Chopra Named CFPB Head

The CFPB will undoubtedly be a more muscular enforcer of financial services entities under  the FTC Commissioner nominated to head the agency, including with respect to privacy, data security, and cybersecurity.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Rohit Chopra has been tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to lead the agency at which he oversaw the student loan market. Chopra’s nomination must be confirmed by the Senate to be the next Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an entity that possesses largely unused powers to police the cybersecurity, data security, and privacy practices of broad swaths of the United States (U.S.) economy. And given Chopra’s aggressive advocacy at the FTC to be more active and more muscular, it seems fair to assume the same will be true at the CFPB, awakening an entity that has been largely dormant under the Trump Administration except to the extent it employed a “light regulatory touch.” Of course, Chopra’s expected departure from the FTC likely means Biden will be able to name two FTC nominees in the near future and means he will name Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter as the next chair as she would be the only currently confirmed Democratic member of the FTC. Whether this designation will be on an acting basis or permanent basis remains to be seen.

In making the announcement, Biden’s transition team highlighted Chopra’s push “for aggressive remedies against lawbreaking companies, especially repeat offenders” and work “to increase scrutiny of dominant technology firms that pose risks to privacy, national security, and fair competition.” The press release added:

Chopra previously served as Assistant Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he led the agency’s efforts on student loans. In 2011, the Secretary of the Treasury appointed him to serve as the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman, a new position established in the financial reform law. He also served as a Special Advisor at the U.S. Department of Education.

In these roles, Chopra led efforts to spur competition in the student loan financing market, develop new tools for students and student loan borrowers to make smarter decisions, and secure hundreds of millions of dollars in refunds for borrowers victimized by unlawful conduct by loan servicers, debt collectors, and for-profit college chains.

Chopra used his powers as an FTC Commissioner to appeal to the majority Republicans to use the agency’s powers more forcefully in combatting privacy, data security, and antitrust abuses. For example, he voted against the FTC’s $5 billion settlement with Facebook and dissented, listing his reasons for breaking with the three Republican Commissioners:

  • Facebook’s violations were a direct result of the company’s behavioral advertising business model. The proposed settlement does little to change the business model or practices that led to the recidivism.
  • The $5 billion penalty is less than Facebook’s exposure from its illegal conduct, given its financial gains.
  • The proposed settlement lets Facebook off the hook for unspecified violations.
  • The grant of immunity for Facebook’s officers and directors is a giveaway.
  • The case against Facebook is about more than just privacy – it is also about the power to control and manipulate.

More recently, in June 2020, Chopra issued a statement on the a pair of reports required by Congress that articulate his view the FTC “must do more to use our existing authority and resources more effectively:”

1. Inventory and use the rulemaking authorities that Congress has already authorized.

Contrary to what many believe, the FTC has several relevant rulemaking authorities when it comes to data protection, but simply chooses not to use them. Rules do not need to create any new requirements for market participants. In fact, they can simply codify existing legal precedents and enforcement policy to give even more clarity on what the law requires. In addition, when rules are in place, it is much easier for the agency to obtain relief for those who are harmed and seek penalties to deter other bad actors. This can be far more efficient than chasing after the same problems year after year through no-money settlements.

2. Ensure that large firms face the same level of scrutiny we apply to smaller businesses.

To meaningfully deter data protection abuses and other wrongful conduct, the FTC must enforce the law equally. While we have taken a hard line against smaller violators in the data protection sphere, charging individual decisionmakers and wiping out their earnings, I am very concerned that the FTC uses a different standard for larger firms, like in the recent Facebook and YouTube matters.6 This is not only unfair to small firms, but also sends the unfortunate message that the largest corporations can avoid meaningful accountability for abuse and misuse of data.

3. Increase cooperation with state attorneys general and other regulators.

State attorneys general are the country’s front-line watchdogs when it comes to consumer protection, and many states have enacted privacy and data protection laws backed by strong remedial tools, including civil penalties. Partnering more frequently with state enforcers could significantly enhance the Commission’s effectiveness and make better use of taxpayer resources.

4. Hold third-party watchdogs accountable and guard against conflicts of interest.

The FTC typically orders lawbreaking companies to hire a third-party assessor to review privacy and security practices going forward. However, the Commission should not place too much faith in the efficacy of these third parties.

5. Reallocate resources.

While the Commission’s report has rightly noted to Congress that the number of employees working on data protection is inadequate, the Commissioners can vote to reallocate resources from other functions to increase our focus on data protection.

6. Investigate firms comprehensively across the FTC’s mission.

The FTC should use its authority to deter unfair and deceptive conduct in conjunction with our authority to deter unfair methods of competition. However, in the digital economy, the data that companies compete to obtain and utilize is also at the center of significant privacy and data security infractions.

7. Conduct more industry-wide studies under Section 6(b) of the FTC Act.

Surveillance-based advertising is a major driver of data-related abuses, but the Commission has not yet used its authority to compel information from major industry players to study these practices. The Commission should vote to issue orders to study how technology platforms engage in surveillance-based advertising.

Without doubt, Chopra will seek to read and exercise the CFPB’s powers as broadly as possible. For example, in a late October 2020 draft law review article, he and an attorney advisor Samuel Levine argued the FTC would use a dormant power to fill the gap in its enforcement authority left by the cases before the Supreme Court of the United States regarding the FTC’s injunctive powers under Section 13 of the FTC Act. They asserted:

  • [T]he agency should resurrect one of the key authorities abandoned in the 1980s: Section 5(m)(1)(B) of the FTC Act, the Penalty Offense Authority. The Penalty Offense Authority is a unique tool in commercial regulation. Typically, first- time offenses involving unfair or deceptive practices do not lead to civil penalties. However, if the Commission formally condemns these practices in a cease-and-desist order, they can become what we call “Penalty Offenses.” Other parties that commit these offenses with knowledge that they have been condemned by the Commission face financial penalties that can add up to a multiple of their illegal profits, rather than a fraction.
  • Using this authority, the Commission can substantially increase deterrence and reduce litigation risk by noticing whole industries of Penalty Offenses, exposing violators to significant civil penalties, while helping to ensure fairness for honest firms. This would dramatically improve the FTC’s effectiveness relative to our current approach, which relies almost entirely on Section 13(b) and no-money cease-and-desist orders, even in cases of blatant lawbreaking.

Should the FTC heed Chopra and Levine’s suggestion, the agency could threaten fines in the first instance of Section 5 violations for specific illegal practices the FTC has put regulated entities on notice about.

The CFPB’s organic statute is patterned on the FTC Act, particularly its bar on unfair or deceptive acts or practices (UDAP). However, the “Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act” (P.L. 111-203) that created the CFPB provided the agency “may take any action authorized under subtitle E to prevent a covered person or service provider from committing or engaging in an unfair, deceptive, or abusive act or practice (UDAAP) under Federal law in connection with any transaction with a consumer for a consumer financial product or service, or the offering of a consumer financial product or service.” While the CFPB may be limited in its jurisdiction, it has a more expansive regulatory remit that Chopra will almost certainly push to its maximum. Consequently, unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices in the financial services sector could, in his view, include privacy, cybersecurity, and data security practices that heretofore have been allowed by the CFPB could be subject to enforcement action. And while the current CFPB issued a 2020 policy statement regarding how it thinks the agency should use its authority to punish “abusive” practices, Chopra’s team will likely withdraw and rewrite this document.

© 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 ArtTower from Pixabay

Sponsors Take A New Run At Privacy Law in Washington State

Perhaps the third time is the charm? Legislators seek to pass a privacy law in Washington state for the third year in a row.

A group of Senators in Washington state’s Senate have introduced a slightly altered version of a privacy bill they floated last summer. A committee of jurisdiction will hold a hearing on 14 January 2021 on SB 5062. Of course, this would mark the third year in a row legislators have tried to enact the Washington privacy act. The new bill (SB 5062) tracks closely with the two bills produced by the Washington Senate and House last year lawmakers could not ultimately reconcile. However, there are no provisions on facial recognition technology, which was largely responsible for sinking a privacy bill in Washington State two years ago. The sponsors have also taken the unusual step of appending language covering the collection and processing of personal data to combat infectious diseases like COVID-19.

I analyzed the discussion draft that Washington State Senator Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) released over the summer, and so I will not recite everything about the new bill. It should suffice to highlight the differences between the discussion draft and the introduced legislation. Big picture, the bill still uses the concepts of data controllers and processors most famously enshrined in the European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Like other privacy bills, generally, people in Washington State would not need to consent before an entity could collect and process its information. People would be able to opt out of some activities, but most could data collection and processing could still occur as it presently does.

The date on which the bill would take effect was pushed aback from 120 days in the discussion draft to 31 July 2022 in the introduced bill. While SB 5062 would cover non-profits, institutions of higher education, airlines, and others unlike the discussion draft, the effective date for the bill to cover would be 31 July 2026. The right of a person to access personal data a controller is processing is narrowed slightly in that it would no longer be the personal data the controller has but rather categories of personal data. The time controllers would have to respond to a certain class of request would be decreased from 45 to 15 days. This class includes requests to opt out of targeted advertising, the sale of personal data, and any profiling in furtherance of decisions with legal effects. Section 106’s requirement that processors have reasonable security measures has been massaged, rephrased and possibly weakened a bit.

One of the activities controllers and processors could undertake without meeting the requirements of the act was removed. Notably, they will no longer be able to “conduct internal research solely to improve or repair products, services, or technology.” There is also a clarification that using any of the exemptions in Section 110 does not make an entity a controller for purposes of the bill. There is a new requirement that the State Office of Privacy and Data Protection must examine current technology that allows for mass or global opt out or opt in and then report to the legislature. Finally, two of the Congressional stakeholders on privacy and data security hail from Washington state, and consideration and possible passage of a state law may limit their latitude on a federal bill they could support. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who are the ranking members of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee respectively, are expected to be involved in drafting their committee’s privacy bills, and a Washington state statute may affect their positions in much the same the “California Consumer Privacy Act” (CCPA) (AB 375) has informed a number of California Members’ position on privacy legislation, especially with respect to bills being seen as weaker than the CCPA.

© 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 Kranich17 from Pixabay

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

Further Reading

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

Other Developments

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

Coming Events

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

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

Image by Judith Scharnowski from Pixabay

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

Further Reading

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

Other Developments

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

Coming Events

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

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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.

Image by Dooffy Design from Pixabay

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

Further Reading

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

Other Developments

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

Coming Events

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

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Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (4 December)

Further Reading

  • How Misinformation ‘Superspreaders’ Seed False Election Theories” By Sheera Frenkel — The New York Times. A significant percentage of lies, misinformation, and disinformation about the legitimacy of the election have been disseminated by a small number of right-wing figures, which are then repeated, reposted, and retweeted. The Times relies on research of how much engagement people like President Donald Trump and Dan Bongino get on Facebook after posting untrue claims about the election and it turns out that such trends and rumors do not start spontaneously.
  • Facebook Said It Would Ban Holocaust Deniers. Instead, Its Algorithm Provided a Network for Them” By Aaron Sankin — The Markup. This news organization still found Holocaust denial material promoted by Facebook’s algorithm even though the platform said it was taking down such material recently. This result may point to the difficulty of policing objectionable material that uses coded language and/or the social media platforms lack of sufficient resources to weed out this sort of content.
  • What Facebook Fed the Baby Boomers” By Charlie Warzel — The New York Times. A dispiriting trip inside two people’s Facebook feeds. This article makes the very good point that comments are not moderated, and these tend to be significant sources of vitriol and disinformation.
  • How to ‘disappear’ on Happiness Avenue in Beijing” By Vincent Ni and Yitsing Wang — BBC. By next year, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) may have as many as 560 million security cameras, and one artist ran an experiment of sorts to see if a group of people could walk down a major street in the capital without being seen by a camera or without their face being seen at places with lots of cameras.
  • Patients of a Vermont Hospital Are Left ‘in the Dark’ After a Cyberattack” By Ellen Barry and Nicole Perlroth — The New York Times. A Russian hacking outfit may have struck back after the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Cyber Command and Microsoft struck them. A number of hospitals were hacked, and care was significantly disrupted. This dynamic may lend itself to arguments that the United States (U.S.) may be wise to curtail its offensive operations.
  • EU seeks anti-China alliance on tech with Biden” By Jakob Hanke Vela and David M. Herszenhorn — Politico. The European Union (EU) is hoping the United States (U.S.) will be more amenable to working together in the realm of future technology policy, especially against the People’s Republic of China (PRC) which has made a concerted effort to drive the adoption of standards that favor its companies (e.g., the PRC pushed for and obtained 5G standards that will favor Huawei). Diplomatically speaking, this is considered low-hanging fruit, and a Biden Administration will undoubtedly be more multilateral than the Trump Administration.
  • Can We Make Our Robots Less Biased Than We Are?” By David Berreby — The New York Times. The bias present in facial recognition technology and artificial intelligence is making its way into robotics, posing the question of how do we change this? Many African American and other minority scientists are calling for the inclusion of people of color inn designing such systems as a countermeasure to the usual bias for white men.

Other Developments

  • The top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee wrote President Donald Trump and “slammed the Trump Administration for their lack of action against foreign adversaries, including Russia, China, and North Korea, that have sponsored cyber-attacks against American hospitals and research institutions in an effort to steal information related to development of Coronavirus vaccines.” Peters used language that was unusually strong as Members of Congress typically tone down the rhetoric and deploy coded language to signal their level of displeasure about administration action or inaction. Peters could well feel strongly about what he perceives to be Trump Administration indifference to the cyber threats facing institutions researching and developing COVID-19 vaccines, this is an issue on which he may well be trying to split Republicans, placing them in the difficult position of lining up behind a president disinclined to prioritize some cyber issues or breaking ranks with him.
    • Peters stated:
      • I urge you, again, to send a strong message to any foreign government attempting to hack into our medical institutions that this behavior is unacceptable. The Administration should use the tools at its disposal, including the threat of sanctions, to deter future attacks against research institutions. In the event that any foreign government directly threatens the lives of Americans through attacks on medical facilities, other Department of Defense capabilities should be considered to make it clear that there will be consequences for these actions.
  • A United States federal court has ruled against a Trump Administration appointee Michael Pack and the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) and their attempts to interfere illegally with the independence of government-funded news organizations such as the Voice of America (VOA). The District Court for the District of Columbia enjoined Pack and the USAGM from a list of actions VOA and USAGM officials claim are contrary to the First Amendment and the organization’s mission.
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is asking a United States federal court to compel former Trump White House advisor Steve Bannon to appear for questioning per a Civil Investigative Demand (CID) as part of its ongoing probe of Cambridge Analytica’s role in misusing personal data of Facebook users in the 2016 Presidential Election. The FTC noted it “issued the CID to determine, among other things, whether Bannon may be held individually liable for the deceptive conduct of Cambridge Analytica, LLC—the subject of an administrative law enforcement action brought by the Commission.” There had been an interview scheduled in September but the day before it was to take place, Bannon’s lawyers informed the FTC he would not be attending.
    • In 2019, the FTC settled with former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix and app developer Aleksandr Kogan in “administrative orders restricting how they conduct any business in the future, and requiring them to delete or destroy any personal information they collected.” The FTC did not, however, settle with the company itself. The agency alleged “that Cambridge Analytica, Nix, and Kogan deceived consumers by falsely claiming they did not collect any personally identifiable information from Facebook users who were asked to answer survey questions and share some of their Facebook profile data.” Facebook settled with the FTC for a record $5 billion for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal and for how it violated its 2012 consent order with the agency.
  • Apple responded to a group of human rights and civil liberties organizations about its plans to deploy technology on its operating system that allows users greater control of their privacy. Apple confirmed that its App Tracking Transparency (ATT) would be made part of its iOS early next year and would provide users of Apple products with a prompt with a warning about how their information may be used by the app developer. ATT would stop app developers from tracking users when they use other apps on ta device. Companies like Facebook have objected, claiming that the change is a direct shot at them and their revenue. Apple does not reap a significant revenue stream from collecting, combining, and processing user data whereas Facebook does. Facebook also tracks users across devices and apps on a device through a variety of means.
    • Apple stated:
      • We delayed the release of ATT to early next year to give developers the time they indicated they needed to properly update their systems and data practices, but we remain fully committed to ATT and to our expansive approach to privacy protections. We developed ATT for a single reason: because we share your concerns about users being tracked without their consent and the bundling and reselling of data by advertising networks and data brokers.
      • ATT doesn’t ban the reasonable collection of user data for app functionality or even for advertising. Just as with the other data-access permissions we have added over many software releases, developers will be able to explain why they want to track users both before the ATT prompt is shown and in the prompt itself. At that point, users will have the freedom to make their own choice about whether to proceed. This privacy innovation empowers consumers — not Apple — by simply making it clear what their options are, and giving them the information and power to choose.
    • As mentioned, a number of groups wrote Apple in October “to express our disappointment that Apple is delaying the full implementation of iOS 14’s anti-tracking features until early 2021.” They argued:
      • These features will constitute a vital policy improvement with the potential to strengthen respect for privacy across the industry. Apple should implement these features as expeditiously as possible.
      • We were heartened by Apple’s announcement that starting with the iOS 14 update, all app developers will be required to provide information that will help users understand the privacy implications of an app before they install it, within the App Store interface.
      • We were also pleased that iOS 14 users would be required to affirmatively opt in to app tracking, on an app-by-app basis. Along with these changes, we urge Apple to verify the accuracy of app policies, and to publish transparency reports showing the number of apps that are rejected and/or removed from the App Store due to inadequate or inaccurate policies.
  • The United States (U.S.) Government Accountability Office (GAO) sent its assessment of the privacy notices and practices of U.S. banks and credit unions to the chair of the Senate committee that oversees this issue. Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) had asked the GAO “to examine the types of personal information that financial institutions collect, use, and share; how they make consumers aware of their information-sharing practices; and federal regulatory oversight of these activities.” The GAO found that a ten-year-old model privacy disclosure form used across these industries may comply with the prevailing federal requirements but no longer encompasses the breadth and scope of how the personal information of people is collected, processed, and used. The GAO called on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to update this form. The GAO explained:
    • Banks and credit unions collect, use, and share consumers’ personal information—such as income level and credit card transactions—to conduct everyday business and market products and services. They share this information with a variety of third parties, such as service providers and retailers.
    • The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) requires financial institutions to provide consumers with a privacy notice describing their information-sharing practices. Many banks and credit unions elect to use a model form—issued by regulators in 2009—which provides a safe harbor for complying with the law (see figure). GAO found the form gives a limited view of what information is collected and with whom it is shared. Consumer and privacy groups GAO interviewed cited similar limitations. The model form was issued over 10 years ago. The proliferation of data-sharing since then suggests a reassessment of the form is warranted. Federal guidance states that notices about information collection and usage are central to providing privacy protections and transparency.
    • Since Congress transferred authority to the CFPB for implementing GLBA privacy provisions, the agency has not reassessed if the form meets consumer expectations for disclosures of information-sharing. CFPB officials said they had not considered a reevaluation because they had not heard concerns from industry or consumer groups about privacy notices. Improvements to the model form could help ensure that consumers are better informed about all the ways banks and credit unions collect and share personal information
    • The increasing amounts of and changing ways in which industry collects and shares consumer personal information—including from online activities—highlights the importance of clearly disclosing practices for collection, sharing, and use. However, our work shows that banks and credit unions generally used the model form, which was created more than 10 years ago, to make disclosures required under GLBA. As a result, the disclosures often provided a limited view of how banks and credit unions collect, use, and share personal information.
    • We recognize that the model form is required to be succinct, comprehensible to consumers, and allow for comparability across institutions. But, as information practices continue to change or expand, consumer insights into those practices may become even more limited. Improvements and updates to the model privacy form could help ensure that consumers are better informed about all the ways that banks and credit unions collect, use, and share personal information. For instance, in online versions of privacy notices, there may be opportunities for readers to access additional details—such as through hyperlinks—in a manner consistent with statutory requirements.
  • The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) is asking for feedback on Google’s proposed $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit. In a rather pointed statement, the chair of the ACCC, Rod Sims, made clear “[o]ur decision to begin consultation should not be interpreted as a signal that the ACCC will ultimately accept the undertaking and approve the transaction.” The buyout is also under scrutiny in the European Union (EU) and may be affected by the suit the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and some states have brought against the company for anti-competitive behavior. The ACCC released a Statement of Issues in June about the proposed deal.
    • The ACCC explained “[t]he proposed undertaking would require Google to:
      • not use certain user data collected through Fitbit and Google wearables for Google’s advertising purposes for 10 years, with an option for the ACCC to extend this obligation by up to a further 10 years;
      • maintain access for third parties, such as health and fitness apps, to certain user data collected through Fitbit and Google wearable devices for 10 years; and
      • maintain levels of interoperability between third party wearables and Android smartphones for 10 years.
    • In August, the EU “opened an in-depth investigation to assess the proposed acquisition of Fitbit by Google under the EU Merger Regulation.” The European Commission (EC) expressed its concerns “that the proposed transaction would further entrench Google’s market position in the online advertising markets by increasing the already vast amount of data that Google could use for personalisation of the ads it serves and displays.” The EC stated “[a]t this stage of the investigation, the Commission considers that Google:
      • is dominant in the supply of online search advertising services in the EEA countries (with the exception of Portugal for which market shares are not available);
      • holds a strong market position in the supply of online display advertising services at least in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom, in particular in relation to off-social networks display ads;
      • holds a strong market position in the supply of ad tech services in the EEA.
    • The EC explained that it “will now carry out an in-depth investigation into the effects of the transaction to determine whether its initial competition concerns regarding the online advertising markets are confirmed…[and] will also further examine:
      • the effects of the combination of Fitbit’s and Google’s databases and capabilities in the digital healthcare sector, which is still at a nascent stage in Europe; and
      • whether Google would have the ability and incentive to degrade the interoperability of rivals’ wearables with Google’s Android operating system for smartphones once it owns Fitbit.
    • Amnesty International (AI) sent EC Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager a letter, arguing “[t]he merger risks further extending the dominance of Google and its surveillance-based business model, the nature and scale of which already represent a systemic threat to human rights.” AI asserted “[t]he deal is particularly troubling given the sensitive nature of the health data that Fitbit holds that would be acquired by Google.” AI argued “[t]he Commission must ensure that the merger does not proceed unless the two business enterprises can demonstrate that they have taken adequate account of the human rights risks and implemented strong and meaningful safeguards that prevent and mitigate these risks in the future.”
  • Europol, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and Trend Micro have cooperated on a report that looks “into current and predicted criminal uses of artificial intelligence (AI).
    • The organizations argued “AI could be used to support:
      • convincing social engineering attacks at scale;
      • document-scraping malware to make attacks more efficient;
      • evasion of image recognition and voice biometrics;
      • ransomware attacks, through intelligent targeting and evasion;
      • data pollution, by identifying blind spots in detection rules.
    • The organizations concluded:
      • Based on available insights, research, and a structured open-source analysis, this report covered the present state of malicious uses and abuses of AI, including AI malware, AI-supported password guessing, and AI-aided encryption and social engineering attacks. It also described concrete future scenarios ranging from automated content generation and parsing, AI-aided reconnaissance, smart and connected technologies such as drones and autonomous cars, to AI-enabled stock market manipulation, as well as methods for AI-based detection and defense systems.
      • Using one of the most visible malicious uses of AI — the phenomenon of so-called deepfakes — the report further detailed a case study on the use of AI techniques to manipulate or generate visual and audio content that would be difficult for humans or even technological solutions to immediately distinguish from authentic ones.
      • As speculated on in this paper, criminals are likely to make use of AI to facilitate and improve their attacks by maximizing opportunities for profit within a shorter period, exploiting more victims, and creating new, innovative criminal business models — all the while reducing their chances of being caught. Consequently, as “AI-as-a-Service”206 becomes more widespread, it will also lower the barrier to entry by reducing the skills and technical expertise required to facilitate attacks. In short, this further exacerbates the potential for AI to be abused by criminals and for it to become a driver of future crimes.
      • Although the attacks detailed here are mostly theoretical, crafted as proofs of concept at this stage, and although the use of AI to improve the effectiveness of malware is still in its infancy, it is plausible that malware developers are already using AI in more obfuscated ways without being detected by researchers and analysts. For instance, malware developers could already be relying on AI-based methods to bypass spam filters, escape the detection features of antivirus software, and frustrate the analysis of malware. In fact, DeepLocker, a tool recently introduced by IBM and discussed in this paper, already demonstrates these attack abilities that would be difficult for a defender to stop.
      • To add, AI could also enhance traditional hacking techniques by introducing new ways of performing attacks that would be difficult for humans to predict. These could include fully automated penetration testing, improved password-guessing methods, tools to break CAPTCHA security systems, or improved social engineering attacks. With respect to open-source tools providing such functionalities, the paper discussed some that have already been introduced, such as DeepHack, DeepExploit, and XEvil.
      • The widespread use of AI assistants, meanwhile, also creates opportunities for criminals who could exploit the presence of these assistants in households. For instance, criminals could break into a smart home by hijacking an automation system through exposed audio devices.

Coming Events

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

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

Biden Administration Tech Policy: Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

The FCC could be a major force for technology policy in the Biden Administration.

The next Administration will change many of the technology policies put in place under President Donald Trump, but among the highest profile policy reversals will be the Biden Administration’s reestablishment of net neutrality rules. This signature accomplishment of the Obama Administration was undone by the Trump Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Biden Campaign made no mistake about its support for the rules that would change how internet service providers (ISP) are regulated. Moreover, with Congressional gridlock a possibility over the next two years as Republicans may maintain control of the Senate, a Biden program will likely hinge on executive action, especially agency action.

Current FCC Chair Ajit Pai has announced his intention to maintain tradition and step down on 20 January 2021, allowing the Biden Administration to name its own chair and tilt the FCC in favor of the Democrats. Should the Senate confirm Biden’s FCC nominee, then it is quite likely to implement a number of key policy changes. However, and I cannot stress this possibility enough, should Biden nominate someone Senate Republicans object to, and they control the chamber, it is very possible the Senate leaves the FCC without a fifth member deadlocked with two members of each party. The calculation may be made that Senate Republicans would rather this be the case than an empowered FCC able to implement net neutrality among other measures.

Net Neutrality

After 2010 net neutrality rules had been overturned by a federal court, in 2015, the Obama Administration FCC promulgated regulations that reclassified ISPs under Title II of the Federal Communications Act as common carriers, which allowed the agency to implement net neutrality regulations. The Open Internet Order (FCC 15–24) put in place “bright-line rules that prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization; a rule preventing broadband providers from unreasonably interfering or disadvantaging consumers or edge providers from reaching one another on the Internet; and provides for enhanced transparency into network management practices, network performance, and commercial terms of broadband Internet access service.” These regulations survived a court challenge (U.S. Telecom Association v. FCC), largely because the FCC crafted the Open Internet Order on the basis of the ruling that struck down the previous iteration of net neutrality rules (Verizon v. FCC).

In 2017, the Trump Administration FCC’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” (FCC 17–166) returned ISPs to their previous regulatory posture as being regulated under Title I as information services in undoing the Open Internet Order. This rollback of net neutrality regulations “restore[d] the classification of broadband internet access service as a lightly-regulated information service and reinstates the private mobile service classification of mobile broadband internet access service….requires ISPs to disclose information about their network management practices, performance characteristics, and commercial terms of service…[and] eliminates the conduct rules imposed by the [2015 regulations].” In the fall of 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the District Of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) upheld most of the FCC’s repeal of the Open Internet Order and the new regulations. 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 Open Internet Order. In fact, a number of states have such laws already enacted or pending. The D.C. Circuit also sent the case back to the FCC for further consideration on three points, which it is still working through.

The Biden Administration could institute a rulemaking as soon as a new chair is in place to remove the Trump Administration’s rollback and then reimplement the Obama Administration’s Open Internet Order, a process that might not be completed until well into 2022 as they agency would need to draft regulations, accept and address comments, and then unveil final regulations. There would be litigation against the new rules, and possibly some uncertainty given the decided rightward tilt of the federal judiciary.

5G

The FCC has played a key role in the Trump Administration’s push against the dominance of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the race to install and use 5G. The FCC launched an initiative to identify risky PRC equipment and services (mostly provided by Huawei and ZTE), and then Congress followed by enacted a statute codifying the FCC program and adding requirement. It remains to be seen whether the FCC will be provided additional funding through the Universal Service Fund (USF) or other means to finance the removal and replacement of any risky equipment United States (U.S.) telecommunications providers have already installed. There is no reason to expect a significant substantive change in course by a Biden Administration FCC even if there is a softening of it rhetorical tone.

On December 10, the FCC will vote on 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.” This rulemaking would implement the “Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019” (P.L. 116-124). The FCC summarized its action:

The Commission plays an important role in protecting America’s communications networks and, today, we take further steps toward securing our communications networks by implementing the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 (Secure Networks Act). We first adopt a rule that requires Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (ETCs) to remove and replace covered equipment from their networks. Second, we establish the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program to subsidize smaller carriers to remove and replace covered equipment, once Congress appropriates at least $1.6 billion that Commission staff estimate will be needed to reimburse providers eligible under current law. Third, we establish the procedures and criteria for publishing a list of covered communications equipment or services that pose an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of United States persons and prohibit USF support from being used for such covered equipment or services. Last, we adopt a reporting requirement to ensure we are informed about the ongoing presence of covered equipment in communications networks.

The FCC is faced with competition from the Department of Defense (DOD) on setting 5G policy. In August, the White House and the DOD announced the latter will share a prime slice of mid band electromagnetic frequency with commercial entities that would be ideal for 5G according to their press release. The development of the next iteration of wireless communications has been hampered in the U.S. because the DOD controls a range of the usable frequency spectrum other nations have been using to test and deploy 5G. This announcement would allow commercial entities to ultimately bid on 100 continuous MHz of spectrum that has been used exclusively by the DOD for guidance and navigation. It is an open question whether the relinquishment of this spectrum will speed 5G development and adoption in the U.S., and the timeline provided by the Administration suggests licenses to use these mid-band frequencies will not be in the hands of commercial entities until mid-2022 at the earliest, assuming President Donald Trump is reelected, for a Biden Administration may propose a different course of action. Nonetheless, one Administration official asserted releasing this 100 MHz will be “the fastest transfer of Federal spectrum to commercial use in history.”

In a related development, in an October press release, the Department of Defense (DOD) detailed its “$600 million in awards for 5G experimentation and testing at five U.S. military test sites, representing the largest full-scale 5G tests for dual-use applications in the world.” These awards were made largely to prominent private sector technology and telecommunications companies vying to play prominent roles in 5G. However, of course, no awards were made to companies from the PRC. Nonetheless, this announcement may provoke further claims from Members of Congress and stakeholders that the DOD’s effort is the camel’s nose under the tent of a nationalized 5G system and a further infringement of the FCC’s jurisdiction.

This announcement is part of the DOD’s 5G Strategy that “provides the DOD approach to implementing the National Strategy to Secure 5G and aligns with the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY2020), Section 254…[that] is also consistent with National Defense Strategy guidance to lead in key areas of great power competition and lethality to ensure 5G’s ‘impact on the battle network of the future.’”

In a related DOD release, it was explained:

The effort — Tranche 1 of the department’s larger 5G initiative — will accelerate adoption of 5G technology, enhance the effectiveness and lethality of U.S. combat forces, and further the development and use of common 5G standards to ensure interoperability with military partners and allies.

There have been other indications the Trump Administration was moving to institute a nationalized 5G system. Reportedly, a company with Karl Rove as its lobbyist may be poised to win a no-bid contract with the DOD for the commercial use of its highly sought-after mid-band spectrum ideal for 5G. Reportedly, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has been pressing the DOD to hurry the process of making this spectrum available with many Administration officials having reservations about the seeming push to allow one company with little to no experience, Rivada, to have the whole chunk of spectrum. One official claimed if Rivada gets this contract it would be “the biggest handoff of economic power to a single entity in history.” Rove denied the company would accept a sole-source contract. There is strong bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill, likely fanned by lobbyists from the companies apt to lose out if Rivada secures a winner-takes-all contract. Incidentally, in Jamaica where I live, the United States (U.S.) government has apparently pitched Rivada as a no-cost option to build out the island’s 5G network with Rivada collecting revenue from the operation of the system. The U.S. Ambassador has pitched the deal to Prime Minister Andrew Holness. And, while this could be seen as another U.S. effort to block the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which has done extensive development in Jamaica, it has the appearance of impropriety on the U.S.’ end, at the very least.

The FCC is also locking horns with other federal agencies over the approval of a new means of providing service for 5G. In late April, FCC issued a “decision authorize[ing] Ligado to deploy a low-power terrestrial nationwide network in the 1526-1536 MHz, 1627.5-1637.5 MHz, and 1646.5-1656.5 MHz bands that will primarily support Internet of Things (IoT) services.” The agency argued the order “provides regulatory certainty to Ligado, ensures adjacent band operations, including Global Positioning System (GPS), are sufficiently protected from harmful interference, and promotes more efficient and effective use of [the U.S.’s] spectrum resources by making available additional spectrum for advanced wireless services, including 5G.”

Defense and other civilian government stakeholders remained unconvinced. Also, in late April, the chairs and ranking members of the Armed Services Committees penned an op-ed, in which they claimed “the [FCC] has used the [COVID-19] crisis, under the cover of darkness, to approve a long-stalled application by Ligado Networks — a proposal that threatens to undermine our GPS capabilities, and with it, our national security.” Chairs James Inhofe (R-OK) and Adam Smith (D-WA) and Ranking Members Jack Reed (D-RI) and Mac Thornberry (R-TX) asserted:

  • So, we wanted to clarify things: domestic 5G development is critical to our economic competiveness against China and for our national security. The Pentagon is committed working with government and industry to share mid-band spectrum where and when it makes sense to ensure rapid roll-out of 5G.
  • The problem here is that Ligado’s planned usage is not in the prime mid-band spectrum being considered for 5G — and it will have a significant risk of interference with GPS reception, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The signals interference Ligado’s plan would create could cost taxpayers and consumers billions of dollars and require the replacement of current GPS equipment just as we are trying to get our economy back on its feet quickly — and the FCC has just allowed this to happen.

The Ligado application was seen as so important, the first hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee held after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was on this issue. Not surprisingly the DOD explained the risks of Ligado’s satellite-terrestrial wireless system as it sees them at some length. Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin asserted at the 6 May hearing:

  • The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) conducted a testing program developed over multiple years with stakeholder involvement, evaluating 80 consumer-grade navigation, survey, precision agriculture, timing, space-based, and aviation GPS receivers. This test program was conducted in coordination with DoD testing of military receivers. The results, as documented in the DoT “Adjacent Band Compatibility” study released in March, 2018, demonstrated that even very low power levels from a terrestrial system in the adjacent band will overload the very sensitive equipment required to collect and process GPS signals.  Also, many high precision receivers are designed to receive Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals not only in the 1559 MHz to 1610 MHz band, but also receive Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) signals in the 1525 MHz to 1559 MHz band to provide corrections to GPS/GNSS to improve accuracy. With the present and future planned ubiquity of base stations for mobile broadband use, the use of GPS in entire metropolitan areas would be effectively blocked.  That is why every government agency having any stake in GPS, as well as dozens of commercial entities that will be harmed if GPS becomes unreliable, opposed the FCC’s decision. 
  • There are two principal reasons for the Department’s opposition to Ligado’s proposal. The first and most obvious is that we designed and built GPS for reasons of national security, reasons which are at least as valid today as when the system was conceived. The second, less well-known, is that the DoD has a statutory responsibility to sustain and protect the system. Quoting from 10 USC 2281, the Secretary of Defense “…shall provide for the sustainment and operation of the GPS Standard Positioning Service for peaceful civil, commercial, and scientific uses…” and “…may not agree to any restriction of the GPS System proposed by the head of a department or agency of the United States outside DoD that would adversely affect the military potential of GPS.”

A few weeks prior to the hearing, 32 Senators wrote the FCC expressing their concern that the “Order does not adequately project adjacent band operations – including those related to GPS and satellite communications –  from harmful interference that would impact countless commercial and military activities.” They also took issue “the hurried nature of the circulation and consideration of the Order,” which they claimed occurred during “a national crisis” and “was not conducive to addressing the many technical concerns raised by affected stakeholders.” Given that nearly one-third of the Senate signed the letter, this may demonstrate the breadth of opposition in Congress to the Ligado order.

In May, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) filed two petitions with the FCC asking the latter agency to stay its decision allowing Ligado to proceed with wireless service using a satellite-terrestrial network utilizing the L-Band. This decision was opposed by a number of Trump Administration agencies and a number of key Congressional stakeholders. They argued the order would allow Ligado to set up a system that would interfere with the DOD GPS and civilian federal agency applications of GPS as well. If the FCC denies these petitions, it is possible NTIA could file suit in federal court to block the FCC’s order and Ligado.

In the petition for a stay, NTIA asked that “Ligado Networks LLC’s (Ligado’s) mobile satellite service (MSS) license modification applications for ancillary terrestrial operations” be paused until the agency’s petition for reconsideration is decided by the FCC because of “executive branch concerns of harmful interference to federal government and other GPS devices.”

In the petition for reconsideration, the NTIA argued it “focuses on the problems in the Ligado Order that are uniquely related to the interests of DOD and other federal agencies and their mission-critical users of GPS.” The NTIA added “that the Commission failed to consider the major economic impact its decision will have on civilian GPS users and the American economy…[and] [a]s the lead civil agency for GPS, DOT explained…Ligado’s proposed operations would disrupt a wide range of civil GPS receivers owned and operated by emergency first responders, among others.”

In early June, Ligado filed its response to the Trump Administration’s petitions to stay and have the FCC reconsider its order allowing the company to move forward with its satellite-terrestrial wireless network. The company argued the NTIA’s petitions rehash the same arguments heard and rejected by the FCC over the course of the nearly decade long proceeding, do not argue that an injury has occurred because Ligado is not yet operating, and is contrary to the public interest by delaying the rollout of 5G.

Broadband Privacy

At the beginning of the Trump Administration, Congress used the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to nullify the FCC’s 2016 final rule “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services.” An act of Congress signed by the President is needed before the FCC could again regulate the privacy and data practices of internet service providers (ISPs). Such a change could conceivably be included in broader privacy legislation that supposedly will be at the top of Congress’ technology agenda in the next Congress. However, to date, there has not been a broad privacy bill I have seen that includes such language. And yet, a number of the broader bills would include common carriers under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) expanded powers to enforce a new privacy regime, which would represent a de facto negation of the CRA process that undid the FCC’s broadband privacy rules. It would seem to me the key question would be what would happen in such a scenario if a future FCC undoes net neutrality rules. Would ISPs then no longer be subject to federal privacy rules as they would no longer be common carriers and no longer be subject to FTC jurisdiction as such?

In any event, the FCC in 2016 summarized its now nullified rules:

The rules separate the use and sharing of information into three categories and include clear guidance for both ISPs and customers about the transparency, choice and security requirements for customers’ personal information:

  • Opt-in: ISPs are required to obtain affirmative “opt-in” consent from consumers to use and share sensitive information. The rules specify categories of information that are considered sensitive, which include precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history and the content of communications.
  • Opt-out: ISPs would be allowed to use and share non-sensitive information unless a customer “opts-out.” All other individually identifiable customer information – for example, email address or service tier information – would be considered non-sensitive and the use and sharing of that information would be subject to opt-out consent, consistent with consumer expectations.
  • Exceptions to consent requirements: Customer consent is inferred for certain purposes specified in the statute, including the provision of broadband service or billing and collection. For the use of this information, no additional customer consent is required beyond the creation of the customer-ISP relationship.

In addition, the rules include:

  • Transparency requirements that require ISPs to provide customers with clear, conspicuous and persistent notice about the information they collect, how it may be used and with whom it may be shared, as well as how customers can change their privacy preferences;
  • A requirement that broadband providers engage in reasonable data security practices and guidelines on steps ISPs should consider taking, such as implementing relevant industry best practices, providing appropriate oversight of security practices, implementing robust customer authentication tools, and proper disposal of data consistent with FTC best practices and the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.
  • Common-sense data breach notification requirements to encourage ISPs to protect the confidentiality of customer data, and to give consumers and law enforcement notice of failures to protect such information.

Section 230

The Trump Administration FCC has started a rulemaking to construe key terms in 47 U.S.C. 230 (aka Section 230), a provision that shields technology companies from litigation arising from content it posts from third parties and any decisions it makes to take down, censor, or edit such material. Via executive order (EO), Trump directed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to file a petition with the FCC asking the agency to conduct a rulemaking, and the FCC decided to commence this fall. However, it is unlikely the FCC will have enough time to finish this process even though Pai could conceivably unveil draft regulations to pare back the protection companies like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. enjoy. This push has been opposed by Democrats generally and by the two Democratic FCC Commissioners, and so it would likely be ended under a Biden FCC.

As a threshold matter, it is quite likely President-elect Joe Biden will issue almost immediately an executive order pausing almost all Trump Administration executive orders pending review. It is also conceivable that the new Administration will withdraw the Trump Administration’s petition for a Section 230 rulemaking, and a Biden Administration staffed and controlled FCC may be very willing to accept such a withdrawal and close down the rulemaking process. This is not to say, however, that the Biden Administration will not seek changes to Section 230. Biden has opined Section 230 should be repealed, and other Democratic stakeholders want to see a paring back of the liability shield as a means of creating an incentive for Facebook, Twitter, and others to address the proliferation of problematic content such as white supremacist materials, QAnon conspiracies, abuse of women and minorities, and outright lies and disinformation. A key Member of the House, Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who chairs the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, has said she will release her reform proposal in January. It remains to be seen what role, if any, the FCC may play under a revised Section 230.

In October, FCC Chair Ajit Pai announced that that the “[t]he Commission’s General Counsel has informed me that the FCC has the legal authority to interpret Section 230…[and] [c]onsistent with this advice, I intend to move forward with a rulemaking to clarify its meaning.” Pai namechecked Thomas’ statement in which he “pointed out that courts have relied upon ‘policy and purpose arguments to grant sweeping protections to Internet platforms’ that appear to go far beyond the actual text of the provision.” Moreover, this interpretation has been subsequently released in a rather unusual fashion. Normally, agencies use the vehicle of a draft rule to make the claim it has or does not have certain authority provided by Congress to act. But, not in this case. The FCC has decided to make its case in a blog posting before it has released proposed regulations to define certain terms in Section 230’s liability shield for technology companies.

Working along a parallel track is pressure on the Senate committee that oversees the FCC to vet, hold a hearing on, and approve Trump’s nominee for the FCC. Commissioner Mike O’Reilly was lukewarm to the EO and his appointment to the FCC was expiring. And so, in typical Trump Administration fashion, the White House decided that the policy was not the problem. Personnel was. Consequently, Nathan Simington of the NTIA was nominated to replace O’Reilly, and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee advanced his nomination on party-line vote on 2 December. If Simington is confirmed and then the Republican-controlled Senate blocks a Biden nominee (which we know would never happen given the deep respect Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has for the traditions of the institution), then the agency would be decapitated and could not act.

Broadband

Bridging the digital divide will likely be a signal technology priority for the Biden Administration. There are media accounts stating Biden and allies in Congress are already planning on how to significantly increase broadband funding, possibly in the next COVID-19 stimulus bill. Whether they continue the Trump Administration’s FCC’s approach is not clear. Whatever their course of action, the digital divide was made all the starker by the pandemic with people working from work and children doing online schooling.

The agency has proposed and is implementing a program that will allegedly raise over $20 billion to bridge the digital divide. The FCC explained the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF):

The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is the Commission’s next step in bridging the digital divide.  On August 1, 2019, the Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing to establish the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to bring high speed fixed broadband service to rural homes and small businesses that lack it.  On January 30, 2020, the Commission adopted the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Report and Order, which establishes the framework for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, building on the success of the CAF Phase II auction by using reverse auctions in two phases.  The Phase I auction, which is scheduled to begin on October 29, 2020, will target over six million homes and businesses in census blocks that are entirely unserved by voice and broadband with download speeds of at least 25 Mbps.  Phase II will cover locations in census blocks that are partially served, as well as locations not funded in Phase I.  The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will ensure that networks stand the test of time by prioritizing higher network speeds and lower latency, so that those benefitting from these networks will be able to use tomorrow’s Internet applications as well as today’s.

There are other programs a Biden FCC could utilize to address some of the digital divide, including the E-Rate and Lifeline programs, and the next FCC could make some changes to the structure of the programs through rulemakings if it sought fit.

© 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 Ali Shah Lakhani on Unsplash