Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (12 January 2021)

Further Reading

  • Biden’s NSC to focus on global health, climate, cyber and human rights, as well as China and Russia” By Karen DeYoung — The Washington Post. Like almost every incoming White House, the Biden team has announced a restructuring of the National Security Council (NSC) to better effectuate the President-elect’s policy priorities. To not surprise, the volume on cybersecurity policy will be turned up. Other notable change is plans to take “cross-cutting” approaches to issues that will likely meld foreign and domestic and national security and civil issues, meaning there could be a new look on offensive cyber operations, for example. It is possible President Biden decides to put the genie back in the bottle, so to speak, by re-imposing an interagency decision-making process as opposed to the Trump Administration’s approach of delegating discretion to the National Security Agency/Cyber Command head. Also, the NSC will focus on emerging technology, a likely response to the technology arms race the United States finds itself in against the People’s Republic of China.
  • Exclusive: Pandemic relief aid went to media that promoted COVID misinformation” By Caitlin Dickson — yahoo! news. The consulting firm Alethea Group and the nonprofit Global Disinformation Index are claiming the COVID stimulus Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) provided loans and assistance to five firms that “were publishing false or misleading information about the pandemic, thus profiting off the infodemic” according to an Alethea Group vice president. This report follows an NBC News article claiming that 14 white supremacist and racist organizations have also received PPP loans. The Alethea Group and Global Disinformation Index named five entities who took PPP funds and kept spreading pandemic misinformation: Epoch Media Group, Newsmax Media, The Federalist, Liftable Media, and Prager University.
  • Facebook shuts Uganda accounts ahead of vote” — France24. The social media company shuttered a number of Facebook and Instagram accounts related to government officials in Uganda ahead of an election on account of “Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour” (CIB). This follows the platform shutting down accounts related to the French Army and Russia seeking to influence events in Africa. These and other actions may indicate the platform is starting to pay the same attention to the non-western world as at least one former employee has argued the platform was negligent at best and reckless at worst in not properly resourcing efforts to police CIB throughout the Third World.
  • China tried to punish European states for Huawei bans by adding eleventh-hour rule to EU investment deal” By Finbarr Bermingham — South China Morning Post. At nearly the end of talks on a People’s Republic of China (PRC)-European Union (EU) trade deal, PRC negotiators tried slipping in language that would have barred entry to the PRC’s cloud computing market to any country or company from a country that restricts Huawei’s services and products. This is alternately being seen as either standard Chinese negotiating tactics or an attempt to avenge the thwarting of the crown jewel in its telecommunications ambitions.
  • Chinese regulators to push tech giants to share consumer credit data – sources” By Julie Zhu — Reuters. Ostensibly in a move to better manage the risks of too much unsafe lending, tech giants in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) will soon need to share data on consumer loans. It seems inevitable that such data will be used by Beijing to further crack down on undesirable people and elements within the PRC.
  • The mafia turns social media influencer to reinforce its brand” By Miles Johnson — The Financial Times. Even Italy’s feared ’Ndrangheta is creating and curating a social media presence.

Other Developments

  • President Donald Trump signed an executive order (EO) that bans eight applications from the People’s Republic of China on much the same grounds as the EOs prohibiting TikTok and WeChat. If this EO is not rescinded by the Biden Administration, federal courts may block its implementation as has happened with the TikTok and WeChat EOs to date. Notably, courts have found that the Trump Administration exceeded its authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which may also be an issue in the proposed prohibition on Alipay, CamScanner, QQ Wallet, SHAREit, Tencent QQ, VMate, WeChat Pay, and WPS Office. Trump found:
    • that additional steps must be taken to deal with the national emergency with respect to the information and communications technology and services supply chain declared in Executive Order 13873 of May 15, 2019 (Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain).  Specifically, the pace and pervasiveness of the spread in the United States of certain connected mobile and desktop applications and other software developed or controlled by persons in the People’s Republic of China, to include Hong Kong and Macau (China), continue to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.  At this time, action must be taken to address the threat posed by these Chinese connected software applications.
    • Trump directed that within 45 days of issuance of the EO, there shall be a prohibition on “any transaction by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with persons that develop or control the following Chinese connected software applications, or with their subsidiaries, as those transactions and persons are identified by the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) under subsection (e) of this section: Alipay, CamScanner, QQ Wallet, SHAREit, Tencent QQ, VMate, WeChat Pay, and WPS Office.”
  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued its first statutorily required annual assessment of how well the United States Department of Defense (DOD) is managing its major information technology (IT) procurements. The DOD spent more than $36 billion of the $90 billion the federal government was provided for IT in FY 2020. The GAO was tasked with assessing how well the DOD did in using iterative development, managing costs and schedules, and implementing cybersecurity measures. The GAO found progress in the first two realms but a continued lag in deploying long recommended best practices to ensure the security of the IT the DOD buys or builds. Nonetheless, the GAO focused on 15 major IT acquisitions that qualify as administrative (i.e. “business”) and communications and information security (i.e. “non-business.”) While there were no explicit recommendations made, the GAO found:
    • Ten of the 15 selected major IT programs exceeded their planned schedules, with delays ranging from 1 month for the Marine Corps’ CAC2S Inc 1 to 5 years for the Air Force’s Defense Enterprise Accounting and Management System-Increment 1.
    • …eight of the 10 selected major IT programs that had tested their then-current technical performance targets reported having met all of their targets…. As of December 2019, four programs had not yet conducted testing activities—Army’s ACWS, Air Force’s AFIPPS Inc 1, Air Force’s MROi, and Navy ePS. Testing data for one program, Air Force’s ISPAN Inc 4, were classified.
    • …officials from the 15 selected major IT programs we reviewed reported using software development approaches that may help to limit risks to cost and schedule outcomes. For example, major business IT programs reported using COTS software. In addition, most programs reported using an iterative software development approach and using a minimum deployable product. With respect to cybersecurity practices, all the programs reported developing cybersecurity strategies, but programs reported mixed experiences with respect to conducting cybersecurity testing. Most programs reported using operational cybersecurity testing, but less than half reported conducting developmental cybersecurity testing. In addition, programs that reported conducting cybersecurity vulnerability assessments experienced fewer increases in planned program costs and fewer schedule delays. Programs also reported a variety of challenges associated with their software development and cybersecurity staff.
    • 14 of the 15 programs reported using an iterative software development approach which, according to leading practices, may help reduce cost growth and deliver better results to the customer. However, programs also reported using an older approach to software development, known as waterfall, which could introduce risk for program cost growth because of its linear and sequential phases of development that may be implemented over a longer period of time. Specifically, two programs reported using a waterfall approach in conjunction with an iterative approach, while one was solely using a waterfall approach.
    • With respect to cybersecurity, programs reported mixed implementation of specific practices, contributing to program risks that might impact cost and schedule outcomes. For example, all 15 programs reported developing cybersecurity strategies, which are intended to help ensure that programs are planning for and documenting cybersecurity risk management efforts.
    • In contrast, only eight of the 15 programs reported conducting cybersecurity vulnerability assessments—systematic examinations of an information system or product intended to, among other things, determine the adequacy of security measures and identify security deficiencies. These eight programs experienced fewer increases in planned program costs and fewer schedule delays relative to the programs that did not report using cybersecurity vulnerability assessments.
  • The United States (U.S.) Department of Energy gave notice of a “Prohibition Order prohibiting the acquisition, importation, transfer, or installation of specified bulk-power system (BPS) electric equipment that directly serves Critical Defense Facilities (CDFs), pursuant to Executive Order 13920.” (See here for analysis of the executive order.) The Department explained:
    • Executive Order No. 13920 of May 1, 2020, Securing the United States Bulk-Power System (85 FR 26595 (May 4, 2020)) (E.O. 13920) declares that threats by foreign adversaries to the security of the BPS constitute a national emergency. A current list of such adversaries is provided in a Request for Information (RFI), issued by the Department of Energy (Department or DOE) on July 8, 2020 seeking public input to aid in its implementation of E.O. 13920. The Department has reason to believe, as detailed below, that the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China), one of the listed adversaries, is equipped and actively planning to undermine the BPS. The Department has thus determined that certain BPS electric equipment or programmable components subject to China’s ownership, control, or influence, constitute undue risk to the security of the BPS and to U.S. national security. The purpose of this Order is to prohibit the acquisition, importation, transfer, or subsequent installation of such BPS electric equipment or programmable components in certain sections of the BPS.
  • The United States’ (U.S.) Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) to its Entity List in a move intended to starve the company of key U.S. technology needed to manufacture high end semiconductors. Therefore, any U.S. entity wishing to do business with SMIC will need a license which the Trump Administration may not be likely to grant. The Department of Commerce explained in its press release:
    • The Entity List designation limits SMIC’s ability to acquire certain U.S. technology by requiring U.S. exporters to apply for a license to sell to the company.  Items uniquely required to produce semiconductors at advanced technology nodes—10 nanometers or below—will be subject to a presumption of denial to prevent such key enabling technology from supporting China’s military-civil fusion efforts.
    • BIS also added more than sixty other entities to the Entity List for actions deemed contrary to the national security or foreign policy interest of the United States.  These include entities in China that enable human rights abuses, entities that supported the militarization and unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea, entities that acquired U.S.-origin items in support of the People’s Liberation Army’s programs, and entities and persons that engaged in the theft of U.S. trade secrets.
    • As explained in the Federal Register notice:
      • SMIC is added to the Entity List as a result of China’s military-civil fusion (MCF) doctrine and evidence of activities between SMIC and entities of concern in the Chinese military industrial complex. The Entity List designation limits SMIC’s ability to acquire certain U.S. technology by requiring exporters, reexporters, and in-country transferors of such technology to apply for a license to sell to the company. Items uniquely required to produce semiconductors at advanced technology nodes 10 nanometers or below will be subject to a presumption of denial to prevent such key enabling technology from supporting China’s military modernization efforts. This rule adds SMIC and the following ten entities related to SMIC: Semiconductor Manufacturing International (Beijing) Corporation; Semiconductor Manufacturing International (Tianjin) Corporation; Semiconductor Manufacturing International (Shenzhen) Corporation; SMIC Semiconductor Manufacturing (Shanghai) Co., Ltd.; SMIC Holdings Limited; Semiconductor Manufacturing South China Corporation; SMIC Northern Integrated Circuit Manufacturing (Beijing) Co., Ltd.; SMIC Hong Kong International Company Limited; SJ Semiconductor; and Ningbo Semiconductor International Corporation (NSI).
  • The United States’ (U.S.) Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) amended its Export Administration Regulations “by adding a new ‘Military End User’ (MEU) List, as well as the first tranche of 103 entities, which includes 58 Chinese and 45 Russian companies” per its press release. The Department asserted:
    • The U.S. Government has determined that these companies are ‘military end users’ for purposes of the ‘military end user’ control in the EAR that applies to specified items for exports, reexports, or transfers (in-country) to the China, Russia, and Venezuela when such items are destined for a prohibited ‘military end user.’
  • The Australia Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) rolled out another piece of the Consumer Data Right (CDR) scheme under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, specifically accreditation guidelines “to provide information and guidance to assist applicants with lodging a valid application to become an accredited person” to whom Australians may direct data holders share their data. The ACCC explained:
    • The CDR aims to give consumers more access to and control over their personal data.
    • Being able to easily and efficiently share data will improve consumers’ ability to compare and switch between products and services and encourage competition between service providers, leading to more innovative products and services for consumers and the potential for lower prices.
    • Banking is the first sector to be brought into the CDR.
    • Accredited persons may receive a CDR consumer’s data from a data holder at the request and consent of the consumer. Any person, in Australia or overseas, who wishes to receive CDR data to provide products or services to consumers under the CDR regime, must be accredited
  • Australia’s government has released its “Data Availability and Transparency Bill 2020” that “establishes a new data sharing scheme for federal government data, underpinned by strong safeguards to mitigate risks and simplified processes to make it easier to manage data sharing requests” according to the summary provided in Parliament by the government’s point person. In the accompanying “Explanatory Memorandum,” the following summary was provided:
    • The Bill establishes a new data sharing scheme which will serve as a pathway and regulatory framework for sharing public sector data. ‘Sharing’ involves providing controlled access to data, as distinct from open release to the public.
    • To oversee the scheme and support best practice, the Bill creates a new independent regulator, the National Data Commissioner (the Commissioner). The Commissioner’s role is modelled on other regulators such as the Australian Information Commissioner, with whom the Commissioner will cooperate.
    • The data sharing scheme comprises the Bill and disallowable legislative instruments (regulations, Minister-made rules, and any data codes issued by the Commissioner). The Commissioner may also issue non-legislative guidelines that participating entities must have regard to, and may release other guidance as necessary.
    • Participants in the scheme are known as data scheme entities:
      • Data custodians are Commonwealth bodies that control public sector data, and have the right to deal with that data.
      • Accredited users are entities accredited by the Commissioner to access to public sector data. To become accredited, entities must satisfy the security, privacy, infrastructure and governance requirements set out in the accreditation framework.
      • Accredited data service providers (ADSPs) are entities accredited by the Commissioner to perform data services such as data integration. Government agencies and users will be able to draw upon ADSPs’ expertise to help them to share and use data safely.
    • The Bill does not compel sharing. Data custodians are responsible for assessing each sharing request, and deciding whether to share their data if satisfied the risks can be managed.
    • The data sharing scheme contains robust safeguards to ensure sharing occurs in a consistent and transparent manner, in accordance with community expectations. The Bill authorises data custodians to share public sector data with accredited users, directly or through an ADSP, where:
      • Sharing is for a permitted purpose – government service delivery, informing government policy and programs, or research and development;
      • The data sharing principles have been applied to manage the risks of sharing; and
      • The terms of the arrangement are recorded in a data sharing agreement.
    • Where the above requirements are met, the Bill provides limited statutory authority to share public sector data, despite other Commonwealth, State and Territory laws that prevent sharing. This override of non-disclosure laws is ‘limited’ because it occurs only when the Bill’s requirements are met, and only to the extent necessary to facilitate sharing.
  • The United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) is asking interested parties to provide input on the proposed acquisition of British semiconductor company by a United States (U.S.) company before it launches a formal investigation later this year. However, CMA is limited to competition considerations, and any national security aspects of the proposed deal would need to be investigated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government. CMA stated:
    • US-based chip designer and producer NVIDIA Corporation (NVIDIA) plans to purchase the Intellectual Property Group business of UK-based Arm Limited (Arm) in a deal worth $40 billion. Arm develops and licenses intellectual property (IP) and software tools for chip designs. The products and services supplied by the companies support a wide range of applications used by businesses and consumers across the UK, including desktop computers and mobile devices, game consoles and vehicle computer systems.
    • CMA added:
      • The CMA will look at the deal’s possible effect on competition in the UK. The CMA is likely to consider whether, following the takeover, Arm has an incentive to withdraw, raise prices or reduce the quality of its IP licensing services to NVIDIA’s rivals.
  • The Israeli firm, NSO Group, has been accused by an entity associated with a British university of using real-time cell phone data to sell its COVID-19 contact tracing app, Fleming, in ways that may have broken the laws of a handful of nations. Forensic Architecture,  a research agency, based at Goldsmiths, University of London, argued:
    • In March 2020, with the rise of COVID-19, Israeli cyber-weapons manufacturer NSO Group launched a contact-tracing technology named ‘Fleming’. Two months later, a database belonging to NSO’s Fleming program was found unprotected online. It contained more than five hundred thousand datapoints for more than thirty thousand distinct mobile phones. NSO Group denied there was a security breach. Forensic Architecture received and analysed a sample of the exposed database, which suggested that the data was based on ‘real’ personal data belonging to unsuspecting civilians, putting their private information in risk
    • Forensic Architecture added:
      • Leaving a database with genuine location data unprotected is a serious violation of the applicable data protection laws. That a surveillance company with access to personal data could have overseen this breach is all the more concerning.
      • This could constitute a violation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) based on where the database was discovered as well as the laws of the nations where NSO Group allegedly collected personal data
    • The NSO Group denied the claims and was quoted by Tech Crunch:
      • “We have not seen the supposed examination and have to question how these conclusions were reached. Nevertheless, we stand by our previous response of May 6, 2020. The demo material was not based on real and genuine data related to infected COVID-19 individuals,” said an unnamed spokesperson. (NSO’s earlier statement made no reference to individuals with COVID-19.)
      • “As our last statement details, the data used for the demonstrations did not contain any personally identifiable information (PII). And, also as previously stated, this demo was a simulation based on obfuscated data. The Fleming system is a tool that analyzes data provided by end users to help healthcare decision-makers during this global pandemic. NSO does not collect any data for the system, nor does NSO have any access to collected data.”

Coming Events

  • On 13 January, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold its monthly open meeting, and the agency has placed the following items on its tentative agenda “Bureau, Office, and Task Force leaders will summarize the work their teams have done over the last four years in a series of presentations:
    • Panel One. The Commission will hear presentations from the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, International Bureau, Office of Engineering and Technology, and Office of Economics and Analytics.
    • Panel Two. The Commission will hear presentations from the Wireline Competition Bureau and the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force.
    • Panel Three. The Commission will hear presentations from the Media Bureau and the Incentive Auction Task Force.
    • Panel Four. The Commission will hear presentations from the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Enforcement Bureau, and Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.
    • Panel Five. The Commission will hear presentations from the Office of Communications Business Opportunities, Office of Managing Director, and Office of General Counsel.
  • On 27 July, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will hold PrivacyCon 2021.

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Image by Judith Scharnowski from Pixabay

New Cybersecurity Law and Strategy Unveiled

The EU is revising and replacing a 2016 regime to govern cybersecurity across the bloc.

The European Union (EU) is floating a proposal to reform its 2016 law on cybersecurity throughout the European Union to address gaps the current regime is not addressing. This proposal was released in concert with a new cybersecurity strategy and a statutory proposal to address physical (i.e. non-cyber) infrastructure. These proposals are the latest in a line of policy changes put forth by the EU’s new leadership to make this decade the EU’s Digital Decade. It may, however, take years for these proposals to become laws. For example, the successor to the ePrivacy Directive has been held up in negotiations for the last few years.

New European Commission (EC) President Ursula von der Leyen spelled out her vision for the EU for the years of 2019 through 2024, including “A Europe fit for the digital age.” In its February 2020 “Communication: Shaping Europe’s digital future,” the EC spelled out more how von der Leyen’s vision would be effectuated:

A European cybersecurity strategy, including the establishment of a joint Cybersecurity Unit, a Review of the Security of Network and Information Systems (NIS) Directive and giving a push to the single market for cybersecurity.

To this end, in mid-December 2020, the EC and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy unveiled a new EU Cybersecurity Strategy and “proposals to address both cyber and physical resilience of critical entities and networks: a Directive on measures for high common level of cybersecurity across the Union (revised NIS Directive or ‘NIS 2′), and a new Directive on the resilience of critical entities.”

Let us turn to the NIS 2 first. This proposal would replace the 2016 “Directive on security of network and information systems (NIS Directive)” ((EU) 2016/1148) currently in effect throughout the EU. NIS 2 would impose new obligations and responsibilities on EU member states and essential and important entities. The nations of the EU would need to draft and implement cybersecurity frameworks/strategies, which includes setting up vulnerability disclosure programs, voluntary cybersecurity information sharing programs, a policy to address information and communications technology (ICT) supply chain risk, and cybersecurity standards for publicly bought and used ICT. EU nations would also need to name “competent” national authorities to enforce NIS 2, for the EC identified lax or non-existent enforcement of existing cybersecurity laws as a rationale for the new proposal. Consequently, such authorities must be empowered to issue binding directives, if necessary, warnings, or instructions to cease certain conduct. These authorities must also work with data protection authorities in the event of data breaches. NIS 2 also provides for administrative fines and penalties to be established in the laws of EU nations.

Additionally, all EU nations should have computer security incident response teams (CSIRTs). NIS 2 would apply to a number of public and private entities in certain sectors, which are deemed “essential:” energy; transport; banking; financial market infrastructures; health, drinking water; waste water; digital infrastructure; public administration and space. Some public and private entities would be “important” entities and subject to the NIS 2 in these sectors: postal and courier services; waste management; manufacture, production and distribution of chemicals; food production, processing and distribution; manufacturing and digital providers. Micro and small entities would largely not be swept up into NIS 2 even if they are part of one of the aforementioned sectors. However, “providers of electronic communications networks or of publicly available electronic communications services, trust service providers, Top-level domain name (TLD) name registries and public administration, and certain other entities” would be governed by NIS 2 regardless of their size.

The EU would also establish a Cooperation Group that would be tasked with helping EU nations work more harmoniously under the NIS 2. However, this new body, unlike, say the General Data Protection Regulation’s created European Data Protection Board (EDPB), would not have power to compel its members to comply with NIS 2.

Notably, NIS 2 would require that: “Member States shall ensure that essential and important entities shall take appropriate and proportionate technical and organisational measures to manage the risks posed to the security of network and information systems which those entities use in the provision of their services.” The law lists a number of elements that must go into these measures. Moreover, “essential and important entities notify, without undue delay, the competent authorities or the CSIRT…of any incident having a significant impact on the provision of their services.” The NIS 2 lays out broad criteria as to what constitutes a “significant impact:”

  • the incident has caused or has the potential to cause substantial operational disruption or financial losses for the entity concerned;
  • the incident has affected or has the potential to affect other natural or legal persons by causing considerable material or non-material losses.

In order to address ICT supply chain risk, EU countries may elect to “require essential and important entities to certify certain ICT products, ICT services and ICT processes under specific European cybersecurity certification schemes adopted ” under the legislation that created the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA).

As noted earlier, EU nations must establish systems for essential and important entities to share information but need not compel them to do so. Article 26 provides that nation “shall ensure that essential and important entities may exchange relevant cybersecurity information among themselves including information relating to cyber threats, vulnerabilities, indicators of compromise, tactics, techniques and procedures, cybersecurity alerts and configuration tools.” EU countries must also have a system for any non-essential, non-important entities or those from sectors not covered by NIS 2 can also voluntarily submit information.

The EC argued that the NIS Directive is now outdated and is in desperate need of revision to reflect current realities:

Notwithstanding its notable achievements, the NIS Directive, which paved the way for a significant change in mind-set, in relation to the institutional and regulatory approach to cybersecurity in many Member States, has also proven its limitations. The digital transformation of society (intensified by the COVID-19 crisis) has expanded the threat landscape and is bringing about new challenges which require adapted and innovative responses. The number of cyber-attacks continues to rise, with increasingly sophisticated attacks coming from a wide range of sources inside and outside the EU.

The EC highlighted some of the limitations in how the NIS Directive has been implemented by EU member states and its failure to drive the adoption of better cyber practices by EU businesses:

The evaluation on the functioning of the NIS Directive, conducted for the purposes of the Impact Assessment, identified the following issues: (1) the low level of cyber resilience of businesses operating in the EU; (2) the inconsistent resilience across Member States and sectors; and (3) the low level of joint situational awareness and lack of joint crisis response. For example, certain major hospitals in a Member State do not fall within the scope of the NIS Directive and hence are not required to implement the resulting security measures, while in another Member State almost every single healthcare provider in the country is covered by the NIS security requirements.

The EC explained how the NIS 2 relates to a proposal released the same day to address physical infrastructure in the EU:

The proposal is therefore closely aligned with the proposal for a Directive on the resilience of critical entities, which aims at enhancing the resilience of critical entities against physical threats in a large number of sectors. The proposal aims to ensure that competent authorities under both legal acts take complementary measures and exchange information as necessary regarding cyber and non-cyber resilience, and that particularly critical operators in the sectors considered to be ‘essential’ per the proposal at hand are also subject to more general resilience-enhancing obligations with an emphasis on non-cyber risks.

The EC’s impact assessment on how well the NIS Directive is working shows limitations in scope and application, some of which may be attributed to changes in the EU and the world:

  • The scope of the NIS Directive is too limited in terms of the sectors covered, mainly due to: (i) increased digitisation in recent years and a higher degree of interconnectedness, (ii) the scope of the NIS Directive no longer reflecting all digitised sectors providing key services to the economy and society as a whole.
  • The NIS Directive is not sufficiently clear when it comes to the scope for operators of essential services and its provisions do not provide sufficient clarity regarding national competence over digital service providers. This has led to a situation in which certain types of entities have not been identified in all Member States and are therefore not required to put in place security measures and report incidents.
  • The NIS Directive allowed wide discretion to the Member States when laying down security and incident reporting requirements for operators of essential services (hereinafter called ‘OES(s)’). The evaluation shows that in some instances Member States have implemented these requirements in significantly different ways, creating additional burden for companies operating in more than one Member State.
  • The supervision and enforcement regime of the NIS Directive is ineffective. For example, Member States have been very reluctant to apply penalties to entities failing to put in place security requirements or report incidents. This can have negative consequences for the cyber resilience of individual entities.
  • The financial and human resources set aside by Member States for fulfilling their tasks (such as OES identification or supervision), and consequently the different levels of maturity in dealing with cybersecurity risks, vary greatly. This further exacerbates the differences in cyber resilience between Member States.
  • Member States do not share information systematically with one another, with negative consequences in particular for the effectiveness of the cybersecurity measures and for the level of joint situational awareness at EU level. This is also the case for information sharing among private entities, and for the engagement between the EU level cooperation structures and private entities.

The EC’s proposal contains a summary of what the new law would do:

  • The Directive, in particular: (a) lays down obligations for the Member States to adopt a national cybersecurity strategy, designate competent national authorities, single points of contact and CSIRTs; (b) provides that Member States shall lay down cybersecurity risk management and reporting obligations for entities referred to as essential entities in Annex I and important entities in Annex II; (c) provides that Member States shall lay down obligations on cybersecurity information sharing.
  • It applies to certain public or private essential entities operating in the sectors listed in Annex I (energy; transport; banking; financial market infrastructures; health, drinking water; waste water; digital infrastructure; public administration and space) and certain important entities operating in the sectors listed in Annex II (postal and courier services; waste management; manufacture, production and distribution of chemicals; food production, processing and distribution; manufacturing and digital providers). Micro and small entities within the meaning of Commission Recommendation 2003/361/EC of 6 May 2003 are excluded from the scope of the Directive, except for providers of electronic communications networks or of publicly available electronic communications services, trust service providers, Top-level domain name (TLD) name registries and public administration, and certain other entities, such as the sole provider of a service in a Member State.

The EC also released “The EU’s Cybersecurity Strategy for the Digital Decade” alongside the NIS 2 “to ensure a global and open Internet with strong guardrails to address the risks to the security and fundamental rights and freedoms of people in Europe.” The EC spelled out its dramatic plan to remake how the bloc regulates, invests in, and structures policies around cybersecurity. The EC claimed “[a]s a key component of Shaping Europe’s Digital Future, the Recovery Plan for Europe  and the EU Security Union Strategy, the Strategy will bolster Europe’s collective resilience against cyber threats and help to ensure that all citizens and businesses can fully benefit from trustworthy and reliable services and digital tools.” If the EU follows through, this strategy may have significant effects in the EU and around the world.

The EC further explained:

  • Following the progress achieved under the previous strategies, it contains concrete proposals for deploying three principal instruments –regulatory, investment and policy instruments – to address three areas of EU action – (1) resilience, technological sovereignty and leadership, (2) building operational capacity to prevent, deter and respond, and (3) advancing a global and open cyberspace. The EU is committed to supporting this strategy through an unprecedented level of investment in the EU’s digital transition over the next seven years – potentially quadrupling previous levels – as part of new technological and industrial policies and the recovery agenda
  • Cybersecurity must be integrated into all these digital investments, particularly key technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), encryption and quantum computing, using incentives, obligations and benchmarks. This can stimulate the growth of the European cybersecurity industry and provide the certainty needed to ease the phasing out of legacy systems. The European Defence Fund (EDF) will support European cyber defence solutions, as part of the European defence technological and industrial base. Cybersecurity is included in external financial instruments to support our partners, notably the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument. Preventing the misuse of technologies, protecting critical infrastructure and ensuring the integrity of supply chains also enables the EU’s adherence to the UN norms, rules and principles of responsible state behavior.

Per the EC’s press release, the ”Directive on the resilience of critical entities” “expands both the scope and depth of the 2008 European Critical Infrastructure directive.” The EC added:

Ten sectors are now covered: energy, transport, banking, financial market infrastructures, health, drinking water, waste water, digital infrastructure, public administration and space. Under the proposed directive, Member States would each adopt a national strategy for ensuring the resilience of critical entities and carry out regular risk assessments. These assessments would also help identify a smaller subset of critical entities that would be subject to obligations intended to enhance their resilience in the face of non-cyber risks, including entity-level risk assessments, taking technical and organisational measures, and incident notification. The Commission, in turn, would provide complementary support to Member States and critical entities, for instance by developing a Union-level overview of cross-border and cross-sectoral risks, best practice, methodologies, cross-border training activities and exercises to test the resilience of critical entities.

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Image by Prawny from Pixabay

Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (5 January 2021)

Further Reading

  • China Used Stolen Data To Expose CIA Operatives In Africa And Europe;” “Beijing Ransacked Data as U.S. Sources Went Dark in China;” “Tech Giants Are Giving China A Vital Edge In Espionage” By Zach Dorfman — Foreign Policy. This terrifying trio of articles lays bare the 180 degree change in espionage advantage the People’s Republic of China (PRC) seems to hold over the United States (U.S.). Hacking, big data, processing, algorithms, and other technological issues play prominent roles in the PRC’s seeming advantage. It remains to be seen how the U.S. responds to the new status quo.
  • Singapore police can access COVID-19 contact tracing data for criminal investigations” By Eileen Yu — ZDNet. During questioning in Singapore’s Parliament, it was revealed the police can use existing authority to access the data on a person’s smartphone collected by the nation’s TraceTogether app. Technically, this would entail a person being asked by the police to upload their data, which is stored on devices and encrypted. Nonetheless, this is the very scenario privacy advocates have been saying is all but inevitable with COVID-19 tracing apps on phones.
  • As Understanding of Russian Hacking Grows, So Does Alarm” By David Sanger, Nicole Perlroth, and Julian Barnes — The New York Times. Like a detonated bomb, the Russian hack of United States (U.S.) public and private systems keeps getting worse in terms of damage and fallout. The scope continues to widen as it may come to pass that thousands of U.S. entities have been compromised in ways that leave them vulnerable to future attacks. Incidentally, the massive hack has tarnished somewhat the triumph of the U.S. intelligence agencies in fending off interference with the 2020 election.
  • Google workers launch unconventional union with help of Communications Workers of America” By Nitasha Tiku — The Washington Post. A new union formed in Google stopped short of seeking certification by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which will block it from collective bargaining. Nonetheless, the new union will collect dues and have a board of directors. This may lead to additional unionizing efforts in union-averse Silicon Valley and throughout the tech world.
  • ‘Break up the groupthink’: Democrats press Biden to diversify his tech picks” By Cristiano Lima — Politico. Key Democratic groups in the House are pushing the Biden team to appoint people of color for key technology positions at agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

Other Developments

  • The Congress overrode President Donald Trump’s veto of the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), thus enacting the annual defense and national security policy bill, which includes a number of technology provisions that will have effects in the public and private sectors. (See here and here for analysis of these provisions in the “William M. “Mac” Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021” (H.R.6395).
  • A federal court dismissed a lawsuit brought by a civil liberties and privacy advocacy group to stop implementation of President Donald Trump’s executive order aimed at social media companies and their liability protection under 47 USC 230 (aka Section 230). In June, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), filed suit in federal court to block enforcement of the “Executive Order (EO) on Preventing Online Censorship.” However, the United States District Court of the District of Columbia ruled that CDT is not injured by the executive order (EO) and any such lawsuit is premature. The court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction.
    • In its complaint, CDT argued the EO “violates the First Amendment in two fundamental respects:
      • First, the Order is plainly retaliatory: it attacks a private company, Twitter, for exercising its First Amendment right to comment on the President’s statements.
      • Second, and more fundamentally, the Order seeks to curtail and chill the constitutionally protected speech of all online platforms and individuals— by demonstrating the willingness to use government authority to retaliate against those who criticize the government.”
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached a settlement with a company that sells emergency travel and medical services for failing “to take reasonable steps to secure sensitive consumer information such as health records,” including having a unsecured cloud database a security researcher stumbled upon with the sensitive data of more than 130,000 people. Moreover, the company claimed a certification of compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which turned out to be untrue. In the complaint, the FTC alleged that these and other practices “constitute unfair and/or deceptive acts or practices, in or affecting commerce in violation of Section 5(a) of the Federal Trade Commission Act.” The FTC and the company reached agreement on a consent order that will require the company’s compliance for at least 20 years.
    • In the complaint, the FTC stated that SkyMed “advertises, offers for sale, and sells nationwide a wide array of emergency travel membership plans that cover up to eighteen different emergency travel and medical evacuation services for members who sustain serious illnesses or injuries during travel in certain geographic areas.”
    • The FTC asserted a security researcher discovered SkyMed’s “database, which could be located and accessed by anyone on the internet, contained approximately 130,000 membership records with consumers’ personal information stored in plain text, including information populated in certain fields for names, dates of birth, gender, home addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, membership information and account numbers, and health information.”
    • The FTC noted the company told affected customers that it had investigated and “[t]here was no medical or payment-related information visible and no indication that the information has been misused.” This turns out to be completely false, and the company’s “investigation did not determine that consumers’ health information was neither stored on the cloud database, nor improperly accessed by an unauthorized third party.”
    • The FTC summarized the terms of the consent order and SkyMed’s obligations:
      • Under the proposed settlement, SkyMed is prohibited from misrepresenting how it secures personal data, the circumstances of and response to a data breach, and whether the company has been endorsed by or participates in any government-sponsored privacy or security program. The company also will be required to send a notice to affected consumers detailing the data that was exposed by the data breach.
      • As part of the mandated information security program, the company must identify and document potential internal and external risks and design, implement, and maintain safeguards to protect personal information it collects from those risks. In addition, SkyMed must obtain biennial assessments of its information security program by a third party, which the FTC has authority to approve, to examine the effectiveness of SkyMed’s information security program, identify any gaps or weaknesses, and monitor efforts to address these problems. The settlement also requires a senior SkyMed executive to certify annually that the company is complying with the requirements of the settlement.
  • The European Commission (EC) has communicated its vision for a new cybersecurity strategy to the European Parliament and European Council “to ensure a global and open Internet with strong guardrails to address the risks to the security and fundamental rights and freedoms of people in Europe.” The EC spelled out its dramatic plan to remake how the bloc regulates, invests in, and structures policies around cybersecurity. The EC claimed “[a]s a key component of Shaping Europe’s Digital Future, the Recovery Plan for Europe  and the EU Security Union Strategy, the Strategy will bolster Europe’s collective resilience against cyber threats and help to ensure that all citizens and businesses can fully benefit from trustworthy and reliable services and digital tools.” If the European Union (EU) follows through, this strategy may have significant effects in the EU and around the world. The EC further explained:
    • Following the progress achieved under the previous strategies, it contains concrete proposals for deploying three principal instruments –regulatory, investment and policy instruments – to address three areas of EU action – (1) resilience, technological sovereignty and leadership, (2) building operational capacity to prevent, deter and respond, and (3) advancing a global and open cyberspace. The EU is committed to supporting this strategy through an unprecedented level of investment in the EU’s digital transition over the next seven years – potentially quadrupling previous levels – as part of new technological and industrial policies and the recovery agenda
    • Cybersecurity must be integrated into all these digital investments, particularly key technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), encryption and quantum computing, using incentives, obligations and benchmarks. This can stimulate the growth of the European cybersecurity industry and provide the certainty needed to ease the phasing out of legacy systems. The European Defence Fund (EDF) will support European cyber defence solutions, as part of the European defence technological and industrial base. Cybersecurity is included in external financial instruments to support our partners, notably the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument. Preventing the misuse of technologies, protecting critical infrastructure and ensuring the integrity of supply chains also enables the EU’s adherence to the UN norms, rules and principles of responsible state behavior.
    • With respect to actions that might be taken, the EC stated that “[t]he EU should ensure:
      • Adoption of revised NIS Directive;
      • Regulatory measures for an Internet of Secure Things
      • Through the CCCN investment in cybersecurity (notably through the Digital Europe Programme, Horizon Europe and recovery facility) to reach up to €4.5 billion in public and private investments over 2021-2027;
      • An EU network of AI-enabled Security Operation Centres and an ultra-secure communication infrastructure harnessing quantum technologies;
      • Widespread adoption of cybersecurity technologies through dedicated support to SMEs under the Digital Innovation Hubs;
      • Development of an EU DNS resolver service as a safe and open alternative for EU citizens, businesses and public administration to access the Internet; and
      • Completion of the implementation of the 5G Toolbox by the second quarter of 2021
      • Complete the European cybersecurity crisis management framework and determine the process, milestones and timeline for establishing the Joint Cyber Unit;
      •  Continue implementation of cybercrime agenda under the Security Union Strategy;
      • Encourage and facilitate the establishment of a Member States’ cyber intelligence working group residing within the EU INTCEN;
      • Advance the EU’s cyber deterrence posture to prevent, discourage, deter and respond to malicious cyber activities;
      • Review the Cyber Defence Policy Framework;
      • Facilitate the development of an EU “Military Vision and Strategy on Cyberspace as a Domain of Operations” for CSDP military missions and operations;
      • Support synergies between civil, defence and space industries; and
      • Reinforce cybersecurity of critical space infrastructures under the Space Programme.
      • Define a set of objectives in international standardisation processes, and promote these at international level;
      • Advance international security and stability in cyberspace, notably through the proposal by the EU and its Member States for a Programme of Action to Advance Responsible State Behaviour in Cyberspace (PoA) in the United Nations;
      • Offer practical guidance on the application of human rights and fundamental freedoms in cyberspace;
      • Better protect children against child sexual abuse and exploitation, as well as a Strategy on the Rights of the Child;
      • Strengthen and promote the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, including through the work on the Second Additional Protocol to the Budapest Convention;
      • Expand EU cyber dialogue with third countries, regional and international organisations, including through an informal EU Cyber Diplomacy Network;
      • Reinforce the exchanges with the multi-stakeholder community, notably by regular and structured exchanges with the private sector, academia and civil society; and
      • Propose an EU External Cyber Capacity Building Agenda and an EU Cyber Capacity Building Board.
  • The U.S.-China  Economic  and  Security  Review  Commission released its annual report on the People’s Republic of China (PRC) per its “mandate “to monitor, investigate, and report to Congress on the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.” The Commission argued:
    • Left unchecked, the PRC will continue building a new global order anathema to the interests and values that have underpinned unprecedented economic growth and stability among nations in the post-Cold War era. The past 20 years are littered with the Chinese  Communist  Party’s (CCP) broken promises. In China’s intended new order, there is little reason to believe CCP promises of “win-win” solutions, mutual respect, and peaceful coexistence. A clear understanding of the CCP’s adversarial national security and economic ambitions is essential as U.S. and allied leaders develop the policies and programs that will define the conditions of global freedom and shape our future.
    • The Commission made ten “Key Recommendations:”
      • Congress adopt the principle of reciprocity as foundational in all legislation bearing on U.S.-China relations.
      • Congress expand the authority of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to monitor and take foreign government subsidies into account in premerger notification processes.
      • Congress direct the U.S. Department of State to produce an annual report detailing China’s actions in the United Nations and its subordinate agencies that subvert the principles and purposes of the United Nations
      • Congress hold hearings to consider the creation of an interagency executive Committee on Technical Standards that would be responsible for coordinating U.S. government policy and priorities on international standards.
      • Congress consider establishing a “Manhattan Project”-like effort to ensure that the American public has access to safe and secure supplies of critical lifesaving and life-sustaining drugs and medical equipment, and to ensure that these supplies are available from domestic sources or, where necessary, trusted allies.
      • Congress enact legislation establishing a China Economic Data Coordination Center (CEDCC) at the Bureau of Economic Analysis at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
      • Congress direct the Administration, when sanctioning an entity in the People’s Republic of China for actions contrary to the economic and national security interests of the United States or for violations of human rights, to also sanction the parent entity.
      • Congress consider enacting legislation to make the Director of the American Institute in Taiwan a presidential nomination subject to the advice and consent of the United States Senate.
      • Congress amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to clarify that association with a foreign government’s technology transfer programs may be considered grounds to deny a nonimmigrant visa if the foreign government in question is deemed a strategic competitor of the United States, or if the applicant has engaged in violations of U.S. laws relating to espionage, sabotage, or export controls.
      • Congress direct the Administration to identify and remove barriers to receiving United States visas for Hong Kong residents attempting to exit Hong Kong for fear of political persecution.
  • The Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, and Consumer Federation of America asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) “to recommend specific changes to the proposed Consent Order to safeguard the privacy interests of Zoom users” in their comments submitted regarding the FTC’s settlement with Zoom. In November, the FTC split along party lines to approve a settlement with Zoom to resolve allegations that the video messaging platform violated the FTC Act’s ban on unfair and deceptive practices in commerce. Zoom agreed to a consent order mandating a new information security program, third party assessment, prompt reporting of covered incidents and other requirements over a period of 20 years. The two Democratic Commissioners voted against the settlement and dissented because they argued it did not punish the abundant wrongdoing and will not dissuade future offenders. Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter dissented for a variety of reasons that may be summed up: the FTC let Zoom off with a slap on the wrist. Kelly Slaughter focused on the majority’s choice to ignore the privacy implications of Zoom’s misdeeds, especially by not including any requirements that Zoom improve its faulty privacy practices.
    • The groups “recommend that the FTC modify the proposed Consent Order and require Zoom to(1) implement a comprehensive privacy program; (2) obtain regular independent privacy assessments and make those assessments available to the public; (3) provide meaningful redress for victims of Zoom’s unfair and deceptive trade practices; and (4) ensure the adequate protection and limits on the collection of children’s data.”

Coming Events

  • On 13 January, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold its monthly open meeting, and the agency has placed the following items on its tentative agenda “Bureau, Office, and Task Force leaders will summarize the work their teams have done over the last four years in a series of presentations:
    • Panel One. The Commission will hear presentations from the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, International Bureau, Office of Engineering and Technology, and Office of Economics and Analytics.
    • Panel Two. The Commission will hear presentations from the Wireline Competition Bureau and the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force.
    • Panel Three. The Commission will hear presentations from the Media Bureau and the Incentive Auction Task Force.
    • Panel Four. The Commission will hear presentations from the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Enforcement Bureau, and Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.
    • Panel Five. The Commission will hear presentations from the Office of Communications Business Opportunities, Office of Managing Director, and Office of General Counsel.
  • On 27 July, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will hold PrivacyCon 2021.

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Further Reading, Other Development, and Coming Events (4 January 2021)

Further Reading

  • Microsoft Says Russian Hackers Viewed Some of Its Source Code” By Nicole Perlroth — The New York Times. The Sluzhba vneshney razvedki Rossiyskoy Federatsii’s (SVR) hack keeps growing and growing with Microsoft admitting its source code was viewed through an employee account. It may be that authorized Microsoft resellers were one of the vectors by which the SVR accessed SolarWinds, FireEye, and ultimately a number of United States (U.S.) government agencies. Expect more revelations to come about the scope and breadth of entities and systems the SVR compromised.
  • In 2020, we reached peak Internet. Here’s what worked — and what flopped.” By Geoffrey Fowler — The Washington Post. The newspaper’s tech columnist reviews the technology used during the pandemic and what is likely to stay with us when life returns to some semblance of normal.
  • Facebook Says It’s Standing Up Against Apple For Small Businesses. Some Of Its Employees Don’t Believe It.” By Craig Silverman and Ryan Mac — BuzzFeed News. Again, two of the best-sourced journalists when it comes to Facebook have exposed employee dissent within the social media and advertising giant, and this time over the company’s advertising blitz positioning it as the champion of small businesses that allegedly stand to be hurt when Apple rolls out iOS 14 that will allow users to block the type of tracking across apps and the internet Facebook thrives on. The company’s PR campaign stands in contrast to the anecdotal stories about errors that harmed and impeded small companies in using Facebook to advertise and sell products and services to cusstomers.
  • SolarWinds hack spotlights a thorny legal problem: Who to blame for espionage?” By Tim Starks — cyberscoop. This piece previews possible and likely inevitable litigation to follow from the SolarWinds hack, including possible securities action on the basis of fishy dumps of stock by executive, breach of contract, and negligence for failing to patch and address vulnerabilities in a timely fashion. Federal and state regulators will probably get on the field, too. But this will probably take years to play out as Home Depot settled claims arising from its 2014 breach with state attorneys general in November 2020.
  • The Tech Policies the Trump Administration Leaves Behind” By Aaron Boyd — Nextgov. A look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Trump Administration’s technology policies, some of which will live on in the Biden Administration.

Other Developments

  • In response to the SolarWinds hack, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) issued a joint statement indicating that the process established in Pursuant to Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 41, an Obama Administration policy has been activated and a Cyber Unified Coordination Group (UCG) has been formed “to coordinate a whole-of-government response to this significant cyber incident.” The agencies explained “[t]he UCG is intended to unify the individual efforts of these agencies as they focus on their separate responsibilities.”
    • In PPD-41 it is explained that a UCG “shall serve as the primary method for coordinating between and among Federal agencies in response to a significant cyber incident as well as for integrating private sector partners into incident response efforts, as appropriate.” Moreover, “[t]he Cyber UCG is intended to result in unity of effort and not to alter agency authorities or leadership, oversight, or command responsibilities.”
  • Following the completion of its “in-depth” investigation, the European Commission (EC) cleared Google’s acquisition of Fitbit with certain conditions, removing a significant hurdle for the American multinational in buying the wearable fitness tracker company. In its press release, the EC explained that after its investigation, “the Commission had concerns that the transaction, as initially notified, would have harmed competition in several markets.” To address and allay concerns, Google bound itself for ten years to a set of commitments that can be unilaterally extended by the EC and will be enforced, in part, by the appointment of a trustee to oversee compliance.
    • The EC was particularly concerned about:
      • Advertising: By acquiring Fitbit, Google would acquire (i) the database maintained by Fitbit about its users’ health and fitness; and (ii) the technology to develop a database similar to that of Fitbit. By increasing the already vast amount of data that Google could use for the personalisation of ads, it would be more difficult for rivals to match Google’s services in the markets for online search advertising, online display advertising, and the entire “ad tech” ecosystem. The transaction would therefore raise barriers to entry and expansion for Google’s competitors for these services to the detriment of advertisers, who would ultimately face higher prices and have less choice.
      • Access to Web Application Programming Interface (‘API’) in the market for digital healthcare: A number of players in this market currently access health and fitness data provided by Fitbit through a Web API, in order to provide services to Fitbit users and obtain their data in return. The Commission found that following the transaction, Google might restrict competitors’ access to the Fitbit Web API. Such a strategy would come especially at the detriment of start-ups in the nascent European digital healthcare space.
      • Wrist-worn wearable devices: The Commission is concerned that following the transaction, Google could put competing manufacturers of wrist-worn wearable devices at a disadvantage by degrading their interoperability with Android smartphones.
    • As noted, Google made a number of commitments to address competition concerns:
      • Ads Commitment:
        • Google will not use for Google Ads the health and wellness data collected from wrist-worn wearable devices and other Fitbit devices of users in the EEA, including search advertising, display advertising, and advertising intermediation products. This refers also to data collected via sensors (including GPS) as well as manually inserted data.
        • Google will maintain a technical separation of the relevant Fitbit’s user data. The data will be stored in a “data silo” which will be separate from any other Google data that is used for advertising.
        • Google will ensure that European Economic Area (‘EEA’) users will have an effective choice to grant or deny the use of health and wellness data stored in their Google Account or Fitbit Account by other Google services (such as Google Search, Google Maps, Google Assistant, and YouTube).
      • Web API Access Commitment:
        • Google will maintain access to users’ health and fitness data to software applications through the Fitbit Web API, without charging for access and subject to user consent.
      • Android APIs Commitment:
        • Google will continue to license for free to Android original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) those public APIs covering all current core functionalities that wrist-worn devices need to interoperate with an Android smartphone. Such core functionalities include but are not limited to, connecting via Bluetooth to an Android smartphone, accessing the smartphone’s camera or its GPS. To ensure that this commitment is future-proof, any improvements of those functionalities and relevant updates are also covered.
        • It is not possible for Google to circumvent the Android API commitment by duplicating the core interoperability APIs outside the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). This is because, according to the commitments, Google has to keep the functionalities afforded by the core interoperability APIs, including any improvements related to the functionalities, in open-source code in the future. Any improvements to the functionalities of these core interoperability APIs (including if ever they were made available to Fitbit via a private API) also need to be developed in AOSP and offered in open-source code to Fitbit’s competitors.
        • To ensure that wearable device OEMs have also access to future functionalities, Google will grant these OEMs access to all Android APIs that it will make available to Android smartphone app developers including those APIs that are part of Google Mobile Services (GMS), a collection of proprietary Google apps that is not a part of the Android Open Source Project.
        • Google also will not circumvent the Android API commitment by degrading users experience with third party wrist-worn devices through the display of warnings, error messages or permission requests in a discriminatory way or by imposing on wrist-worn devices OEMs discriminatory conditions on the access of their companion app to the Google Play Store.
  • The United States (U.S.) Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has proposed a major rewrite of the regulations governing medical privacy in the U.S. As the U.S. lacks a unified privacy regime, the proposed changes would affect on those entities in the medical sector subject to the regime, which is admittedly many such entities. Nevertheless, it is almost certain the Biden Administration will pause this rulemaking and quite possibly withdraw it should it prove crosswise with the new White House’s policy goals.
    • HHS issued a notice of proposed rulemaking “to modify the Standards for the Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information (Privacy Rule) under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 (HITECH Act).”
      • HHS continued:
        • The Privacy Rule is one of several rules, collectively known as the HIPAA Rules, that protect the privacy and security of individuals’ medical records and other protected health information (PHI), i.e., individually identifiable health information maintained or transmitted by or on behalf of HIPAA covered entities (i.e., health care providers who conduct covered health care transactions electronically, health plans, and health care clearinghouses).
        • The proposals in this NPRM support the Department’s Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care (Regulatory Sprint), described in detail below. Specifically, the proposals in this NPRM would amend provisions of the Privacy Rule that could present barriers to coordinated care and case management –or impose other regulatory burdens without sufficiently compensating for, or offsetting, such burdens through privacy protections. These regulatory barriers may impede the transformation of the health care system from a system that pays for procedures and services to a system of value-based health care that pays for quality care.
    • In a press release, OCR asserted:
      • The proposed changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule include strengthening individuals’ rights to access their own health information, including electronic information; improving information sharing for care coordination and case management for individuals; facilitating greater family and caregiver involvement in the care of individuals experiencing emergencies or health crises; enhancing flexibilities for disclosures in emergency or threatening circumstances, such as the Opioid and COVID-19 public health emergencies; and reducing administrative burdens on HIPAA covered health care providers and health plans, while continuing to protect individuals’ health information privacy interests.
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has used its powers to compel selected regulated entities to provide requested information in asking that “nine social media and video streaming companies…provide data on how they collect, use, and present personal information, their advertising and user engagement practices, and how their practices affect children and teens.” The TFTC is using its Section 6(b) authority to compel the information from Amazon.com, Inc., ByteDance Ltd., which operates the short video service TikTok, Discord Inc., Facebook, Inc., Reddit, Inc., Snap Inc., Twitter, Inc., WhatsApp Inc., and YouTube LLC. Failure to respond can result in the FTC fining a non-compliant entity.
    • The FTC claimed in its press release it “is seeking information specifically related to:
      • how social media and video streaming services collect, use, track, estimate, or derive personal and demographic information;
      • how they determine which ads and other content are shown to consumers;
      • whether they apply algorithms or data analytics to personal information;
      • how they measure, promote, and research user engagement; and
      • how their practices affect children and teens.
    • The FTC explained in its sample order:
      • The Commission is seeking information concerning the privacy policies, procedures, and practices of Social Media and Video Streaming Service providers, Including the method and manner in which they collect, use, store, and disclose Personal Information about consumers and their devices. The Special Report will assist the Commission in conducting a study of such policies, practices, and procedures.
  • The United States (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) supplemented its Emergency Directive 21-01 to federal civilian agencies in response to the Sluzhba vneshney razvedki Rossiyskoy Federatsii’s (SVR) hack via SolarWinds. In an 18 December update, CISA explained:
    • This section provides additional guidance on the implementation of CISA Emergency Directive (ED) 21-01, to include an update on affected versions, guidance for agencies using third-party service providers, and additional clarity on required actions.
    •  In a 30 December update, CISA stated:
      • Specifically, all federal agencies operating versions of the SolarWinds Orion platform other than those identified as “affected versions” below are required to use at least SolarWinds Orion Platform version 2020.2.1HF2. The National Security Agency (NSA) has examined this version and verified that it eliminates the previously identified malicious code. Given the number and nature of disclosed and undisclosed vulnerabilities in SolarWinds Orion, all instances that remain connected to federal networks must be updated to 2020.2.1 HF2 by COB December 31, 2020. CISA will follow up with additional supplemental guidance, to include further clarifications and hardening requirements.
  • Australia’s Attorney-General’s Department published an unclassified version of the four volumes of the “Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Legal Framework of the National Intelligence Community,” an “examination of the legislative framework underpinning the National Intelligence Community (NIC)…the first and largest since the Hope Royal Commissions considered the Australian Intelligence Community (AIC) in the 1970s and 1980s.” Ultimately, the authors of the report concluded:
    • We do not consider the introduction of a common legislative framework, in the form of a single Act governing all or some NIC agencies, to be a practical, pragmatic or proportionate reform. It would be unlikely that the intended benefits of streamlining and simplifying NIC legislation could be achieved due to the diversity of NIC agency functions—from intelligence to law enforcement, regulatory and policy—and the need to maintain differences in powers, immunities and authorising frameworks. The Review estimates that reform of this scale would cost over $200million and take up to 10years to complete. This would be an impractical and disproportionate undertaking for no substantial gain. In our view, the significant costs and risks of moving to a single, consolidated Act clearly outweigh the limited potential benefits.
    • While not recommending a common legislative framework for the entire NIC, some areas of NIC legislation would benefit from simplification and modernisation. We recommend the repeal of the TIA Act, Surveillance Devices Act 2004(SD Act) and parts of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (ASIO Act), and their replacement with a single new Act governing the use of electronic surveillance powers—telecommunications interception, covert access to stored communications, computers and telecommunications data, and the use of optical, listening and tracking devices—under Commonwealth law.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released additional materials to supplement a major rewrite of a foundational security guidance document. NIST explained “[n]ew supplemental materials for NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-53 Revision 5, Security and Privacy Controls for Information Systems and Organizations, are available for download to support the December 10, 2020 errata release of SP 800-53 and SP 800-53B, Control Baselines for Information Systems and Organizations.” These supplemental materials include:
    • A comparison of the NIST SP 800-53 Revision 5 controls and control enhancements to Revision 4. The spreadsheet describes the changes to each control and control enhancement, provides a brief summary of the changes, and includes an assessment of the significance of the changes.  Note that this comparison was authored by The MITRE Corporation for the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and is being shared with permission by DNI.
    • Mapping of the Appendix J Privacy Controls (Revision 4) to Revision 5. The spreadsheet supports organizations using the privacy controls in Appendix J of SP 800-53 Revision 4 that are transitioning to the integrated control catalog in Revision 5.
    • Mappings between NIST SP 800-53 and other frameworks and standards. The mappings provide organizations a general indication of SP 800-53 control coverage with respect to other frameworks and standards. When leveraging the mappings, it is important to consider the intended scope of each publication and how each publication is used; organizations should not assume equivalency based solely on the mapping tables because mappings are not always one-to-one and there is a degree of subjectivity in the mapping analysis.
  • Via a final rule, the Department of Defense (DOD) codified “the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (NISPOM) in regulation…[that] establishes requirements for the protection of classified information disclosed to or developed by contractors, licensees, grantees, or certificate holders (hereinafter referred to as contractors) to prevent unauthorized disclosure.” The DOD stated “[i]n addition to adding the NISPOM to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), this rule incorporates the requirements of Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 3, “Reporting Requirements for Personnel with Access to Classified Information or Who Hold a Sensitive Position.” The DOD stated “SEAD 3 requires reporting by all contractor cleared personnel who have been granted eligibility for access to classified information.”
    • The DOD added “[t]his NISPOM rule provides for a single nation-wide implementation plan which will, with this rule, include SEAD 3 reporting by all contractor cleared personnel to report specific activities that may adversely impact their continued national security eligibility, such as reporting of foreign travel and foreign contacts.”
    • The DOD explained “NISP Cognizant Security Agencies (CSAs) shall conduct an analysis of such reported activities to determine whether they pose a potential threat to national security and take appropriate action.”
    • The DOD added that “the rule also implements the provisions of Section 842 of Public Law 115-232, which removes the requirement for a covered National Technology and Industrial Base (NTIB) entity operating under a special security agreement pursuant to the NISP to obtain a national interest determination as a condition for access to proscribed information.”
  • An advisory committee housed at the United States (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is calling for the White House to quickly “operationalize intelligence in a classified space with senior executives and cyber experts from most critical entities in the energy, financial services, and communications sectors working directly with intelligence analysts and other government staff.” In their report, the President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) proposed the creation of a Critical Infrastructure Command Center (CICC) to “provid[e] real-time collaboration between government and industry…[and] take direct action and provide tactical solutions to mitigate, remediate,  and deter threats.” NIAC urged the President to “direct relevant federal agencies to support the private sector in executing the concept, including identifying the required government staff…[and] work with Congress to ensure the appropriate authorities are established to allow the CICC to fully realize its operational functionality.” NIAC recommended “near-term actions to implement the CICC concept:
    • 1.The President should direct the relevant federal agencies to support the private sector in rapidly standing up the CICC concept with the energy, financial services, and communications sectors:
      • a. Within 90 days the private sector will identify the executives who will lead execution of the CICC concept and establish governing criteria (including membership, staffing and rotation, and other logistics).
      • b. Within 120 days the CICC sector executives will identify and assign the necessary CICC staff from the private sector.
      • c. Within 90 days an appropriate venue to house the operational component will be identified and the necessary agreements put in place.
    • 2. The President should direct the Intelligence Community and other relevant government agencies to identify and co-locate the required government staff counterparts to enable the direct coordination required by the CICC. This staff should be pulled from the IC, SSAs, and law enforcement.
    • 3. The President, working with Congress, should establish the appropriate authorities and mission for federal agencies to directly share intelligence with critical infrastructure companies, along with any other authorities required for the CICC concept to be fully successful (identified in Appendix A).
    • 4. Once the CICC concept is fully operational (within 180 days), the responsible executives should deliver a report to the NSC and the NIAC demonstrating how the distinct capabilities of the CICC have been achieved and the impact of the capabilities to date. The report should identify remaining gaps in resources, direction, or authorities.

Coming Events

  • On 13 January, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold its monthly open meeting, and the agency has placed the following items on its tentative agenda “Bureau, Office, and Task Force leaders will summarize the work their teams have done over the last four years in a series of presentations:
    • Panel One. The Commission will hear presentations from the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, International Bureau, Office of Engineering and Technology, and Office of Economics and Analytics.
    • Panel Two. The Commission will hear presentations from the Wireline Competition Bureau and the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force.
    • Panel Three. The Commission will hear presentations from the Media Bureau and the Incentive Auction Task Force.
    • Panel Four. The Commission will hear presentations from the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Enforcement Bureau, and Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.
    • Panel Five. The Commission will hear presentations from the Office of Communications Business Opportunities, Office of Managing Director, and Office of General Counsel.
  • On 27 July, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will hold PrivacyCon 2021.

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FY 2021 Omnibus and COVID Stimulus Become Law

The end-of-the-year funding package for FY 2021 is stuffed with technology policy changes.

At the tail end of the calendar year 2020, Congress and the White House finally agreed on FY 2021 appropriations and further COVID-19 relief funding and policies, much of which implicated or involved technology policy. As is often the practice, Congressional stakeholders used the opportunity of must-pass legislation as the vehicle for other legislation that perhaps could not get through a chamber of Congress or surmount the now customary filibuster in the Senate.

Congress cleared the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021” (H.R.133) on 21 December 2020, but President Donald Trump equivocated on whether to sign the package, in part, because it did not provide for $2,000 in aid to every American, a new demand at odds with the one his negotiators worked out with House Democrats and Senate Republicans. Given this disparity, it seems more likely Trump made an issue of the $2,000 assistance to draw attention from a spate of controversial pardons issued to Trump allies and friends. Nonetheless, Trump ultimately signed the package on 27 December.

As one of the only bills or set of bills to annually pass Congress, appropriations acts are often the means by which policy and programmatic changes are made at federal agencies through the ability of the legislative branch to condition the use of such funds as are provided. This year’s package is different only in that it contains much more in the way of ride-along legislation than the average omnibus. In fact, there are hundreds, perhaps even more than 1,000 pages of non-appropriations legislation, some that pertains to technology policy. Moreover, with an additional supplemental bill attached to the FY 2021 omnibus also carries significant technology funding and programming.

First, we will review FY 2021 funding and policy for key U.S. agencies, then discuss COVID-19 related legislation, and then finally all the additional legislation Congress packed into the omnibus.

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) would receive $2.025 billion, a bare $9 million increase above FY 2020 with significant reordering of how the agency may spend its funds:

  • The agreement includes a net increase of $224,178,000 above the budget request. This includes $226,256,000 above the request to maintain current services, and $54,516,000 in enhancements that are described in more detail below. Assumed in the current services level of funding are several rejections of proposed reductions to prior year initiatives and the inclusion of necessary annualizations to sustain them, such as: $35,606,000 for threat analysis and response; $5,507,000 for soft targets and crowded places security, including school safety and best practices; $6,852,000 for bombing prevention activities, including the train-the-trainer programs; and $67,371,000 to fully fund the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program. The agreement includes the following reductions below the budget request: $6,937,000 for personnel cost adjustments; $2,500,000 of proposed increases to the CyberSentry program; $11,354,000 of proposed increases for the Vulnerability Management program; $2,000,000 of proposed increases to the Cybersecurity Quality Service Management Office (QSMO); $6,500,000 of proposed increases for cybersecurity advisors; and $27,303,000 for the requested increase for protective security advisors. Of the total amount provided for this account, $22,793,000 is available until September 30, 2022, for the National Infrastructure Simulation Analysis Center.

The FY 2021 omnibus requires of CISA the following:

  • Financial Transparency and Accountability.-The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is directed to submit the fiscal year 2022 budget request at the same level of PP A detail provided in the table at the end of this report with no further adjustments to the PP A structure. Further, CISA shall brief the Committees not later than 45 days after the date of enactment of this Act and quarterly thereafter on: a spend plan; detailed hiring plans with a delineation of each mission critical occupation (MCO); procurement plans for all major investments to include projected spending and program schedules and milestones; and an execution strategy for each major initiative. The hiring plan shall include an update on CISA’s hiring strategy efforts and shall include the following for each MCO: the number of funded positions and FTE within each PP A; the projected and obligated funding; the number of actual onboard personnel as of the date of the plan; and the hiring and attrition projections for the fiscal year.
  • Cyber Defense Education and Training (CDET).-The agreement includes $29,457,000 for CISA’s CDET programs, an increase of$20,607,000 above the request that is described in further detail below. Efforts are underway to address the shortage of qualified national cybersecurity professionals in the current and future cybersecurity workforce. In order to move forward with a comprehensive plan for a cybersecurity workforce development effort, the agreement includes $10,000,000 above the request to enhance cybersecurity education and training and programs to address the national shortfall of cybersecurity professionals, including activities funded through the use of grants or cooperative agreements as needed in order to fully comply with congressional intent. CISA should consider building a higher education consortium of colleges and universities, led by at least one academic institution with an extensive history of education, research, policy, and outreach in computer science and engineering disciplines; existing designations as a land-grant institution with an extension role; a center of academic excellence in cyber security operations; a proven track record in hosting cyber corps programs; a record of distinction in research cybersecurity; and extensive experience in offering distance education programs and outreach with K-12 programs. The agreement also includes $4,300,000 above the request for the Cybersecurity Education and Training Assistance Program (CETAP), which was proposed for elimination, and $2,500,000 above the request to further expand and initiate cybersecurity education programs, including CETAP, which improve education delivery methods for K-12 students, teachers, counselors and post-secondary institutions and encourage students to pursue cybersecurity careers.
  • Further, the agreement includes $2,500,000 above the request to support CISA’s role with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education Challenge project or for similar efforts to address shortages in the cybersecurity workforce through the development of content and curriculum for colleges, universities, and other higher education institutions.
  • Lastly, the agreement includes $800,000 above the request for a review of CISA’s program to build a national cybersecurity workforce. CISA is directed to enter into a contract for this review with the National Academy of Public Administration, or a similar non-profit organization, within 45 days of the date of enactment of this Act. The review shall assess: whether the partnership models under development by CISA are positioned to be effective and scalable to address current and anticipated needs for a highly capable cybersecurity workforce; whether other existing partnership models, including those used by other agencies and private industry, could usefully augment CISA’s strategy; and the extent to which CISA’s strategy has made progress on workforce development objectives, including excellence, scale, and diversity. A report with the findings of the review shall be provided to the Committees not later than 270 days after the date of enactment of this Act.
  • Cyber QSMO.-To help improve efforts to make strategic cybersecurity services available to federal agencies, the agreement provides $1,514,000 above the request to sustain and enhance prior year investments. As directed in the House report and within the funds provided, CISA is directed to work with the Management Directorate to conduct a crowd-sourced security testing program that uses technology platforms and ethical security researchers to test for vulnerabilities on departmental systems. In addition, not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, CISA is directed to brief the Committees on opportunities for state and local governments to leverage shared services provided through the Cyber QSMO or a similar capability and to explore the feasibility of executing a pilot program focused on this goal.
  • Cyber Threats to Critical Election Infrastructure.-The briefing required in House Report 116–458 regarding CISA’s efforts related to the 2020 elections shall be delivered not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this Act. CISA is directed to continue working with SL TT stakeholders to implement election security measures.
  • Cybersecurity Worliforce.-By not later than September 30, 2021, CISA shall provide a joint briefing, in conjunction with the Department of Commerce and other appropriate federal departments and agencies, on progress made to date on each recommendation put forth in Executive Order 13800 and the subsequent “Supporting the Growth and Sustainment of the Nation’s Cybersecurity Workforce” report.
  • Hunt and Incident Response Teams.-The agreement includes an increase of $3,000,000 above fiscal year 2020 funding levels to expand CISA’s threat hunting capabilities.
  • Joint Cyber Planning Office (JCPO).-The agreement provides an increase of $10,568,000 above the request to establish a JCPO to bring together federal and SLTT governments, industry, and international partners to strategically and operationally counter nation-state cyber threats. CISA is directed to brief the Committees not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this Act on a plan for establishing the JCPO, including a budget and hiring plan; a description of how JCPO will complement and leverage other CISA capabilities; and a strategy for partnering with the aforementioned stakeholders.
  • Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC).-The agreement provides $5,148,000 above the request for the MS-ISAC to continue enhancements to SLTT election security support, and furthers ransomware detection and response capabilities, including endpoint detection and response, threat intelligence platform integration, and malicious domain activity blocking.
  • Software Assurance Tools.-Not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, CISA, in conjunction with the Science and Technology Directorate, is directed to brief the Committees on their collaborative efforts to transition cyber-related research and development initiatives into operational tools that can be used to provide continuous software assurance. The briefing should include an explanation for any completed projects and activities that were not considered viable for practice or were considered operationally self-sufficient. Such briefing shall include software assurance projects, such as the Software Assurance Marketplace.
  • Updated Lifecycle Cost Estimates.–CISA is directed to provide a briefing, not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this Act, regarding the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (COM) and National Cybersecurity Protection System (NCPS) program lifecycles. The briefing shall clearly describe the projected evolution of both programs by detailing the assumptions that have changed since the last approved program cost and schedule baseline, and by describing the plans to address such changes. In addition, the briefing shall include an analysis of alternatives for aligning vulnerability management, incident response, and NCPS capabilities. Finally, CISA is directed to provide a report not later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act with updated five-year program costs and schedules which is congruent with projected capability gaps across federal civilian systems and networks.
  • Vulnerability Management.-The agreement provides $9,452,000 above fiscal year 2020 levels to continue reducing the 12-month backlog in vulnerability assessments. The agreement also provides an increase of $8,000,000 above the request to address the increasing number of identified and reported vulnerabilities in the software and hardware that operates critical infrastructure. This investment will improve capabilities to identify, analyze, and share information about known vulnerabilities and common attack patterns, including through the National Vulnerability Database, and to expand the coordinated responsible disclosure of vulnerabilities.

There are a pair of provisions aimed at the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Division B (i.e. the FY 2021 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Act):

  • Section 514 prohibits funds for acquisition of certain information systems unless the acquiring department or agency has reviewed and assessed certain risks. Any acquisition of such an information system is contingent upon the development of a risk mitigation strategy and a determination that the acquisition is in the national interest. Each department or agency covered under section 514 shall submit a quarterly report to the Committees on Appropriations describing reviews and assessments of risk made pursuant to this section and any associated findings or determinations.
  • Section 526 prohibits the use of funds by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), or the National Space Council (NSC) to engage in bilateral activities with China or a Chinese-owned company or effectuate the hosting of official Chinese visitors at certain facilities unless the activities are authorized by subsequent legislation or NASA, OSTP, or NSC have made a certification…

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is asked with a number of duties, most of which relate to current or ongoing efforts in artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, and the Internet of Things:

  • Artificial Intelligence (Al). -The agreement includes no less than $6,500,000 above the fiscal year 2020 level to continue NIST’s research efforts related to AI and adopts House language on Data Characterization Standards in Al. House language on Framework for Managing AI Risks is modified to direct NIST to establish a multi-stakeholder process for the development of an Al Risk Management Framework regarding the reliability, robustness, and trustworthiness of Al systems. Further, within 180 days of enactment of this Act, NIST shall establish the process by which it will engage with stakeholders throughout the multi-year framework development process.
  • Cybersecurity.-The agreement includes no less than the fiscal year 2020 enacted level for cybersecurity research, outreach, industry partnerships, and other activities at NIST, including the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE) and the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE). Within the funds provided, the agreement encourages NIST to establish additional NICE cooperative agreements with regional alliances and multi-stakeholder partnerships for cybersecurity workforce and education.
  • Cybersecurity of Genomic Data.-The agreement includes no less than $1,250,000 for NIST and NCCoE to initiate a use case, in collaboration with industry and academia, to research the cybersecurity of personally identifiable genomic data, with a particular focus on better securing deoxyribonucleic acid sequencing techniques, including clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) technologies, and genomic data storage architectures from cyber threats. NIST and NCCoE should look to partner with entities who have existing capability to research and develop state-of-the-art cybersecurity technologies for the unique needs of genomic and biomedical-based systems.
  • Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).-The agreement includes no less than the fiscal year 2020 enacted amount for the continued development of an IloT cybersecurity research initiative and to partner, as appropriate, with academic entities and industry to improve the sustainable security of IloT devices in industrial settings.

NIST would receive a modest increase in funding from $1.034 billion to $1.0345 billion from the last fiscal year to the next.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) would be provided $45.5 million and “the agreement provides (1) up to $7,500,000 for broadband mapping in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); (2) no less than the fiscal year 2020 enacted amount for Broadband Programs; (3) $308,000 for Public Safety Communications; and (4) no less than $3,000,000 above the fiscal year 2020 enacted level for Advanced Communications Research.” The agency’s funding for FY 2021 is higher than the last fiscal year at a bit more than $40 million but far less than the Trump Administration’s request of more than $70 million.

Regarding NTIA programmatic language, the bill provides:

  • Further, the agreement directs the additional funds for Advanced Communications Research be used to procure and maintain cutting-edge equipment for research and testing of the next generation of communications technologies, including 5G, as well as to hire staff as needed. The agreement further encourages NTIA to improve the deployment of 5G and spectrum sharing through academic partnerships to accelerate the development of low-cost sensors. For fiscal year 2021, NTIA is directed to follow prior year report language, included in Senate Report 116-127 and adopted in Public Law 116-93, on the following topics: Federal Spectrum Management, Spectrum Management for Science, and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
  • Spectrum Management System.-The agreement encourages NTIA and the Department to consider alternative proposals to fully fund the needed upgrades to its spectrum management system, including options outside of direct appropriations, and is directed to brief the Committees regarding possible alternative options no later than 90 days after enactment of this Act.
  • Next Generation Broadband in Rural Areas.-NTIA is encouraged to ensure that deployment of last-mile broadband infrastructure is targeted to areas that are currently unserved or underserved, and to utilize public-private partnerships and projects where Federal funding will not exceed 50 percent of a project’s total cost where practicable.
  • National Broadband Map Augmentation.-NTIA is directed to engage with rural and Tribal communities to further enhance the accuracy of the national broadband availability map. NTIA should include in its fiscal year 2022 budget request an update on rural-and Tribal-related broadband availability and access trends, challenges, and Federal actions to achieve equitable access to broadband services in currently underserved communities throughout the Nation. Furthermore, NTIA is encouraged, in coordination with the FCC, to develop and promulgate a standardized process for collecting data from State and local partners.
  • Domain Name Registration.-NTIA is directed, through its position within the Governmental Advisory Committee to work with ICANN to expedite the establishment of a global access model that provides law enforcement, intellectual property rights holders, and third parties with timely access to accurate domain name registration information for legitimate purposes. NTIA is encouraged, as appropriate, to require registrars and registries based in the United States to collect and make public accurate domain name registration information.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would receive $351 million, an increase of $20 million over FY 2020. The final bill includes this policy provision for the FTC to heed:

  • Resources for Data Privacy and Security. -The agreement urges the FTC to conduct a comprehensive internal assessment measuring the agency’s current efforts related to data privacy and security while separately identifying all resource-based needs of the FTC to improve in these areas. The agreement also urges the FTC to provide a report describing the assessment’s findings to the Committees within 180 days of enactment of this Act.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would see a larger increase in funding for agency operations than the FTC, going from $339 million in FY 2020 to $374 million in FY 2021. However, $33 million of the increase is earmarked for implementing the “Broadband DATA Act” (P.L.116-130) along with the $65 million in COVID-19 supplemental funding for the same purpose. The FY 2021 omnibus directs the FCC on a range of policy issues:

  • Broadband Maps.-In addition to adopting the House report language on Broadband Maps, the agreement provides substantial dedicated resources for the FCC to implement the Broadband DATA Act. The FCC is directed to submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations within 90 days of enactment of this Act providing a detailed spending plan for these resources. In addition, the FCC, in coordination with the NTIA, shall outline the specific roles and responsibilities of each agency as it relates to the National Broadband Map and implementation of the Broadband DATA Act. The FCC is directed to report in writing to the Committees every 30 days on the date, amount, and purpose of any new obligation made for broadband mapping and any updates to the broadband mapping spending plan.
  • Lifeline Service. In lieu of the House report language on Lifeline Service, the agreement notes recent action by the FCC to partially waive its rules updating the Lifeline program’s minimum service standard for mobile broadband usage in light of the large increase to the standard that would have gone into effect on Dec. I, 2020, and the increased reliance by Americans on mobile broadband as a result of the pandemic. The FCC is urged to continue to balance the Lifeline program’s goals of accessibility and affordability.
  • 5G Fund and Rural America.-The agreement remains concerned about the feasible deployment of 5G in rural America. Rural locations will likely run into geographic barriers and infrastructure issues preventing the robust deployment of 5G technology, just as they have faced with 4G. The FCC’s proposed 5G Fund fails to provide adequate details or a targeted spend plan on creating seamless coverage in the most rural parts of the Nation. Given these concerns, the FCC is directed to report in writing on: (1) its current and future plans fix prioritizing deployment of 4G coverage in rural areas, (2) its plans for 5G deployment in rural areas, and (3) its plan for improving the mapping and long-term tracking of coverage in rural areas.
  • 6 Gigahertz. -As the FCC has authorized unlicensed use of the 6 gigahertz band, the agreement expects the Commission to ensure its plan does not result in harmful interference to incumbent users or impact critical infrastructure communications systems. The agreement is particularly concerned about the potential effects on the reliability of the electric transmission and distribution system. The agreement expects the FCC to ensure any mitigation technologies are rigorously tested and found to be effective in order to protect the electric transmission system. The FCC is directed to provide a report to the Committees within 90 days of enactment of this Act on its progress in ensuring rigorous testing related to unlicensed use of the 6 gigahertz band. Rural Broadband-The agreement remains concerned that far too many Americans living in rural and economically disadvantaged areas lack access to broadband at speeds necessary to fully participate in the Internet age. The agreement encourages the agency to prioritize projects in underserved areas, where the infrastructure to be installed provides access at download and upload speeds comparable to those available to Americans in urban areas. The agreement encourages the FCC to avoid efforts that could duplicate existing networks and to support deployment of last-mile broadband infrastructure to underserved areas. Further, the agreement encourages the agency to prioritize projects financed through public-private partnerships.
  • Contraband Cell Phones. -The agreement notes continued concern regarding the exploitation of contraband cell phones in prisons and jails nationwide. The agreement urges the FCC to act on the March 24, 2017 Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding combating contraband wireless devices. The FCC should consider all legally permissible options, including the creation, or use, of “quiet or no service zones,” geolocation-based denial, and beacon technologies to geographically appropriate correctional facilities. In addition, the agreement encourages the FCC to adopt a rules-based approach to cellphone disabling that would require immediate disabling by a wireless carrier upon proper identification of a contraband device. The agreement recommends that the FCC move forward with its suggestion in the Fiscal Year 2019 report to this Committee, noting that “additional field testing of jamming technology will provide a better understanding of the challenges and costs associated with the proper deployment of jamming system.” The agreement urges the FCC to use available funds to coordinate rigorous Federal testing of jamming technology and coordinate with all relevant stakeholders to effectively address this urgent problem.
  • Next-Generation Broadband Networks/or Rural America-Deployment of broadband and telecommunications services in rural areas is imperative to support economic growth and public safety. However, due to geographical challenges facing mobile connectivity and fiber providers, connectivity in certain areas remains challenging. Next generation satellite-based technology is being developed to deliver direct satellite to cellular capability. The FCC is encouraged to address potential regulatory hurdles, to promote private sector development and implementation of innovative, next generation networks such as this, and to accelerate broadband and telecommunications access to all Americans.

$635 million is provided for a Department of Agriculture rural development pilot program, and he Secretary will need to explain how he or she will use authority provided in the last farm bill to expand broadband:

  • The agreement provides $635,000,000 to support the ReConnect pilot program to increase access to broadband connectivity in unserved rural communities and directs the Department to target grants and loans to areas of the country with the largest broadband coverage gaps. These projects should utilize technology that will maximize coverage of broadband with the most benefit to taxpayers and the rural communities served. The agreement notes stakeholder concerns that the ReConnect pilot does not effectively recognize the unique challenges and opportunities that different technologies, including satellite, provide to delivering broadband in noncontiguous States or mountainous terrain and is concerned that providing preference to 100 mbps symmetrical service unfairly disadvantages these communities by limiting the deployment of other technologies capable of providing service to these areas.
  • The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-334) included new authorities for rural broadband programs that garnered broad stakeholder support as well as bipartisan, bicameral agreement in Congress. Therefore, the Secretary is directed to provide a report on how the Department plans to utilize these authorities to deploy broadband connectivity to rural communities.

In Division M of the package, the “Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021,” there are provisions related to broadband policy and funding. The bill created a $3.2 billion program to help low-income Americans with internet service and buying devices for telework or distance education. The “Emergency Broadband Benefit Program” is established at the FCC, “under which eligible households may receive a discount of up to $50, or up to $75 on Tribal lands, off the cost of internet service and a subsidy for low-cost devices such as computers and tablets” according to a House Appropriations Committee summary. This funding is far short of what House Democrats wanted. And yet, this program aims to help those on the wrong side of the digital divide during the pandemic.

Moreover, this legislation also establishes two grant programs at the NTIA, designed to help provide broadband on tribal lands and in rural areas. $1 billion is provided for the former and $300 million for the latter with the funds going to tribal and state and local governments to obtain services from private sector providers. The $1 billion for tribal lands allows for greater flexibility in what the funds are ultimately spent on with the $320 million for underserved rural areas being restricted to broadband deployment. Again, these funds are aimed at bridging the disparity in broadband service exposed and exacerbated during the pandemic.

Congress also provided funds for the FCC to reimburse smaller telecommunications providers in removing and replacing risky telecommunications equipment from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Following the enactment of the “Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019” (P.L.116-124) that codified and added to a FCC regulatory effort to address the risks posed by Huawei and ZTE equipment in United States (U.S.) telecommunications networks, there was pressure in Congress to provide the funds necessary to help carriers meet the requirements of the program. The FY 2021 omnibus appropriates $1.9 billion for this program. In another but largely unrelated tranche of funding, the aforementioned $65 million given to the FCC to undertake the “Broadband DATA Act.”

Division Q contains text similar to the “Cybersecurity and Financial System Resilience Act of 2019” (H.R.4458) that would require “the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and National Credit Union Administration to annually report on efforts to strengthen cybersecurity by the agencies, financial institutions they regulate, and third-party service providers.”

Division U contains two bills pertaining to technology policy:

  • Title I. The AI in Government Act of 2020. This title codifies the AI Center of Excellence within the General Services Administration to advise and promote the efforts of the federal government in developing innovative uses of artificial intelligence (AI) and competency in the use of AI in the federal government. The section also requires that the Office of Personnel Management identify key skills and competencies needed for federal positions related to AI and establish an occupational series for positions related to AI.
  • Title IX. The DOTGOV Act. This title transfers the authority to manage the .gov internet domain from the General Services Administration to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) of the Department of Homeland Security. The .gov internet domain shall be available to any Federal, State, local, or territorial government entity, or other publicly controlled entity, subject to registration requirements established by the Director of CISA and approved by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Division W is the FY 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act with the following salient provisions:

  • Section 323. Report on signals intelligence priorities and requirements. Section 323 requires the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to submit a report detailing signals intelligence priorities and requirements subject to Presidential Policy Directive-28 (PPD-28) that stipulates “why, whether, when, and how the United States conducts signals intelligence activities.” PPD-28 reformed how the National Security Agency (NSA) and other Intelligence Community (IC) agencies conducted signals intelligence, specifically collection of cellphone and internet data, after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed the scope of the agency’s programs.
  • Section 501. Requirements and authorities to improve education in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. Section 501 ensures that the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has the legal authorities required to improve the skills in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (known as STEAM) necessary to meet long-term national security needs. Section 502. Seedling investment in next-generation microelectronics in support of artificial intelligence. Section 502 requires the DNI, acting through the Director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, to award contracts or grants, or enter into other transactions, to encourage microelectronics research.
  • Section 601. Report on attempts by foreign adversaries to build telecommunications and cybersecurity equipment and services for, or to provide them to, certain U.S. Section 601 requires the CIA, NSA, and DIA to submit a joint report that describes the United States intelligence sharing and military posture in Five Eyes countries that currently have or intend to use adversary telecommunications or cybersecurity equipment, especially as provided by China or Russia, with a description of potential vulnerabilities of that information and assessment of mitigation options.
  • Section 602. Report on foreign use of cyber intrusion and surveillance technology. Section 602 requires the DNI to submit a report on the threats posed by foreign governments and foreign entities using and appropriating commercially available cyber intrusion and other surveillance technology.
  • Section 603. Reports on recommendations of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. Section 603 requires the ODNI and representatives of other agencies to report to Congress their assessment of the recommendations submitted by the Cyberspace Solarium Commission pursuant to Section 1652(j) of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019, and to describe actions that each agency expects to take to implement these recommendations.
  • Section 604. Assessment of critical technology trends relating to artificial intelligence, microchips, and semiconductors and related matters. Section 604 requires the DNI to complete an assessment of export controls related to artificial intelligence (AI), microchips, advanced manufacturing equipment, and other AI-enabled technologies, including the identification of opportunities for further cooperation with international partners.
  • Section 605. Combating Chinese influence operations in the United States and strengthening civil liberties protections. Section 605 provides additional requirements to annual reports on Influence Operations and Campaigns in the United States by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) by mandating an identification of influence operations by the CCP against the science and technology sector in the United States. Section 605 also requires the FBI to create a plan to increase public awareness of influence activities by the CCP. Finally, section 605 requires the FBI, in consultation with the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights and the Chief Privacy and Civil Liberties Officer of the Department of Justice, to develop recommendations to strengthen relationships with communities targeted by the CCP and to build trust with such communities through local and regional grassroots outreach.
  • Section 606. Annual report on corrupt activities of senior officials of the CCP. Section 606 requires the CIA, in coordination with the Department of Treasury’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis and the FBI, to submit to designated congressional committees annually through 2025 a report that describes and assesses the wealth and corruption of senior officials of the CCP, as well as targeted financial measures, including potential targets for sanctions designation. Section 606 further expresses the Sense of Congress that the United States should undertake every effort and pursue every opportunity to expose the corruption and illicit practices of senior officials of the CCP, including President Xi Jinping.
  • Section 607. Report on corrupt activities of Russian and other Eastern European oligarchs. Section 607 requires the CIA, in coordination with the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis and the FBI, to submit to designated congressional committees and the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, a report that describes the corruption and corrupt or illegal activities among Russian and other Eastern European oligarchs who support the Russian government and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the impact of those activities on the economy and citizens of Russia. Section 607 further requires the CIA, in coordination with the Department of Treasury’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, to describe potential sanctions that could be imposed for such activities. Section 608. Report on biosecurity risk and disinformation by the CCP and the PRC. Section 608 requires the DNI to submit to the designated congressional committees a report identifying whether and how CCP officials and the Government of the People’s Republic of China may have sought to suppress or exploit for national advantage information regarding the novel coronavirus pandemic, including specific related assessments. Section 608 further provides that the report shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may have a classified annex.
  • Section 612. Research partnership on activities of People’s Republic of China. Section 612 requires the Director of the NGA to seek to enter into a partnership with an academic or non-profit research institution to carry out joint unclassified geospatial intelligence analyses of the activities of the People’s Republic of China that pose national security risks to the United States, and to make publicly available unclassified products relating to such analyses.

Division Z would tweak a data center energy efficiency and energy savings program overseen by the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency that could impact the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) government-wide program. Specifically, “Section 1003 requires the development of a metric for data center energy efficiency, and requires the Secretary of Energy, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to maintain a data center energy practitioner program and open data initiative for federally owned and operated data center energy usage.” There is also language that would require the U.S. government to buy and use more energy-efficient information technology (IT): “each Federal agency shall coordinate with the Director [of OMB], the Secretary, and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to develop an implementation strategy (including best-practices and measurement and verification techniques) for the maintenance, purchase, and use by the Federal agency of energy-efficient and energy-saving information technologies at or for facilities owned and operated by the Federal agency, taking into consideration the performance goals.”

Division FF contains telecommunications provisions:

  • Section 902. Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act of 2020. Section 902 repeals the requirement for the FCC to reallocate and auction the 470 to 512megahertz band, commonly referred to as the T-band. In certain urban areas, the T-band is utilized by public-safety entities. It also directs the FCC to implement rules to clarify acceptable expenditures on which 9-1- 1 fees can be spent, and creates a strike force to consider how the Federal Government can end 9-1-1 fee diversion.
  • Section 903. Advancing Critical Connectivity Expands Service, Small Business Resources, Opportunities, Access, and Data Based on Assessed Need and Demand (ACCESS BROADBAND) Act. Section 903 establishes the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (Office) at the NTIA. This Office would be tasked with performing certain responsibilities related to broadband access, adoption, and deployment, such as performing public outreach to promote access and adoption of high-speed broadband service, and streamlining and standardizing the process for applying for Federal broadband support. The Office would also track Federal broadband support funds, and coordinate Federal broadband support programs within the Executive Branch and with the FCC to ensure unserved Americans have access to connectivity and to prevent duplication of broadband deployment programs.
  • Section 904. Broadband Interagency Coordination Act. Section 904 requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the Department of Agriculture to enter into an interagency agreement to coordinate the distribution of federal funds for broadband programs, to prevent duplication of support and ensure stewardship of taxpayer dollars. The agreement must cover, among other things, the exchange of information about project areas funded under the programs and the confidentiality of such information. The FCC is required to publish and collect public comments about the agreement, including regarding its efficacy and suggested modifications.
  • Section 905. Beat CHINA for 5G Act of 2020. Section 905 directs the President, acting through the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, to withdraw or modify federal spectrum assignments in the 3450 to 3550 megahertz band, and directs the FCC to begin a system of competitive bidding to permit non-Federal, flexible-use services in a portion or all of such band no later than December 31, 2021.

Section 905 would countermand the White House’s efforts to auction off an ideal part of spectrum for 5G (see here for analysis of the August 2020 announcement). Congressional and a number of Trump Administration stakeholders were alarmed by what they saw as a push to bestow a windfall on a private sector company in the rollout of 5G.

Title XIV of Division FF would allow the FTC to seek civil fines of more than $43,000 per violation during the duration of the public health emergency arising from the pandemic “for unfair and deceptive practices associated with the treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation, or diagnosis of COVID–19 or a government benefit related to COVID-19.”

Finally, Division FF is the vehicle for the “American COMPETES Act” that:

directs the Department of Commerce and the FTC to conduct studies and submit reports on technologies including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, quantum computing, blockchain, advanced materials, unmanned delivery services, and 3-D printing. The studies include requirements to survey each industry and report recommendations to help grow the economy and safely implement the technology.

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Image by forcal35 from Pixabay

Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (10 December)

Further Reading

  • Social media superspreaders: Why Instagram, not Facebook, will be the real battleground for COVID-19 vaccine misinformation” By Isobel Asher Hamilton — Business Insider. According to one group, COVID-19 anti-vaccination lies and misinformation are proliferating on Instagram despite its parent company’s, Facebook, efforts to find and remove such content. There has been dramatic growth in such content on Instagram, and Facebook seems to be applying COVID-19 standards more loosely on Instagram. In fact, some people kicked off of Facebook for violating that platform’s standards on COVID-19 are still on Instagram spreading the same lies, misinformation, and disinformation. For example, British anti-vaccination figure David Icke was removed from Facebook for making claims that COVID-19 was caused by or related to 5G, but he has a significant following on Instagram.
  • ‘Grey area’: China’s trolling drives home reality of social media war” By Chris Zappone — The Sydney Morning Herald. The same concept that is fueling aggressive cyber activity at a level below outright war has spread to diplomacy. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been waging “gray” social media campaigns against a number of Western nations, including Australia, mainly be propagating lies and misinformation. The most recent example is the spreading a fake photo of an Australian soldier appearing to kill an Afghan child. This false material seems designed to distract from the real issues between the two nations arising from clashing policies on trade and human rights. The PRC’s activities do not appear to violate Australia’s foreign interference laws and seem to have left Canberra at a loss as to how to respond effectively.
  • Facebook to start policing anti-Black hate speech more aggressively than anti-White comments, documents show” By Elizabeth Dwoskin, Nitasha Tiku and Heather Kelly — The Washington Post. Facebook will apparently seek to revamp its algorithms to target the types of hate speech that have traditionally targeted women and minority groups. Up until now all attacks were treated equally so that something like “white people suck” would be treated the same way as anti-Semitic content. Facebook has resisted changes for years even though experts and civil rights groups made the case that people of color, women, and LGBTI people endure far more abuse online. There is probably no connection between Facebook’s more aggressive content moderation policies and the advent of a new administration in Washington more receptive to claims that social media platforms allow the abuse of these people.
  • How Joe Biden’s Digital Team Tamed the MAGA Internet” By Kevin Roose — The New York Times. Take this piece with a block of salt. The why they won articles are almost always rife with fallacies, including the rationale that if a candidate won, his or her strategy must have worked. It is not clear that the Biden Campaign’s online messaging strategy of being nice and emphasizing positive values actually beat the Trump Campaign’s “Death Star” so much as the President’s mishandling of the pandemic response and cratering of the economy did him in.
  • Coronavirus Apps Show Promise but Prove a Tough Sell” By Jennifer Valentino-DeVries — The New York Times. It appears the intersection of concerns about private and public sector surveillance from two very different groups has worked to keep down rates of adopting smartphone COVID tracking apps in the United States. There are people wary of private sector practices to hoover up as much data as possible, and others concerned about the government’s surveillance activities. Consequently, many are shunning Google and Apple’s COVID contact tracing apps to the surprise of government, industry, and academia. A pair of studies show resistance to downloading or using such apps even if there are very strong privacy safeguards. This result may well be a foreseeable outcome from U.S. policies that have allowed companies and the security services to collect and use vast quantities of personal information.
  • UAE target of cyber attacks after Israel deal, official says” — Reuters. A top cybersecurity official in the United Arab Emirates claimed his nation’s financial services industries were targeted for cyber attack and implied Iran and affiliated hackers were responsible.

Other Developments

  • President-elect Joe Biden announced his intention to nominate California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to serve as the next Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). If confirmed by the Senate, California Governor Gavin Newsom would name Becerra’s successor who would need to continue enforcement of the “California Consumer Privacy Act” (CCPA) (AB 375) while also working towards the transition to the “California Privacy Rights Act” (Proposition 24) approved by California voters last month. The new statute establishes the California Privacy Protection Agency that will assume the Attorney General’s responsibilities regarding the enforcement of California’s privacy laws. However, Becerra’s successor may play a pivotal role in the transition between the two regulators and the creation of the new regulations needed to implement Proposition 24.
  • The Senate approved the nomination of Nathan Simington to be a Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by a 49-46 vote. Once FCC Chair Ajit Pai steps down, the agency will be left with two Democratic and two Republican Commissioners, pending the Biden Administration’s nominee to fill Pai’s spot. If the Senate stays Republican, it is possible the calculation could be made that a deadlocked FCC is better than a Democratic agency that could revive net neutrality rules among other Democratic and progressive policies. Consequently, Simington’s confirmation may be the first step in a FCC unable to develop substantive policy.
  • Another federal court has broadened the injunction against the Trump Administration’s ban on TikTok to encompass the entirety of the Department of Commerce’s September order meant to stop the usage of the application in the United States (U.S.) It is unclear as to whether the Trump Administration will appeal, and if it should, whether a court would decide the case before the Biden Administration begins in mid-January. The United States Court for the District of Columbia found that TikTok “established that  the government likely exceeded IEEPA’s express limitations as part of an agency action that was arbitrary and capricious” and would likely suffer irreparable harm, making an injunction an appropriate remedy.
  • The United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) “released a Cybersecurity Advisory on Russian state-sponsored actors exploiting CVE-2020-4006, a command-injection vulnerability in VMware Workspace One Access, Access Connector, Identity Manager, and Identity Manager Connector” and provided “mitigation and detection guidance.”
  • The United States (U.S.) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a joint alert, warning that U.S. think tanks are being targeted by “persistent continued cyber intrusions by advanced persistent threat (APT) actors.” The agencies stated “[t]his malicious activity is often, but not exclusively, directed at individuals and organizations that focus on international affairs or national security policy.” CISA and the FBI stated its “guidance may assist U.S. think tanks in developing network defense procedures to prevent or rapidly detect these attacks.” The agencies added:
    • APT actors have relied on multiple avenues for initial access. These have included low-effort capabilities such as spearphishing emails and third-party message services directed at both corporate and personal accounts, as well as exploiting vulnerable web-facing devices and remote connection capabilities. Increased telework during the COVID-19 pandemic has expanded workforce reliance on remote connectivity, affording malicious actors more opportunities to exploit those connections and to blend in with increased traffic. Attackers may leverage virtual private networks (VPNs) and other remote work tools to gain initial access or persistence on a victim’s network. When successful, these low-effort, high-reward approaches allow threat actors to steal sensitive information, acquire user credentials, and gain persistent access to victim networks.
    • Given the importance that think tanks can have in shaping U.S. policy, CISA and FBI urge individuals and organizations in the international affairs and national security sectors to immediately adopt a heightened state of awareness and implement the critical steps listed in the Mitigations section of this Advisory.
  • A group of Democratic United States Senators have written the CEO of Alphabet and Google about its advertising policies and how its platforms may have been used to spread misinformation and contribute to voter suppression. Thus far, most of the scrutiny about the 2020 election and content moderation policy has fallen on Facebook and Twitter even though Google-owned YouTube has been flagged as containing the same amount of misinformation. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mark Warner (D-VA) led the effort and expressed “serious concerns regarding recent reports that Google is profiting from the sale of ads spreading election-related disinformation” to Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Klobuchar, Warner, and their colleagues asserted:
    • Google is also helping organizations spreading election-related disinformation to raise revenue by placing ads on their websites. While Google has some policies in place to prevent the spread of election misinformation, they are not properly enforced and are inadequate. We urge you to immediately strengthen and improve enforcement of your policies on election-related disinformation and voter suppression, reject all ads spreading election-related disinformation, and stop providing advertising services on sites that spread election-related disinformation.
    • …a recent study by the Global Disinformation Index (GDI) found that Google services ads on 145 out of 200 websites GDI examined that publish disinformation. 
    • Similarly, a recent report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found that Google has been placing ads on websites publishing disinformation designed to undermine elections. In examining just six websites publishing election-related disinformation, CCDH estimates that they receive 40 million visits a month, generating revenue for these sites of up to $3.4 million annually from displaying Google ads. In addition, Google receives $1.6 million from the advertisers’ payments annually.  These sites published stories ahead of the 2020 general election that contained disinformation alleging that voting by mail was not secure, that mail-in voting was being introduced to “steal the election,” and that election officials were “discarding mail ballots.” 
  • A bipartisan group of United States Senators on one committee are urging Congressional leadership to include funding to help telecommunications companies remove and replace Huawei and ZTE equipment and to aid the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in drafting accurate maps of broadband service in the United States (U.S.). Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chair Roger Wicker (R-MS) and a number of his colleagues wrote the leadership of both the Senate and House and argued:
    • we urge you to provide full funding for Public Law 116-124, the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act, and Public Law 116-130, the Broadband DATA Act.   
    • Closing the digital divide and winning the race to 5G are critical to America’s economic prosperity and global leadership in technology. However, our ability to connect all Americans and provide access to next-generation technology will depend in large part on the security of our communications infrastructure. The Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act (“rip and replace”) created a program to help small, rural telecommunications operators remove equipment posing a security threat to domestic networks and replace it with equipment from trusted providers. This is a national security imperative. Fully funding this program is essential to protecting the integrity of our communications infrastructure and the future viability of our digital economy at large.
    • In addition to safeguarding the security of the nation’s communications systems, developing accurate broadband maps is also critically important. The United States faces a persistent digital divide, and closing this divide requires accurate maps that show where broadband is available and where it is not. Current maps overstate broadband availability, which prevents many underserved communities, particularly in rural areas, from receiving the funds needed to build or expand broadband networks to millions of unconnected Americans. Fully funding the Broadband DATA Act will ensure more accurate broadband maps and better stewardship over the millions of dollars the federal government awards each year to support broadband deployment. Without these maps, the government risks overbuilding existing networks, duplicating funding already provided, and leaving communities unserved.  
  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an assessment of 5G policy options that “discusses (1) how the performance goals and expected uses are to be realized in U.S. 5Gwireless networks; (2) the challenges that could affect the performance or usage of 5G wireless networks in the U.S.; and (3) policy options to address these challenges.” The report had been requested by the chairs and ranking members of the House Armed Services, Senate Armed Services, Senate Intelligence, and House Intelligence Committees along with other Members. The GAO stated “[w]hile 5G is expected to deliver significantly improved network performance and greater capabilities, challenges may hinder the performance or usage of 5G technologies in the U.S. We grouped the challenges into the following four categories:
    • availability and efficient use of spectrum
    • security of 5G networks
    • concerns over data privacy
    • concerns over possible health effects
    • The GAO presented the following policy options along with opportunities and considerations for each:
      • Spectrum-Sharing Technologies Opportunities:
        • Could allow for more efficient use of the limited spectrum available for 5G and future generations of wireless networks.
        • It may be possible to leverage existing5G testbeds for testing the spectrum sharing technologies developed through applied research.
      • Spectrum-Sharing Technologies Considerations:
        • Research and development is costly, must be coordinated and administered, and its potential benefits are uncertain. Identifying a funding source, setting up the funding mechanism, or determining which existing funding streams to reallocate will require detailed analysis.
      • Coordinated Cybersecurity Monitoring Opportunities:
        • A coordinated monitoring program would help ensure the entire wireless ecosystem stays knowledgeable about evolving threats, in close to real time; identify cybersecurity risks; and allow stakeholders to act rapidly in response to emerging threats or actual network attacks.
      • Coordinated Cybersecurity Monitoring Considerations:
        • Carriers may not be comfortable reporting incidents or vulnerabilities, and determinations would need to be made about what information is disclosed and how the information will be used and reported.
      • Cybersecurity Requirements Opportunities
        • Taking these steps could produce a more secure network. Without a baseline set of security requirements the implementation of network security practices is likely to be piecemeal and inconsistent.
        • Using existing protocols or best practices may decrease the time and cost of developing and implementing requirements.
      • Cybersecurity Requirements Considerations
        • Adopting network security requirements would be challenging, in part because defining and implementing the requirements would have to be done on an application-specific basis rather than as a one-size-fits-all approach.
        • Designing a system to certify network components would be costly and would require a centralized entity, be it industry-led or government-led.
      • Privacy Practices Considerations
        • Development and adoption of uniform privacy practices would benefit from existing privacy practices that have been implemented by states, other countries, or that have been developed by federal agencies or other organizations.
      • Privacy Practices Opportunities
        • Privacy practices come with costs, and policymakers would need to balance the need for privacy with the direct and indirect costs of implementing privacy requirements. Imposing requirements can be burdensome, especially for smaller entities.
      • High-band Research Opportunities
        • Could result in improved statistical modeling of antenna characteristics and more accurately representing propagation characteristics.
        • Could result in improved understanding of any possible health effects from long-term radio frequency exposure to high-band emissions.
      • High-band Research Considerations
        • Research and development is costly and must be coordinated and administered, and its potential benefits are uncertain. Policymakers will need to identify a funding source or determine which existing funding streams to reallocate.

Coming Events

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold an executive session at which the “Online Content Policy Modernization Act” (S.4632), a bill to narrow the liability shield in 47 USC 230, may be marked up on 10 December.
  • On 10 December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold an open meeting and has released a tentative agenda:
    • Securing the Communications Supply Chain. The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would require Eligible Telecommunications Carriers to remove equipment and services that pose an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of its people, would establish the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program, and would establish the procedures and criteria for publishing a list of covered communications equipment and services that must be removed. (WC Docket No. 18-89)
    • National Security Matter. The Commission will consider a national security matter.
    • National Security Matter. The Commission will consider a national security matter.
    • Allowing Earlier Equipment Marketing and Importation Opportunities. The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would propose updates to its marketing and importation rules to permit, prior to equipment authorization, conditional sales of radiofrequency devices to consumers under certain circumstances and importation of a limited number of radiofrequency devices for certain pre-sale activities. (ET Docket No. 20-382)
    • Promoting Broadcast Internet Innovation Through ATSC 3.0. The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would modify and clarify existing rules to promote the deployment of Broadcast Internet services as part of the transition to ATSC 3.0. (MB Docket No. 20-145)

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

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

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

Further Reading

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

Other Developments

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

Coming Events

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold an executive session at which the “Online Content Policy Modernization Act” (S.4632), a bill to narrow the liability shield in 47 USC 230, may be marked up on 10 December.
  • On 10 December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold an open meeting and has released a tentative agenda:
    • Securing the Communications Supply Chain. The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would require Eligible Telecommunications Carriers to remove equipment and services that pose an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of its people, would establish the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program, and would establish the procedures and criteria for publishing a list of covered communications equipment and services that must be removed. (WC Docket No. 18-89)
    • National Security Matter. The Commission will consider a national security matter.
    • National Security Matter. The Commission will consider a national security matter.
    • Allowing Earlier Equipment Marketing and Importation Opportunities. The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would propose updates to its marketing and importation rules to permit, prior to equipment authorization, conditional sales of radiofrequency devices to consumers under certain circumstances and importation of a limited number of radiofrequency devices for certain pre-sale activities. (ET Docket No. 20-382)
    • Promoting Broadcast Internet Innovation Through ATSC 3.0. The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would modify and clarify existing rules to promote the deployment of Broadcast Internet services as part of the transition to ATSC 3.0. (MB Docket No. 20-145)

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

Image by Makalu from Pixabay

Further Reading, Other Development, and Coming Events (8 December)

Further Reading

  • Facebook failed to put fact-check labels on 60% of the most viral posts containing Georgia election misinformation that its own fact-checkers had debunked, a new report says” By Tyler Sonnemaker — Business Insider. Despite its vows to improve its managing of untrue and false content, the platform is not consistently taking down such material related to the runoffs for the Georgia Senate seats. The group behind this finding argues it is because Facebook does not want to. What is left unsaid is that engagement drives revenue, and so, Facebook’s incentives are not to police all violations. Rather it would be to take down enough to be able to say their doing something.
  • Federal Labor Agency Says Google Wrongly Fired 2 Employees” By Kate Conger and Noam Scheiber — The New York Times. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has reportedly sided with two employees Google fired for activities that are traditionally considered labor organizing. The two engineers had been dismissed for allegedly violating the company’s data security practices when they researched the company’s retention of a union-busting firm and sought to alert others about organizing. Even though Google is vowing to fight the action, which has not been finalized, it may well settle given the view of Big Tech in Washington these days. This action could also foretell how a Biden Administration NLRB may look at the labor practices of these companies.
  • U.S. states plan to sue Facebook next week: sources” By Diane Bartz — Reuters. We could see state and federal antitrust suits against Facebook this week. One investigation led by New York Attorney General Tish James could include 40 states although the grounds for alleged violations have not been leaked at this point. It may be Facebook’s acquisition of potential rivals Instagram and WhatsApp that have allowed it to dominate the social messaging market. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may also file suit, and, again, the grounds are unknown. The European Commission (EC) is also investigating Facebook for possible violations of European Union (EU) antitrust law over the company’s use of the personal data it holds and uses and about its operation of it online marketplace.
  • The Children of Pornhub” By Nicholas Kristof — The New York Times. This column comprehensively traces the reprehensible recent history of a Canadian conglomerate Mindgeek that owns Pornhub where one can find reams of child and non-consensual pornography. Why Ottawa has not cracked down on this firm is a mystery. The passage and implementation of the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017” (P.L. 115-164) that narrowed the liability shield under 47 USC 230 has forced the company to remove content, a significant change from its indifference before the statutory change in law. Kristof suggests some easy, common sense changes Mindgeek could implement to combat the presence of this illegal material, but it seems like the company will do enough to say it is acting without seriously reforming its platform. Why would it? There is too much money to be made. Additionally, those fighting against this sort of material have been pressuring payment platforms to stop doing business with Mindgeek. PayPal has foresworn any  interaction, and due to pressure Visa and Mastercard are “reviewing” their relationship with Mindgeek and Pornhub. In a statement to a different news outlet, Pornhub claimed it is “unequivocally committed to combating child sexual abuse material (CSAM), and has instituted a comprehensive, industry-leading trust and safety policy to identify and eradicate illegal material from our community.” The company further claimed “[a]ny assertion that we allow CSAM is irresponsible and flagrantly untrue….[w]e have zero tolerance for CSAM.”
  • Amazon and Apple Are Powering a Shift Away From Intel’s Chips” By Don Clark — The New York Times. Two tech giants have chosen new faster, cheaper chips signaling a possible industry shift away from Intel, the firm that has been a significant player for decades. Intel will not go quietly, of course, and a key variable is whether must have software and applications are rewritten to accommodate the new chips from a British firm, Arm.

Other Developments

  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) have released a joint report on artificial intelligence in healthcare, consisting of GAO’s Technology Assessment: Artificial Intelligence in Health Care: Benefits and Challenges of Technologies to Augment Patient Care and NAM’s Special Publication: Advancing Artificial Intelligence in Health Settings Outside the Hospital and Clinic. GAO’s report “discusses three topics: (1) current and emerging AI tools available for augmenting patient care and their potential benefits, (2) challenges to the development and adoption of these tools, and (3) policy options to maximize benefits and mitigate challenges to the use of AI tools to augment patient care.” NAM’s “paper aims to provide an analysis of: 1) current technologies and future applications of AI in HSOHC, 2) the logistical steps and challenges involved in integrating AI- HSOHC applications into existing provider workflows, and 3) the ethical and legal considerations of such AI tools, followed by a brief proposal of potential key initiatives to guide the development and adoption of AI in health settings outside the hospital and clinic (HSOHC).
    • The GAO “identified five categories of clinical applications where AI tools have shown promise to augment patient care: predicting health trajectories, recommending treatments, guiding surgical care, monitoring patients, and supporting population health management.” The GAO “also identified three categories of administrative applications where AI tools have shown promise to reduce provider burden and increase the efficiency of patient care: recording digital clinical notes, optimizing operational processes, and automating laborious tasks.” The GAO stated:
      • This technology assessment also identifies challenges that hinder the adoption and impact of AI tools to augment patient care, according to stakeholders, experts, and the literature. Difficulties accessing sufficient high-quality data may hamper innovation in this space. Further, some available data may be biased, which can reduce the effectiveness and accuracy of the tools for some people. Addressing bias can be difficult because the electronic health data do not currently represent the general population. It can also be challenging to scale tools up to multiple locations and integrate them into new settings because of differences in institutions and the patient populations they serve. The limited transparency of AI tools used in health care can make it difficult for providers, regulators, and others to determine whether an AI tool is safe and effective. A greater dispersion of data across providers and institutions can make securing patient data difficult. Finally, one expert described how existing case law does not specifically address AI tools, which can make providers and patients reticent to adopt them. Some of these challenges are similar to those identified previously by GAO in its first publication in this series, such as the lack of high-quality, structured data, and others are more specific to patient care, such as liability concerns.
    • The GAO “described six policy options:”
      • Collaboration. Policymakers could encourage interdisciplinary collaboration between developers and health care providers. This could result in AI tools that are easier to implement and use within an existing workflow.
      • Data Access. Policymakers could develop or expand high-quality data access mechanisms. This could help developers address bias concerns by ensuring data are representative, transparent, and equitable.
      • Best Practices. Policymakers could encourage relevant stakeholders and experts to establish best practices (such as standards) for development, implementation, and use of AI technologies. This could help with deployment and scalability of AI tools by providing guidance on data, interoperability, bias, and formatting issues.
      • Interdisciplinary Education. Policymakers could create opportunities for more workers to develop interdisciplinary skills. This could allow providers to use AI tools more effectively, and could be accomplished through a variety of methods, including changing medical curricula or grants.
      • Oversight Clarity. Policymakers could collaborate with relevant stakeholders to clarify appropriate oversight mechanisms. Predictable oversight could help ensure that AI tools remain safe and effective after deployment and throughout their lifecycle.
      • Status Quo. Policymakers could allow current efforts to proceed without intervention.
    • NAM claimed
      • Numerous AI-powered health applications designed for personal use have been shown to improve patient outcomes, building predictions based on large volumes of granular, real-time, and individualized behavioral and medical data. For instance, some forms of telehealth, a technology that has been critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, benefit considerably from AI software focused on natural language processing, which enables efficient triaging of patients based on urgency and type of illness. Beyond patient-provider communication, AI algorithms relevant to diabetic and cardiac care have demonstrated remarkable efficacy in helping patients manage their blood glucose levels in their day-to-day lives and in detecting cases of atrial fibrillation. AI tools that monitor and synthesize longitudinal patient behaviors are also particularly useful in psychiatric care, where of the exact timing of interventions is often critical. For example, smartphone-embedded sensors that track location and proximity of individuals can alert clinicians of possible substance use, prompting immediate intervention. On the population health level, these individual indicators of activity and health can be combined with environmental- and system-level data to generate predictive insight into local and global health trends. The most salient example of this may be the earliest warnings of the COVID-19 outbreak, issued in December 2019 by two private AI technology firms.
      • Successful implementation and widespread adoption of AI applications in HSOHC requires careful consideration of several key issues related to personal data, algorithm development, and health care insurance and payment. Chief among them are data interoperability, standardization, privacy, ameliorating systemic biases in algorithms, reimbursement of AI- assisted services, quality improvement, and integration of AI tools into provider workflows. Overcoming these challenges and optimizing the impact of AI tools on clinical outcomes will involve engaging diverse stakeholders, deliberately designing AI tools and interfaces, rigorously evaluating clinical and economic utility, and diffusing and scaling algorithms across different health settings. In addition to these potential logistical and technical hurdles, it is imperative to consider the legal and ethical issues surrounding AI, particularly as it relates to the fair and humanistic deployment of AI applications in HSOHC. Important legal considerations include the appropriate designation of accountability and liability of medical errors resulting from AI- assisted decisions for ensuring the safety of patients and consumers. Key ethical challenges include upholding the privacy of patients and their data—particularly with regard to non-HIPAA covered entities involved in the development of algorithms—building unbiased AI algorithms based on high-quality data from representative populations, and ensuring equitable access to AI technologies across diverse communities.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published a “new study of face recognition technology created after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic [that] shows that some software developers have made demonstrable progress at recognizing masked faces.” In Ongoing Face Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT) Part 6B: Face Recognition Accuracy with Face Masks Using Post-COVID-19 Algorithms (NISTIR 8331), NIST stated the “report augments its predecessor with results for more recent algorithms provided to NIST after mid-March 2020.” NIST said that “[w]hile we do not have information on whether or not a particular algorithm was designed with face coverings in mind, the results show evidence that a number of developers have adapted their algorithms to support face recognition on subjects potentially wearing face masks.” NIST stated that
    • The following results represent observations on algorithms provided to NIST both before and after the COVID-19 pandemic to date. We do not have information on whether or not a particular algorithm was designed with face coverings in mind. The results documented capture a snapshot of algorithms submitted to the FRVT 1:1 in face recognition on subjects potentially wearing face masks.
      • False rejection performance: All algorithms submitted after the pandemic continue to give in-creased false non-match rates (FNMR) when the probes are masked. While a few pre-pandemic algorithms still remain within the most accurate on masked photos, some developers have submit-ted algorithms after the pandemic showing significantly improved accuracy and are now among the most accurate in our test.
      • Evolution of algorithms on face masks: We observe that a number of algorithms submitted since mid-March 2020 show notable reductions in error rates with face masks over their pre-pandemic predecessors. When comparing error rates for unmasked versus masked faces, the median FNMR across algorithms submitted since mid-March 2020 has been reduced by around 25% from the median pre-pandemic results. The figure below presents examples of developer evolution on both masked and unmasked datasets. For some developers, false rejection rates in their algorithms submitted since mid-March 2020 decreased by as much as a factor of 10 over their pre-pandemic algorithms, which is evidence that some providers are adapting their algorithms to handle facemasks. However, in the best cases, when comparing results for unmasked images to masked im-ages, false rejection rates have increased from 0.3%-0.5% (unmasked) to 2.4%-5% (masked).
      • False acceptance performance: As most systems are configured with a fixed threshold, it is necessary to report both false negative and false positive rates for each group at that threshold. When comparing a masked probe to an unmasked enrollment photo, in most cases, false match rates (FMR) are reduced by masks. The effect is generally modest with reductions in FMR usually being smaller than a factor of two. This property is valuable in that masked probes do not impart adverse false match security consequences for verification.
      • Mask-agnostic face recognition: All 1:1 verification algorithms submitted to the FRVT test since the start of the pandemic are evaluated on both masked and unmasked datasets. The test is de-signed this way to mimic operational reality: some images will have masks, some will not (especially enrollment samples from a database or ID card). And to the extent that the use of protective masks will exist for some time, our test will continue to evaluate algorithmic capability on verifying all combinations of masked and unmasked faces.
  • The government in London has issued a progress report on its current cybersecurity strategy that has another year to run. The Paymaster General assessed how well the United Kingdom (UK) has implemented the National Cyber Security Strategy 2016 to 2021 and pointed to goals yet to be achieved. This assessment comes in the shadow of the pending exit of the UK from the European Union (EU) and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to increase the UK’s role in select defense issues, including cyber operations. The Paymaster General stated:
    • The global landscape has changed significantly since the publication of the National Cyber Security Strategy Progress Report in May 2019. We have seen unprecedented levels of disruption to our way of life that few would have predicted. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased our reliance on digital technologies – for our personal communications with friends and family and our ability to work remotely, as well as for businesses and government to continue to operate effectively, including in support of the national response.
    • These new ways of living and working highlight the importance of cyber security, which is also underlined by wider trends. An ever greater reliance on digital networks and systems, more rapid advances in new technologies, a wider range of threats, and increasing international competition on underlying technologies and standards in cyberspace, emphasise the need for good cyber security practices for individuals, businesses and government.
    • Although the scale and international nature of these changes present challenges, there are also opportunities. With the UK’s departure from the European Union in January 2020, we can define and strengthen Britain’s place in the world as a global leader in cyber security, as an independent, sovereign nation.
    • The sustained, strategic investment and whole of society approach delivered so far through the National Cyber Security Strategy has ensured we are well placed to respond to this changing environment and seize new opportunities.
    • The Paymaster General asserted:
      • [The] report has highlighted growing risks, some accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and longer-term trends that will shape the environment over the next decade:
      • Ever greater reliance on digital networks and systems as daily life moves online, bringing huge benefits but also creating new systemic and individuals risks.
      • Rapid technological change and greater global competition, challenging our ability to shape the technologies that will underpin our future security and prosperity.
      • A wider range of adversaries as criminals gain easier access to commoditised attack capabilities and cyber techniques form a growing part of states’ toolsets.
      • Competing visions for the future of the internet and the risk of fragmentation, making consensus on norms and ethics in cyberspace harder to achieve.
      • In February 2020 the Prime Minister announced the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. This will define the government’s ambition for the UK’s role in the world and the long-term strategic aims of our national security and foreign policy. It will set out the way in which the UK will be a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation, and a strong direction for recovery from COVID-19, at home and overseas.
      • This will help to shape our national approach and priorities on cyber security beyond 2021. Cyber security is a key element of our international, defence and security posture, as well as a driving force for our economic prosperity.
  • The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab published a report on an Israeli surveillance firm that uses “[o]ne of the widest-used—but least appreciated” means of surveilling people (i.e., “leveraging of weaknesses in the global mobile telecommunications infrastructure to monitor and intercept phone calls and traffic.” Citizen Lab explained that an affiliate of the NSO Group, “Circles is known for selling systems to exploit Signaling System 7 (SS7) vulnerabilities, and claims to sell this technology exclusively to nation-states.” Citizen Lab noted that “[u]nlike NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, the SS7 mechanism by which Circles’ product reportedly operates does not have an obvious signature on a target’s phone, such as the telltale targeting SMS bearing a malicious link that is sometimes present on a phone targeted with Pegasus.” Citizen Lab found that
    • Circles is a surveillance firm that reportedly exploits weaknesses in the global mobile phone system to snoop on calls, texts, and the location of phones around the globe. Circles is affiliated with NSO Group, which develops the oft-abused Pegasus spyware.
    • Circles, whose products work without hacking the phone itself, says they sell only to nation-states. According to leaked documents, Circles customers can purchase a system that they connect to their local telecommunications companies’ infrastructure, or can use a separate system called the “Circles Cloud,” which interconnects with telecommunications companies around the world.
    • According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, all U.S. wireless networks are vulnerable to the types of weaknesses reportedly exploited by Circles. A majority of networks around the globe are similarly vulnerable.
    • Using Internet scanning, we found a unique signature associated with the hostnames of Check Point firewalls used in Circles deployments. This scanning enabled us to identify Circles deployments in at least 25 countries.
    • We determine that the governments of the following countries are likely Circles customers: Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Chile, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Peru, Serbia, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Vietnam, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
    • Some of the specific government branches we identify with varying degrees of confidence as being Circles customers have a history of leveraging digital technology for human rights abuses. In a few specific cases, we were able to attribute the deployment to a particular customer, such as the Security Operations Command (ISOC) of the Royal Thai Army, which has allegedly tortured detainees.
  • Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) “announced that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will launch an inspector general investigation into Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) warrantless tracking of phones in the United States following an inquiry from the senators earlier this year” per their press release.
    • The Senators added:
      • As revealed by public contracts, CBP has paid a government contractor named Venntel nearly half a million dollars for access to a commercial database containing location data mined from applications on millions of Americans’ mobile phones. CBP officials also confirmed the agency’s warrantless tracking of phones in the United States using Venntel’s product in a September 16, 2020 call with Senate staff.
      • In 2018, the Supreme Court held in Carpenter v. United States that the collection of significant quantities of historical location data from Americans’ cell phones is a search under the Fourth Amendment and therefore requires a warrant.
      • In September 2020, Wyden and Warren successfully pressed for an inspector general investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s use of Venntel’s commercial location tracking service without a court order.
    • In a letter, the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) explained:
      • We have reviewed your request and plan to initiate an audit that we believe will address your concerns. The objective of our audit is to determine if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and it [sic] components have developed, updated, and adhered to policies related to cell-phone surveillance devices. In addition, you may be interested in our audit to review DHS’ use and protection of open source intelligence. Open source intelligence, while different from cell phone surveillance, includes the Department’s use of information provided by the public via cellular devices, such as social media status updates, geo-tagged photos, and specific location check-ins.
    • In an October letter, these Senators plus Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) argued:
      • CBP is not above the law and it should not be able to buy its way around the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, we urge you to investigate CBP’s warrantless use of commercial databases containing Americans’ information, including but not limited to Venntel’s location database. We urge you to examine what legal analysis, if any, CBP’s lawyers performed before the agency started to use this surveillance tool. We also request that you determine how CBP was able to begin operational use of Venntel’s location database without the Department of Homeland Security Privacy Office first publishing a Privacy Impact Assessment.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit in a federal court in New York City, seeking an order to compel the United States (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “to release records about their purchases of cell phone location data for immigration enforcement and other purposes.” The ACLU made these information requests after numerous media accounts showing that these and other U.S. agencies were buying location data and other sensitive information in ways intended to evade the bar in the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches.
    • In its press release, the ACLU asserted:
      • In February, The Wall Street Journal reported that this sensitive location data isn’t just for sale to commercial entities, but is also being purchased by U.S. government agencies, including by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to locate and arrest immigrants. The Journal identified one company, Venntel, that was selling access to a massive database to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and ICE. Subsequent reporting has identified other companies selling access to similar databases to DHS and other agencies, including the U.S. military.
      • These practices raise serious concerns that federal immigration authorities are evading Fourth Amendment protections for cell phone location information by paying for access instead of obtaining a warrant. There’s even more reason for alarm when those agencies evade requests for information — including from U.S. senators — about such practices. That’s why today we asked a federal court to intervene and order DHS, CBP, and ICE to release information about their purchase and use of precise cell phone location information. Transparency is the first step to accountability.
    • The ACLU explained in the suit:
      • Multiple news sources have confirmed these agencies’ purchase of access to databases containing precise location information for millions of people—information gathered by applications (apps) running on their smartphones. The agencies’ purchases raise serious concerns that they are evading Fourth Amendment protections for cell phone location information by paying for access instead of obtaining a warrant. Yet, more than nine months after the ACLU submitted its FOIA request (“the Request”), these agencies have produced no responsive records. The information sought is of immense public significance, not only to shine a light on the government’s use of powerful location-tracking data in the immigration context, but also to assess whether the government’s purchase of this sensitive data complies with constitutional and legal limitations and is subject to appropriate oversight and control.
  • Facebook’s new Oversight Board announced “the first cases it will be deliberating and the opening of the public comment process” and “the appointment of five new trustees.” The cases were almost all referred by Facebook users and the new board is asking for comments on the right way to manage what may be objectionable content. The Oversight Board explained it “prioritizing cases that have the potential to affect lots of users around the world, are of critical importance to public discourse or raise important questions about Facebook’s policies.”
    • The new trustees are:
      • Kristina Arriaga is a globally recognized advocate for freedom of expression, with a focus on freedom of religion and belief. Kristina is president of the advisory firm Intrinsic.
      • Cherine Chalaby is an expert on internet governance, international finance and technology, with extensive board experience. As Chairman of ICANN, he led development of the organization’s five-year strategic plan for 2021 to 2025.
      • Wanda Felton has over 30 years of experience in the financial services industry, including serving as Vice Chair of the Board and First Vice President of the Export-Import Bank of the United States.
      • Kate O’Regan is a former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and commissioner of the Khayelitsha Commission. She is the inaugural director of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at the University of Oxford.
      • Robert Post is an American legal scholar and Professor of Law at Yale Law School, where he formerly served as Dean. He is a leading scholar of the First Amendment and freedom of speech.

Coming Events

  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will hold a webinar on the Draft Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) 201-3 on 9 December.
  • On 9 December, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing titled “The Invalidation of the EU-US Privacy Shield and the Future of Transatlantic Data Flows” with the following witnesses:
    • The Honorable Noah Phillips, Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission
    • Ms. Victoria Espinel, President and Chief Executive Officer, BSA – The Software Alliance
    • Mr. James Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Services, International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce
    • Mr. Peter Swire, Elizabeth and Tommy Holder Chair of Law and Ethics, Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business, and Research Director, Cross-Border Data Forum
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold an executive session at which the “Online Content Policy Modernization Act” (S.4632), a bill to narrow the liability shield in 47 USC 230, may be marked up.
  • On 10 December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold an open meeting and has released a tentative agenda:
    • Securing the Communications Supply Chain. The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would require Eligible Telecommunications Carriers to remove equipment and services that pose an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of its people, would establish the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program, and would establish the procedures and criteria for publishing a list of covered communications equipment and services that must be removed. (WC Docket No. 18-89)
    • National Security Matter. The Commission will consider a national security matter.
    • National Security Matter. The Commission will consider a national security matter.
    • Allowing Earlier Equipment Marketing and Importation Opportunities. The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would propose updates to its marketing and importation rules to permit, prior to equipment authorization, conditional sales of radiofrequency devices to consumers under certain circumstances and importation of a limited number of radiofrequency devices for certain pre-sale activities. (ET Docket No. 20-382)
    • Promoting Broadcast Internet Innovation Through ATSC 3.0. The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would modify and clarify existing rules to promote the deployment of Broadcast Internet services as part of the transition to ATSC 3.0. (MB Docket No. 20-145)

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

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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

Further Reading

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

Other Developments

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

Coming Events

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

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Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (29 October)

Further Reading

  •  “Cyberattacks hit Louisiana government offices as worries rise about election hacking” By Eric Geller — Politico. The Louisiana National Guard located and addressed a remote access trojan, a common precursor to ransomware attacks, in some of the state’s systems. This may or may not have been the beginning stages of an election day attack, and other states have made similar discoveries.
  • Kicked off Weibo? Here’s what happens next.” By Shen Lu — Rest of World. Beijing is increasingly cracking down on dissent on Weibo, the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) version of Twitter. People get banned for posting content critical of the PRC government or pro-Hong Kong. Some are allowed back and are usually banned again. Some buy burner accounts inevitably to get also get banned.
  • Inside the campaign to ‘pizzagate’ Hunter Biden” By Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny — NBC News. The sordid tale of how allies or advocates of the Trump Campaign have tried to propagate rumors of illegal acts committed by Hunter Biden in an attempt to smear former Vice President Joe Biden as was done to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.
  • Russians Who Pose Election Threat Have Hacked Nuclear Plants and Power Grid” By Nicole Perlroth — The New York Times. Some of Russia’s best hackers have been prowling around state and local governments’ systems for unknown ends. These are the same hackers, named Dragonfly or Energetic Bear by researchers, who have penetrated a number of electric utilities and the power grid in the United States, including a nuclear plant. It is not clear what these hackers want to do, which worries U.S. officials and cybersecurity experts and researchers.
  • Activists Turn Facial Recognition Tools Against the Police” By Kashmir Hill — The New York Times. In an interesting twist, protestors and civil liberties groups are adopting facial recognition technology to try to identify police officers who attack protestors or commit acts of violence who refuse to identify themselves.

Other Developments

  • The United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has completed its investigation into the data brokering practices of Equifax, Transunion, and Experian and found widespread privacy and data protection violations. Equifax and Transunion were amendable to working with the ICO to correct abuses and shutter illegal products and businesses, but Experian was not. In the words of the ICO, Experian “did not accept that they were required to make the changes set out by the ICO, and as such were not prepared to issue privacy information directly to individuals nor cease the use of credit reference data for direct marketing purposes.” Consequently, Experian must affect specified changes within nine months or face “a fine of up to £20m or 4% of the organisation’s total annual worldwide turnover.” The ICO investigated using its powers under the British Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
    • The ICO found widespread problems in the data brokering businesses of the three firms:
      • The investigation found how the three CRAs were trading, enriching and enhancing people’s personal data without their knowledge. This processing resulted in products which were used by commercial organisations, political parties or charities to find new customers, identify the people most likely to be able to afford goods and services, and build profiles about people.
      • The ICO found that significant ‘invisible’ processing took place, likely affecting millions of adults in the UK. It is ‘invisible’ because the individual is not aware that the organisation is collecting and using their personal data. This is against data protection law.
      • Although the CRAs varied widely in size and practice, the ICO found significant data protection failures at each company. As well as the failure to be transparent, the regulator found that personal data provided to each CRA, in order for them to provide their statutory credit referencing function, was being used in limited ways for marketing purposes. Some of the CRAs were also using profiling to generate new or previously unknown information about people, which is often privacy invasive.
      • Other thematic failings identified were:
        • Although the CRAs did provide some privacy information on their websites about their data broking activities, their privacy information did not clearly explain what they were doing with people’s data;
        • Separately, they were using certain lawful bases incorrectly for processing people’s data.
      • The ICO issued its report “Investigation into data protection compliance in the direct marketing data broking sector,” with these key findings:
        • Key finding 1: The privacy information of the CRAs did not clearly explain their processing with respect to their marketing services. CRAs have to revise and improve their privacy information. Those engaging in data broking activities must ensure that their privacy information is compliant with the GDPR.
        • Key finding 2: In the circumstances we assessed the CRAs were incorrectly relying on an exception from the requirement to directly provide privacy information to individuals (excluding where the data processed has come solely from the open electoral register or would be in conflict with the purpose of processing – such as suppression lists like the TPS). To comply with the GDPR, CRAs have to ensure that they provide appropriate privacy information directly to all the individuals for whom they hold personal data in their capacity as data brokers for direct marketing purposes. Those engaging in data broking activities must ensure individuals have the information required by Article 14.
        • Key finding 3: The CRAs were using personal data collected for credit referencing purposes for direct marketing purposes. The CRAs must not use this data for direct marketing purposes unless this has been transparently explained to individuals and they have consented to this use. Where the CRAs are currently using personal data obtained for credit referencing purposes for direct marketing, they must stop using it.
        • Key finding 4: The consents relied on by Equifax were not valid under the GDPR. To comply with the GDPR, CRAs must ensure that the consent is valid, if they intend to rely on consent obtained by a third party. Those engaging in data broking activities must ensure that any consents they use meet the standard of the GDPR.
        • Key finding 5: Legitimate interest assessments (LIAs) conducted by the CRAs in respect of their marketing services were not properly weighted. The CRAs must revise their LIAs to reconsider the balance of their own interests against the rights and freedoms of individuals in the context of their marketing services. Where an objective LIA does not favour the interests of the organisation, the processing of that data must stop until that processing can be made lawful. Those engaging in data broking activities must ensure that LIAs are conducted objectively taking into account all factors.
        • Key finding 6: In some cases Experian was obtaining data on the basis of consent and then processing it on the basis of legitimate interests. Switching from consent to legitimate interests in this situation is not appropriate. Where personal data is collected by a third party and shared for direct marketing purposes on the basis of consent, then the appropriate lawful basis for subsequent processing for these purposes will also be consent. Experian must therefore delete any data supplied to it on the basis of consent that it is processing on the basis of legitimate interests.
  • The United States (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the U.S. Cyber Command Cyber National Mission Force (CNMF) issued a joint advisory on the “the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by North Korean advanced persistent threat (APT) group Kimsuky—against worldwide targets—to gain intelligence on various topics of interest to the North Korean government.” CISA, FBI, and CNMF stated “individuals and organizations within this target profile increase their defenses and adopt a heightened state of awareness…[and] [p]articularly important mitigations include safeguards against spearphishing, use of multi-factor authentication, and user awareness training.” The agencies noted:
    • This advisory describes known Kimsuky TTPs, as found in open-source and intelligence reporting through July 2020. The target audience for this advisory is commercial sector businesses desiring to protect their networks from North Korean APT activity.
    • The agencies highlighted the key findings:
      • Kimsuky is most likely tasked by the North Korean regime with a global intelligence gathering mission.
      • Kimsuky employs common social engineering tactics, spearphishing, and watering hole attacks to exfiltrate desired information from victims.
      •  Kimsuky is most likely to use spearphishing to gain initial access into victim hosts or networks.
      • Kimsuky conducts its intelligence collection activities against individuals and organizations in South Korea, Japan, and the United States.
      • Kimsuky focuses its intelligence collection activities on foreign policy and national security issues related to the Korean peninsula, nuclear policy, and sanctions.
      • Kimsuky specifically targets:
        • Individuals identified as experts in various fields,
        • Think tanks, and
        • South Korean government entities.
  • European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) Wojciech Wiewiórowski made remarks at the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity’s (ENISA) Annual Privacy Forum and advocated for a European Union (EU) moratorium on the rollout of new technology like facial recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) until this “development can be reconciled with the values and fundamental rights that are at the foundation of our democratic societies.” He claimed the EU could maintain the rights of its people while taking the lead in cutting edge technologies. Wiewiórowski asserted:
    • Now we are entering a new phase of contactless tracking of individuals in public areas. Remote facial recognition technology has developed quickly; so much so that some authorities and private entities want to use it in many places. If this all becomes true, we could be tracked everywhere in the world.
    • I do not believe that such a development can be reconciled with the values and fundamental rights that are at the foundation of our democratic societies. The EDPS therefore, together with other authorities, supports a moratorium on the rollout of such technologies. The aim of this moratorium would be twofold. Firstly, an informed and democratic debate would take place. Secondly, the EU and Member States would put in place all the appropriate safeguards, including a comprehensive legal framework, to guarantee the proportionality of the respective technologies and systems in relation to their specific use.
    • As an example, any new regulatory framework for AI should, in my view:
      • apply both to EU Member States and to EU institutions, offices, bodies and agencies;
      • be designed to protect individuals, communities and society as a whole, from any negative impact;
      • propose a robust and nuanced risk classification scheme, ensuring that any significant potential harm posed by AI applications is matched with appropriate mitigating measures.
    • We must ensure that Europe’s leading role in AI, or any other technology in development, does not come at the cost of our fundamental rights. Europe must remain true to its values and provide the grounds for innovation. We will only get it right if we ensure that technology serves both individuals and society.
    • Faced with these developments, transparency is a starting point for proper debate and assessment. Transparency for citizens puts them in a position to understand what they are subject to, and to decide whether they want to accept the infringements of their rights.
  • The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) and “its international counterparts” laid out their thinking on “stronger privacy protections and greater accountability in the development and use of facial recognition technology and artificial intelligence (AI) systems” at the recent Global Privacy Assembly. The OPC summarized the two resolutions adopted at the assembly:
    • the resolution on facial recognition technology acknowledges that this technology can benefit security and public safety. However, it asserts that facial recognition can erode data protection, privacy and human rights because it is highly intrusive and enables widespread surveillance that can produce inaccurate results. The resolution also calls on data protection authorities to work together to develop principles and expectations that strengthen data protection and ensure privacy by design in the development of innovative uses of this technology.
    • a resolution on the development and use of AI systems that urges organizations developing or using them to ensure human accountability for AI systems and address adverse impacts on human rights. The resolution encourages governments to amend personal data protection laws to make clear legal obligations for accountability in the development and use of AI. It also calls on governments, public authorities and other stakeholders to work with data protection authorities to ensure legal compliance, accountability and ethics in the development and use of AI systems.
  • The Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD) at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMFUS) issued a report, “A Future Internet for Democracies: Contesting China’s Push for Dominance in 5G, 6G, and the Internet of Everything” that “provides a roadmap for contesting China’s growing dominance in this critical information arena across infrastructure, application, and governance dimensions—one that doubles down on geostrategic interests and allied cooperation.” ASD stated “[a]n allied approach that is rooted firmly in shared values and resists an authoritarian divide-and-conquer strategy is vital for the success of democracies in commercial, military, and governance domains.” ASD asserted:
    • The United States and its democratic allies are engaged in a contest for the soul of the Future Internet. Conceived as a beacon of free expression with the power to tear down communication barriers across free and unfree societies alike, the Internet today faces significant challenges to its status as the world’s ultimate connector.1 In creating connectivity and space for democratic speech, it has also enabled new means of authoritarian control and the suppression of human rights through censorship and surveillance. As tensions between democracies and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) heat up over Internet technologies, the prospect of a dichotomous Inter-net comes more sharply into focus: a democratic Internet where information flows freely and an authoritarian Internet where it is tightly controlled—separated not by an Iron Curtain, but a Silicon one. The Future Internet is deeply enmeshed in the dawning information contest between autocracies and democracies.2 It is the base layer—the foundation—on which communication takes place and the entry point into narrative and societal influence. How the next generation of Internet technologies are created, defined, governed, and ultimately used will have an outsized impact on this information contest—and the larger geopolitical contest—between democracy and authoritarianism.
    • ASD found:
      • The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has a history of creating infrastructure dependence and using it for geopolitical leverage. As such, China’s global market dominance in Future Internet infrastructure carries unacceptable risks for democracies.
      • The contest to shape 6G standards is already underway, with China leading the charge internationally. As the United States ponders how it ended up on the back foot on 5G, China is moving ahead with new proposals that would increase authoritarian control and undermine fundamental freedoms.
      • The battle over the Future Internet is playing out in the Global South. As more developed nations eschew Chinese network equipment, democracies’ response has largely ignored this global build-out of networks and applications in the proving ground of the developing world that threaten both technological competitiveness and universal rights.
      • China is exporting “technology to anticipate crime”—a dystopian future police state. “Minority report”-style pre-criminal arrests decimate the practice of the rule of law centered in the presumption of innocence.
      • Personal Data Exfiltration: CCP entities see “Alternative Data” as “New Oil” for AI-driven applications in the Internet-of-Everything. These applications provide new and expanded avenues for mass data collection, as much as they depend on this data to succeed–giving China the means and the motivation to vacuum up the world’s data.
      • Data in, propaganda out: Future Internet technology presents opportunities to influence the information environment, including the development of information applications that simultaneously perform big data collection. Chinese companies are building information platforms into application technologies, reimagining both the public square and private locales as tools for propaganda.
      • Already victims of intellectual property theft by China, the United States and its democratic partners are ill-prepared to secure sensitive information as the Future Internet ecosystem explodes access points. This insecurity will continue to undermine technological competitiveness and national security and compound these effects in new ways.
      • China outnumbers the United States nearly two-to-one on participation in and leadership of critical international Future Internet standards-setting efforts. Technocratic standards bodies are becoming unlikely loci of great power technical competition, as Beijing uses leadership posts to shape the narrative and set the course for the next generation of Internet technologies to support China’s own technological leadership, governance norms, and market access.
      • The world’s oldest UN agency is being leveraged as a propaganda mouthpiece for the CCP’s AI and Future Internet agenda, whitewashing human rights abuses under a banner of “AI for Good.” The upshot is an effort to shape the UN Sustainable Development agenda to put economic development with authoritarian technology–not individual liberty—at their center.
      • A symbiotic relationship has developed between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and UN agencies involved in Future Internet and digital development. In this way, China leverages the United Nations enterprise to capture market dominance in next generation technologies.
  • A Dutch think tank has put together the “(best) practices of Asian countries and the United States in the field of digital connectivity” in the hopes of realizing European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s goal of making the next ten years “Europe’s Digital Decade.” The Clingendael Institute explained that the report “covers a wide range of topics related to digital regulation, the e-economy, and telecommunications infrastructure.” The Clingendael Institute asserted:
    • Central to the debate and any policy decision on digital connectivity are the trade-offs concerning privacy, business interests and national security. While all regulations are a combination of these three, the United States (US) has taken a path that prioritises the interests of businesses. This is manifested, for example, in the strong focus on free data flows, both personal and non-personal, to strengthen companies’ competitive advantage in collecting and using data to develop themselves. China’s approach, by contrast, strongly focuses on state security, wherein Chinese businesses are supported and leveraged to pre-empt threats to the country and, more specifically, to the Chinese Communist Party. This is evident from its strict data localisation requirements to prevent any data from being stored outside its borders and a mandatory security assessment for cross-border transfers. The European Union represents a third way, emphasising individuals’ privacy and a human-centred approach that puts people first, and includes a strong focus on ethics, including in data-protection regulations. This Clingendael Report aims to increase awareness and debate about the trade-offs of individual, state and business interests in all subsets of digital connectivity. This is needed to reach a more sustainable EU approach that will outlast the present decade. After all, economic competitiveness is required to secure Europe and to further its principled approach to digital connectivity in the long term. The analysis presented here covers a wide range of topics within digital connectivity’s three subsets: regulation; business; and telecommunications infrastructure. Aiming to contribute to improved European policy-making, this report discusses (best) practices of existing and rising digital powers in Asia and the United States. In every domain, potential avenues for cooperation with those countries are explored as ways forward for the EU.
    • Findings show that the EU and its member states are slowly but steadily moving from being mainly a regulatory power to also claiming their space as a player in the digitalised world. Cloud computing initiative GAIA-X is a key example, constituting a proactive alternative to American and Chinese Cloud providers that is strongly focused on uniting small European initiatives to create a strong and sustainable Cloud infrastructure. Such initiatives, including also the more recent Next Generation Internet (NGI), not only help defend and push European digital norms and standards, but also assist the global competitiveness of European companies and business models by facilitating the availability of large data-sets as well as scaling up. Next to such ‘EU only’ initiatives, working closely together with like-minded partners will benefit the EU and its member states as they seek to finetune and implement their digital strategies. The United States and Asian partners, particularly Japan, South Korea, India and Singapore, are the focus of attention here.

Coming Events

  • On 10 November, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing to consider nominations, including Nathan Simington’s to be a Member of the Federal Communications Commission.

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