Further Reading, Other Development, and Coming Events (20 and 21 January 2021)

Further Reading

  • Amazon’s Ring Neighbors app exposed users’ precise locations and home addresses” By Zack Whittaker — Tech Crunch. Again Amazon’s home security platform suffers problems by way of users data being exposed or less than protected.
  • Harassment of Chinese dissidents was warning signal on disinformation” By Shawna Chen and Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian — Axios. In an example of how malicious online activities can spill into the real world as a number of Chinese dissidents were set upon by protestors.
  • How Social Media’s Obsession with Scale Supercharged Disinformation” By Joan Donovan — Harvard Business Review. Companies like Facebook and Twitter emphasized scale over safety in trying to grow as quickly as possible. This lead to a proliferation of fake accounts and proved welcome ground for the seeds of misinformation.
  • The Moderation War Is Coming to Spotify, Substack, and Clubhouse” By Alex Kantrowitz — OneZero. The same issues with objectionable and abusive content plaguing Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others will almost certainly become an issue for the newer platforms, and in fact already are.
  • Mexican president mounts campaign against social media bans” By Mark Stevenson — The Associated Press. The leftist President of Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is vowing to lead international efforts to stop social media companies from censoring what he considers free speech. Whether this materializes into something substantial is not clear.
  • As Trump Clashes With Big Tech, China’s Censored Internet Takes His Side” By Li Yuan — The New York Times. The government in Beijing is framing the ban of former President Donald Trump after the attempted insurrection by social media platforms as proof there is no untrammeled freedom of speech. This position helps bolster the oppressive policing of online content the People’s Republic of China (PRC) wages against its citizens. And quite separately many Chinese people (or what appear to be actual people) are questioning what is often deemed the censoring of Trump in the United States (U.S.), a nation ostensibly committed to free speech. There is also widespread misunderstanding about the First Amendment rights of social media platforms not to host content with which they disagree and the power of platforms to make such determinations without fear that the U.S. government will punish them as is often the case in the PRC.
  • Trump admin slams China’s Huawei, halting shipments from Intel, others – sources” By Karen Freifeld and Alexandra Alper — Reuters. On its way out of the proverbial door, the Trump Administration delivered parting shots to Huawei and the People’s Republic of China by revoking one license and denying others to sell the PRC tech giant semiconductors. Whether the Biden Administration will reverse or stand by these actions remains to be seen. The companies, including Intel, could appeal. Additionally, there are an estimated $400 million worth of applications for similar licenses pending at the Department of Commerce that are now the domain of the new regime in Washington. It is too early to discern how the Biden Administration will maintain or modify Trump Administration policy towards the PRC.
  • Behind a Secret Deal Between Google and Facebook” By Daisuke Wakabayashi and Tiffany Hsu — The New York Times. The newspaper got its hands on an unredacted copy of the antitrust suit Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and other attorneys general filed against Google, and it has details on the deal Facebook and Google allegedly struck to divide the online advertising world. Not only did Facebook ditch an effort launched by publishers to defeat Google’s overwhelming advantages in online advertising bidding, it joined Google’s rival effort with a guarantee that it would win a specified number of bids and more time to bid on ads. Google and Facebook naturally deny any wrongdoing.
  • Biden and Trump Voters Were Exposed to Radically Different Coverage of the Capitol Riot on Facebook” By Colin Lecher and Jon Keegan — The Markup. Using a tool on browsers the organization pays Facebook users to have, the Markup can track the type of material they see in their feed. Facebook’s algorithm fed people material about the 6 January 2021 attempted insurrection based on their political views. Many have pointed out that this very dynamic creates filter bubbles that poison democracy and public discourse.
  • Banning Trump won’t fix social media: 10 ideas to rebuild our broken internet – by experts” By Julia Carrie Wong — The Guardian. There are some fascinating proposals in this piece that could help address the problems of social media.
  • Misinformation dropped dramatically the week after Twitter banned Trump and some allies” By Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg — The Washington Post. Research showed that lies, misinformation, and disinformation about election fraud dropped by three-quarters after former President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter and other platforms. Other research showed that a small group of conservatives were responsible for up to 20% of misinformation on this and other conspiracies.
  • This Was WhatsApp’s Plan All Along” By Shoshana Wodinsky — Gizmodo. This piece does a great job of breaking down into plain English the proposed changes to terms of service on WhatsApp that so enraged users that competitors Signal and Telegram have seen record-breaking downloads. Basically, it is all about reaping advertising dollars for Facebook through businesses and third-party partners using user data from business-related communications. Incidentally, WhatsApp has delayed changes until March because of the pushback.
  • Brussels eclipsed as EU countries roll out their own tech rules” By By Laura Kayali and Mark Scott — Politico EU. The European Union (EU) had a hard-enough task in trying to reach final language on a Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act without nations like France, Germany, Poland, and others picking and choosing text from draft bills and enacting them into law. Brussels is not happy with this trend.

Other Developments

  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Joseph J. Simons announced his resignation from the FTC effective on 29 January 2021 in keeping with tradition and past practice. This resignation clears the way for President Joe Biden to name the chair of the FTC, and along with FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra’s nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the incoming President will get to nominate two Democratic FTC Commissioners, tipping the political balance of the FTC and likely ushering in a period of more regulation of the technology sector.
    • Simons also announced the resignation of senior staff: General Counsel Alden F. Abbott; Bureau of Competition Director Ian Conner; Bureau of Competition Deputy Directors Gail Levine and Daniel Francis; Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Andrew Smith; Bureau of Economics Director Andrew Sweeting; Office of Public Affairs Director Cathy MacFarlane; and Office of Policy Planning Director Bilal Sayyed.
  • In a speech last week before he sworn in, President Joe Biden announced his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, and according to a summary, Biden will ask Congress to provide $10 billion for a handful of government facing programs to improve technology. Notably, Biden “is calling on Congress to launch the most ambitious effort ever to modernize and secure federal IT and networks.” Biden is proposing to dramatically increase funding for a fund that would allow agencies to borrow and then pay back funds to update their technology. Moreover, Biden is looking to push more money to a program to aid officials at agencies who oversee technology development and procurement.
    • Biden stated “[t]o remediate the SolarWinds breach and boost U.S. defenses, including of the COVID-19 vaccine process, President-elect Biden is calling on Congress to:
      • Expand and improve the Technology Modernization Fund. ​A $9 billion investment will help the U.S. launch major new IT and cybersecurity shared services at the Cyber Security and Information Security Agency (CISA) and the General Services Administration and complete modernization projects at federal agencies. ​In addition, the president-elect is calling on Congress to change the fund’s reimbursement structure in order to fund more innovative and impactful projects.
      • Surge cybersecurity technology and engineering expert hiring​. Providing the Information Technology Oversight and Reform fund with $200 million will allow for the rapid hiring of hundreds of experts to support the federal Chief Information Security Officer and U.S. Digital Service.
      • Build shared, secure services to drive transformational projects. ​Investing$300 million in no-year funding for Technology Transformation Services in the General Services Administration will drive secure IT projects forward without the need of reimbursement from agencies.
      • Improving security monitoring and incident response activities. ​An additional $690M for CISA will bolster cybersecurity across federal civilian networks, and support the piloting of new shared security and cloud computing services.
  • The United States (U.S.) Department of Commerce issued an interim final rule pursuant to an executive order (EO) issued by former President Donald Trump to secure the United States (U.S.) information and communications supply chain. This rule will undoubtedly be reviewed by the Biden Administration and may be withdrawn or modified depending on the fate on the EO on which the rule relies.
    • In the interim final rule, Commerce explained:
      • These regulations create the processes and procedures that the Secretary of Commerce will use to identify, assess, and address certain transactions, including classes of transactions, between U.S. persons and foreign persons that involve information and communications technology or services designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied, by persons owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of a foreign adversary; and pose an undue or unacceptable risk. While this interim final rule will become effective on March 22, 2021, the Department of Commerce continues to welcome public input and is thus seeking additional public comment. Once any additional comments have been evaluated, the Department is committed to issuing a final rule.
      • On November 27, 2019, the Department of Commerce (Department) published a proposed rule to implement the terms of the Executive Order. (84 FR 65316). The proposed rule set forth processes for (1) how the Secretary would evaluate and assess transactions involving ICTS to determine whether they pose an undue risk of sabotage to or subversion of the ICTS supply chain, or an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of U.S. persons; (2) how the Secretary would notify parties to transactions under review of the Secretary’s decision regarding the ICTS Transaction, including whether the Secretary would prohibit or mitigate the transaction; and (3) how parties to transactions reviewed by the Secretary could comment on the Secretary’s preliminary decisions. The proposed rule also provided that the Secretary could act without complying with the proposed procedures where required by national security. Finally, the Secretary would establish penalties for violations of mitigation agreements, the regulations, or the Executive Order.
      • In addition to seeking general public comment, the Department requested comments from the public on five specific questions: (1) Whether the Secretary should consider categorical exclusions or whether there are classes of persons whose use of ICTS cannot violate the Executive Order; (2) whether there are categories of uses or of risks that are always capable of being reliably and adequately mitigated; (3) how the Secretary should monitor and enforce any mitigation agreements applied to a transaction; (4) how the terms, “transaction,” “dealing in,” and “use of” should be clarified in the rule; and (5) whether the Department should add record-keeping requirements for information related to transactions.
      • The list of “foreign adversaries” consists of the following foreign governments and non-government persons: The People’s Republic of China, including the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (China); the Republic of Cuba (Cuba); the Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran); the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea); the Russian Federation (Russia); and Venezuelan politician Nicolás Maduro (Maduro Regime).
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) adjusted its penalty amounts for inflation, including a boost to the per violation penalty virtually all the privacy bills introduced in the last Congress would allow the agency to wield against first-time violators. The penalty for certain unfair and deceptive acts or practices was increased from $43,280 to $43,792.
  • The United States (U.S.) Department of State stood up its new Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies (CSET) as it has long planned. At the beginning of the Trump Administration, the Department of State dismantled the Cyber Coordinator Office and gave its cybersecurity portfolio to the Bureau of Economic Affairs, which displeased Congressional stakeholders. In 2019, the department notified Congress of its plan to establish CSET. The department asserted:
    • The need to reorganize and resource America’s cyberspace and emerging technology security diplomacy through the creation of CSET is critical, as the challenges to U.S. national security presented by China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and other cyber and emerging technology competitors and adversaries have only increased since the Department notified Congress in June 2019 of its intent to create CSET.
    • The CSET bureau will lead U.S. government diplomatic efforts on a wide range of international cyberspace security and emerging technology policy issues that affect U.S. foreign policy and national security, including securing cyberspace and critical technologies, reducing the likelihood of cyber conflict, and prevailing in strategic cyber competition.  The Secretary’s decision to establish CSET will permit the Department to posture itself appropriately and engage as effectively as possible with partners and allies on these pressing national security concerns.
    • The Congressional Members of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission made clear their disapproval of the decision. Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Ben Sasse, (R-NE) and Representatives Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Jim Langevin (D-RI) said:
      • In our report, we emphasize the need for a greater emphasis on international cyber policy at State. However, unlike the bipartisan Cyber Diplomacy Act, the State Department’s proposed Bureau will reinforce existing silos and […] hinder the development of a holistic strategy to promote cyberspace stability on the international stage. We urge President-elect Biden to pause this reorganization when he takes office in two weeks and work with Congress to enact meaningful reform to protect our country in cyberspace.
  • The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) the Risk Identification Guidance “developed to assist organisations in identifying risks associated with their use of suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers (i.e. businesses that constitute their cyber supply chain)” and the Risk Management Guidance because “[c]yber supply chain risk management can be achieved by identifying the cyber supply chain, understanding cyber supply chain risk, setting cyber security expectations, auditing for compliance, and monitoring and improving cyber supply chain security practices.”
  • The United Kingdom’s Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC), issued “best practice guidance, ‘Facing the Camera’, to all police forces in England and Wales” The SCC explained that “The provisions of this document only apply to the use of facial recognition technology and the inherent processing of images by the police where such use is integral to a surveillance camera system being operated in ‘live time’ or ‘near real time’ operational scenarios.” Last summer, a British appeals court overturned a decision that found that a police force’s use of facial recognition technology in a pilot program that utilized live footage to be legal. The appeals court found the use of this technology by the South Wales Police Force a violation of “the right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European  Convention  on  Human  Rights,  data  protection  legislation,  and  the  Public  Sector Equality Duty (“PSED”) under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.” The SCC stated:
    • The SCC considers surveillance to be an intrusive investigatory power where it is conducted by the police which impacts upon those fundamental rights and freedoms of people, as set out by the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and the Human Rights Act 1998. In the context of surveillance camera systems which make use of facial recognition technology, the extent of state intrusion in such matters is significantly increased by the capabilities of algorithms which are in essence, integral to the surveillance conduct seeking to harvest information, private information, metadata, data, personal data, intelligence and evidence. Each of the aforementioned are bound by laws and rules which ought to be separately and jointly considered and applied in a manner which is demonstrably lawful and ethical and engenders public trust and confidence.
    • Whenever the police seek to use technology in pursuit of a legitimate aim, the key question arises as to whether the degree of intrusion which is caused to the fundamental freedoms of citizens by the police surveillance conduct using surveillance algorithms (biometric or otherwise) is necessary in a democratic society when considered alongside the legality and proportionality of their endeavours and intent. The type of equipment/technology/modality which they choose to use to that end (e.g. LFR, ANPR, thermal imaging, gait analysis, movement sensors etc), the manner in which such technological means are deployed, (such as using static cameras at various locations, used with body worn cameras or other mobile means), and whether such technology is used overtly alongside or networked with other surveillance technologies, are all factors which may significantly influence the depth of intrusion caused by police conduct upon citizen’s rights.
  • The Senate confirmed the nomination of Avril Haines to be the new Director of National Intelligence by an 89-10 vote after Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) removed his hold on her nomination. However, Josh Hawley (R-MO) placed a hold on the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security and explained his action this way:
    • On Day 1 of his administration, President-elect Biden has said he plans to unveil an amnesty plan for 11 million immigrants in this nation illegally. This comes at a time when millions of American citizens remain out of work and a new migrant caravan has been attempting to reach the United States. Mr. Mayorkas has not adequately explained how he will enforce federal law and secure the southern border given President-elect Biden’s promise to roll back major enforcement and security measures. Just today, he declined to say he would enforce the laws Congress has already passed to secure the border wall system. Given this, I cannot consent to skip the standard vetting process and fast-track this nomination when so many questions remain unanswered.
  • Former Trump White House Cyber Coordinator Rob Joyce will replace the National Security Agency’s (NSA) Director of Cybersecurity Anne Neuberger who has been named the Biden White House’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology. Anne Neuberger’s portfolio at the NSA included “lead[ing] NSA’s cybersecurity mission, including emerging technology areas like quantum-resistant cryptography.” Joyce was purged when former National Security Advisor John Bolton restructured the NSC in 2018, forcing out Joyce and his boss, former Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert. Presumably Joyce would have the same responsibilities. At the National Security Council, Neuberger would will work to coordinate cybersecurity and emerging technology policy across agencies and funnel policy options up to the full NSC and ultimately the President. This work would include Joyce.
  • The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard oral arguments on whether the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act gives the agency the power to seek monetary damages and restitution alongside permanent injunctions under Section 13(b). In AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC, the parties opposing the FTC argue the plain language of the statute does not allow for the seeking of restitution and monetary damages under this specific section of the FTC Act while the agency argues long accepted past practice and Congressional intent do, in fact, allow this relief to be sought when the FTC is seeking to punish violators of Section 5. The FTC is working a separate track to get a fix from Congress which could rewrite the FTC Act to make clear this sort of relief is legal. However, some stakeholders in the debate over privacy legislation may be using the case as leverage.
    • In October 2020, the FTC wrote the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the agency, asking for language to resolve the litigation over the power to seek and obtain restitution for victims of those who have violated Section 5 of the FTC Act and disgorgement of ill-gotten gains. The FTC is also asking that Congress clarify that the agency may act against violators even if their conduct has stopped as it has for more than four decades. Two federal appeals courts have ruled in ways that have limited the FTC’s long used powers, and now the Supreme Court of the United States is set to rule on these issues sometime next year. The FTC is claiming, however, that defendants are playing for time in the hopes that the FTC’s authority to seek and receive monetary penalties will ultimately be limited by the United States (U.S.) highest court. Judging by language tucked into a privacy bill introduced by the former chair of one of the committees, Congress may be willing to act soon.
    • The FTC asked the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committees “to take quick action to amend Section 13(b) [of the FTC Act i.e. 15 U.S.C. § 53(b)] to make clear that the Commission can bring actions in federal court under Section 13(b) even if conduct is no longer ongoing or impending when the suit is filed and can obtain monetary relief, including restitution and disgorgement, if successful.” The agency asserted “[w]ithout congressional action, the Commission’s ability to use Section 13(b) to provide refunds to consumer victims and to enjoin illegal activity is severely threatened.” All five FTC Commissioners signed the letter.
    • The FTC explained that adverse rulings by two federal appeals courts are constraining the agency from seeking relief for victims and punishment for violators of the FTC Act in federal courts below those two specific courts, but elsewhere defendants are either asking courts for a similar ruling or using delaying tactics in the hopes the Supreme Court upholds the two federal appeals courts:
      • …[C]ourts of appeals in the Third and Seventh Circuits have recently ruled that the agency cannot obtain any monetary relief under Section 13(b). Although review in the Supreme Court is pending, these lower court decisions are already inhibiting our ability to obtain monetary relief under 13(b). Not only do these decisions already prevent us from obtaining redress for consumers in the circuits where they issued, prospective defendants are routinely invoking them in refusing to settle cases with agreed-upon redress payments.
      • Moreover, defendants in our law enforcement actions pending in other circuits are seeking to expand the rulings to those circuits and taking steps to delay litigation in anticipation of a potential Supreme Court ruling that would allow them to escape liability for any monetary relief caused by their unlawful conduct. This is a significant impediment to the agency’s effectiveness, its ability to provide redress to consumer victims, and its ability to prevent entities who violate the law from profiting from their wrongdoing.
  • The United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issued guidance for British entities that may be affected by the massive SolarWinds hack that has compromised many key systems in the United States. The ICO advised:
    • Organisations should immediately check whether they are using a version of the software that has been compromised. These are versions 2019.4 HF 5, 2020.2 with no hotfix installed, and 2020.2 HF 1.
    • Organisations must also determine if the personal data they hold has been affected by the cyber-attack. If a reportable personal data breach is found, UK data controllers are required to inform the ICO within 72 hours of discovering the breach. Reports can be submitted online or organisations can call the ICO’s personal data breach helpline for advice on 0303 123 1113, option 2.
    • Organisations subject to the NIS Regulation will also need to determine if this incident has led to a “substantial impact on the provision’ of its digital services and report to the ICO.
  • Europol announced the takedown of “the world’s largest illegal marketplace on the dark web” in an operation coordinated by the following nations: “Germany, Australia, Denmark, Moldova, Ukraine, the United Kingdom (the National Crime Agency), and the USA (DEA, FBI, and IRS).” Europol added:
    • The Central Criminal Investigation Department in the German city of Oldenburg arrested an Australian citizen who is the alleged operator of DarkMarket near the German-Danish border over the weekend. The investigation, which was led by the cybercrime unit of the Koblenz Public Prosecutor’s Office, allowed officers to locate and close the marketplace, switch off the servers and seize the criminal infrastructure – more than 20 servers in Moldova and Ukraine supported by the German Federal Criminal Police office (BKA). The stored data will give investigators new leads to further investigate moderators, sellers, and buyers. 
  • The Enforcement Bureau (Bureau) of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an enforcement advisory intended to remind people that use of amateur and personal radios to commit crimes is itself a criminal offense that could warrant prosecution. The notice was issued because the FCC is claiming it is aware of discussion by some of how these means of communications may be superior to social media, which has been cracking down on extremist material since the attempted insurrection at the United States Capitol on 6 January. The Bureau stated:
    • The Bureau has become aware of discussions on social media platforms suggesting that certain radio services regulated by the Commission may be an alternative to social media platforms for groups to communicate and coordinate future activities.  The Bureau recognizes that these services can be used for a wide range of permitted purposes, including speech that is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Amateur and Personal Radio Services, however, may not be used to commit or facilitate crimes. 
    • Specifically, the Bureau reminds amateur licensees that they are prohibited from transmitting “communications intended to facilitate a criminal act” or “messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning.” Likewise, individuals operating radios in the Personal Radio Services, a category that includes Citizens Band radios, Family Radio Service walkie-talkies, and General Mobile Radio Service, are prohibited from using those radios “in connection with any activity which is against Federal, State or local law.” Individuals using radios in the Amateur or Personal Radio Services in this manner may be subject to severe penalties, including significant fines, seizure of the offending equipment, and, in some cases, criminal prosecution.
  • The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) issued its “Strategy for 2021-2023” in order “[t]o be effective in confronting the main challenges ahead.” The EDPB cautioned:
    • This Strategy does not provide an exhaustive overview of the work of the EDPB in the years to come. Rather it sets out the four main pillars of our strategic objectives, as well as set of key actions to help achieve those objectives. The EDPB will implement this Strategy within its Work Program, and will report on the progress achieved in relation to each Pillar as part of its annual reports.
    • The EDPB listed and explained the four pillars of its strategy:
      • PILLAR 1: ADVANCING HARMONISATION AND FACILITATING COMPLIANCE. The EDPB will continue to strive for a maximum degree of consistency in the application of data protection rules and limit fragmentation among Member States. In addition to providing practical, easily understandable and accessible guidance, the EDPB will develop and promote tools that help to implement data protection into practice, taking into account practical experiences of different stakeholders on the ground.
      • PILLAR 2: SUPPORTING EFFECTIVE ENFORCEMENT AND EFFICIENT COOPERATION BETWEEN NATIONAL SUPERVISORY AUTHORITIES. The EDPB is fully committed to support cooperation between all national supervisory authorities that work together to enforce European data protection law. We will streamline internal processes, combine expertise and promote enhanced coordination. We intend not only to ensure a more efficient functioning of the cooperation and consistency mechanisms, but also to strive for the development of a genuine EU-wide enforcement culture among supervisory authorities.
      • PILLAR 3: A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS APPROACH TO NEW TECHNOLOGIES. The protection of personal data helps to ensure that technology, new business models and society develop in accordance with our values, such as human dignity, autonomy and liberty. The EDPB will continuously monitor new and emerging technologies and their potential impact on the fundamental rights and daily lives of individuals. Data protection should work for all people, particularly in the face of processing activities presenting the greatest risks to individuals’ rights and freedoms (e.g. to prevent discrimination). We will help to shape Europe’s digital future in line with our common values and rules. We will continue to work with other regulators and policymakers to promote regulatory coherence and enhanced protection for individuals.
      • PILLAR 4: THE GLOBAL DIMENSION. The EDPB is determined to set and promote high EU and global standards for international data transfers to third countries in the private and the public sector, including in the law enforcement sector. We will reinforce our engagement with the international community to promote EU data protection as a global model and to ensure effective protection of personal data beyond EU borders.
  • The United Kingdom’s (UK) Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) revealed that all but one of the videoconferencing platforms it and other data protection authorities’ (DPA) July 2020 letter urging them to “adopt principles to guide them in addressing some key privacy risks.” The ICO explained:
    • Microsoft, Cisco, Zoom and Google replied to the open letter. The joint signatories thank these companies for engaging on this important matter and for acknowledging and responding to the concerns raised. In their responses the companies highlighted various privacy and security best practices, measures, and tools that they advise are implemented or built-in to their video teleconferencing services.
    • The information provided by these companies is encouraging. It is a constructive foundation for further discussion on elements of the responses that the joint signatories feel would benefit from more clarity and additional supporting information.
    • The ICO stated:
      • The joint signatories have not received a response to the open letter from Houseparty. They strongly encourage Houseparty to engage with them and respond to the open letter to address the concerns raised.
  • The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) “launched a public consultation, which runs until 7 February 2021, on its draft of the candidate European Union Cybersecurity Certification Scheme on Cloud Services (EUCS)…[that] aims to further improve the Union’s internal market conditions for cloud services by enhancing and streamlining the services’ cybersecurity guarantees.” ENISA stated:
    • There are challenges to the certification of cloud services, such as a diverse set of market players, complex systems and a constantly evolving landscape of cloud services, as well as the existence of different schemes in Member States. The draft EUCS candidate scheme tackles these challenges by calling for cybersecurity best practices across three levels of assurance and by allowing for a transition from current national schemes in the EU. The draft EUCS candidate scheme is a horizontal and technological scheme that intends to provide cybersecurity assurance throughout the cloud supply chain, and form a sound basis for sectoral schemes.
    • More specifically, the draft EUCS candidate scheme:
      • Is a voluntary scheme;
      • The scheme’s certificates will be applicable across the EU Member States;
      • Is applicable for all kinds of cloud services – from infrastructure to applications;
      • Boosts trust in cloud services by defining a reference set of security requirements;
      • Covers three assurance levels: ‘Basic’, ‘Substantial’ and ‘High’;
      • Proposes a new approach inspired by existing national schemes and international standards;
      • Defines a transition path from national schemes in the EU;
      • Grants a three-year certification that can be renewed;
      • Includes transparency requirements such as the location of data processing and storage.

Coming Events

  • The Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Gina Raimondo to be the Secretary of Commerce on 26 January.
  • On 27 July, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will hold PrivacyCon 2021.

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Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (19 January 2021)

Further Reading

  • Hong Kong telecoms provider blocks website for first time, citing security law” — Reuters; “A Hong Kong Website Gets Blocked, Raising Censorship Fears” By Paul Mozur and Aaron Krolik — The New York Times. The Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) blocked access to a website about the 2019 protests against the People’s Republic of China (PRC) (called HKChronicles) under a recently enacted security law critics had warned would lead to exactly this sort of outcome. Allegedly, the Hong Kong police had invoked the National Security Law for the first time, and other telecommunications companies have followed suit.
  • Biden to counter China tech by urging investment in US: adviser” By Yifan Yu — Nikkei Asia. President-elect Joe Biden’s head of the National Economic Council said at a public event that the Biden Administration would focus less on tariffs and other similar instruments to counter the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Instead, the incoming President would try to foster investment in United States companies and technologies to fend off the PRC’s growing strength in a number of crucial fields. Also, a Biden Administration would work more with traditional U.S. allies to contest policies from Beijing.
  • Revealed: walkie-talkie app Zello hosted far-right groups who stormed Capitol” By Micah Loewinger and Hampton Stall — The Guardian. Some of the rioters and insurrectionists whop attacked the United States Capitol on 6 January were using another, lesser known communications app, Zello, to coordinate their actions. The app has since taken down a number of right-wing and extremist groups that have flourished for months if not years on the platform. It remains to be seen how smaller platforms will be scrutinized under a Biden Presidency. Zello has reportedly been aware that these groups have been using their platform and opted not to police their conduct.
  • They Used to Post Selfies. Now They’re Trying to Reverse the Election.” By Stuart A. Thompson and Charlie Warzel — The New York Times. The three people who amassed considerable extremist followings seem each to be part believer and part opportunist. A fascinating series of profiles about the three.
  • Telegram tries, and fails, to remove extremist content” By Mark Scott — Politico. Platforms other than Facebook and Twiiter are struggling to moderate right wing and extremist content that violates their policies and terms of service.

Other Developments

  • The Biden-Harris transition team announced that a statutorily established science advisor will now be a member of the Cabinet and named its nominee for this and other positions. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) was created by executive order in the Ford Administration and then codified by Congress. However, the OSTP Director has not been a member of the Cabinet alongside the Senate-confirmed Secretaries and others. President-elect Joe Biden has decided to elevate the OSTP Director to the Cabinet, likely in order to signal the importance of science and technology in his Administration. The current OSTP has exercised unusual influence in the Trump Administration under the helm of OSTP Associate Director Michael Kratsios and shaped policy in a number of realms like artificial intelligence, national security, and others.
    • In the press release, the transition team explained:
      • Dr. Eric Lander will be nominated as Director of the OSTP and serve as the Presidential Science Advisor. The president-elect is elevating the role of science within the White House, including by designating the Presidential Science Advisor as a member of the Cabinet for the first time in history. One of the country’s leading scientists, Dr. Lander was a principal leader of the Human Genome Project and has been a pioneer in the field of genomic medicine. He is the founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, one of the nation’s leading research institutes. During the Obama-Biden administration, he served as external Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Dr. Lander will be the first life scientist to serve as Presidential Science Advisor.
      • Dr. Alondra Nelson will serve as OSTP Deputy Director for Science and Society. A distinguished scholar of science, technology, social inequality, and race, Dr. Nelson is president of the Social Science Research Council, an independent, nonprofit organization linking social science research to practice and policy. She is also a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, one of the nation’s most distinguished research institutes, located in Princeton, NJ.
      • Dr. Frances H. Arnold and Dr. Maria Zuber will serve as the external Co-Chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). An expert in protein engineering, Dr. Arnold is the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Dr. Zuber, an expert in geophysics and planetary science, is the first woman to lead a NASA spacecraft mission and has chaired the National Science Board. They are the first women to serve as co-chairs of PCAST.
      • Dr. Francis Collins will continue serving in his role as Director of the National Institutes of Health.
      • Kei Koizumi will serve as OSTP Chief of Staff and is one of the nation’s leading experts on the federal science budget.
      • Narda Jones, who will serve as OSTP Legislative Affairs Director, was Senior Technology Policy Advisor and Counsel for the Democratic staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
  • The United States (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a report on supply chain security by a public-private sector advisory body, which represents one of the lines of effort of the U.S. government to better secure technology and electronics that emanate from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). CISA’s National Risk Management Center co-chairs the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) Task Force along with the Information Technology Sector Coordinating Council and the Communications Sector Coordinating Council. The ICT SCRM published its Year 2 Report that “builds upon” its Interim Report and asserted:
    • Over the past year, the Task Force has expanded upon its first-year progress to advance meaningful partnership around supply chain risk management. Specifically, the Task Force:
      • Developed reference material to support overcoming legal obstacles to information sharing
      • Updated the Threat Evaluation Report, which evaluates threats to suppliers, with additional scenarios and mitigation measures for the corresponding threat scenarios
      • Produced a report and case studies providing in -depth descriptions of control categories and information regarding when and how to use a Qualified List to manage supply chain risks
      • Developed a template for SCRM compliance assessments and internal evaluations of alignment to industry standards
      • Analyzed the current and potential impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, and developed a system map to visualize ICT supply chain routes and identify chokepoints
      • Surveyed supply chain related programs and initiatives that provide opportunities for potential TaskForce engagement
    • Congress established an entity to address and help police supply chain risk at the end of 2018 in the “Strengthening and Enhancing Cyber-capabilities by Utilizing Risk Exposure Technology Act” (SECURE Act) (P.L. 115-390). The Federal Acquisition Security Council (FASC) has a number of responsibilities, including:
      • developing an information sharing process for agencies to circulate decisions throughout the federal government made to exclude entities determined to be IT supply chain risks
      • establishing a process by which entities determined to be IT supply chain risks may be excluded from procurement government-wide (exclusion orders) or suspect IT must be removed from government systems (removal orders)
      • creating an exception process under which IT from an entity subject to a removal or exclusion order may be used if warranted by national interest or national security
      • issuing recommendations for agencies on excluding entities and IT from the IT supply chain and “consent for a contractor to subcontract” and mitigation steps entities would need to take in order for the Council to rescind a removal or exclusion order
      • In September 2020, the FASC released an interim regulation that took effect upon being published that “implement[s] the requirements of the laws that govern the operation of the FASC, the sharing of supply chain risk information, and the exercise of its authorities to recommend issuance of removal and exclusion orders to address supply chain security risks…”
  • The Australian government has released its bill to remake how platforms like Facebook, Google, and others may use the content of new media, including provision for payment. The “Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020” “establishes a mandatory code of conduct to help support the sustainability of the Australian news media sector by addressing bargaining power imbalances between digital platforms and Australian news businesses.” The agency charged with developing legislation, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), has tussled with Google in particular over what this law would look like with the technology giant threatening to withdraw from Australia altogether. The ACCC had determined in its July 2019 Digital Platform Inquiry:
    • that there is a bargaining power imbalance between digital platforms and news media businesses so that news media businesses are not able to negotiate for a share of the revenue generated by the digital platforms and to which the news content created by the news media businesses contributes. Government intervention is necessary because of the public benefit provided by the production and dissemination of news, and the importance of a strong independent media in a well-functioning democracy.
    • In an Explanatory Memorandum, it is explained:
      • The Bill establishes a mandatory code of conduct to address bargaining power imbalances between digital platform services and Australian news businesses…by setting out six main elements:
        • bargaining–which require the responsible digital platform corporations and registered news business corporations that have indicated an intention to bargain, to do so in good faith;
        • compulsory arbitration–where parties cannot come to a negotiated agreement about remuneration relating to the making available of covered news content on designated digital platform services, an arbitral panel will select between two final offers made by the bargaining parties;
        • general requirements –which, among other things, require responsible digital platform corporations to provide registered news business corporations with advance notification of planned changes to an algorithm or internal practice that will have a significant effect on covered news content;
        • non-differentiation requirements –responsible digital platform corporations must not differentiate between the news businesses participating in the Code, or between participants and non-participants, because of matters that arise in relation to their participation or non-participation in the Code;
        • contracting out–the Bill recognises that a digital platform corporation may reach a commercial bargain with a news business outside the Code about remuneration or other matters. It provides that parties who notify the ACCC of such agreements would not need to comply with the general requirements, bargaining and compulsory arbitration rules (as set out in the agreement); and
        • standard offers –digital platform corporations may make standard offers to news businesses, which are intended to reduce the time and cost associated with negotiations, particularly for smaller news businesses. If the parties notify the ACCC of an agreed standard offer, those parties do not need to comply with bargaining and compulsory arbitration (as set out in the agreement);
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reached a settlement with an mobile advertising company over “allegations that it failed to provide in-game rewards users were promised for completing advertising offers.” The FTC unanimously agreed to the proposed settlement with Tapjoy, Inc. that bars the company “from misleading users about the rewards they can earn and must monitor its third-party advertiser partners to ensure they do what is necessary to enable Tapjoy to deliver promised rewards to consumers.” The FTC drafted a 20 year settlement that will obligate Tapjoy, Inc. to refrain from certain practices that violate the FTC Act; in this case that includes not making false claims about the rewards people can get if they take or do not take some action in an online game. Tapjoy, Inc. will also need to submit compliance reports, keep records, and make materials available to the FTC upon demand. Any failure to meet the terms of the settlement could prompt the FTC to seek redress in federal court, including more than $43,000 per violation.
    • In the complaint, the FTC outlined Tapjoy, Inc.’s illegal conduct:
      • Tapjoy operates an advertising platform within mobile gaming applications (“apps”). On the platform, Tapjoy promotes offers of in-app rewards (e.g., virtual currency) to consumers who complete an action, such as taking a survey or otherwise engaging with third-party advertising. Often, these consumers must divulge personal information or spend money. In many instances, Tapjoy never issues the promised reward to consumers who complete an action as instructed, or only issues the currency after a substantial delay. Consumers who attempt to contact Tapjoy to complain about missing rewards find it difficult to do so, and many consumers who complete an action as instructed and are able to submit a complaint nevertheless do not receive the promised reward.  Tapjoy has received hundreds of thousands of complaints concerning its failure to issue promised rewards to consumers. Tapjoy nevertheless has withheld rewards from consumers who have completed all required actions.
    • In its press release, the FTC highlighted the salient terms of the settlement:
      • As part of the proposed settlement, Tapjoy is prohibited from misrepresenting the rewards it offers consumers and the terms under which they are offered. In addition, the company must clearly and conspicuously display the terms under which consumers can receive such rewards and must specify that the third-party advertisers it works with determine if a reward should be issued. Tapjoy also will be required to monitor its advertisers to ensure they are following through on promised rewards, investigate complaints from consumers who say they did not receive their rewards, and discipline advertisers who deceive consumers.
    • FTC Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter issued a joint statement, and in their summary section, they asserted:
      • The explosive growth of mobile gaming has led to mounting concerns about harmful practices, including unlawful surveillance, dark patterns, and facilitation of fraud.
      • Tapjoy’s failure to properly police its mobile gaming advertising platform cheated developers and gamers out of promised compensation and rewards.
      • The Commission must closely scrutinize today’s gaming gatekeepers, including app stores and advertising middlemen, to prevent harm to developers and gamers.
    • On the last point, Chopra and Kelly Slaughter argued:
      • We should all be concerned that gatekeepers can harm developers and squelch innovation. The clearest example is rent extraction: Apple and Google charge mobile app developers on their platforms up to 30 percent of sales, and even bar developers from trying to avoid this tax through offering alternative payment systems. While larger gaming companies are pursuing legal action against these practices, developers and small businesses risk severe retaliation for speaking up, including outright suspension from app stores – an effective death sentence.
      • This market structure also has cascading effects on gamers and consumers. Under heavy taxation by Apple and Google, developers have been forced to adopt alternative monetization models that rely on surveillance, manipulation, and other harmful practices.
  • The United Kingdom’s (UK) High Court ruled against the use of general warrants for online surveillance by the Uk’s security agencies (MI5, MI6, and the Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ)). Privacy International (PI), a British advocacy organization, had brought the suit after Edward Snowden revealed the scope of the United States National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance activities, including bulk collection of information, a significant portion of which required hacking. PI sued in a special tribunal formed to resolve claims against British security agencies where the government asserted general warrants would suffice for purposes of mass hacking. PI disagreed and argued this was counter to 250 years of established law in the UK that warrants must be based on reasonable suspicion, specific in what is being sought, and proportionate. The High Court agreed with PI.
    • In its statement after the ruling, PI asserted:
      • Because general warrants are by definition not targeted (and could therefore apply to hundreds, thousands or even millions of people) they violate individuals’ right not to not have their property searched without lawful authority, and are therefore illegal.
      • The adaptation of these 250-year-old principles to modern government hacking and property interference is of great significance. The Court signals that fundamental constitutional principles still need to be applied in the context of surveillance and that the government cannot circumvent traditional protections afforded by the common law.
  • In Indiana, the attorney general is calling on the governor to “to adopt a safe harbor rule I proposed that would incentivize companies to take strong data protection measures, which will reduce the scale and frequency of cyberattacks in Indiana.” Attorney General Curtis Hill urged Governor Eric J. Holcomb to allow a change in the state’s data security regulations to be made effective.
    • The proposed rule provides:
      • Procedures adopted under IC 24-4.9-3-3.5(c) are presumed reasonable if the procedures comply with this section, including one (1) of the following applicable standards:
        • (1) A covered entity implements and maintains a cybersecurity program that complies with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) cybersecurity framework and follows the most recent version of one (1) of the following standards:
          • (A) NIST Special Publication 800-171.
          • (B) NIST SP 800-53.
          • (C) The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) security assessment framework.
          • (D) International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission 27000 family – information security management systems.
        • (2) A covered entity is regulated by the federal or state government and complies with one (1) of the following standards as it applies to the covered entity:
          • (A) The federal USA Patriot Act (P.L. 107-56).
          • (B) Executive Order 13224.
          • (C) The federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (18 U.S.C. 2721 et seq.).
          • (D) The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. 1681 et seq.).
          • (E) The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) (P.L. 104-191).
        • (3) A covered entity complies with the current version of the payment card industry data security standard in place at the time of the breach of security of data, as published by the Payment Card Industry Security Standard Council.
      • The regulations further provide that if a data base owner can show “its data security plan was reasonably designed, implemented, and executed to prevent the breach of security of data” then it “will not be subject to a civil action from the office of the attorney general arising from the breach of security of data.”
  • The Tech Transparency Project (TTP) is claiming that Apple “has removed apps in China at the government’s request” the majority of which “involve activities like illegal gambling and porn.” However, TTP is asserting that its analysis “suggests Apple is proactively blocking scores of other apps that are politically sensitive for Beijing.”

Coming Events

  • On 19 January, the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Avril Haines to be the Director of National Intelligence.
  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Alejandro N. Mayorkas to be Secretary of Homeland Security on 19 January.
  • On 19 January, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on former General Lloyd Austin III to be Secretary of Defense.
  • 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.

Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (13 and 14 January 2021)

Further Reading

  • YouTube Suspends Trump’s Channel for at Least Seven Days” By Daisuke Wakabayashi — The New York Times. Even Google is getting further into the water. Its YouTube platform flagged a video of President Donald Trump’s for inciting violence and citing the “ongoing potential for violence,” Trump and his team will not be able to upload videos for seven days and the comments section would be permanently disabled. YouTube has been the least inclined of the major platforms to moderate content and has somehow escaped the scrutiny and opprobrium Facebook and Twitter have faced even though those platforms have been more active in policing offensive content.
  • Online misinformation that led to Capitol siege is ‘radicalization,’ say researchers” By Elizabeth Culliford — Reuters. Experts in online disinformation are saying that the different conspiracy movements that impelled followers to attack the United States (U.S.) Capitol are the result of radicalization. Online activities translated into real world violence, they say. The also decried the responsive nature of social media platforms in acting, waiting for an insurrection to take steps experts and others have been begging them to take.
  • Uganda orders all social media to be blocked – letter” — Reuters. In response to Facebook blocking a number of government related accounts for Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour” (CIB), the Ugandan government has blocked all access to social media ahead of its elections. In a letter seen by Reuters, the Uganda Communications Commission directed telecommunications providers “to immediately suspend any access and use, direct or otherwise, of all social media platforms and online messaging applications over your network until further notice.” This may become standard practice for many regimes around the world if social media companies crack down on government propaganda.
  • BlackBerry sells 90 patents to Huawei, covering key smartphone technology advances” By Sean Silcoff — The Globe and Mail. Critics of a deal to assign 90 key BlackBerry patents to Huawei are calling on the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be more involved in protecting Canadian intellectual property and innovations.
  • ‘Threat to democracy is real’: MPs call for social media code of conduct” By David Crowe and Nick Bonyhady — The Sydney Morning Herald. There has been mixed responses in Australia’s Parliament on social media platforms banning President Donald Trump after his role in inciting the violence at the United States (U.S.) Capitol. Many agree with the platforms, some disagree strenuously in light of other inflammatory content that is not taken down, and many want greater rationality and transparency in how platforms make these decisions. And since Canberra has been among the most active governments in regulating technology, it may inform the process of drafting its “Online Safety Bill,” which may place legal obligations on social media platforms.
  • Poland plans to make censoring of social media accounts illegal” By Shaun Walker — The Guardian. Governments around the world continue to respond to a number of social media companies deciding to deplatform United States (U.S.) President Donald Trump. In Warsaw there is a draft bill that would make deplatforming a person illegal unless the offense is also contrary to Polish law. The spin is that the right wing regime in Warsaw is less interested in protecting free speech and more interested in propagating the same grievances the right wing in the United States is. Therefore, this push in Poland may be more about messaging and trying to cow social media companies and less about protecting free speech, especially speech with which the government disagrees (e.g. advocates for LGBTQI rights have been silenced in Poland.)
  • Facebook, Twitter could face punishing regulation for their role in U.S. Capitol riot, Democrats say” By Tony Romm — The Washington Post. Democrats were already furious with social media companies for what they considered their lacking governance of content that clearly violated terms of service and policies. These companies are bracing for an expected barrage of hearings and legislation with the Democrats controlling the White House, House, and Senate.
  • Georgia results sweep away tech’s regulatory logjam” By Margaret Harding McGill and Ashley Gold — Axios. This is a nice survey of possible policy priorities at the agencies and in the Congress over the next two years with the Democrats in control of both.
  • The Capitol rioters put themselves all over social media. Now they’re getting arrested.” By Sara Morrison — Recode. Will the attack on the United States (U.S.) Capitol be the first time a major crime is solved by the evidence largely provided by the accused? It is sure looking that way as law enforcement continues to use the posts of the rioters to apprehend, arrest, and charge them. Additionally, in the same way people who acted in racist and entitled ways (e.g. Amy Cooper in Central Park threatening an African American gentleman with calling the police even though he had asked her to put her dog on a leash) were caught through crowd-sourced identification pushes, rioters are also being identified.
  • CISA: SolarWinds Hackers Got Into Networks by Guessing Passwords” By Mariam Baksh — Nextgov. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has updated its alert on the SolarWinds hack to reflect its finding. CISA explained:
    • CISA incident response investigations have identified that initial access in some cases was obtained by password guessing [T1101.001], password spraying [T1101.003], and inappropriately secured administrative credentials [T1078] accessible via external remote access services [T1133]. Initial access root cause analysis is still ongoing in a number of response activities and CISA will update this section as additional initial vectors are identified.
  •  “A Facial Recognition Company Says That Viral Washington Times “Antifa” Story Is False” By Craig Silverman — BuzzFeed News. XRVIsion denied the Washington Times’ account that the company had identified antifa protestors among the rioters at the United States (U.S. Capitol) (archived here.) The company said it had identified two Neo-Nazis and a QAnon adherent. Even though the story was retracted and a corrected version issued, some still claimed the original story had merit such as Trump supporter Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL).

Other Developments

  • The United States (U.S.) Trade Representative (USTR) announced that it would not act on the basis of three completed reports on Digital Services Taxes (DST) three nations have put in place and also that it would not proceed with tariffs in retaliation against France, one of the first nations in the world to enact a DST. Last year, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development convened multi-lateral talks to resolve differences on how a global digital services tax will ideally function with most of the nations involved arguing for a 2% tax to be assessed in the nation where the transaction occurs as opposed to where the company is headquartered. European Union (EU) officials claimed an agreement was possible, but the U.S. negotiators walked away from the table. It will fall to the Biden Administration to act on these USTR DST investigations if they choose.
    • In its press release, the USTR stated it would “suspend the tariff action in the Section 301 investigation of France’s Digital Services Tax (DST).”
      • The USTR added:
        • The additional tariffs on certain products of France were announced in July 2020, and were scheduled to go into effect on January 6, 2021.  The U.S. Trade Representative has decided to suspend the tariffs in light of the ongoing investigation of similar DSTs adopted or under consideration in ten other jurisdictions.  Those investigations have significantly progressed, but have not yet reached a determination on possible trade actions.  A suspension of the tariff action in the France DST investigation will promote a coordinated response in all of the ongoing DST investigations.
      • In its December 2019 report, the USTR determined “that France’s DST is unreasonable or discriminatory and burdens or restricts U.S. commerce, and therefore is actionable under sections 301(b) and 304(a) of the Trade Act (19 U.S.C. 2411(b) and 2414(a))” and proposed a range of measures in retaliation.
    • The USTR also “issued findings in Section 301 investigations of Digital Service Taxes (DSTs) adopted by India, Italy, and Turkey, concluding that each of the DSTs discriminates against U.S. companies, is inconsistent with prevailing principles of international taxation, and burden or restricts U.S. commerce.” The USTR stated it “is not taking any specific actions in connection with the findings at this time but will continue to evaluate all available options.” The USTR added:
      • The Section 301 investigations of the DSTs adopted by India, Italy, and Turkey were initiated in June 2020, along with investigations of DSTs adopted or under consideration by Austria, Brazil, the Czech Republic, the European Union, Indonesia, Spain, and the United Kingdom.  USTR expects to announce the progress or completion of additional DST investigations in the near future. 
  • The United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has started investigating Google’s Privacy Sandbox’ project to “assess whether the proposals could cause advertising spend to become even more concentrated on Google’s ecosystem at the expense of its competitors.” The CMA asserted:
    • Third party cookies currently play a fundamental role online and in digital advertising. They help businesses target advertising effectively and fund free online content for consumers, such as newspapers. But there have also been concerns about their legality and use from a privacy perspective, as they allow consumers’ behaviour to be tracked across the web in ways that many consumers may feel uncomfortable with and may find difficult to understand.
    • Google’s announced changes – known collectively as the ‘Privacy Sandbox’ project – would disable third party cookies on the Chrome browser and Chromium browser engine and replace them with a new set of tools for targeting advertising and other functionality that they say will protect consumers’ privacy to a greater extent. The project is already under way, but Google’s final proposals have not yet been decided or implemented. In its recent market study into online platforms digital advertising, the CMA highlighted a number of concerns about their potential impact, including that they could undermine the ability of publishers to generate revenue and undermine competition in digital advertising, entrenching Google’s market power.
  • Facebook took down coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB) originating from France and Russia, seeking to allegedly influence nations in Africa and the Middle East. Facebook asserted:
    • Each of the networks we removed today targeted people outside of their country of origin, primarily targeting Africa, and also some countries in the Middle East. We found all three of them as a result of our proactive internal investigations and worked with external researchers to assess the full scope of these activities across the internet.
    • While we’ve seen influence operations target the same regions in the past, this was the first time our team found two campaigns — from France and Russia — actively engage with one another, including by befriending, commenting and criticizing the opposing side for being fake. It appears that this Russian network was an attempt to rebuild their operations after our October 2019 takedown, which also coincided with a notable shift in focus of the French campaign to begin to post about Russia’s manipulation campaigns in Africa.
    • Unlike the operation from France, both Russia-linked networks relied on local nationals in the countries they targeted to generate content and manage their activity across internet services. This is consistent with cases we exposed in the past, including in Ghana and the US, where we saw the Russian campaigns co-opt authentic voices to join their influence operations, likely to avoid detection and help appear more authentic. Despite these efforts, our investigation identified some links between these two Russian campaigns and also with our past enforcements.
  • Two of the top Democrats on the House Energy and Committee along with another Democrat wrote nine internet service providers (ISP) “questioning their commitment to consumers amid ISPs raising prices and imposing data caps during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Committee Chair Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA), and Representative Jerry McNerney (D-CA) wrote the following ISPs:
    • Pallone, Doyle, and McNerney took issue with the companies raising prices and imposing data caps after having pledged not to do so at the behest of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). They asked the companies to answer a series of questions:
      • Did the company participate in the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge?
      • Has the company increased prices for fixed or mobile consumer internet and fixed or phone service since the start of the pandemic, or do they plan to raise prices on such plans within the next six months? 
      • Prior to March 2020, did any of the company’s service plans impose a maximum data consumption threshold on its subscribers?
      • Since March 2020, has the company modified or imposed any new maximum data consumption thresholds on service plans, or do they plan to do so within the next six months? 
      • Did the company stop disconnecting customers’ internet or telephone service due to their inability to pay during the pandemic? 
      • Does the company offer a plan designed for low-income households, or a plan established in March or later to help students and families with connectivity during the pandemic?
      • Beyond service offerings for low-income customers, what steps is the company currently taking to assist individuals and families facing financial hardship due to circumstances related to COVID-19? 
  • The United States (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a “Data Security Business Advisory: Risks and Considerations for Businesses Using Data Services and Equipment from Firms Linked to the People’s Republic of China,” that “describes the data-related risks American businesses face as a result of the actions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and outlines steps that businesses can take to mitigate these risks.” DHS generally recommended:
    • Businesses and individuals that operate in the PRC or with PRC firms or entities should scrutinize any business relationship that provides access to data—whether business confidential, trade secrets, customer personally identifiable information (PII), or other sensitive information. Businesses should identify the sensitive personal and proprietary information in their possession. To the extent possible, they should minimize the amount of at-risk data being stored and used in the PRC or in places accessible by PRC authorities. Robust due diligence and transaction monitoring are also critical for addressing potential legal exposure, reputation risks, and unfair advantage that data and intellectual property theft would provide competitors. Businesses should seek to acquire a thorough understanding of the ownership of data service providers, location of data infrastructure, and any tangential foreign business relationships and significant foreign investors.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is asking for comments on the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program established in the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021” (H.R. 133). Comments are due by 16 February 2021. The FCC noted “eligible households may receive a discount off the cost of broadband service and certain connected devices during an emergency period relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, and participating providers can receive a reimbursement for such discounts.” The FCC explained the program in further detail:
    • Pursuant to the Consolidated Appropriations Act, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will use available funding from the Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund to support participating providers’ provision of certain broadband services and connected devices to qualifying households.
    • To participate in the program, a provider must elect to participate and either be designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier or be approved by the Commission. Participating providers will make available to eligible households a monthly discount off the standard rate for an Internet service offering and associated equipment, up to $50.00 per month.
    • On Tribal lands, the monthly discount may be up to $75.00 per month. Participating providers will receive reimbursement from the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program for the discounts provided.
    • Participating providers that also supply an eligible household with a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet (connected device) for use during the emergency period may receive a single reimbursement of up to $100.00 for the connected device, if the charge to the eligible household for that device is more than $10.00 but less than $50.00.  An eligible household may receive only one supported device.  Providers must submit certain certifications to the Commission to receive reimbursement from the program, and the Commission is required to adopt audit requirements to ensure provider compliance and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.
  • The Biden-Harris transition team named National Security Agency’s (NSA) Director of Cybersecurity as the Biden White House’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology. Anne Neuberger’s portfolio at the NSA included “lead[ing] NSA’s cybersecurity mission, including emerging technology areas like quantum-resistant cryptography.” At the National Security Council, Neuberger would will work to coordinate cybersecurity and emerging technology policy across agencies and funnel policy options up to the full NSC and ultimately the President. It is not clear how Neuberger’s portfolio will interact with the newly created National Cybersecurity Director, a position that, thus far, has remained without a nominee.
    • The transition noted “[p]rior to this role, she led NSA’s Election Security effort and served as Assistant Deputy Director of NSA’s Operations Directorate, overseeing foreign intelligence and cybersecurity operations…[and] also previously served as NSA’s first Chief Risk Officer, as Director of NSA’s Commercial Solutions Center, as Director of the Enduring Security Framework cybersecurity public-private partnership, as the Navy’s Deputy Chief Management Officer, and as a White House Fellow.” The transition stated that “[p]rior to joining government service, Neuberger was Senior Vice President of Operations at American Stock Transfer & Trust Company (AST), where she directed technology and operations.”
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a final rule in response to the United States (U.S.) Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia’s decision striking down three aspects of the FCC’s rollback of net neutrality, “Restoring Internet Freedom Order.” The FCC explained the final rule:
    • responds to a remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit directing the Commission to assess the effects of the Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order on public safety, pole attachments, and the statutory basis for broadband internet access service’s inclusion in the universal service Lifeline program. This document also amends the Commission’s rules to remove broadband internet service from the list of services supported by the universal service Lifeline program, while preserving the Commission’s authority to fund broadband internet access service through the Lifeline program.
    • In 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down a 2010 FCC net neutrality order in Verizon v. FCC, but the court did suggest a path forward. The court held the FCC “reasonably interpreted section 706 to empower it to promulgate rules governing broadband providers’ treatment of Internet traffic, and its justification for the specific rules at issue here—that they will preserve and facilitate the “virtuous circle” of innovation that has driven the explosive growth of the Internet—is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” The court added that “even though the Commission has general authority to regulate in this arena, it may not impose requirements that contravene express statutory mandates…[and] [g]iven that the Commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the Commission from nonetheless regulating them as such.” However, in 2016, the same court upheld the 2015 net neutrality regulations in U.S. Telecom Association v. FCC, and then upheld most of the Trump Administration’s FCC’s repeal of the its earlier net neutrality rule.
    • However, the D.C. Circuit declined to accept the FCC’s attempt to preempt all contrary state laws and struck down this part of the FCC’s rulemaking. Consequently, states and local jurisdictions may now be free to enact regulations of internet services along the lines of the FCC’s now repealed Open Internet Order. The D.C. Circuit also sent the case back to the FCC for further consideration on three points.
    • In its request for comments on how to respond to the remand, the FCC summarized the three issues: public safety, pole attachments, and the Lifeline Program:
      • Public Safety.  First, we seek to refresh the record on how the changes adopted in the Restoring Internet Freedom Order might affect public safety. In the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, the Commission predicted, for example, that permitting paid prioritization arrangements would “increase network innovation,” “lead[] to higher investment in broadband capacity as well as greater innovation on the edge provider side of the market,” and “likely . . . be used to deliver enhanced service for applications that need QoS [i.e., quality of service] guarantees.” Could the network improvements made possible by prioritization arrangements benefit public safety applications—for example, by enabling the more rapid, reliable transmission of public safety-related communications during emergencies? 
      • Pole Attachments.  Second, we seek to refresh the record on how the changes adopted in the Restoring Internet Freedom Order might affect the regulation of pole attachments in states subject to federal regulation.  To what extent are ISPs’ pole attachments subject to Commission authority in non-reverse preemption states by virtue of the ISPs’ provision of cable or telecommunications services covered by section 224?  What impact would the inapplicability of section 224 to broadband-only providers have on their access to poles?  Have pole owners, following the Order, “increase[d] pole attachment rates or inhibit[ed] broadband providers from attaching equipment”?  How could we use metrics like increases or decreases in broadband deployment to measure the impact the Order has had on pole attachment practices?  Are there any other impacts on the regulation of pole attachments from the changes adopted in the Order?  Finally, how do any potential considerations about pole attachments bear on the Commission’s underlying decision to classify broadband as a Title I information service?
      • Lifeline Program.  Third, we seek to refresh the record on how the changes adopted in the Restoring Internet Freedom Order might affect the Lifeline program.  In particular, we seek to refresh the record on the Commission’s authority to direct Lifeline support to eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) providing broadband service to qualifying low-income consumers.  In the 2017 Lifeline NPRM, the Commission proposed that it “has authority under Section 254(e) of the Act to provide Lifeline support to ETCs that provide broadband service over facilities-based broadband-capable networks that support voice service,” and that “[t]his legal authority does not depend on the regulatory classification of broadband Internet access service and, thus, ensures the Lifeline program has a role in closing the digital divide regardless of the regulatory classification of broadband service.”  How, if at all, does the Mozilla decision bear on that proposal, and should the Commission proceed to adopt it? 
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached a settlement with a photo app company that allegedly did not tell users their photos would be subject to the company’s facial recognition technology. The FTC deemed this a deceptive business practice in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act and negotiated a settlement the Commissioners approved in a 5-0 vote. The consent order includes interesting, perhaps even new language, requiring the company “to delete models and algorithms it developed by using the photos and videos uploaded by its users” according to the FTC’s press release.
    • In the complaint, the FTC asserted:
      • Since 2015, Everalbum has provided Ever, a photo storage and organization application, to consumers.
      • In February 2017, Everalbum launched its “Friends” feature, which operates on both the iOS and Android versions of the Ever app. The Friends feature uses face recognition to group users’ photos by faces of the people who appear in the photos. The user can choose to apply “tags” to identify by name (e.g., “Jane”) or alias (e.g., “Mom”) the individuals who appear in their photos. These tags are not available to other Ever users. When Everalbum launched the Friends feature, it enabled face recognition by default for all users of the Ever mobile app. At that time, Everalbum did not provide users of the Ever mobile app an option to turn off or disable the feature.
      • However, prior to April 2019, Ever mobile app users who were located anywhere other than Texas, Illinois, Washington, and the European Union did not need to, and indeed could not, take any affirmative action to “let[ Everalbum] know” that it should apply face recognition to the users’ photos. In fact, for those users, face recognition was enabled by default and the users lacked the ability to disable it. Thus, the article was misleading for Ever mobile app users located outside of Texas, Illinois, Washington, and the European Union.
      • Between September 2017 and August 2019, Everalbum combined millions of facial images that it extracted from Ever users’ photos with facial images that Everalbum obtained from publicly available datasets in order to create four new datasets to be used in the development of its face recognition technology. In each instance, Everalbum used computer scripts to identify and compile from Ever users’ photos images of faces that met certain criteria (i.e., not associated with a deactivated Ever account, not blurry, not too small, not a duplicate of another image, associated with a specified minimum number of images of the same tagged identity, and, in three of the four instances, not identified by Everalbum’s machines as being an image of someone under the age of thirteen).
      • The FTC summarized its settlement:
        • The proposed settlement requires Everalbum to delete:
          • the photos and videos of Ever app users who deactivated their accounts;
          • all face embeddings—data reflecting facial features that can be used for facial recognition purposes—the company derived from the photos of Ever users who did not give their express consent to their use; and
          • any facial recognition models or algorithms developed with Ever users’ photos or videos.
        • In addition, the proposed settlement prohibits Everalbum from misrepresenting how it collects, uses, discloses, maintains, or deletes personal information, including face embeddings created with the use of facial recognition technology, as well as the extent to which it protects the privacy and security of personal information it collects. Under the proposed settlement, if the company markets software to consumers for personal use, it must obtain a user’s express consent before using biometric information it collected from the user through that software to create face embeddings or develop facial recognition technology.
      • FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra issued a statement, explaining his view on facial recognition technology and he settlement:
        • As outlined in the complaint, Everalbum made promises that users could choose not to have facial recognition technology applied to their images, and that users could delete the images and their account. In addition to those promises, Everalbum had clear evidence that many of the photo app’s users did not want to be roped into facial recognition. The company broke its promises, which constitutes illegal deception according to the FTC’s complaint. This matter and the FTC’s proposed resolution are noteworthy for several reasons.
        • First, the FTC’s proposed order requires Everalbum to forfeit the fruits of its deception. Specifically, the company must delete the facial recognition technologies enhanced by any improperly obtained photos. Commissioners have previously voted to allow data protection law violators to retain algorithms and technologies that derive much of their value from ill-gotten data. This is an important course correction.
        • Second, the settlement does not require the defendant to pay any penalty. This is unfortunate. To avoid this in the future, the FTC needs to take further steps to trigger penalties, damages, and other relief for facial recognition and data protection abuses. Commissioners have voted to enter into scores of settlements that address deceptive practices regarding the collection, use, and sharing of personal data. There does not appear to be any meaningful dispute that these practices are illegal. However, since Commissioners have not restated this precedent into a rule under Section 18 of the FTC Act, we are unable to seek penalties and other relief for even the most egregious offenses when we first discover them.
        • Finally, the Everalbum matter makes it clear why it is important to maintain states’ authority to protect personal data. Because the people of Illinois, Washington, and Texas passed laws related to facial recognition and biometric identifiers, Everalbum took greater care when it came to these individuals in these states. The company’s deception targeted Americans who live in states with no specific state law protections.
  • The Trump Administration issued the “National Maritime Cybersecurity Plan” that “sets forth how the United States government will defend the American economy through enhanced cybersecurity coordination, policies and practices, aimed at mitigating risks to the maritime sub-sector, promoting prosperity through information and intelligence sharing, and preserving and increasing the nation’s cyber workforce” according to the National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien. It will be up to the Biden Administration to implement, revise, or discard this strategy, but strategy documents such as this that complain anodyne recommendations tend to stay in place for the short-term, at least. It bears note that the uneven margins to the columns in the document suggests a rush to issue this document before the end of the Trump Administration. Nevertheless, O’Brien added:
    • President [Donald] Trump designated the cybersecurity of the Maritime Transportation System (MTS) as a top priority for national defense, homeland security, and economic competitiveness in the 2017 National Security Strategy. The MTS contributes to one quarter of all United States gross domestic product, or approximately $5.4 trillion. MTS operators are increasingly reliant on information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) to maximize the reliability and efficiency of maritime commerce. This plan articulates how the United States government can buy down the potential catastrophic risks to our national security and economic prosperity created by technology innovations to strengthen maritime commerce efficiency and reliability.
    • The strategy lists a number of priority actions for the executive branch, including:
      • The United States will de- conflict government roles and responsibilities.
      • The United States will develop risk modeling to inform maritime cybersecurity standards and best practices.
      • The United States will strengthen cybersecurity requirements in port services contracts and leasing.
      • The United States will develop procedures to identify, prioritize, mitigate, and investigate cybersecurity risks in critical ship and port systems.
      • Exchange United States government information with the maritime industry.
      • Share cybersecurity intelligence with appropriate non- government entities.
      • Prioritize maritime cybersecurity intelligence collection.
  • The National Security Agency’s NSA Cybersecurity Directorate has issued its very annual review, the “2020 NSA Cybersecurity Year in Review” that encapsulates the first year of operation for the newly created part of the NSA.
    • Highlights include:
      • In 2020, NSA focused on modernizing encryption across the Department of Defense (DOD). It began with a push to eliminate cryptography that is at risk from attack due to adversarial computational advances. This applied to several systems commonly used by the Armed Services today to provide command and control, critical communications, and battlefield awareness. It also applied to operational practices concerning the handling of cryptographic keys and the implementation of modern suites of cryptography in network communications devices.
      • 2020 was notable for the number of Cybersecurity Advisories (CSAs) and other products NSA cybersecurity produced and released. These products are intended to alert network owners, specifically National Security System (NSS), Department of Defense (DOD), and Defense Industrial Base (DIB), of cyber threats and enable defenders to take immediate action to secure their systems.
      • 2020 was notable not just because it was the NSA Cybersecurity Directorate’s first year nor because of COVID-19, but also because it was an election year in the United States. Drawing on lessons learned from the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 mid-term elections, NSA was fully engaged in whole-of-government efforts to protect 2020 election from foreign interference and influence. Cybersecurity was a foundational component of NSA’s overall election defense effort.
      • This past year, NSA cybersecurity prioritized public-private collaboration, invested in cybersecurity research, and made a concerted effort to build trusted partnerships with the cybersecurity community.
      • The NSA touted the following achievements:
        • In November 2019, NSA began laying the groundwork to conduct a pilot with the Defense Cyber Crime Center and five DIB companies to monitor and block malicious network traffic based on continuous automated analysis of the domain names these companies’ networks were contacting. The pilot’s operational phase commenced in March 2020. Over six months, the Protective Domain Name Service (PDNS) examined more than 4 billion DNS queries to and from these companies. The PDNS provider identified callouts to 3,519 malicious domains and blocked upwards of 13 million connections to those domains. The pilot proved the value of DoD expanding the PDNS service to all DIB entities at scale
        • How cyber secure is cyber “ready” for combat? In response to legislation that recognized the imperative of protecting key weapons and space systems from adversary cyber intrusions, NSA partnered closely with the DoD CIO, Joint Staff, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment, and the Military Services to structure, design, and execute a new cybersecurity program, focused on the most important weapons and space systems, known as the Strategic Cybersecurity Program (SCP), with the mindset of “stop assessing and start addressing.”The program initially identified 12 key weapons and space systems that must be evaluated for cybersecurity vulnerabilities that need to be mitigated. This is either due to the existence of intelligence indicating they are being targeted by cyber adversaries or because the systems are particularly important to warfighting. These systems cover all warfighting domains (land, sea, air, cyber, and space). Under the auspices of the SCP, NSA and military service partners will conduct cybersecurity evaluations, and, most importantly, maintain cyber risk scoreboards and mitigation plans accountability in reducing cyber risk to acceptable levels
      • The NSA sees the following issue son the horizon:
        • In October 2020, NSA launched an expansive effort across the Executive Branch to understand how we can better inform, drive, and understand the activities of NSS owners to prevent, or respond to, critical cybersecurity events, and cultivate an operationally-aligned community resilient against the most advanced threats. These efforts across the community will come to fruition during the first quarter of 2021 and are expected to unify disparate elements across USG for stronger cybersecurity at scale.
        • NSA Cybersecurity is also focused on combating ransomware, a significant threat to NSS and critical infrastructure. Ransomware activity has become more destructive and impactful in nature and scope. Malicious actors target critical data and propagate ransomware across entire networks, alarmingly focusing recent attacks against U.S. hospitals. In 2020, NSA formed multiple working groups with U.S. Government agencies and other partners to identify ways to make ransomware operations more difficult for our adversaries, less scalable, and less lucrative. While the ransomware threat remains significant, NSA will continue to develop innovative ways to keep the activity at bay.
  • This week, Parler sued Amazon after it rescinded its web hosting services to the social media platform billed as the conservative, unbiased alternative to Twitter. Amazon has responded with an extensive list of the inflammatory, inciting material upon which it based its decision.
    • In its 11 January complaint, Parler asked a federal court “for injunctive relief, including a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunctive relief, and damages” because mainly “AWS’s decision to effectively terminate Parler’s account is apparently motivated by political animus…[and] is also apparently designed to reduce competition in the microblogging services market to the benefit of Twitter” in violation of federal antitrust law.
    • In its 12 January response, Amazon disagreed:
      • This case is not about suppressing speech or stifling viewpoints. It is not about a conspiracy to restrain trade. Instead, this case is about Parler’s demonstrated unwillingness and inability to remove from the servers of Amazon Web Services (“AWS”) content that threatens the public safety, such as by inciting and planning the rape, torture, and assassination of named public officials and private citizens. There is no legal basis in AWS’s customer agreements or otherwise to compel AWS to host content of this nature. AWS notified Parler repeatedly that its content violated the parties’ agreement, requested removal, and reviewed Parler’s plan to address the problem, only to determine that Parler was both unwilling and unable to do so. AWS suspended Parler’s account as a last resort to prevent further access to such content, including plans for violence to disrupt the impending Presidential transition.
    • Amazon offered a sampling of the content on Parler that caused AWS to pull the plug on the platform:
      • “Fry’em up. The whole fkn crew. #pelosi #aoc #thesquad #soros #gates #chuckschumer #hrc #obama #adamschiff #blm #antifa we are coming for you and you will know it.”
      • “#JackDorsey … you will die a bloody death alongside Mark Suckerturd [Zuckerberg]…. It has been decided and plans are being put in place. Remember the photographs inside your home while you slept? Yes, that close. You will die a sudden death!”
      • “We are going to fight in a civil War on Jan.20th, Form MILITIAS now and acquire targets.”
      • “On January 20th we need to start systematicly [sic] assassinating [sic] #liberal leaders, liberal activists, #blm leaders and supporters, members of the #nba #nfl #mlb #nhl #mainstreammedia anchors and correspondents and #antifa. I already have a news worthy event planned.”
      • Shoot the police that protect these shitbag senators right in the head then make the senator grovel a bit before capping they ass.”

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 15 January, the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Avril Haines to be the Director of National Intelligence.
  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Alejandro N. Mayorkas to be Secretary of Homeland Security on 19 January.
  • On 19 January, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on former General Lloyd Austin III to be Secretary of Defense.
  • On 27 July, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will hold PrivacyCon 2021.

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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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 (15 December)

Further Reading

  • DHS, State and NIH join list of federal agencies — now five — hacked in major Russian cyberespionage campaign” By Ellen Nakashima and Craig Timberg — The Washington Post; “Scope of Russian Hack Becomes Clear: Multiple U.S. Agencies Were Hit” By David E. Sanger, Nicole Perlroth and Eric Schmitt — The New York Times; The list of United States (U.S.) government agencies breached by Sluzhba vneshney razvedki Rossiyskoy Federatsii (SVR), the Russian Federation’s Foreign Intelligence Service, has grown. Now the Department of Homeland Security, Defense, and State and the National Institutes of Health are reporting they have been breached. It is unclear if Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. and elsewhere and U.S. nuclear laboratories were also breached in this huge, sophisticated espionage exploit. It appears the Russians were selective and careful, and these hackers may have only accessed information held on U.S. government systems. And yet, the Trump Administration continues to issue equivocal statements neither denying nor acknowledging the hack, leaving the public to depend on quotes from anonymous officials. Perhaps admitting the Russians hacked U.S. government systems would throw light on Russian interference four years ago, and the President is loath to even contemplate that attack. In contrast, President Donald Trump has made all sorts of wild, untrue claims about vote totals being hacked despite no evidence supporting his assertions. It appears that the declaration of mission accomplished by some agencies of the Trump Administration over no Russian hacking of or interference with the 2020 election will be overshadowed by what may prove the most damaging hack of U.S. government systems ever.
  • Revealed: China suspected of spying on Americans via Caribbean phone networks” By Stephanie Kirchgaessner — The Guardian. This story depends on one source, so take it for what it is worth, but allegedly the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is using vulnerabilities in mobile communications networks to hack into the phones of Americans travelling in the Caribbean. If so, the PRC may be exploiting the same Signaling System 7 (SS7) weaknesses an Israeli firm, Circles, is using to sell access to phones, at least according to a report published recently by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab.
  • The Cartel Project | Revealed: The Israelis Making Millions Selling Cyberweapons to Latin America” By Amitai Ziv — Haaretz. Speaking of Israeli companies, the NSO Group among others are actively selling offensive cyber and surveillance capabilities to Central American nations often through practices that may be corrupt.
  • U.S. Schools Are Buying Phone-Hacking Tech That the FBI Uses to Investigate Terrorists” By Tom McKay and Dhruv Mehrotra — Gizmodo. Israeli firm Cellebrite and competitors are being used in school systems across the United States (U.S.) to access communications on students’ phones. The U.S. Supreme Court caselaw gives schools very wide discretion for searches, and the Fourth Amendment is largely null and void on school grounds.
  • ‘It’s Hard to Prove’: Why Antitrust Suits Against Facebook Face Hurdles” By Mike Issac and Cecilia Kang — The New York Times. The development of antitrust law over the last few decades may have laid an uphill path for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general in securing a breakup of Facebook, something that has not happened on a large scale since the historic splintering of AT&T in the early 1980’s.
  • Exclusive: Israeli Surveillance Companies Are Siphoning Masses Of Location Data From Smartphone Apps” By Thomas Brewster — Forbes. Turns out Israeli firms are using a feature (or what many would call a bug) in the online advertising system that allows those looking to buy ads to get close to real-time location data from application developers looking to sell advertising space. By putting out a shingle as a Demand Side Platform, it is possible to access reaps of location data, and two Israeli companies are doing just that and offering the service of locating and tracking people using this quirk in online advertising. And this is not just companies in Israel. There is a company under scrutiny in the United States (U.S.) that may have used these practices and then provided location data to federal agencies.

Other Developments

  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluated the United States’ (U.S.) Department of Defense’s electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) operations found that the DOD’s efforts to maintain EMS superiority over the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The GAO concluded:
    • Studies have shown that adversaries of the United States, such as China and Russia, are developing capabilities and strategies that could affect DOD superiority in the information environment, including the EMS. DOD has also reported that loss of EMS superiority could result in the department losing control of the battlefield, as its Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations (EMSO) supports many warfighting functions across all domains. DOD recognizes the importance of EMSO to military operations in actual conflicts and in operations short of open conflict that involve the broad information environment. However, gaps we identified in DOD’s ability to develop and implement EMS-related strategies have impeded progress in meeting DOD’s goals. By addressing gaps we found in five areas—(1) the processes and procedures to integrate EMSO throughout the department, (2) governance reforms to correct diffuse organization, (3) responsibility by an official with appropriate authority, (4) a strategy implementation plan, and (5) activities that monitor and assess the department’s progress in implementing the strategy—DOD can capitalize on progress that it has already made and better support ensuring EMS superiority.
    • The GAO recommended:
      • The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as Senior Designated Official of the Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations Cross-Functional Team (CFT), identifies the procedures and processes necessary to provide for integrated defense-wide strategy, planning, and budgeting with respect to joint electromagnetic spectrum operations, as required by the FY19 NDAA. (Recommendation 1)
      • The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as Senior Designated Official of the CFT proposes EMS governance, management, organizational, and operational reforms to the Secretary. (Recommendation 2)
      • The Secretary of Defense should assign clear responsibility to a senior official with authority and resources necessary to compel action for the long-term implementation of the 2020 strategy in time to oversee the execution of the 2020 strategy implementation plan. (Recommendation 3)
      • The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the designated senior official for long-term strategy implementation issues an actionable implementation plan within 180 days following issuance of the 2020 strategy. (Recommendation 4)
      • The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the designated senior official for long-term strategy implementation creates oversight processes that would facilitate the department’s implementation of the 2020 strategy. (Recommendation 5)
  • A forerunner to Apple’s App Store has sued the company, claiming it has monopolized applications on its operating system to the detriment of other parties and done the same with respect to its payment system. The company behind Cydia is arguing that it conceived of and created the first application store for the iPhone, offering a range of programs Apple did not. Cydia is claiming that once Apple understood how lucrative an app store would be, it blocked Cydia and established its own store, the exclusive means through which programs can be installed and used on the iOS. Furthermore, this has enabled Apple to levy 30% of all in-application purchases made, which is allegedly a $50 billion market annually. This is the second high-profile suit this year against Apple. Epic Games, the maker of the popular game, Fortnite, sued Apple earlier this year on many of the same grounds because the company started allowing users to buy directly from it for a 30% discount. Apple responded by removing the game from the App Store, which has blocked players from downloading updated versions. That litigation has just begun. In its complaint, Cydia asserts:
    • Historically, distribution of apps for a specific operating system (“OS”) occurred in a separate and robustly competitive market. Apple, however, began coercing users to utilize no other iOS app distribution service but the App Store, coupling it closer and closer to the iPhone itself in order to crowd out all competition. But Apple did not come up with this idea initially—it only saw the economic promise that iOS app distribution represented after others, like [Cydia], demonstrated that value with their own iOS app distribution products/services. Faced with this realization, Apple then decided to take that separate market (as well as the additional iOS app payment processing market described herein) for itself.
    • Cydia became hugely popular by offering a marketplace to find and obtain third party iOS applications that greatly expanded the capabilities of the stock iPhone, including games, productivity applications, and audio/visual applications such as a video recorder (whereas the original iPhone only allowed still cameraphotos). Apple subsequently took many of these early third party applications’ innovations, incorporating them into the iPhone directly or through apps.
    • But far worse than simply copying others’ innovations, Apple also recognized that it could reap enormous profits if it cornered this fledgling market for iOS app distribution, because that would give Apple complete power over iOS apps, regardless of the developer. Apple therefore initiated a campaign to eliminate competition for iOS app distribution altogether. That campaign has been successful and continues to this day. Apple did (and continues to do) so by, inter alia, tying the App Store app to iPhone purchases by preinstalling it on all iOS devices and then requiring it as the default method to obtain iOS apps, regardless of user preference for other alternatives; technologically locking down the iPhone to prevent App Store competitors like Cydia from even operating on the device; and imposing contractual terms on users that coerce and prevent them from using App Store competitors. Apple has also mandated that iOS app developers use it as their sole option for app payment processing (such as in-app purchases), thus preventing other competitors, such as Cydia, from offering the same service to those developers.
    • Through these and other anticompetitive acts, Apple has wrongfully acquired and maintained monopoly power in the market (or aftermarket) for iOS app distribution, and in the market (or aftermarket) for iOS app payment processing. Apple has frozen Cydia and all other competitors out of both markets, depriving them of the ability to compete with the App Store and to offer developers and consumers better prices, better service, and more choice. This anticompetitive conduct has unsurprisingly generated massive profits and unprecedented market capitalization for Apple, as well as incredible market power.
  • California is asking to join antitrust suit against Google filed by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and eleven state attorneys general. This antitrust action centers on Google’s practices of making Google the default search engine on Android devices and paying browsers and other technology entities to make Google the default search engine. However, a number of states that had initially joined the joint state investigation of Google have opted not to join this action and will instead be continuing to investigate, signaling a much broader case than the one filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. In any event, if the suit does proceed, and a change in Administration could result in a swift change in course, it may take years to be resolved. Of course, given the legion leaks from the DOJ and state attorneys general offices about the pressure U.S. Attorney General William Barr placed on staff and attorneys to bring a case before the election, there is criticism that rushing the case may result in a weaker, less comprehensive action that Google may ultimately fend off.
    • And, there is likely to be another lawsuit against Google filed by other state attorneys general. A number of attorneys general who had orginally joined the effort led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in investigating Google released a statement at the time the DOJ suit was filed, indicating their investigation would continue, presaging a different, possibly broader lawsuit that might also address Google’s role in other markets. The attorneys general of New York, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah did not join the case that was filed but may soon file a related but parallel case. They stated:
      • Over the last year, both the U.S. DOJ and state attorneys general have conducted separate but parallel investigations into Google’s anticompetitive market behavior. We appreciate the strong bipartisan cooperation among the states and the good working relationship with the DOJ on these serious issues. This is a historic time for both federal and state antitrust authorities, as we work to protect competition and innovation in our technology markets. We plan to conclude parts of our investigation of Google in the coming weeks. If we decide to file a complaint, we would file a motion to consolidate our case with the DOJ’s. We would then litigate the consolidated case cooperatively, much as we did in the Microsoft case.
  • France’s Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) handed down multi-million Euro fines on Google and Amazon for putting cookies on users’ devices. CNIL fined Google a total of €100 million and Amazon €35 million because its investigation of both entities determined “when a user visited [their] website, cookies were automatically placed on his or her computer, without any action required on his or her part…[and] [s]everal of these cookies were used for advertising purposes.”
    • CNIL explained the decision against Google:
      • [CNIL] noticed three breaches of Article 82 of the French Data Protection Act:
      • Deposit of cookies without obtaining the prior consent of the user
        • When a user visited the website google.fr, several cookies used for advertising purposes were automatically placed on his or her computer, without any action required on his or her part.
        • Since this type of cookies can only be placed after the user has expressed his or her consent, the restricted committee considered that the companies had not complied with the requirement provided for in Article 82 of the French Data Protection Act regarding the collection of prior consent before placing cookies that are not essential to the service.
      • Lack of information provided to the users of the search engine google.fr
        • When a user visited the page google.fr, an information banner displayed at the bottom of the page, with the following note “Privacy reminder from Google”, in front of which were two buttons: “Remind me later” and “Access now”.
        • This banner did not provide the user with any information regarding cookies that had however already been placed on his or her computer when arriving on the site. The information was also not provided when he or she clicked on the button “Access now”.
        • Therefore, the restricted committee considered that the information provided by the companies did not enable the users living in France either to be previously and clearly informed regarding the deposit of cookies on their computer or, therefore, to be informed of the purposes of these cookies and the available means enabling to refuse them.
      • Partial failure of the « opposition » mechanism
        • When a user deactivated the ad personalization on the Google search by using the available mechanism from the button “Access now”, one of the advertising cookies was still stored on his or her computer and kept reading information aimed at the server to which it is attached.
        • Therefore, the restricted committee considered that the “opposition” mechanism set up by the companies was partially defective, breaching Article 82 of the French Data Protection Act.
    • CNIL explained the case against Amazon:
      • [CNIL] noticed two breaches of Article 82 of the French Data Protection Act:
      • Deposit of cookies without obtaining the prior consent of the user
        • The restricted committee noted that when a user visited one of the pages of the website amazon.fr, a large number of cookies used for advertising purposes was automatically placed on his or her computer, before any action required on his or her part. Yet, the restricted committee recalled that this type of cookies, which are not essential to the service, can only be placed after the user has expressed his or her consent. It considered that the deposit of cookies at the same time as arriving on the site was a practice which, by its nature, was incompatible with a prior consent.
      • Lack of information provided to the users of the website amazon.fr
        • First, the restricted committee noted that, in the case of a user visiting the website amazon.fr, the information provided was neither clear, nor complete.
        • It considered that the information banner displayed by the company, which was “By using this website, you accept our use of cookies allowing to offer and improve our services. Read More.”, only contained a general and approximate information regarding the purposes of all the cookies placed. In particular, it considered that, by reading the banner, the user could not understand that cookies placed on his or her computer were mainly used to display personalized ads. It also noted that the banner did not explain to the user that it could refuse these cookies and how to do it.
        • Then, the restricted committee noticed that the company’s failure to comply with its obligation was even more obvious regarding the case of users that visited the website amazon.fr after they had clicked on an advertisement published on another website. It underlined that in this case, the same cookies were placed but no information was provided to the users about that.
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) wrote the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), to express “serious concerns regarding recent reports on the data collection practices of Amazon’s health-tracking bracelet (Halo) and to request information on the actions [HHS] is taking to ensure users’ health data is secure.” Klobuchar stated:
    • The Halo is a fitness tracker that users wear on their wrists. The tracker’s smartphone application (app) provides users with a wide-ranging analysis of their health by tracking a range of biological metrics including heartbeat patterns, exercise habits, sleep patterns, and skin temperature. The fitness tracker also enters into uncharted territory by collecting body photos and voice recordings and transmitting this data for analysis. To calculate the user’s body fat percentage, the Halo requires users to take scans of their body using a smartphone app. These photos are then temporarily sent to Amazon’s servers for analysis while the app returns a three-dimensional image of the user’s body, allowing the user to adjust the image to see what they would look like with different percentages of body fat. The Halo also offers a tone analysis feature that examines the nuances of a user’s voice to indicate how the user sounds to others. To accomplish this task, the device has built-in microphones that listen and records a user’s voice by taking periodic samples of speech throughout the day if users opt-in to the feature.
    • Recent reports have raised concerns about the Halo’s access to this extensive personal and private health information. Among publicly available consumer health devices, the Halo appears to collect an unprecedented level of personal information. This raises questions about the extent to which the tracker’s transmission of biological data may reveal private information regarding the user’s health conditions and how this information can be used. Last year, a study by BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) found that 79 percent of health apps studied by researchers were found to share user data in a manner that failed to provide transparency about the data being shared. The study concluded that health app developers routinely share consumer data with third-parties and that little transparency exists around such data sharing.
    • Klobuchar asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar II to “respond to the following questions:
      • What actions is HHS taking to ensure that fitness trackers like Halo safeguard users’ private health information?
      • What authority does HHS have to ensure the security and privacy of consumer data collected and analyzed by health tracking devices like Amazon’s Halo?
      • Are additional regulations required to help strengthen privacy and security protections for consumers’ personal health data given the rise of health tracking devices? Why or why not?
      • Please describe in detail what additional authority or resources that the HHS could use to help ensure the security and protection of consumer health data obtained through health tracking devices like the Halo.

Coming Events

  • On 15 December, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Intellectual Property Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled “The Role of Private Agreements and Existing Technology in Curbing Online Piracy” with these witnesses:
    • Panel I
      • Ms. Ruth Vitale, Chief Executive Officer, CreativeFuture
      • Mr. Probir Mehta, Head of Global Intellectual Property and Trade Policy, Facebook, Inc.
      • Mr. Mitch Glazier, Chairman and CEO, Recording Industry Association of America
      • Mr. Joshua Lamel, Executive Director, Re:Create
    • Panel II
      • Ms. Katherine Oyama, Global Director of Business Public Policy, YouTube
      • Mr. Keith Kupferschmid, Chief Executive Officer, Copyright Alliance
      • Mr. Noah Becker, President and Co-Founder, AdRev
      • Mr. Dean S. Marks, Executive Director and Legal Counsel, Coalition for Online Accountability
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee’s Cybersecurity Subcommittee will hold a closed briefing on Department of Defense Cyber Operations on 15 December with these witnesses:
    • Mr. Thomas C. Wingfield, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
    • Mr. Jeffrey R. Jones, Vice Director, Command, Control, Communications and Computers/Cyber, Joint Staff, J-6
    • Ms. Katherine E. Arrington, Chief Information Security Officer for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment
    • Rear Admiral Jeffrey Czerewko, United States Navy, Deputy Director, Global Operations, J39, J3, Joint Staff
  • The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee’s Economic Policy Subcommittee will conduct a hearing titled “US-China: Winning the Economic Competition, Part II” on 16 December with these witnesses:
    • The Honorable Will Hurd, Member, United States House of Representatives;
    • Derek Scissors, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute;
    • Melanie M. Hart, Ph.D., Senior Fellow and Director for China Policy, Center for American Progress; and
    • Roy Houseman, Legislative Director, United Steelworkers (USW).
  • On 17 December the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) Task Force will convene for a virtual event, “Partnership in Action: Driving Supply Chain Security.”

© 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 Naya Shaw from Pexels

Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (14 December)

Further Reading

  • Russian Hackers Broke Into Federal Agencies, U.S. Officials Suspect” By David Sanger — The New York Times.; “Russian government hackers are behind a broad espionage campaign that has compromised U.S. agencies, including Treasury and Commerce” By Ellen Nakashima and Craig Timberg — The Washington Post; “Suspected Russian hackers spied on U.S. Treasury emails – sources” By Chris Bing — Reuters. Apparently, Sluzhba vneshney razvedki Rossiyskoy Federatsii (SVR), the Russian Federation’s Foreign Intelligence Service, has exploited a vulnerability in SolarWinds’ update system used by many United States (U.S.) government systems, Fortune 500 companies, and the U.S.’ top ten largest telecommunications companies. Reportedly, APT29 (aka Cozy Bear) has had free reign in the email systems of the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce among other possible victims. The hackers may have also accessed a range of other entities around the world using the same SolarWind system. Moreover, these penetrations may be related to the recently announced theft of hacking tools a private firm, FireEye, used to test clients’ systems.
  • Hackers steal Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine data in Europe, companies say” By Jack Stubbs — Reuters. The European Union’s (EU) agency that oversees and approve medications has been hacked, and documents related to one of the new COVID-19 vaccines may have been stolen. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) was apparently penetrated, and materials related to Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine were exfiltrated. The scope of the theft is not yet known, but this is the latest in many attempts to hack into the entities conducting research on the virus and potential vaccines.
  • The AI Girlfriend Seducing China’s Lonely Men” By Zhang Wanqing — Sixth Tone. A chat bot powered by artificial intelligence that some men in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are using extensively raises all sorts of ethical and privacy issues. Lonely people have turned to this AI technology and have confided their deepest feelings, which are stored by the company. It seems like a matter of time until these data are mined for commercial value or hacked. Also, the chatbot has run afoul of PRC’s censorship policies. Finally, is this a preview of the world to come, much like the 2013 film, Her, in which humans have relationships with AI beings?
  • YouTube will now remove videos disputing Joe Biden’s election victory” By Makena Kelly — The Verge. The Google subsidiary announced that because the safe harbor deadline has been reached and a sufficient number of states have certified President-elect Joe Biden, the platform will begin taking down misleading election videos. This change in policy may have come about, in part, because of pressure from Democrats in Congress about what they see as Google’s lackluster efforts to find and remove lies, misinformation, and disinformation about the 2020 election.
  • Lots of people are gunning for Google. Meet the man who might have the best shot.” By Emily Birnbaum — Protocol. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser may be uniquely qualified to lead state attorneys general on a second antitrust and anti-competition action against Google given his background as a law professor steeped in antitrust and his background in the Department of Justice and White House during the Obama Administration.

Other Developments

  • Cybersecurity firm, FireEye, revealed it was “attacked by a highly sophisticated threat actor, one whose discipline, operational security, and techniques lead us to believe it was a state-sponsored attack” according to CEO Kevin Mandia. This hacking may be related to vast penetration of United States (U.S.) government systems revealed over the weekend. Mandia stated FireEye has “found that the attacker targeted and accessed certain Red Team assessment tools that we use to test our customers’ security…[that] mimic the behavior of many cyber threat actors and enable FireEye to provide essential diagnostic security services to our customers.” Mandia claimed none of these tools were zero-day exploits. FireEye is “proactively releasing methods and means to detect the use of our stolen Red Team tools…[and] out of an abundance of caution, we have developed more than 300 countermeasures for our customers, and the community at large, to use in order to minimize the potential impact of the theft of these tools.
    • Mandia added:
      • Consistent with a nation-state cyber-espionage effort, the attacker primarily sought information related to certain government customers. While the attacker was able to access some of our internal systems, at this point in our investigation, we have seen no evidence that the attacker exfiltrated data from our primary systems that store customer information from our incident response or consulting engagements, or the metadata collected by our products in our dynamic threat intelligence systems. If we discover that customer information was taken, we will contact them directly.
      • Based on my 25 years in cyber security and responding to incidents, I’ve concluded we are witnessing an attack by a nation with top-tier offensive capabilities. This attack is different from the tens of thousands of incidents we have responded to throughout the years. The attackers tailored their world-class capabilities specifically to target and attack FireEye. They are highly trained in operational security and executed with discipline and focus. They operated clandestinely, using methods that counter security tools and forensic examination. They used a novel combination of techniques not witnessed by us or our partners in the past.
      • We are actively investigating in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other key partners, including Microsoft. Their initial analysis supports our conclusion that this was the work of a highly sophisticated state-sponsored attacker utilizing novel techniques.    
  • The United States’ (U.S.) Department of Justice filed suit against Facebook for “tactics that discriminated against U.S. workers and routinely preferred temporary visa holders (including H-1B visa holders) for jobs in connection with the permanent labor certification (PERM) process.” The DOJ is asking for injunction to stop Facebook from engaging in the alleged conduct, civil penalties, and damages for workers harmed by this conduct.
    • The DOJ contended:
      • The department’s lawsuit alleges that beginning no later than Jan. 1, 2018 and lasting until at least Sept. 18, 2019, Facebook employed tactics that discriminated against U.S. workers and routinely preferred temporary visa holders (including H-1B visa holders) for jobs in connection with the PERM process. Rather than conducting a genuine search for qualified and available U.S. workers for permanent positions sought by these temporary visa holders, Facebook reserved the positions for temporary visa holders because of their immigration status, according to the complaint. The complaint also alleges that Facebook sought to channel jobs to temporary visa holders at the expense of U.S. workers by failing to advertise those vacancies on its careers website, requiring applicants to apply by physical mail only, and refusing to consider any U.S. workers who applied for those positions. In contrast, Facebook’s usual hiring process relies on recruitment methods designed to encourage applications by advertising positions on its careers website, accepting electronic applications, and not pre-selecting candidates to be hired based on a candidate’s immigration status, according to the lawsuit.
      • In its investigation, the department determined that Facebook’s ineffective recruitment methods dissuaded U.S. workers from applying to its PERM positions. The department concluded that, during the relevant period, Facebook received zero or one U.S. worker applicants for 99.7 percent of its PERM positions, while comparable positions at Facebook that were advertised on its careers website during a similar time period typically attracted 100 or more applicants each. These U.S. workers were denied an opportunity to be considered for the jobs Facebook sought to channel to temporary visa holders, according to the lawsuit. 
      • Not only do Facebook’s alleged practices discriminate against U.S. workers, they have adverse consequences on temporary visa holders by creating an employment relationship that is not on equal terms. An employer that engages in the practices alleged in the lawsuit against Facebook can expect more temporary visa holders to apply for positions and increased retention post-hire. Such temporary visa holders often have limited job mobility and thus are likely to remain with their company until they can adjust status, which for some can be decades.
      • The United States’ complaint seeks civil penalties, back pay on behalf of U.S. workers denied employment at Facebook due to the alleged discrimination in favor of temporary visa holders, and other relief to ensure Facebook stops the alleged violations in the future. According to the lawsuit, and based on the department’s nearly two-year investigation, Facebook’s discrimination against U.S. workers was intentional, widespread, and in violation of a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1324b(a)(1), that the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division enforces. 
  • A trio of consumer authority regulators took the lead in coming into agreement with Apple to add “a new section to each app’s product page in its App Store, containing key information about the data the app collects and an accessible summary of the most important information from the privacy policy.” The United Kingdom’s UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets and the Norwegian Consumer Authority led the effort that “ongoing work from the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), involving 27 of its consumer authority members across the world.” The three agencies explained:
    • Consumer protection authorities, including the CMA, became concerned that people were not being given clear information on how their personal data would be used before choosing an app, including on whether the app developer would share their personal data with a third party. Without this information, consumers are unable to compare and choose apps based on how they use personal data.
  • Australia’s Council of Financial Regulators (CFR) has released a Cyber Operational Resilience Intelligence-led Exercises (CORIE) framework “to test and demonstrate the cyber maturity and resilience of institutions within the Australian financial services industry.”

Coming Events

  • On 15 December, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Intellectual Property Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled “The Role of Private Agreements and Existing Technology in Curbing Online Piracy” with these witnesses:
    • Panel I
      • Ms. Ruth Vitale, Chief Executive Officer, CreativeFuture
      • Mr. Probir Mehta, Head of Global Intellectual Property and Trade Policy, Facebook, Inc.
      • Mr. Mitch Glazier, Chairman and CEO, Recording Industry Association of America
      • Mr. Joshua Lamel, Executive Director, Re:Create
    • Panel II
      • Ms. Katherine Oyama, Global Director of Business Public Policy, YouTube
      • Mr. Keith Kupferschmid, Chief Executive Officer, Copyright Alliance
      • Mr. Noah Becker, President and Co-Founder, AdRev
      • Mr. Dean S. Marks, Executive Director and Legal Counsel, Coalition for Online Accountability
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee’s Cybersecurity Subcommittee will hold a closed briefing on Department of Defense Cyber Operations on 15 December with these witnesses:
    • Mr. Thomas C. Wingfield, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
    • Mr. Jeffrey R. Jones, Vice Director, Command, Control, Communications and Computers/Cyber, Joint Staff, J-6
    • Ms. Katherine E. Arrington, Chief Information Security Officer for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment
    • Rear Admiral Jeffrey Czerewko, United States Navy, Deputy Director, Global Operations, J39, J3, Joint Staff
  • The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee’s Economic Policy Subcommittee will conduct a hearing titled “US-China: Winning the Economic Competition, Part II” on 16 December with these witnesses:
    • The Honorable Will Hurd, Member, United States House of Representatives;
    • Derek Scissors, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute;
    • Melanie M. Hart, Ph.D., Senior Fellow and Director for China Policy, Center for American Progress; and
    • Roy Houseman, Legislative Director, United Steelworkers (USW).
  • On 17 December the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) Task Force will convene for a virtual event, “Partnership in Action: Driving Supply Chain Security.”

© 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 stein egil liland from Pexels

Privacy Shield Hearing

The focus was on how the U.S. and EU can reach agreement on an arrangement that will not be struck down by the EU’s highest court.

Last week, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing on the now invalidated European Union (EU)-United States (U.S.) Privacy Shield, a mechanism that allowed companies to transfer the personal data of EU residents to the U.S. The EU’s highest court struck down the adequacy decision that underpinned the system on the basis of U.S. surveillance activities and lack of redress that violated EU law. This is the second time in the decade the EU’s top court has invalidated a transfer arrangement, the first being the Safe Harbor system. Given the estimated billions, or even trillions, of dollars in value realized from data flows between the EU and U.S. there is keen interest on both sides of the Atlantic in finding a legal path forward. However, absent significant curtailment of U.S. surveillance and/or a significant expansion of the means by which EU nationals could have violations of their rights rectified, it would appear a third agreement may not withstand the inevitable legal challenges. Moreover, there are questions as to the legality of other transfer tools in light of the Court of Justice for the European Union’s decision in the case known as Schrems II, and the legality of some Standard Contractual Clauses (SCC) and Binding Corporate Rules (BCR) may be soon be found in violation, too.

Consequently, a legislative fix, or some portion thereof, could be attached to federal privacy legislation. Hence, the striking down of Privacy Shield may provide additional impetus to Congress and the next Administration to reach a deal on privacy. Moreover, the lapsed reauthorization of some Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorities may be another legislative opportunity for the U.S. to craft an approach amendable to the EU in order to either obtain an adequacy decision or a successor agreement to the Privacy Shield.

Chair Roger Wicker (R-MS) approached the issue from the perspective of international trade and the economic benefit accruing to businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. His opening remarks pertained less to the privacy and surveillance aspects of the CJEU’s ruling. Wicker appears to be making the case that the EU seems to misunderstand that redress rights in the U.S. are more than adequate, and the U.S.’ surveillance regime is similar to those of some EU nations. One wonders if the CJEU is inclined to agree with this position. Nonetheless, Wicker expressed hope that the EU and U.S. can reach “a durable and lasting data transfer framework…that provides meaningful data protections to consumers, sustains the free flow of information across the Atlantic, and encourages continued economic and strategic partnership with our European allies – a tall order but an essential order.” He worried about the effect of the CJEU’s ruling on SCCs. Wicker made the case that the EU and U.S. share democratic values and hinted that the ongoing talks in the committee to reach a federal data privacy law might include augmented redress rights that might satisfy the CJEU.

Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) spoke very broadly about a range of issues related to data transfers and privacy. She stressed the importance of data flows in the context of larger trade relations. Cantwell also stressed the shared values between the U.S. and the EU and her hope that the two entities work “together on these very important national concerns, trade and technology, so that we can continue to improve economic opportunities and avoid moves towards protectionism.” She also called for federal privacy legislation but hinted that states should still be able to regulate privacy, suggesting her commitment to having a federal law be a floor for state laws. Cantwell also asserted that bulk surveillance, the likes of which the National security Agency has engaged in, may simply not be legal under EU law.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Services James Sullivan blurred the issues presented by Schrems II much like Cantwell did. The CJEU’s decision that focused on U.S. surveillance practices and the lack of meaningful recourse in the U.S. if an EU resident’s rights were violated was merged into a call for like-minded nations to unite against authoritarian nations. Sullivan distinguished between U.S. surveillance and the surveillance conducted by the People’s Republic of China (without naming the nation) and other regimes as if this should satisfy the EU as to the legality and propriety of U.S. treatment of EU personal data. Sullivan stated:

  • The Schrems II decision has created enormous uncertainties for U.S. companies and the transatlantic economy at a particularly precarious time. Immediately upon issuance of the ruling, the 5,400 Privacy Shield participants and their business partners in the EU could no longer rely on the Framework as a lawful basis for transferring personal data from Europe to the United States. Because neither the Court nor European data protection authorities provided for any enforcement grace period, Privacy Shield companies were left with three choices: (1) risk facing potentially huge fines (of up to 4 percent of total global turnover in the preceding year) for violating GDPR, (2) withdraw from the European market, or (3) switch right away to another more expensive data transfer mechanism.
  • Unfortunately, because of the Court’s ruling in the Privacy Shield context that U.S. laws relating to government access to data do not confer adequate protections for EU personal data, the use of other mechanisms like SCCs and BCRs to transfer EU personal data to the United States is now in question as well.
  • The objective of any potential agreement between the United States and the European Commission to address Schrems II is to restore the continuity of transatlantic data flows and the Framework’s privacy protections by negotiating targeted enhancements to Privacy Shield that address the Court’s concerns in Schrems II. Any such enhancements must respect the U.S. Government’s security responsibilities to our citizens and allies.
  • To be clear, we expect that any enhancements to the Privacy Shield Framework would also cover transfers under all other EU-approved data transfer mechanisms like SCCs and BCRs as well.
  • The Schrems II decision has underscored the need for a broader discussion among likeminded democracies on the issue of government access to data. Especially as a result of the extensive U.S. surveillance reforms since 2015, the United States affords privacy protections relating to national security data access that are equivalent to or greater than those provided by many other democracies in Europe and elsewhere.
  • To minimize future disruptions to data transfers, we have engaged with the European Union and other democratic nations in a multilateral discussion to develop principles based on common practices for addressing how best to reconcile law enforcement and national security needs for data with protection of individual rights.
  • It is our view that democracies should come together to articulate shared principles regarding government access to personal data—to help make clear the distinction between democratic societies that respect civil liberties and the rule of law and authoritarian governments that engage in the unbridled collection of personal data to surveil, manipulate, and control their citizens and other individuals without regard to personal privacy and human rights. Such principles would allow us to work with like-minded partners in preserving and promoting a free and open Internet enabled by the seamless flow of data.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips stressed he was speaking in a personal capacity and not for the FTC. He extolled the virtues of the “free and open” internet model in the U.S. with the double implication that it is superior both to nations like the PRC and Russia but also the EU model. Phillips seemed to be advocating for talking the EU into accepting that the U.S.’s privacy regime and civil liberties are stronger than any other nation. Her also made the case, like other witnesses, that the U.S. data privacy and protection regulation is more similar to the EU than the PRC, Russia, and others. Phillips also sought to blur the issues and recast Privacy Shield in the context of the global struggle between democracies and authoritarian regimes. Phillips asserted:

  • First, we need to find a path forward after Schrems II, to permit transfers between the U.S. and EU. I want to recognize the efforts of U.S. and EU negotiators to find a replacement for Privacy Shield. While no doubt challenging, I have confidence in the good faith and commitment of public servants like Jim Sullivan, with whom I have the honor of appearing today, and our partners across the Atlantic. I have every hope and expectation that protecting cross-border data flows will be a priority for the incoming Administration, and I ask for your help in ensuring it is.
  • Second, we must actively engage with nations evaluating their approach to digital governance, something we at the FTC have done, to share and promote the benefits of a free and open Internet. There is an active conversation ongoing internationally, and at every opportunity—whether in public forums or via private assistance—we must ensure our voice and view is heard.
  • Third, we should be vocal in our defense of American values and policies. While we as Americans always look to improve our laws—and I commend the members of this committee on their important work on privacy legislation and other critical matters—we do not need to apologize to the world. When it comes to civil liberties or the enforcement of privacy laws, we are second to none. Indeed, in my view, the overall U.S. privacy framework—especially with the additional protections built into Privacy Shield—should certainly qualify as adequate under EU standards.
  • Fourth, as European leaders call to strengthen ties with the U.S., we should prioritize making our regimes compatible for the free flow of data. This extends to the data governance regimes of like-minded countries outside of Europe as well. Different nations will have different rules, but relatively minor differences need not impede mutually-beneficial commerce. We need not and should not purport to aim for a single, identical system of data governance. And we should remind our allies, and remind ourselves, that far more unites liberal democracies than divides us.
  • Fifth and finally, if we must draw lines, those lines should be drawn between allies with shared values—the U.S., Europe, Japan, Australia, and others—and those, like China and Russia, that offer a starkly different vision. I am certainly encouraged when I hear recognition of this distinction from Europe. European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski recently noted that the U.S. is much closer to Europe than is China and that he has a preference for data being processed by countries that share values with Europe. Some here in the U.S. are even proposing agreements to solidify the relationships among technologically advanced democracies, an idea worth exploring in more detail

Washington University Professor of Law Neil Richards stressed that the Schrems II decision spells out how the U.S. would achieve adequacy: reforming surveillance and providing meaningful redress for alleged privacy violations. Consequently, FISA would need to be rewritten and narrowed and a means for EU residents to seek relief beyond the current Ombudsman system is needed, possibly a statutory right to sue. Moreover, he asserted strong data protection and privacy laws are needed and some of the bills introduced in this Congress could fit the bill. Richards asserted:

In sum, the Schrems litigation is a creature of distrust, and while it has created problems for American law and commerce, it has also created a great opportunity. That opportunity lies before this Committee –the chance to regain American leadership in global privacy and data protection by passing a comprehensive law that provides appropriate safeguards, enforceable rights, and effective legal remedies for consumers. I believe that the way forward can not only safeguard the ability to share personal data across the Atlantic, but it can do so in a way that builds trust between the United States and our European trading partners and between American companies and their American and European customers. I believe that there is a way forward, but it requires us to recognize that strong, clear, trust-building rules are not hostile to business interest, that we need to push past the failed system of “notice and choice,” that we need to preserve effective consumer remedies and state-level regulatory innovation, and seriously consider a duty of loyalty. In that direction, I believe, lies not just consumer protection, but international cooperation and economic prosperity.

Georgia Tech University Professor Peter Swire explained that the current circumstances make the next Congress the best possibility in memory to enact privacy legislation because of the need for a Privacy Shield replacement, passage of the new California Privacy Rights Act (Proposition 24), and the Biden Administration’s likely support for such legislation. Swire made the following points:

  1. The European Data Protection Board in November issued draft guidance with an extremely strict interpretation of how to implement the Schrems II case.
  2. The decision in Schrems II is based on EU constitutional law. There are varying current interpretations in Europe of what is required by Schrems II, but constitutional requirements may restrict the range of options available to EU and U.S. policymakers.
  3. Strict EU rules about data transfers, such as the draft EDPB guidance, would appear to result in strict data localization, creating numerous major issues for EU- and U.S.-based businesses, as well as affecting many online activities of EU individuals.
  4. Along with concerns about lack of individual redress, the CJEU found that the EU Commission had not established that U.S. surveillance was “proportionate” in its scope and operation. Appendix 2 to this testimony seeks to contribute to an informed judgment on proportionality, by cataloguing developments in U.S. surveillance safeguards since the Commission’s issuance of its Privacy Shield decision in 2016.
  5. Negotiating an EU/U.S. adequacy agreement is important in the short term.
  6. A short-run agreement would assist in creating a better overall long-run agreement or agreements.
  7. As the U.S. considers its own possible legal reforms in the aftermath of Schrems II, it is prudent and a normal part of negotiations to seek to understand where the other party – the EU – may have flexibility to reform its own laws.
  8. Issues related to Schrems II have largely been bipartisan in the U.S., with substantial continuity across the Obama and Trump administrations, and expected as well for a Biden administration.
  9. Passing comprehensive privacy legislation would help considerably in EU/U.S. negotiations.
  10. This Congress may have a unique opportunity to enact comprehensive commercial privacy legislation for the United States.

© 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.

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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)

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