now appears the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will not be bringing a case against Facebook until next year. It appears the agency is weighing whether it should depose CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg and has made additional rounds of document requests, all of which has reportedly slowed down the investigation. Of course, should the investigation stretch into next year, a President Joe Biden could designate a new chair of the agency, which could change the scope and tenor of the investigation.
  • New Emails Reveal Warm Relationship Between Kamala Harris And Big Tech” – HuffPost. Obtained via an Freedom of Information request, new email from Senator Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) tenure as her state’s attorney general suggest she was willing to overlook the role Facebook, Google, and others played and still play in one of her signature issues: revenge porn. This article makes the case Harris came down hard on a scammer running a revenge porn site but did not press the tech giants with any vigor to take down such material from their platforms. Consequently, the case is made if Harris is former Vice President Joe Biden’s vice presidential candidate, this would signal a go easy approach on large companies even though many Democrats have been calling to break up these companies and vigorously enforce antitrust laws. Harris has largely not engaged on tech issues during her tenure in the Senate. To be fair, many of these companies are headquartered in California and pump billions of dollars into the state’s economy annually, putting Harris in a tricky position politically. Of course, such pieces should be taken with a grain of salt since it may have been suggested or planted by one of Harris’ rivals for the vice president nomination or someone looking to settle a score.
  • Inside Big Tech’s Years-Long Manipulation Of American Op-Ed Pages” – Big Technology from Alan Krantowitz. To no great surprise, large technology companies have adopted a widely used tactic of getting someone sympathetic to “write” an op-ed for a local newspaper to show it is not just big companies pushing for a policy. In this case, it was, and likely still is, the argument against breaking up the tech giants or regulating them more closely. In one case, it is not clear the person who allegedly “wrote” the article actually even knew about it.
  • Trump campaign pushes Facebook ads bashing TikTok” – CNN. The White House is using new means to argue TikTok poses a threat to Americans and national security: advertisements on Facebook by the Trump campaign. The ads repeated the same basic message that has been coming out of the White House that TikTok has been denying: that the app collects and sends user sensitive user data to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Another wrinkle TikTok pointed to is that Facebook is readying a competitor, Instagram Reels, set to be unveiled as early as this week.

© 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 Produtora Midtrack from Pexels

Further Reading and Other Developments (29 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 Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held an oversight hearing on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with the FCC Chair and four Commissioners.
  • New Zealand’s Parliament passed the “Privacy Act 2020,” a major update of its 1993 statute that would, according to New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner, do the following:
    • Mandatory notification of harmful privacy breaches. If organisations or businesses have a privacy breach that poses a risk of serious harm, they are required to notify the Privacy Commissioner and affected parties. This change brings New Zealand in line with international best practice.
    • Introduction of compliance orders. The Commissioner may issue compliance notices to require compliance with the Privacy Act. Failure to follow a compliance notice could result a fine of up to $10,000.
    • Binding access determinations. If an organisation or business refuses to make personal information available upon request, the Commissioner will have the power to demand release.
    • Controls on the disclosure of information overseas. Before disclosing New Zealanders’ personal information overseas, New Zealand organisations or businesses will need to ensure those overseas entities have similar levels of privacy protection to those in New Zealand.
    • New criminal offences. It will be an offence to mislead an organisation or business in a way that affects someone’s personal information or to destroy personal information if a request has been made for it.  The maximum fine for these offences is $10,000.
    • Explicit application to businesses whether or not they have a legal or physical presence in New Zealand. If an international digital platform is carrying on business in New Zealand, with the New Zealanders’ personal information, there will be no question that they will be obliged to comply with New Zealand law regardless of where they, or their servers are based.
  • The United States’ National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) submitted its annual report to the White House and found:
    • Our Government’s ability to protect and share Classified National Security Information and Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) continues to present serious challenges to our national security. While dozens of agencies now use various advanced technologies to accomplish their missions, a majority of them still rely on antiquated information security management practices. These practices have not kept pace with the volume of digital data that agencies create and these problems will worsen if we do not revamp our data collection methods for overseeing information security programs across the Government. We must collect and analyze data that more accurately reflects the true health of these programs in the digital age.
    • However, ISOO noted progress on efforts to better secure and protect CUI but added “[f]ull implementation will require additional resources, including dedicated funds and more full-time staff.”
    • Regarding classified information, ISOO found “Classified National Security Information policies and practices remain outdated and are unable to keep pace with the volume of digital data that agencies create.”
  • The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre released its most recent “Covid-19 Disinformation & Social Media Manipulation” report titled “ID2020, Bill Gates and the Mark of the Beast: how Covid-19catalyses existing online conspiracy movements:”
    • Against the backdrop of the global Covid-19 pandemic, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has become the subject of a diverse and rapidly expanding universe of conspiracy theories. As an example, a recent poll found that 44% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats in the US now believe that Gates is linked to a plot to use vaccinations as a pretext to implant microchips into people. And it’s not just America: 13% of Australians believe that Bill Gates played a role in the creation and spread of the coronavirus, and among young Australians it’s 20%. Protests around the world, from Germany to Melbourne, have included anti-Gates chants and slogans.
    • This report takes a close look at a particular variant of the Gates conspiracy theories, which is referred to here as the ID2020 conspiracy (named after the non-profit ID2020 Alliance, which the conspiracy theorists claim has a role in the narrative), as a case study for examining the dynamics of online conspiracy theories on Covid-19. Like many conspiracy theories, that narrative builds on legitimate concerns, in this case about privacy and surveillance in the context of digital identity systems, and distorts them in extreme and unfounded ways.
  • The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) released “TOP CHALLENGES FACING FEDERAL AGENCIES:  COVID-19 Emergency Relief and Response Efforts” for those agencies that received the bulk of funds under the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act” (P.L. 116-136). PRAC is housed within the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) is comprised of “21 Offices of Inspector General (OIG) overseeing agencies who received the bulk of the emergency funding.” PRAC stated
    • CIGIE previously has identified information technology (IT) security and management as a long-standing, serious, and ubiquitous challenge that impacts agencies across the government, highlighting agencies’ dependence on reliable and secure IT systems to perform their mission-critical functions.  Key areas of concern have included safeguarding federal systems against cyberattacks and insider threats, modernizing and managing federal IT systems, ensuring continuity of operations, and recruiting and retaining a highly skilled cybersecurity workforce.  
    • These concerns remain a significant challenge, but are impacted by (1) widespread reliance on maximum telework to continue agency operations during the pandemic, which has strained agency networks and shifted IT resources, and (2) additional opportunities and targets for cyberattacks created by remote access to networks and increases in online financial activity.
  • Following the completion of a European Union-People’s Republic of China summit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pointed to a number of ongoing technology-related issues between the EU and the PRC, including:
    • [W]e continue to have an unbalanced trade and investment relationship. We have not made the progress we aimed for in last year’s Summit statement in addressing market access barriers. We need to follow up on these commitments urgently. And we also need to have more ambition on the Chinese side in order to conclude negotiations on an investment agreement. These two actions would address the asymmetry in our respective market access and would improve the level playing field between us. In order to conclude the investment agreement, we would need in particular substantial commitments from China on the behaviour of state-owned enterprises, transparency in subsidies, and transparency on the topic of forced technology transfers.
    • We have raised these issues at the same time with President Xi and Premier Li that we expect that China will show the necessary level of ambition to conclude these negotiations by the end of this year. I think it is important that we have now a political, high-level approach on these topics.
    • I have also made it clear that China needs to engage seriously on a reform of the World Trade Organization, in particular on the future negotiations on industrial subsidies. This is the relevant framework where we have to work together on the topic – and it is a difficult topic – but this is the framework, which we have to establish to have common binding rules we agree on.
    • And we must continue to work on tackling Chinese overcapacity, for example in the steel and metal sectors, and in high technology. Here for us it is important that China comes back to the international negotiation table, that we sit down there and find solutions.
    • We also pointed out the importance of the digital transformation and its highly assertive approach to the security, the resilience and the stability of digital networks, systems and value chains. We have seen cyberattacks on hospitals and dedicated computing centres. Likewise, we have seen a rise of online disinformation. We pointed out clearly that this cannot be tolerated.
  • United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement titled “The Tide Is Turning Toward Trusted 5G Vendors,” in which he claimed:
    • The tide is turning against Huawei as citizens around the world are waking up to the danger of the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state. Huawei’s deals with telecommunications operators around the world are evaporating, because countries are only allowing trusted vendors in their 5G networks. Examples include the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden, Estonia, Romania, Denmark, and Latvia. Recently, Greece agreed to use Ericsson rather than Huawei to develop its 5G infrastructure.
  • Germany’s highest court, the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), ruled against Facebook’s claim that the country’s antitrust regulator was wrong in its finding that it was abusing its dominant position in combining data on German nationals and residents across its platforms. Now the matter will go down to a lower German court that is expected to heed the higher court’s ruling and allow the Bundeskartellamt’s restrictions to limit Facebook’s activity.
  • France’s Conseil d’État upheld the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés’ (CNIL) 2019 fine of €50 million of Google under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) “for lack of transparency, inadequate information and lack of valid consent regarding the ads personalization.”
  • A Virginia court ruled against House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-CA) in his suit against Twitter and Liz Mair, a Republican consultant, and Twitter accounts @devincow and @DevinNunesMom regarding alleged defamation.
  • The California Secretary of State has listed the ballot initiative to add the “California Privacy Rights Act” to the state’s law, in large part, to amend the “California Consumer privacy Act” (CCPA) (AB 375) as having qualified for November’s ballot.

Further Reading

  • Wrongfully Accused by an Algorithm” – The New York Times. In what should have been predictable and foreseeable given the error rate of many facial recognition algorithms at identifying correctly people of color, an African American was wrongly identified by this technology, causing him to be released. Those in the field and experts stress positive identifications are supposed to only be one piece of evidence, but in this case, it was the only evidence police had. After a store loss specialists agreed a person in low grade photo was the likely shoplifter, police arrested the man. Eventually, the charges were dismissed, initially with prejudice leaving open the possibility of future prosecution but later the district attorney cleared all charges and expunged the arrest.
  • Pentagon Says it Needs ‘More Time’ Fixing JEDI Contract“ – Nextgov. The saga of the Department of Defense’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud contract continues. Amazon and Microsoft will need to submit revised bids for the possibly $10 billion procurement as the Department of Defense (DOD) is trying to cure the problems turned up by a federal court in the suit brought by Amazon. These bids would be evaluated later this summer, according to a recent DOD court filing. The next award of this contract could trigger another bid protest just as the first award caused Amazon to challenge Microsoft’s victory.
  • EU pushing ahead with digital tax despite U.S. resistance, top official says” – Politico. In an Atlantic Council event, European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager stated the European Union will move ahead with an EU-wide digital services tax despite the recent pullout of the United States from talks on such a tax. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development had convened multi-lateral talks to resolve differences on how a global digital services tax will ideally function with most of the nations involved arguing for a 2% tax to be assessed in the nation where the transaction occurs as opposed to where the company is headquartered. EU officials claim agreement was within reach when the US removed itself from the talks. An EU-wide tax is of a piece with a more aggressive stance taken by the EU towards US technology companies, a number of which are currently under investigation for antitrust and anti-competitive behaviors.
  • Verizon joins ad boycott of Facebook over hateful content” – Associated Press. The telecommunications company joined a number of other companies in pulling their advertising from Facebook organized by the ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), the NAACP, Sleeping Giants, Color Of Change, Free Press and Common Sense. The #StopHateforProfit “asks large Facebook advertisers to show they will not support a company that puts profit over safety,” and thus far, a number of companies are doing just that, including Eddie Bauer, Patagonia, North Face, Ben & Jerry’s, and others. In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson stated “[o]ur conversations with marketers and civil rights organizations are about how, together, we can be a force for good.” While Facebook has changed course due to this and other pressure regarding content posted or ads placed on its platform by most recently removing a Trump campaign ad with Nazi imagery, the company has not changed its position on allowing political ads with lies.
  • The UK’s contact tracing app fiasco is a master class in mismanagement” – MIT Technology Review. This after-action report on the United Kingdom’s National Health Service’s efforts to build its own COVID-19 contact tracing app is grim. The NHS is basically scrapping its work and opting for the Google/Apple API. However, the government in London is claiming “we will now be taking forward a solution that brings together the work on our app and the Google/Apple solution.” A far too ambitious plan married to organizational chaos led to the crash of the NHS effort.
  • Trump administration sees no loophole in new Huawei curb” – Reuters. Despite repeated arguments by trade experts the most recent United States Department of Commerce regulations on Huawei will not cut off access to high technology components, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross claimed “[t]he Department of Commerce does not see any loopholes in this rule…[and] [w]e reaffirm that we will implement the rule aggressively and pursue any attempt to evade its intent.”
  • Defense Department produces list of Chinese military-linked companies” – Axios. Likely in response to a letter sent last year by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), the Department of Defense has finally fulfilled a requirement in the FY 1999 National Defense Authorization Act to update a list of “those persons operating directly or indirectly in the United States or any of its territories and possessions that are Communist Chinese military companies.” The DOD has complied and compiled a list of People’s Republic of China (PRC) entities linked to the PRC military. This provision in the FY 1999 NDAA also grants the President authority to “exercise International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) authorities” against listed entities, which could include serious sanctions.
  • Andrew Yang is pushing Big Tech to pay users for data” – The Verge. Former candidate for the nomination of the Democratic Party for President Andrew Yang has stated the Data Dividend Project, “a movement dedicated to taking back control of our personal data: our data is our property, and if we allow companies to use it, we should get paid for it.” Additionally, “[i]ts primary objective is to establish and enforce data property rights under laws such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which went into effect on January 1, 2020.” California Governor Gavin Newsom proposed a similar program in very vague terms in a State of California speech but never followed up on it, and Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) has introduced the “Own Your Own Data Act” (S. 806) to provide people with rights to sell their personal data.

© 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 Retha Ferguson from Pexels

Republicans Boycott Hearing on Online Foreign Influence Operations

Despite the minority abstaining from the hearing, one of the committees in the House with jurisdiction over online matters continued its inquiry into influence campaigns in the context of the coming election.

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.

On 18 June, the House Intelligence Committee held a hearing titled “Emerging Trends in Online Foreign Influence Operations: Social Media, COVID-19, and Election Security” with witnesses from Facebook, Twitter, and Google. This is a follow up to a 2017 hearing to examine the three social media giants’ roles in amplifying or preventing online influence campaigns. The Committee Republicans opted against participating altogether, the second hearing they have boycotted this year.

By way of explanation for the boycott, Committee Member Representative Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) claimed in a 19 June interview on Fox News that the hearing was “just one more step in…Schiff’s playbook to politicize things, to split us further apart, and to use it for some type of political gain.” Wenstrup added

Although this may not be classified material, it is also a chance for our adversaries to understand what steps we are taking to try and stop them from foreign influence. You know, on the Intelligence Committee, we deal with sensitive secrets. We should be operating in a secure facility. And, we should not be in an environment where we are online.

In his opening statement at the hearing, Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) stated

Today’s important conversation is essential to our oversight of how the Intelligence Community and Nation are working to keep our elections and political discourse from foreign interference. I had hoped it would be a bipartisan discussion. Unfortunately, and without reason or justification, our Republican colleagues once again have decided to absent themselves from the work of the committee. I repeat my hope that they will reconsider this ill-considered path and join us for future hearings.

Schiff stated

  • This is the second hearing of the House Intelligence Committee held with witnesses from Google, Facebook, and Twitter. The first was in November 2017, where we continued to piece together the full breadth of the Russian attack on our democracy one year earlier and inform the public about what we had found. It was a breathtaking and audacious attack that took place on several fronts, including social media platforms used daily by millions of Americans. Through subsequent disclosures by the technology companies, Department of Justice, and this committee, the world learned that Russia’s Internet Research Agency undertook a determined effort to use social media to divide Americans in advance of the 2016 election. These IRA trolls took to a broad array of platforms to launch a sophisticated and pernicious campaign that exploited wedge issues already challenging our Nation, such as immigration, the Second Amendment, race relations, and other issues. Today’s hearing is not intended to look back at 2016 as much as it is to look forward.
  • Election day is a mere five months away, and malicious actors, including Russia but also others, persist in attempts to interfere in our political system in order to gain an advantage against our country and to undermine our most precious right: that to a free and fair vote.  
  • We are holding this hearing and we engage regularly with tech and social media companies because they are arguably best positioned to sound the alarm if and when another external actor attempts to interfere in our democratic discourse, first, because their technical capacity and security acumen allows them to detect malicious activity on their platforms and make attributions through technical indicators that are available only to the companies themselves, and, second, because we cannot have complete confidence that the White House will allow the Intelligence Community to look fully and promptly inform Congress if it detects foreign interference, especially if that interference appears to assist the President’s reelection.
  • That is a dangerous and  unprecedented state of affairs, but, nonetheless, it reflects the reality and why this hearing is so important.
  • To the witnesses: As you describe in your respective written statements, a lot has changed since 2016. In many ways, we are better prepared today than we were four years ago. Each of your companies have taken significant steps and invested resources to detect coordinated inauthentic behavior and foreign interference, and, while there cannot be a guarantee, it would be far more difficult for Russia or another foreign adversary to run the same 2016 playbook undetected.
  • Both Facebook and Twitter now regularly update the public, the committee, and Congress on their findings as they identify and disrupt coordinated inauthentic behavior and foreign interference targeting the United States and other nations globally. U.S. Government agencies with a responsibility to unearth and fight foreign interference coordinate and meet regularly with technology companies and with us.
  • The companies themselves have established mechanisms to share threat information and indicators, both among themselves and with smaller industry peers. Independent researchers have taken up the mantle in cooperation with platforms to apply their skills and knowledge to detecting and analyzing malicious networks and comprehensive public reports.
  • These are positive developments, but, as I look across the landscape, I can’t say that I am confident that the 2020 election will be free of interference by malicious actors, foreign or domestic, who aspire to weaponize your platforms to divide Americans, pit us against one another, and weaken our democracy.
  • We are learning, but our adversaries are also learning as well, and not only Russia. Modest investments in the IRA and the hacking-and-dumping campaign aimed at the Clinton campaign paid off in spades, helping to elect the Kremlin’s favorite candidate and widening fissures between Americans, the lesson being: Influence operations on social media are cheap and effective, and attribution to specific threat actors isn’t always straightforward.

Schiff added

  • While each of your platforms has begun to adopt policies around deepfakes and manipulated media, it remains to be seen whether they are sufficient to detect and remove sinister manipulated media at speed. For once a visceral first impression has been made, even if proven false later, it is nearly impossible to repair the damage.
  • I am also concerned because the nature of your platforms, all of them, is to embrace and monetize virtuality and virality. The more sensational, the more divisive, the more shocking or emotionally charged, the faster it circulates. A tweet or Instagram photo or a YouTube video can be viewed by millions of Americans in the span of hours.
  • A policy that only identifies and acts upon misinformation, whether from a foreign or domestic source, after millions of people have seen it is only a partial response at best. I recognize that, at scale, the challenge of moderation is daunting.
  • As we get closer to November, the stakes will only grow. And make no mistake: Foreign actors and Presidents alike are testing the limits of manipulated media right now. And, finally, I am concerned because of an issue that I raised back in 2017 and repeatedly since.
  • I am concerned about whether social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and others wittingly or otherwise optimize for extreme content. These technologies are designed to engage users and keep them coming back, which is pushing us further apart and isolating Americans into information silos.
  • Ultimately, the best and only corrective measure to address the pernicious problem of misinformation and foreign interference is ensuring that credible, verified, factual information rises above the polluting disinformation and falsehoods, whether about the location of polling places or about the medical consensus surrounding COVID-19.

Facebook Head of Security Policy Nathaniel Gleicher stated

  • Over the past 3years, we have worked to protect more than 200 elections around the world. We have learned lessons from each of these, and we are applying these lessons to protect the 2020 election in November.  
  • We have taken a variety of steps to support the integrity and security of the electoral process, including: launching Facebook Protect, a program that helps secure the accounts of elected officials, candidates, and their staff; increasing political and issue ad transparency; investigating and stopping coordinated inauthentic behavior –we have removed more than 50 deceptive networks in 2019 alone –and labeling posts by state-controlled media outlets so that people understand where their news is coming from.  
  • Yesterday, we began blocking ads in the United States from these state-controlled outlets to provide an extra layer of protection against foreign influence in the public debate ahead of the 2020 election in November.  
  • In addition, we know that misinformation and influence operations are at their most virulent in information vacuums.   
  • So we combine our enforcement efforts with ensuring that people can access authentic, accurate information about major civic moments, like this global pandemic or voting.   
  • This is why we are creating a new Voter Information Center to fight misinformation, to encourage people to vote, and to make voters have accurate and up-to-date information from their local, State, and Federal election authorities.

Twitter Director of Global Public Policy Strategy and Development Nick Pickles asserted

  • The threat of an interference in elections by foreign and domestic actors is real and evolving.   
  • Since 2016, we have made a number of significant investments to address these challenges and prepare against bad actors, taking lessons from the 2018 midterms and elections around the world.   I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss our approach today, and I will begin by focusing on the policies, product changes, and partnerships Twitter now has in place.
  • The Twitter rules directly address a number of potential threats to the integrity of elections.   Under our civic integrity policy, individuals may not use Twitter for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes. This includes posting or sharing content that may suppress participation or mislead people about when, where, or how to participate in a civic process.   
  • We recently expanded this policy to cover civic events–for example, the Census–in addition to elections. We prohibit the use of Twitter services in a manner that intends to artificially amplify or suppress the conversation. Our rules prohibit fake accounts and those impersonating others. We do not permit the distribution of hacked materials that contain private information, trade secrets, or could put people in harm’s way.  
  • In addition to these new rules, Twitter’s advertising policies also play an important part in protecting the public conversation.  
  • Firstly, Twitter does not allow political advertising. Online political advertising represents entirely new challenges to civic discourse that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle, particularly the machine-learning-based optimization of messaging and microtargeting.
  • Secondly, Twitter does not allow news media entities controlled by state authorities to advertise.    This decision was initially taken with regard to Russia Today and Sputnik based on the Russian activities during the 2016 election. Last year, we expanded this policy to cover all state-controlled media entities globally, in addition to individuals who were affiliated with those organizations. While our policies are vital to protect the conversation, we also want to be proactive in helping people on Twitter find credible information by providing them with additional context.  
  • We prioritize interventions regarding misinformation based on the highest potential for harm and are currently focused on three main areas of content: synthetic and manipulated media, elections and civic integrity, and COVID-19.  
  • Where content does not break our rules and warrant removal, in these three areas, we may label tweets to help people come to their own views by providing additional context. These labels may link to a curated set of tweets posted by people on Twitter that include factual statements, counterpoint opinions and perspectives, and ongoing public conversation around the issue.

Google Director for Law Enforcement and Information Security Richard Salgado focused “on three main areas: first, our efforts to combat election-related interference; second, how we are empowering people with authoritative information; and, third, how we are improving transparency and accountability in advertising.” Salgado stated:

  • “[a]s we previously reported to the committee, our investigation into the 2016 elections found relatively little violative foreign-government activity on our platform. Entering the 2018 midterms, we continued to improve our ability to detect and prevent election-related threats and engaged in information-sharing with others in the private sector and the government. While we saw limited misconduct linked to state-sponsored activity in the 2018 midterms, we continue to keep the public informed. We recently launched a quarterly bulletin to provide additional information about our findings concerning coordinated influence operations. This joins other public reporting across products as we shed light on what it is that we are seeing. Looking ahead to the November elections, we know that COVID-19 pandemic, widespread protests, and other significant events can provide fodder for nation-state-sponsored disinformation campaigns. We remain steadfast in our commitment to protect our users.
  • Second, we have continued to improve the integrity of our products. Our approach is built on a framework of three strategies: making quality count in our ranking systems, giving users more context, and counteracting malicious actors. In Search, ranking algorithms are an important tool in our fight against disinformation. Ranking elevates information that our algorithms determine is the most authoritative above information that may be less reliable. Similarly, our work on YouTube focuses on identifying and removing content that violates our policies and elevating authoritative content when users search for breaking news. At the same time, we find and limit the spread of borderline content that comes close but just stops short of violating our policies. The work to protect Google products and our users is no small job, but it is important. We invest heavily in automated tools to tackle a broad set of malicious behaviors and in people who review content and help improve these tools. We applied many of these strategies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and developed new ways to connect users to authoritative government information. Similarly, we worked to remove misinformation that poses harm to people and undermines efforts to reduce infection rates. On YouTube, we have clear policies prohibiting content that promotes medically unsubstantiated treatments or disputes the existence of COVID-19. We also reduce recommendations of borderline content.
  • Third, Google has made election advertising far more transparent. We now require advertisers purchasing U.S. election ads to verify who they are and disclose who paid for the ad in the ad itself. We launched a transparency report with a searchable ad library as well. Microtargeting of election ads was never allowed on Google systems, but targeting of election ads in the U.S.is now further limited to general geographic location, age, gender, and context where the ad would appear. This aligns with long-established practices in media such as TV, radio, and print. Finally, this April, we announced that we will extend identity verification to all advertisers on our platform, with a roll-out beginning this summer.

© 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.

Congressional Cybersecurity Commission Releases Annex To Final Report

A Congressional cyber panel is adding four recommendations to its comprehensive March report.  

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.

On 2 June, the Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC) released an annex to its final report. The CSC was created by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (P.L. 115-232) to “develop a consensus on a strategic approach to defending the United States in cyberspace against cyber attacks of significant consequences.” In mid-March, the CSC released its final report and made a range of recommendations, some of which were paired with legislative language the CSC has still not yet made available. However, Members of Congress who served on the CSC are working with the Armed Services Committees to get some of this language added to the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). See this issue of the Technology Policy Update for more detail on the CSC’s final report.

Per its grant of statutory authority, the CSC is set to terminate 120 days after the release of its final report, which will be next month. Nonetheless, the CSC has been holding a series of webinars to elucidate or explain various components of the final report, and the Commission began to consider cybersecurity through the lens of the current pandemic for parallels and practical effects. Consequently, the CSC added four new recommendations and renewed its call that recommendations in its final report related to the pandemic – in the view of the Commission – receive renewed attention and ideally action by Congress and the Executive Branch.

The CSC again called for the types of resources and reforms most policymakers have either not shown an appetite for or believe are a few bridges too far. Even though the CSC stated its intention to a “9/11 Commission without the 9/11 event,” it is unlikely such sweeping policy changes will be made in the absence of a crisis or event that fundamentally changes this status quo. Nevertheless, the CSC’s new recommendations are targeted and modest, one of which call for funneling more funds through an existing grant program to bolster private sector/non-profit efforts and another for a government agency to exercise previously granted authority. What’s more, the CSC could add the new recommendations to those shared in the form of legislative language with the Armed Services Committees in the hopes they are included in this year’s NDAA. Given that CSC co-chairs Senator Angus King (I-ME) and Representative Mike Gallagher (R-WI) serve on their chambers’ Armed Services Committees as do the other two Members of Congress on the CSC, Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Representative James Langevin (D-RI), the chances of some of the recommendations making it into statute are higher than they may be otherwise.

In its “White Paper #1: Cybersecurity Lessons from the Pandemic,” the CSC asserted:

The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates the challenge of ensuring resilience and continuity in a connected world. Many of the effects of this new breed of crisis can be significantly ameliorated through advance preparations that yield resilience, coherence, and focus as it spreads rapidly through the entire system, stressing everything from emergency services and supply chains to basic human needs and mental health. e pandemic produces cascading effects and high levels of uncertainty. It has undermined normal policymaking processes and, in the absence of the requisite preparedness, has forced decision makers to craft hasty and ad hoc emergency responses. Unless a new approach is devised, crises like COVID-19 will continue to challenge the modern American way of life each time they emerge. This annex collects observations from the pandemic as they relate to the security of cyberspace, in terms of both the cybersecurity challenges it creates and what it can teach the United States about how to prepare for a major cyber disruption. These insights and the accompanying recommendations, some of which are new and some of which appear in the original March 2020 report, are now more urgent than ever.

The CSC conceded that “[t]he lessons the country is learning from the ongoing pandemic are not perfectly analogous to a significant cyberattack, but they offer many illuminating parallels.

  • First, both the pandemic and a significant cyberattack can be global in nature, requiring that nations simultaneously look inward to manage a crisis and work across borders to contain its spread.
  • Second, both the COVID-19 pandemic and a significant cyberattack require a whole-of-nation response effort and are likely to challenge existing incident management doctrine and coordination mechanisms.
  • Third, when no immediate therapies or vaccines are available, testing and treatments emerge slowly; such circumstances place a premium on building systems that are agile, are resilient, and enable coordination across the government and private sector, much as is necessary in the cyber realm.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, prevention is far cheaper and preestablished relationships far more effective than a strategy based solely on detection and response.

The CSC continued:

The COVID-19 pandemic is a call to action to ensure that the United States is better prepared to withstand shocks and crises of all varieties, especially those like cyber events that we can reasonably predict will occur, even if we do not know when. We, as a nation, must internalize the lessons learned from this emergency and move forward to strengthen U.S. national preparedness.  This means building structures in government now to ensure strategic leadership and coordination through a cyber crisis. It means driving down the vulnerability of the nation’s networks and technologies. And finally, it means investing in rigorously building greater resiliency in the government, in critical infrastructure, and in our citizenry. In the past several years, experts have sounded the alarm, ranking cyberattacks as one of the most likely causes of a crisis. As the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, the United States has experienced a wake-up call, prompting a national conversation about disaster prevention, crisis preparedness, and incident response. While COVID-19 is the root cause of today’s crisis, a significant cyberattack could be the cause of the next. If that proves to be the case, history will surely note that the time to prepare was now.

The CSC offered these four new recommendations:

  • Pass an Internet of Things Security Law: With a significant portion of the workforce working from home during the COVID-19 disruption, household internet of things (IoT) devices, particularly household routers, have become vulnerable but important pieces of our national cyber ecosystem and our adversary’s attack surface. To ensure that the manufacturers of IoT devices build basic security measures into the products they sell, Congress should pass an IoT security law. The law should focus on known challenges, like insecurity in Wi-Fi routers, and mandate that these devices have reasonable security measures, such as those outlined under the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s “Recommendations for IoT Device Manufacturers.” But it should be only modestly prescriptive, relying more heavily on outcome-based standards, because security standards change with technology over time. Nonetheless, the law should stress enduring standards both for authentication, such as requiring unique default passwords that a user must change to their own authentication mechanism upon first use, and for patching, such as ensuring that a device is capable of receiving a remote update. Congress should consider explicitly tasking the Federal Trade Commission with enforcement of the law on the basis of existing authorities under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.
    • In a footnote, the CSC asserted “[t]he proposed Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2019 provides a viable model for a federal law that mandates that connected devices procured by the federal government have reasonable security measures in place, but should be expanded to cover all devices sold or offered for sale in the United States.
    • The initial draft of the “Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2019” (H.R. 1668/S. 734) was a revised, unified version of two similar bills from the 115th Congress of the same title: the “Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2017” (S. 1691) and the “Internet of Things (IoT) Federal Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2018” (H.R. 7283). However, during the process of consideration in both chambers, differences emerged that as of yet have not been reconciled. However, it is possible that a final version of this bill gets folded into the FY 2021 NDAA or is passed as standalone legislation in the waning days of this Congress.
    • However, the FTC already uses its Section 5 authorities to bring actions against IoT manufacturers. For example, last month, the agency announced a settlement with Tapplock regarding “allegations that it deceived consumers by falsely claiming that its Internet-connected smart locks were designed to be “unbreakable” and that it took reasonable steps to secure the data it collected from users.”
  • Support Nonprofits that Assist Law Enforcement’s Cybercrime and Victim Support Efforts: Cyber-specific nonprofit organizations regularly collaborate with law enforcement in writing cybercrime reports, carrying out enforcement operations, and providing victim support services. As the COVID-19 pandemic has proven, trusted nonprofit organizations serve as critical law enforcement partners that can quickly mobilize to help identify and dismantle major online schemes. Such nonprofits have the expertise and flexibility to help and reinforce law enforcement efforts to disrupt cybercrime and assist victims. However, they often face financial challenges. Therefore, the Commission recommends that Congress provide grants through the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs to help fund these essential efforts.
    • The portion of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs that makes grants was provided $1.892 billion in FY 2020, with large chunks being earmarked for state and local law enforcement agencies like the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program. Therefore, there would likely need to be additional funding provided for this program if there will be additional eligible recipients and additional purposes.
  • Establish the Social Media Data and Threat Analysis Center: Because major social media platforms are owned by private companies, developing a robust public-private partnership is essential to effectively combat disinformation. To this end, the Commission supports the provision in the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act that authorizes the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to establish and fund a Social Media Data and Threat Analysis Center (DTAC), which would take the form of an independent, nonprofit organization intended to encourage public-private cooperation to detect and counter foreign influence operations against the United States. The center would serve as a public-private facilitator, developing information-sharing procedures and establishing—jointly with social media—the threat indicators that the center will be able to access and analyze. In addition, the DTAC would be tasked with informing the public about the criteria and standards for analyzing, investigating, and determining threats from malign influence operations. Finally, in order to strengthen a collective understanding of the threats, the center would host a searchable archive of aggregated information related to foreign influence and disinformation operations.
    • This is, obviously, not really a new recommendation, but rather a call for already granted authority to be used. The Director of National Intelligence was provided discretionary authority to establish the DTAC in P.L. 116-92 and has not chosen to do so yet. There are a number of existing entities that may qualify as the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab or the Alliance for Securing Democracy. However, the issue may be resources in that the DNI was not provided any additional funding to stand up the DTAC.
  • Increase Nongovernmental Capacity to Identify and Counter Foreign Disinformation and Influence Campaigns: Congress should fund the Department of Justice to provide grants, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security and the National Science Foundation, to nonprofit centers seeking to identify, expose, and explain malign foreign influence campaigns to the American public while putting those campaigns in context to avoid amplifying them. Such malign foreign influence campaigns can include covert foreign state and non-state propaganda, disinformation, or other inauthentic activity across online platforms, social networks, or other communities. These centers should analyze and monitor foreign influence operations, identify trends, put those trends into context, and create a robust, credible source of information for the American public. To ensure success, these centers should be well-resourced and coordinated with ongoing government efforts and international partners’ efforts.
    • It is not clear whether this program would be conducted through an existing DOJ program or a new one would be created. As with the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs, funding may be an issue, and while the Armed Services Committees may be able to fold this into the FY 2021 (notwithstanding jurisdictional issues considering the DOJ is part of the Judiciary Committees’ purviews), but the Appropriations Committees would ultimately decide whether this would be funded.

© 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.

Further Reading and Other Developments (6 June)

Other Developments

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.

  • A number of tech trade groups are asking the House Appropriations Committee’s Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee “to direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to create guidelines that help companies navigate the technical and ethical hurdles of developing artificial intelligence.” They argued:
    • A NIST voluntary framework-based consensus set of best practices would be pro-innovation, support U.S. leadership, be consistent with NIST’s ongoing engagement on AI industry consensus standards development, and align with U.S. support for the OECD AI principles as well as the draft Memorandum to Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, “Guidance for Regulation of Artificial Intelligence Applications.”
  • The Department of Defense (DOD) “named seven U.S. military installations as the latest sites where it will conduct fifth-generation (5G) communications technology experimentation and testing. They are Naval Base Norfolk, Virginia; Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; Joint Base San Antonio, Texas; the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California; Fort Hood, Texas; Camp Pendleton, California; and Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.”  The DOD explained “[t]his second round, referred to as Tranche 2, brings the total number of installations selected to host 5G testing to 12…[and] builds on DOD’s previously-announced 5G communications technology prototyping and experimentation and is part of a 5G development roadmap guided by the Department of Defense 5G Strategy.”
  • The Federal Trade Commission announced a $150,000 settlement with “HyperBeard, Inc. [which] violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule (COPPA Rule) by allowing third-party ad networks to collect personal information in the form of persistent identifiers to track users of the company’s child-directed apps, without notifying parents or obtaining verifiable parental consent.”
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released Special Publication 800-133 Rev. 2, Recommendation for Cryptographic Key Generation that “discusses the generation of the keys to be used with the approved  cryptographic  algorithms…[which] are  either  1) generated  using  mathematical  processing  on  the  output  of  approved  Random  Bit  Generators (RBGs) and  possibly  other  parameters or 2) generated based on keys that are generated in this fashion.”
  • United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced “investigations into digital services taxes that have been adopted or are being considered by a number of our trading partners.” These investigations are “with respect to Digital Services Taxes (DSTs) adopted or under consideration by Austria, Brazil, the Czech Republic, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.” The USTR is accepting comments until 15 July.
  • NATO’s North Atlantic Council released a statement “concerning malicious cyber activities” that have targeted medical facilities stating “Allies are committed to protecting their critical infrastructure, building resilience and bolstering cyber defences, including through full implementation of NATO’s Cyber Defence Pledge.” NATO further pledged “to employ the full range of capabilities, including cyber, to deter, defend against and counter the full spectrum of cyber threats.”
  • The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) released “A Vision for the Digital Age: Modernization of the U.S. National Security Classification and Declassification System” that “provides recommendations that can serve as a blueprint for modernizing the classification and declassification system…[for] there is a critical need to modernize this system to move from the analog to the digital age by deploying advanced technology and by upgrading outdated paper-based policies and practices.”
  • In a Department of State press release, a Declaration on COVID-19, the G7 Science and Technology Ministers stated their intentions “to work collaboratively, with other relevant Ministers to:
    • Enhance cooperation on shared COVID-19 research priority areas, such as basic and applied research, public health, and clinical studies. Build on existing mechanisms to further priorities, including identifying COVID-19 cases and understanding virus spread while protecting privacy and personal data; developing rapid and accurate diagnostics to speed new testing technologies; discovering, manufacturing, and deploying safe and effective therapies and vaccines; and implementing innovative modeling, adequate and inclusive health system management, and predictive analytics to assist with preventing future pandemics.
    • Make government-sponsored COVID-19 epidemiological and related research results, data, and information accessible to the public in machine-readable formats, to the greatest extent possible, in accordance with relevant laws and regulations, including privacy and intellectual property laws.
    • Strengthen the use of high-performance computing for COVID-19 response. Make national high-performance computing resources available, as appropriate, to domestic research communities for COVID-19 and pandemic research, while safeguarding intellectual property.
    • Launch the Global Partnership on AI, envisioned under the 2018 and 2019 G7 Presidencies of Canada and France, to enhance multi-stakeholder cooperation in the advancement of AI that reflects our shared democratic values and addresses shared global challenges, with an initial focus that includes responding to and recovering from COVID-19. Commit to the responsible and human-centric development and use of AI in a manner consistent with human rights, fundamental freedoms, and our shared democratic values.
    • Exchange best practices to advance broadband connectivity; minimize workforce disruptions, support distance learning and working; enable access to smart health systems, virtual care, and telehealth services; promote job upskilling and reskilling programs to prepare the workforce of the future; and support global social and economic recovery, in an inclusive manner while promoting data protection, privacy, and security.
  • The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s Online Harms and Disinformation Subcommittee held a virtual meeting, which “is the second time that representatives of the social media companies have been called in by the DCMS Sub-committee in its ongoing inquiry into online harms and disinformation following criticism by Chair Julian Knight about a lack of clarity of evidence and further failures to provide adequate answers to follow-up correspondence.” Before the meeting, the Subcommittee sent a letter to Twitter, Facebook, and Google and received responses. The Subcommittee heard testimony from:
    • Facebook Head of Product Policy and Counterterrorism Monika Bickert
    • YouTube Vice-President of Government Affairs and Public Policy Leslie Miller
    • Google Global Director of Information Policy Derek Slater
    • Twitter Director of Public Policy Strategy Nick Pickles
  • Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sent a letter to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson “regarding your company’s policy of not counting use of HBO Max, a streaming service that you own, against your customers’ data caps.” They noted “[a]lthough your company has repeatedly stated publicly that it supports legally binding net neutrality rules, this policy appears to run contrary to the essential principle that in a free and open internet, service providers may not favor content in which they have a financial interest over competitors’ content.”
  • The Brookings Institution released what it considers a path forward on privacy legislation and held a webinar on the report with Federal Trade Commissioner (FTC) Christine Wilson and former FTC Commissioner and now Microsoft Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Julie Brill.

Further Reading

  • Google: Overseas hackers targeting Trump, Biden campaigns” – Politico. In what is the latest in a series of attempted attacks, Google’s Threat Analysis Group announced this week that People’s Republic of China affiliated hackers tried to gain access to the campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden and Iranian hackers tried the same with President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. The group referred the matter to the federal government but said the attacks were not successful. An official from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) remarked “[i]t’s not surprising that a number of state actors are targeting our elections…[and] [w]e’ve been warning about this for years.” It is likely the usual suspects will continue to try to hack into both presidential campaigns.
  • Huawei builds up 2-year reserve of ‘most important’ US chips” ­– Nikkei Asian Review. The Chinese tech giant has been spending billions of dollars stockpiling United States’ (U.S.) chips, particularly from Intel for servers and programable chips from Xilinx, the type that is hard to find elsewhere. This latter chip maker is seen as particularly crucial to both the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) because it partners with the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the entity persuaded by the Trump Administration to announce plans for a plant in Arizona. Shortly after the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in 2018, the company began these efforts and spent almost $24 billion USD last year stockpiling crucial U.S. chips and other components.
  • GBI investigation shows Kemp misrepresented election security” – Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Through freedom of information requests, the newspaper obtained records from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) on its investigation at the behest of then Secretary of State Brian Kemp, requested days before the gubernatorial election he narrowly won. At the time, Kemp claimed hackers connected to the Democratic Party were trying to get into the state’s voter database, when it was Department of Homeland Security personnel running a routine scan for vulnerabilities Kemp’s office had agreed to months earlier. The GBI ultimately determined Kemp’s claims did not merit a prosecution. Moreover, even though Kemp’s staff at the time continues to deny these findings, the site did have vulnerabilities, including one turned up by a software company employee.
  • Trump, Biden both want to repeal tech legal protections — for opposite reasons” – Politico. Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) wants to revisit Section 230 because online platforms are not doing enough to combat misinformation, in his view. Biden laid out his views on this and other technology matters for the editorial board of The New York Times in January, at which point he said Facebook should have to face civil liability for publishing misinformation. Given Republican and Democratic discontent with Section 230 and the social media platforms, there may be a possibility legislation is enacted to limit this shield from litigation.
  • Wearables like Fitbit and Oura can detect coronavirus symptoms, new research shows” –The Washington Post. Perhaps wearable health technology is a better approach to determining when a person has contracted COVID-19 than contact tracing apps. A handful of studies are producing positive results, but these studies have not yet undergone the per review process. Still, these devices may be able to determine disequilibrium in one’s system as compared to a baseline, suggesting an infection and a need for a test. This article, however, did not explore possible privacy implications of sharing one’s personal health data with private companies.
  • Singapore plans wearable virus-tracing device for all” – Reuters. For less than an estimated $10 USD for unit, Singapore will soon introduce wearable devices to better track contacts to fight COVID-19. In what may be a sign that the city-state has given up on its contact tracing app, TraceTogether, the Asian nation will soon release these wearables. If it not clear if everyone will be mandated to wear one and what privacy and data protections will be in place.
  • Exclusive: Zoom plans to roll out strong encryption for paying customers” – Reuters. In the same vein as Zoom allowing paying customers to choose where their calls are routing through (e.g. paying customers in the United States could choose a different region with lesser surveillance capabilities), Zoom will soon offer stronger security for paying customers. Of course, should Zoom’s popularity during the pandemic solidify into a dominant competitive position, this new policy of offering end-to-end encryption that the company cannot crack would likely rouse the ire of the governments of the Five Eyes nations. These plans breathe further life into the views of those who see a future in which privacy and security are commodities to be bought and those unable or unwilling to afford them will not enjoy either. Nonetheless, the company may still face a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation into its apparently inaccurate claims that calls were encrypted, which may have violated Section 5 of the FTC Act along with similar investigations by other nations.
  • Russia and China target U.S. protests on social media” – Politico. Largely eschewing doctored material, the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are using social media platforms to further drive dissension and division in the United States (U.S.) during the protests by amplifying the messages and points of views of Americans, according to an analysis of one think tank. For example, some PRC officials have been tweeting out “Black Lives Matter” and claims that videos purporting to show police violence are, in fact, police violence. The goal to fan the flames and further weaken Washington. Thus far, the American government and the platforms themselves have not had much of a public response. Additionally, this represents a continued trend of the PRC in seeking to sow discord in the U.S. whereas before this year use of social media and disinformation tended to be confined to issues of immediate concern to Beijing.
  • The DEA Has Been Given Permission To Investigate People Protesting George Floyd’s Death” – BuzzFeed News. The Department of Justice (DOJ) used a little known section of the powers delegated to the agency to task the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) with conducting “covert surveillance” of to help police maintain order during the protests following the killing of George Floyd’s, among other duties. BuzzFeed News was given the two page memorandum effectuating this expansion of the DEA’s responsibilities beyond drug crimes, most likely by agency insiders who oppose the memorandum. These efforts could include use of authority granted to the agency to engage in “bulk collection” of some information, a practice the DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found significant issues with, including the lack of legal analysis on the scope of the sprawling collection practices.
  • Cops Don’t Need GPS Data to Track Your Phone at Protests” – Gizmodo. Underlying this extensive rundown of the types of data one’s phone leaks that is vacuumed up by a constellation of entities is the fact that more law enforcement agencies are buying or accessing these data because the Fourth Amendment’s protections do not apply to private parties giving the government information.
  • Zuckerberg Defends Approach to Trump’s Facebook Posts” – The New York Times. Unlike Twitter, Facebook opted not to flag President Donald Trump’s tweets about the protests arising from George Floyd’s killing last week that Twitter found to be glorifying violence. CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly deliberated at length with senior leadership before deciding the tweets did not violate the platform’s terms of service, a decision roundly criticized by Facebook employees, some of whom staged a virtual walkout on 1 June. In a conference call, Zuckerberg faced numerous questions about why the company does not respond more forcefully to tweets that are inflammatory or untrue. His answers that Facebook does not act as an arbiter of truth were not well freceived among many employees.
  • Google’s European Search Menu Draws Interest of U.S. Antitrust Investigators” – The New York Times. Allegedly Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust investigators are keenly interested in the system Google lives under in the European Union (EU) where Android users are now prompted to select a default search engine instead of just making its Google’s. This system was put in place as a response to the EU’s €4.34 billion fine in 2018 for imposing “illegal restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators to cement its dominant position in general internet search.” This may be seen as a way to address competition issues while not breaking up Google as some have called for. However, Google is conducting monthly auctions among the other search engines to be of the three choices given to EU consumers, which allows Google to reap additional revenue.

© 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.

Exposure Notification Privacy Act Introduced

A third COVID-19 privacy bill is unveiled in the Senate that may be more about messaging and positioning on broader privacy legislation. In any event, the odds on such legislation being enacted in the near term is not high.

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.

This week, a third COVID-19 privacy bill was released that occupies a middle ground between the other two bills. However, despite being bipartisan and between the two other bills, it is still not likely Congress will enact either targeted privacy legislation or broader, national privacy legislation this year. And yet, a number of the bill’s requirements track more closely with the Democratic bill released last month, suggesting some of the ground may be shifting under some of the outstanding issues. For example, the bill would not preempt state laws and while it would not create a new federal means a person could sue a company for violations, it expressly preserves all existing state and federal avenues a person could use to litigate.

On 3 June, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced the “Exposure Notification Privacy Act” (S.3861) with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) cosponsoring. The Senators released a section-by-section and a summary of the bill, too. This bill follows the “Public Health Emergency Privacy Act” (S.3749) and the “COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act” (S.3663), bills that take approaches aligned with the Democratic and Republican thinking on privacy respectively. (See here for more analysis).

The key term in the Exposure Notification Privacy Act is “automated exposure notification service,” (AENS) for it informs what is “covered data,” and hence covered by the bill’s protections, and it seems fairly targeted to address only those apps or services created to track contacts for purposes of reducing the spread of COVID-19. This term is defined as:

  • a website, online service, online application, mobile application, or mobile operating system
  • offered in interstate commerce in the United States
  • designed, in part or in full, specifically to be used for, or marketed for, the purpose of digitally notifying, in an automated manner, an individual who may have become exposed to an infectious disease

And yet, because what is covered data is limited to information “collected, processed, or transferred in connection with an AENS,” it is a reasonable reading of this language that an entity obtaining information from a data broker in order to track COVID-19 would be outside the definition of covered data. The same would seem to be true of social media platforms that collect and process data from their users incidentally to their main business of monetizing these data. This seems like a fairly large loophole that would mean the “Exposure Notification Privacy Act” would really focus tightly on technology programs, apps, and platforms mostly used to track and prevent infectious diseases with the voluntary, knowingly consent of users.

AENS would need to obtain express, affirmative consent a person provides after being provided with conspicuous, easy-to-understand notice about data collection, usage, processing, and transfer. There must also be a conspicuous means of withdrawing such consent. In any event, a person with an “authorized diagnosis” would control whether this information is processed by the AENS.

AENS and platform operators must publish “a privacy policy that provides a detailed and accurate representation of that person or entity’s covered data collection, processing, and transfer activities in connection with such person or entity’s AENS or the facilitation of such service.” These privacy policies must divulge “each category of covered data the person or entity collects and the limited allowable processing purposes for which such covered data is collected” and

  • “a description of the person or entity’s covered data minimization and retention policies;
  • how an individual can exercise the individual rights described in this title;
  • a description of the person or entity’s covered data security policies.”

As an aside, platform operators are entities “other than a service provider who provides an operating system that includes features supportive of an AENS and facilitates the use or distribution of such AENS to the extent the technology is not used by the platform operator as an AENS.” And so, platform operators might be Google, Apple, Microsoft, or a handful of others to the extent their operations systems are supporting the AENS in its purpose to track infectious diseases. Hence, some of the bill’s requirements will be imposed on such entities.

Of course, the bill text does not limit this measure just to COVID-19 and extends it to all infectious diseases, which is perhaps a nod to a new normal in which many Americans have apps on their phone or wearables on their bodies designed to counter contracting the flu or other, less dangerous viruses (See below in further reading for an article on FitBit and other apps and platforms that may be poised to do just this and a wearable Singapore may debut shortly.)

There are restrictions on whom may receive covered data from AENS. These entities may only alert individuals of possible exposure if they opted in or a public health authority, transfer these data to service providers to maintain, fix, or improve the system or for security purposes, or to comply in a legal action. The bill also seeks to assuage fears that the sensitive information of people collected for the purposes of combatting infectious diseases could be transferred to and used by law enforcement and surveillance agencies. The legislation explains “[i]t shall be unlawful for any person, entity, or Executive agency to transfer covered data to any Executive agency unless the information is transferred in connection with an investigation or enforcement proceeding under this Act.” Consequently, it would appear the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would be able to transfer covered data to the FTC for an investigation, it could not do the same with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In this vein, Executive agencies can only process or transfer for a health purpose related to infectious diseases or in connection with an FTC or state investigation or enforcement action. However, this limitation does not seem to bar a state public health authority from conducting such a transfer to a state law enforcement agency.

There are data minimization responsibilities AENS would need to meet. AENS may not “collect or process any covered data…beyond the minimum amount necessary to implement an AENS for public health purposes; or…for any commercial purpose.” This would seem to limit AENS to collecting, processing and sharing personal information strictly necessary for the purpose of tracking infectious diseases. Likewise, AENS must delete a person’s covered data upon request and on a rolling basis per public health authority guidance. Service providers working with AENS must comply with the latter’s direction to delete covered data.

AENS must “establish, implement, and maintain data security practices to protect the confidentiality, integrity, availability, and accessibility of covered data…[that] be consistent with standards generally accepted by experts in the information security field.” The bill further specifies that such practices must include identifying and assessing risks, corrective and preventive actions for risks, and notification if an AENS is breached. The bill would also ban discrimination on the basis of covered data collected or processed by an AENS or on the basis of a person’s decision not to use an AENS.

As a means of providing oversight, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) would have its mandate enlarged to include “health-related epidemics,” meaning the Board could investigate and issue reports on how well or poorly the act is being implemented with respect to privacy and civil liberties.  To this end, within one year of enactment, PCLOB “shall issue a report, which shall be publicly available to the greatest extent possible, assessing the impact on privacy and civil liberties of Government activities in response to the public health emergency related to the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID–19), and making recommendations for how the Government should mitigate the threats posed by such emergency.”

AENS must also collaborate with public health authorities, which are federal and state agencies charged with protecting and ensuring public health. AENS could only collect, process, and transfer actual diagnoses of an infectious disease and could not do so with potential or presumptive diagnoses. AENS would be charged with issuing public guidance to help people understand the notifications of the system and any limitations with respect to accuracy and reliability. Moreover, AENS must also publish metrics (i.e. “measures of the effectiveness of the service”), including adoption rates. Presumably these latter two requirements would allow for greater transparency and also greater insight into how widely an app or platform is being adopted.

There are a few unexpected wrinkles, however. For example, the act only bars deceptive acts, and not unfair ones, which is a deviation from Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act, necessitating language in the bill to this effect rather than the usual reference to 15 USC 45. The bill also places a positive duty on service providers to report violations of the act by either AENS or public health authorities to these entities. It is possible that if such a report accurately depicted a violation the AENS or public health authority then neglected to remedy, the enforcers of the act would have an easier case to make that a violation occurred.

As mentioned, the FTC would police and enforce the act with an enlarged jurisdiction to include common carriers and non-profits. The agency would treat violations as if they were violations of an FTC regulation barring unfair or deceptive practices, which allows the agency to seek civil fines for first offenses. The FTC would not, however, receive rulemaking authority, and should regulations be needed, the agency would be forced to use the cumbersome Moss-Magnuson process.

However, and like the “Public Health Emergency Privacy Act,” the FTC would receive explicit authority to go to court itself instead of having to work through the Department of Justice (DOJ), which is currently the case. That this new wrinkle has appeared in two recent bills largely sponsored by Democrats suggests this may be a new demand for targeted and national privacy legislation and also may reflect diminished faith in the DOJ to vigorously enforce privacy legislation.

State attorneys general could enforce the act in the same ways as the FTC, meaning civil penalties in the first instance being possible. State attorneys general may also bring concurrent state claims, alleging violations under state laws. And so, the bill does not preempt state laws, as a section of the bill goes to some length to stress.

Interestingly, while the bill does not create a private right of action, it suggests a possible way of resolving that sticking point in negotiations between Republicans and Democrats. The bill stresses that it does not foreclose any existing common law federal and state rights of action and would therefore allow people to use any existing law to sue covered entities. This would allow tort suits and other suits to move forward. That Cassidy has cosponsored legislation with this language does not necessarily indicate this is now the will of the Senate Republican Conference.

© 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.

Following Other Nations, Australia Warns Of Malicious Cyber Activity

Another Five Eyes nation details sustained cyber-attacks against healthcare and COVID-19 related entities.  

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.

In the wake of similar statements by the American, British, Israeli, and other governments, Australia has warned of “malicious cyber actors are seeking to exploit the pandemic for their own gain.” In particular, Australia cautioned that “malicious cyber actors are seeking to damage or impair the operation of hospitals, medical services and facilities, and crisis response organisations outside of Australia.”

However, unlike a number of attributions alleged by the American government, naming the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic Republic of North Korea, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) did not attribute the malicious activity. Rather Australia’s Ambassador for Cyber Activities Dr. Tobias Feakin called “on all countries to cease immediately any cyber activity – or support for such activity – inconsistent with these commitments.” He also related his government’s urging of “all countries to exercise increased vigilance and take all reasonable measures to ensure malicious cyber activity is not emanating from their territory.”

The DFAT/ACSC statement follows previous warnings about cyber-attacks and hacking during the COVID-19 pandemic. On 8 May, ASCS issued “Advisory 2020-009: Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actors targeting Australian health sector organisations and COVID-19 essential services” that asserted “APT groups may be seeking information and intellectual property relating to vaccine development, treatments, research and responses to the outbreak as this information is now of higher value and priority globally.” ASCS stated “[a]ccordingly, Australia’s health or research sectors could be at greater threat of being targeted, and potentially compromised, by malicious APT groups.” In late April, the ASCS issued a threat update aimed at “raising awareness of the evolving nature of COVID-19 related malicious cyber activity impacting Australians.”

Moreover, the Australian government has made its concerns know at the United Nations. DFAT claims to have folded its concerns about “this international activity” into its comments on pre-draft report of the United Nations’ Open-ended Working Group (OEWG).

Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters’ (GCHQ) National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued a joint advisory for the healthcare sector, especially companies and entities engaged in fighting COVID-19. The agencies stated that they have evidence that Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups “are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic as part of their cyber operations.” NCSC and CISA “highlight[] ongoing activity by APT groups against organisations involved in both national and international COVID-19 responses…[and] describe[] some of the methods these actors are using to target organisations and provides mitigation advice.” The entities being targeted include healthcare bodies, pharmaceutical companies, academia, medical research organisations, and local government. However, the agencies do not identify the APT groups or their countries of origin in the advisory. 

Last week, in an unclassified public service announcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and CISA named the People’s Republic of China as a nation waging a cyber campaign against U.S. COVID-19 researchers. The agencies stated they “are issuing this announcement to raise awareness of the threat to COVID-19-related research.” The agencies said “[t]he FBI is investigating the targeting and compromise of U.S. organizations conducting COVID-19-related research by PRC-affiliated cyber actors and non-traditional collectors.” The FBI and CISA claimed that “[t]hese actors have been observed attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property (IP) and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research.” The agencies asserted “[t]he potential theft of this information jeopardizes the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options.” The FBI and CISA “urge all organizations conducting research in these areas to maintain dedicated cybersecurity and insider threat practices to prevent surreptitious review or theft of COVID-19-related material.”

© 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.

Further Reading and Other Developments

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

  • Verizon released its annual Data Breach Investigations Report, which “analyzed a record total of 157,525 incidents” of which “32,002 met our quality standards and 3,950 were confirmed data breaches.”
  • Health Affairs detailed its thoughts on HIPAA and COVID-19 contact tracing and argued “[d]igital contact tracing can provide enough capacity but comes with serious privacy concerns.” They argued that Congress adding another law on top of HIPAA to address these concerns “would create an unworkable regulatory patchwork in conjunction with HIPAA.”
  • The American Civil Liberties Union “is demanding Congress and state and local governments ensure all students have equal access to the technologies that make effective remote learning possible, and that strong and uniform privacy safeguards are in place to protect students in the virtual classroom.” The ACLU “is also calling on Congress to provide billions of dollars in funding as part of the next COVID-19 relief package to meet the broadband access and technology needs of students and other impacted individuals.”
  • In a blog posting, Amazon calls for a federal price gouging law after noting it “has zero tolerance for price gouging and longstanding policies and systems in place to combat it.” Amazon called for legislation to “provide the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the authority to go after scammers.” As detailed, platforms such as Amazon would appear not to face liability for price-gouging much like Facebook and the like do not face liability for content posted on their platforms.

Further Reading

  • How Google and Apple outflanked governments in the race to build coronavirus apps” – Politico EU. This is the tale of how Apple and Google caused a number of European Union (EU) governments to change cause, often moving from developing their own COVID-19 to hewing to the two tech giants’ approach. A key fault line has been where an app’s data would be stored: on a person’s phone or at a central location? Google and Apple favored the former, and some governments bowed to that position, notably Germany’s. A number of officials are quoted as saying that public policy cannot be dictated by private companies, but that appears to be exactly what happened in the EU.
  • What Colombia Did With American Spy Tools” ­– The New York Times. The paper’s editorial board decries the use of U.S. funds and technology used to surveil a range of real and perceived opponents of the regime in Bogota, including U.S. journalists. Much of the surveillance was electronic including wiretaps and other technological means used to vacuum up information.
  • Justice Department signals opposition to Senate’s surveillance bill” – The Hill. A Department of Justice (DOJ) spokesperson said of the amended the “USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020” (H.R. 6172), it “would unacceptably degrade our ability to conduct surveillance of terrorists, spies and other national security threats.” With the DOJ now opposed and the White House remaining a wild card on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reauthorization, the future of the legislation in the House just became murkier. There is also pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and related groups on House Democratic leadership to add the amendment that narrowly failed to be adopted in the Senate that would exclude web browsing and search history from Section 215 surveillance. Doing so may further complicate the road to enactment.
  • China launches new Twitter accounts, 90,000 tweets in COVID-19 info war” – NBC News. A trans-Atlantic thinktank is alleging the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is waging a massive information campaign against the United States, largely in pushing back and turning around accusations COVID-19 came from a Chinese laboratory. Interestingly, much of the campaign is being waged by PRC officials.
  • U.S. Is Using Taiwan as a Pressure Point in Tech Fight With China” – The New York Times. Washington’s latest move against Beijing aimed at a sore sport: Taiwan. The Trump Administration finally convinced the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (T.S.M.C.) to agree to open a plant in the United States, and it has announced plans to do so in Arizona. Not only would this pull the world’s foremost semi-conductor producer closer to the U.S., it may also allow the company to escape the shadow cast by the People’s Republic of China. Moreover, once produced in the U.S., T.M.S.C. semi-conductors may be considered free of potential backdoors and malicious code policymakers have long feared populate the Department of Defense’s (DOD) supply chain.
  • One of the first contact-tracing apps violates its own privacy policy” – The Washington Post. Turns out Care19, a contact tracing app developed when the governor of North Dakota asked a friend who had designed a app for football fans to meet up, is violating its own privacy policy according to Jumbo, the maker of privacy software. Apparently, Care19 shares location and personal data with FourSquare when used on iPhones. Both Apple and state officials are at a loss to explain how this went unnoticed when the app was scrubbed for technical and privacy problems before being rolled out.
  • US officials say they’ve cracked Pensacola shooter’s iPhones, blast Apple” – cyberscoop. The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) use the cracking of the iPhone belonging to the person who shot and killed members of the military at Pensacola Air Station as an occasion to reiterate their calls for technology companies to provide backdoors for end-to-end encryption.
  • Four states warn unemployment benefits applicants about data leaks” – NBC News. This article shines a light on poor information security practices at the state level as exposed by glaring weaknesses in a program to get unemployment assistance to those affected by COVID-19.
  • Poor Americans Face Hurdles in Getting Promised Internet” – The New York Times. Even though major American internet providers have made available free and discounted service, there have been many issues, some of which have left populations the offers were supposed to help without service.
  • NSO Group Impersonated Facebook to Help Clients Hack Targets” – Vice. Researchers have turned up domains that may have been used by Israeli security company, the NSO Group, to fool people into thinking they were logging into Facebook. These domains may have been based in the United States, which may be used as proof in WhatsApp’s suit against the company.
  • Coronavirus: Security flaws found in NHS contact-tracing app” – BBC News. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service’s contact tracing app has been flagged with new privacy and security issues by researchers.

© 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.