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Transparency

White House Releases Open Government Directive Mandating Transparency

WASHINGTON, December 8, 2009 – The White House on Tuesday sent an open government directive to every federal department and agency with instructions on actions that should be taken to make their operations more open to the public, according to a blog entry from Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag.

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WASHINGTON, December 8, 2009 – The White House on Tuesday sent an open government directive to every federal department and agency with instructions on actions that should be taken to make their operations more open to the public, according to a blog entry from Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag.

“The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration are at the heart of this directive. Transparency promotes accountability. Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise to government initiatives. Collaboration improves the effectiveness of government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the federal government, across levels of government, and between the government and private institutions,” said Orszag.

The move follows President Obama’s action his first day in office to sign a memorandum to federal agencies directing them to break down public barriers to transparency, participation, and collaboration. Orszag noted the White House is now publishing the names of all its visitors and posting more information on federal spending and research.

In addition to the directive, the White House released (PDF) an open government progress report noting that the Obama Administration is experimenting with new techniques and tools to improve citizen engagement. The report adds that the administration is working on “developing “communities of practice” to facilitate the sharing of ideas and software code across agencies and levels of government to realize open government in practice.”

“The Open Government Directive issued today demonstrates the seriousness of administration’s commitment to data transparency and citizen engagement,” said Ellen Miller, executive director and co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation, in a statement.

Jim Harper of the CATO Institute was critical of the Obama Administration’s progress toward openness. “Today the White House announces plans for dramatic steps forward on government transparency. But the steps it could have taken starting on day one remain promises unfulfilled.

President Obama’s “Sunlight Before Signing” campaign pledge breaks every time he signs a bill without posting its final version at Whitehouse.gov for five days of public review before signing it,” he wrote in a Wednesday blog entry.

Computer & Communications Industry Association President Ed Black said he thought the directive was positive but took the opportunity to complain about the lack of transparency surrounding a proposed multilateral trade agreement for establishing international standards on intellectual property known as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

The United States Trade Representatives has said it has taken steps to make information on ACTA more open.

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Broadband Mapping & Data

Free Press Denounces Facebook Ads, New Content Moderation, Problems of Broadband Adoption

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Photo of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg by Anthony Quintano used with permission

Ads that describe immigrants of color as an “invasion” violate Facebook’s community standards and should not be allowed to run, according to a Wednesday petition from Free Press.

Between January and February, President Donald Trump’s Facebook page ran more than 2,000 ads that used the word “invasion” to describe immigration from Central and South America. Since then, several other lawmakers such as Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., have used the same language in their own ads.

In August, a white supremacist shooter drove to El Paso and killed 22 people, the majority of whom were Latinx. His manifesto echoed the same “invasion” rhetoric, showcasing the potentially lethal consequences of promoting such language.

“Facebook reviews ads before they’re allowed to run on the platform, and the company has rules that all advertisers are supposed to follow,” Free Press wrote. “These policies expressly prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, color and national origin. And yet Trump, allied nativist and white-supremacist groups and nativist lawmakers are allowed to run campaign ads using dehumanizing, white-supremacist rhetoric.”

Facebook rolls out tool to facilitate user-generated content moderation

Facebook announced on Wednesday a new tool to proactively moderate content in public and private groups. The “Group Quality” tool will show administrators which content was removed and flagged, as well false news that has been shared in the group.

Determining whether or not a group should be taken down is a complicated process, wrote Facebook VP of Engineering Tom Alison in a blog post. The most important factor is subject matter. Conduct of group administrators is also taken into account.

The platform also announced a new simplification of group privacy settings, changing the options from public, closed, or secret to just public or private.

Many critics of Facebook remain skeptical that these updates will lead to any substantial changes. “Just in the past month, I reported groups calling for a global purge of Islam, extermination of people based on religion, and calling for violence through a race war, and Facebook’s response was that none of these groups was a violation of community standards,” computer science professor Megan Squire told NBC News.

Broadband adoption is a more important metric that broadband deployment, says John Horrigan

The Federal Communications Commission is largely focused on broadband deployment, but a more important metric is that of broadband adoption, according to recent analysis in Daily Yonder from Technology Policy Institute Senior Fellow John Horrigan.

The digital divide is more about consumer adoption than network deployment, and household economics is a larger factor in non-adoption decisions than geography.

Data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that of the 20.4 million households that do not subscribe to broadband, 4.5 million cite lack of deployment as the reason while 15.9 million cite other reasons.

“It turns out that a number of factors – such as monthly fee, cost of the computer, and the capacity of smartphones, far outpace network issues as reasons people offer for not subscribing to broadband,” Horrigan wrote. “In fact, cost factors – either monthly fee or a computer – are the most important reasons (when combined) that people do not subscribe to broadband.”

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Privacy

Poorly Executed Federal Privacy Law Could Cost U.S. Economy $122 Billion Annually, Says ITIF

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WASHINGTON, August 6, 2019 – If not properly executed, a federal privacy law could cost billions, according to a report released Monday by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Legislation that mirrors many of the key provisions in the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation or California’s Consumer Protection Act would cost the U.S. economy $122 billion per year, said the report, by ITIF Senior Policy Analyst Alan McQuinn and Vice President Daniel Castro.

The technology industry-driven think tank instead urged Congress to deal with a narrower set of privacy protections, enabling Congress to pass an effective law that costs 95 percent less.

An ideal data privacy legislation should not only increase consumer privacy but also maximize consumer welfare. New privacy laws must clarify how much their programs cost to both consumers and businesses. If not, companies and consumers could spend $18 billion in compliance costs.

Among the individual privacy rights with their own costs include the right to access, modify and delete personal data stored by an organization.

To enforce such rights, companies would need to build and maintain data infrastructure enabling users to access their information. Moreover, a report from the Fido alliance found that businesses that authenticate their customers spend an average of $307,000 annually on authentication costs.

Although most data collection and compliance are handled exclusively online, businesses will often need to receive and process some requests over the phone, by mail, or in person. The price of privacy legislation will have to factor in the costs of human processing.

Besides understanding the underlying costs of privacy legislation, Congress should be careful to not create overly restrictive rules that – the report said – would harm innovation in the economy.

Additionally, the group said, federal privacy legislation should preempt states from passing their own sets of privacy laws. Otherwise, costs could increase significantly.

(Photo courtesy ITIF.)

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Congress

Historic Facebook Settlement Criticized for Ineffectiveness; FTC Calls For Federal Privacy Law

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WASHINGTON, July 24, 2019 — The Federal Trade Commission announced on Wednesday details of its $5 billion settlement with Facebook over privacy violations such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In addition to the fine, the company will have to provide quarterly compliance reports and form an independent privacy oversight committee.

FTC Chairman Joe Simons celebrated the “record-breaking penalty,” claiming that it was “all the more remarkable given the FTC’s limited authority.”

However, many believe that the record-breaking fine was not punishment enough, including Democratic Commissioners Rebecca Slaughter and Rohit Chopra, who both dissented.

“I understand the majority’s argument in favor of the terms of the settlement, and I recognize the settlement’s historic nature,” said Slaughter in her dissent. “But I do not share my colleagues’ confidence that the order or the monetary penalty will effectively deter Facebook from engaging in future law violations, and thus I fear it leaves the American public vulnerable.”

“Facebook is getting away with some of the most egregious corporate bad behavior in the age of the internet,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “This settlement is a partisan abdication of the FTC’s duty. The only market-wide message the Commission is sending is that it is acceptable for online giants to beg for forgiveness afterward rather than get permission first.”

Critics of the decision claimed that Facebook is unlikely to change its current course of action under the terms laid out in the settlement. These terms “fail to address the business model that incentivizes the invasive and manipulative practices the company was fined for,” said Free Press Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia.

“Under this settlement, Facebook does not have to meaningfully change how it collects and uses your data,” said Charlotte Slaiman, competition policy counsel at Public Knowledge. “Facebook retains complete control over when to share your data outside of Facebook, as long as the company complies with the privacy policy that it gets to write.”

Chopra agreed, writing that “the order allows Facebook to decide for itself how much information it can harvest from users and what it can do with that information, as long as it creates a paper trail.”

The agency lacks the authority to implement new privacy legislation, replied Simons at a press conference on Wednesday, and so all the agency could do was to force Facebook to be transparent. Choosing to litigate the case would have resulted in “much less relief, much later,” he said.

Republican Commissioner Christine Wilson added that the documentation being required of Facebook is goes far beyond a paper trail, requiring the company to do an in-depth analysis of privacy concerns—and force CEO Mark Zuckerberg to take responsibility.

Although most critics felt that the $5 billion fine was too small for the tech giant, others warned that the historic fee set a dangerous precedent.

While Facebook can easily afford this settlement, few other tech platforms would be able to, said TechFreedom President Berin Szóka in a statement.

“Nothing could do more to discourage competition with today’s tech giants than the looming threat of such massive fines,” he said. “Those cheering today’s settlement as a victory against Big Tech should think twice about its long-term effects on those trying to dethrone Facebook.”

Szóka also criticized the way in which the fine was implemented, calling it a “legal sleight of hand.” Since the FTC act limits penalties for new charges, the agency was only able to impose a monetary penalty on Facebook by charging the company with the violation of an unrelated 2012 privacy consent decree.

Both proponents and opponents of the settlement agreed on the overwhelming need for Congress to pass privacy legislation.

The limits of the FTC’s authority make “carefully crafted, comprehensive federal privacy legislation” essential, said Wilson, emphasizing the agency’s bipartisan interest in such action.

“Without corrective action, the business of behavioral advertising is bound to harm our social, political and private lives again and again,” said Laroia. “It’s now up to Congress to pass legislation to protect our privacy, our democracy and our civil rights.

If Congress passes privacy legislation, the FTC is prepared to enforce it, said Simons, adding that the agency is using its existing authority “to very effective ends.”

(Photo of FTC Press Conference by Emily McPhie.)

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