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On Transparency, Advocacy Group Waits for Obama to 'Show Us The Data'

WASHINGTON, February 17, 2009 – The new administration of President Barack Obama has a limited window to fulfill its promise of transparency in government, said Center for Democracy & Technology officials.

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Editor’s Note: Don’t miss Andrew Feinberg’s video interview with Brock Meeks on BroadbandCensus TV.

WASHINGTON, February 17, 2009 – The new administration of President Barack Obama’s has a limited window to fulfill its promise of transparency in government, Center for Democracy & Technology officials said Tuesday.

CDT vice president Ari Schwartz praised the Obama White House for making open government – an issue on which the president made central to his campaign and his image – a theme “from day one.” The administration seems to make “another open government announcement literally every day,” Schwartz said.

While transparency is a “keystone, signature issue” for the new administration, making good on its promises “is going to be an interesting challenge,” said CDT president and CEO Leslie Harris. The toughest aspect of changing the culture of secrecy in Washington is “a bureaucracy created for closure – not openness,” Harris said.

The administration has let 30 days pass on its self-imposed 120 day deadline to for the GSA, OMB and a yet-to-be-named National Chief Technology Officer to create a national directive on open government, Schwartz said. And with the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and in launching the Recovery.gov web site, the Obama administration will face an early test.

Promises don’t make transparency so, said CDT. Together with the Sunlight Foundation, CDT announced the “Show Us The Data” project where users can help create a list of documents that should be online, but aren’t. While in the past CDT has had lists of the “10 most wanted government documents,” Schwartz said this is the first time the group has allowed voting.

The administration has so far been unsuccessful in posting most bills passed by Congress for the self-imposed five-day public viewing period, Schwartz said. While he acknowledged the need for exceptions for “emergency” legislation, he said that firmly defining those exceptions is “extremely important.”

Another area of concern is the continual failure to make available Congressional Research Service reports. While the Wikileaks and OpenCRS project have managed to post many reports online, the CRS still will not make them public on their own initiative. And while concerns over politicization of the reports may have been valid at one time, Harris said that the number of reports publicly available made such worries moot.

“A lot of open government folks have judged the Obama administration based on past administrations,” Harris said. And the first few Executive Orders the President signed went far towards restoring transparency in comparison to the Bush administration, she noted. But the Recovery.gov site and the 120 day threshold will hold the administration to its own rhetoric, she said.

Schwartz said the administration had “a lot of work to do [in the privacy space]” – including work the new Justice Department must face in culling many of the Bush-era directives that restrict privacy or access to information. “They need to get moving,” he said.

Harris said it’s alright to give them a bit more time. But to Harris, time to enact concrete changes means a “matter of months…not a matter of years,” at least for most transparency issues.

Some agencies will take longer to fix, she said. Despite calls from Acting Chairman Michael Copps for more transparency, Harris called the Federal Communications Commission “broken” and “with no consistent process.” The FCC needs to “figure out a regular procedure and stick to it,” she said.

But despite the “signs of disappointment” from some in the Web 2.0 crowd that change isn’t faster in coming, Schwartz called for a little more slack, and urged the public to take another look at the 120-day mark.

Andrew Feinberg was the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Education

Closing Digital Divide for Students Requires Community Involvement, Workforce Training, Event Hears

Barriers to closing the divide including awareness of programs, resources and increasing digital literacy.

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Screenshot of Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2022 – Experts in education technology said Monday that to close the digital divide for students, the nation must eliminate barriers at the community level, including raising awareness of programs and resources and increasing digital literacy.

“We are hearing from schools and district leaders that it’s not enough to make just broadband available and affordable, although those are critical steps,” said Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, said at an event hosted by trade group the Self-Insurance Institute of America. “We also have to make sure that we’re solving for the human barriers that often inhibit adoption.”

Song highlighted four “initial barriers” that students are facing. First, a lack of awareness and understanding of programs and resources. Second, signing up for programs is often confusing regarding eligibility requirements, application status, and installment. Third, there may be a lack of trust between communities and services. Fourth, a lack of digital literacy among students can prevent them from succeeding.

Song said he believes that with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, states have an “incredible opportunity to address adoption barriers.”

Workforce shortages still a problem, but funding may help

Rosemary Lahasky, senior director for government affairs at Cengage, a maker of educational content, added that current data suggests that 16 million students lack access to a broadband connection. While this disparity in American homes remained, tech job posts nearly doubled in 2021, but the average number of applicants shrunk by 25 percent.

But panelists said they are hopeful that funding will address these shortages. “Almost every single agency that received funding…received either direct funding for workforce training or were given the flexibility to spend some of their money on workforce training,” said Lahasky of the IIJA, which carves out funding for workforce training.

This money is also, according to Lahasky, funding apprenticeship programs, which have been recommended by many as a solution to workforce shortages.

Student connectivity has been a long-held concern following the COVID-19 pandemic. Students themselves are stepping up to fight against the digital inequity in their schools as technology becomes increasingly essential for success. Texas students organized a panel to discuss internet access in education just last year.

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Education

FTC Approves Policy Statement on Guiding Review of Children’s Online Protection

The policy statement provides the guiding principles for which the FTC will review the collection and use of children’s data online.

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FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2022 – The Federal Trade Commission last week unanimously approved a policy statement guiding how it will enforce the collection and use of children’s online data gathered by education technology companies.

The policy statement outlines four provisions in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, including ones related to limiting the amount of data collected for children’s access to educational tools; restricting types of data collected and requiring reasons for why they are being collected; prohibiting ed tech companies from holding on to data for speculative purposes; and prohibiting the use of the data for targeted advertising purposes.

“Today’s statement underscores how the protections of the COPPA rule ensure children can do their schoolwork without having to surrender to commercial surveillance practices,” said FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan at an open meeting on Thursday.

Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter added Thursday that although COPPA provides the strongest data minimization rule in US law, it’s enforcement may not be as strong, saying that “this policy statement is timely and necessary.”

Slaughter, who was the acting FTC chairwoman before Khan was approved to lead the agency, said last year that the commission was taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to tackling privacy and data collection practices of ed tech companies, which has seen a boom in interest since the start of the pandemic.

Thursday’s statement comes after lawmakers have clamored for big technology companies to do more to prevent the unnecessary collection of children’s data online. It also comes after President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address earlier this year that companies must be held accountable for the “national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit.”

Lawmakers have already pushed legislation that would reform COPPA – originally published in 1998 to limit the amount of information that operators could collect from children without parental consent – to raise the age for online protections for children.

Thursday’s FTC statement also seeks to scrutinize unwarranted surveillance practices in education technology, such as geographic locating or data profiling. Khan added that though endless tracking and expansive use of data have become increasingly common practices, companies cannot extend these practices into schools.

Review is nothing new

“Today’s policy statement is nothing particularly new,” said Commissioner Noah Phillips, saying that the review started in July 2019.

Commissioner Christine Wilson, while supporting the statement, was also more withdrawn about its impact. “I am concerned that issuing policy statements gives the illusion of taking action, especially when these policy statements break no new ground.”

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Health

Digital Literacy Training Needed for Optimal Telehealth Outcomes, Healthcare Reps Say

Digital literacy should be a priority to unlock telehealth’s potential, a telehealth event heard.

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Photo of telehealth consultation from Healthcare IT News

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – Digital literacy training should be a priority for providers and consumers to improve telehealth outcomes, experts said at a conference Tuesday.

Digital literacy training will unlock telehealth’s potential to improve health outcomes, according to the event’s experts, including improving treatment for chronic diseases, improving patient-doctor relationships, and providing easier medical access for those without access to transportation.

Julia Skapik of the National Association of Community Health Centers said at the National Telehealth Conference on Tuesday that both patients and clinicians need to be trained on how to use tools that allow both parties to communicate remotely.

Skapik said her association has plans to implement training for providers to utilize tech opportunities, such as patient portals to best engage patients.

Ann Mond Johnson from the American Telemedicine Association agreed that telehealth will improve health outcomes by giving proper training to utilize the technology to offer the services.

The Federal Communications Commission announced its telehealth program in April 2021, which set aside $200 million for health institutions to provide remote care for patients.

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