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Privacy

Conference Explores Privacy Issues in an Increasingly Connected Society

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WASHINGTON, June 13, 2013 – Most Americans have a negative view of data gathering and feel that they have little control over what information is available to businesses and the government, according to a poll released Thursday by Allstate and National Journal-Heartland Monitor.

However, many Americans also recognize the benefits, including connecting with friends and receiving personalized information about products and services of interest.

The implications of the poll were discussed at a conference here on privacy in the internet age.

In the first of two keynote interviews, former Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz spoke on the importance of protecting consumers from unwanted data gathering. Designing devices that allow the user to prevent the use of cookies to track activity was a high priority for Leibowitz.

“The most promising opportunity is technology that will allow consumers to protect their own privacy,” he said.

Leibowitz made the distinction between first-party entities that use data to provide users with benefits and third-party entities that track users without their knowledge or consent. For example, trusted sites such as Amazon and Netflix use data to make recommendations to users, but other sites secretly use cookies to track activity.

The second keynote speaker, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., also spoke of empowering consumers to protect themselves.

“What we need to make certain is that our constituents have the ability to protect their ‘virtual you,’ as I call it,” she said.

Blackburn laid out two important steps consumers should take to facilitate the creation of more acceptable environment. Consumers should be sure to read any privacy agreements, and they should engage with companies to help the industry come forward with a set of privacy standards. Despite this emphasis on standards created within the industry, she also noted that Congress is likely to consider privacy legislation in the near future.

The event concluded with a discussion among a panel of experts on a number of privacy-related topics including government transparency, the recent revelations regarding National Security Agency information gathering, and the trade-offs between privacy and social benefits.

Nigel Jacob, board member of Code for America and co-chair of the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, described how his work toward transparency had produced numerous benefits in Boston. He asserted that this transparency had enabled public-private partnerships, built trust, and helped drive community unity.

Marc Rotenberg, president and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information, had a number of sharp criticisms for the NSA. He questioned the constitutionality of the data gathering under the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits the unreasonable seizing of information. The NSA’s defense of their actions has also been weak due to the use of anecdotal evidence which supports their argument rather than comprehensive statistics that would show the actual effectiveness of the program.

“There are a lot of ways to promote accountability through the publication of statistics,” Rotenberg said.

The panelists also discussed trade-offs that could be made of privacy for social benefits, such as the use of medical records for research purposes.

Evan Selinger, associate professor of philosophy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, noted that such issues often carry disproportionate weight in the privacy debate, silencing privacy advocates who fear being labeled as opponents of progress. Rotenberg argued that the idea of trade-offs presented a false dichotomy, and that people can maintain their privacy while still benefitting from applications of data.

“I think we need to raise our expectations that we can enjoy the benefits of technology and enjoy privacy,” he said.

Josh Evans is a political science major at Grove City College. He is originally from Dover, Florida. An intern at the National Journalism Center in the summer of 2013, he is a Reporter for Broadband Census News and the News Editor for The Collegian at Grove City College.

Robocall

Lawmakers, FCC Take More Action Against Illegal Robocallers

There are new proposed rules that offer legal protections to those aiding in enforcement efforts against illegal robocalls.

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Rep. Bob Latta, the primary sponsor of the Robocall Trace Back Enhancement Act

WASHINGTON, April 27, 2022 – Regulators and legislators in Washington continued their efforts to curb unlawful telephony use with proposed rules designed to crack down robocalls.

On Wednesday, Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, introduced the Robocall Trace Back Enhancement Act – an amendment to the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act.

If signed into law, the bill would provide legal immunity for a broad range of entities engaging in private efforts to track, surveil, and report on illegal robocalling scams.

The protected parties include registered consortiums that handle call receiving, sharing, and publishing and all voice service providers and any informants that share covered information.

It would also grant the Federal Communications Commission jurisdiction to take enforcement actions based on the information collected during the aforementioned activities.

FCC measures on cease-and-desist letters

In addition to this legislation, as part of her agenda to combat scam calls, on April 26 FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel proposed closing a loophole to the STIR/SHAKEN regime afforded to small telcos.

Most telcos are required to adhere to cease-and-desist orders regarding illegal spam-calls and generally comply with actions taken by the FCC. The loophole in question gave smaller telcos greater latitude in how they chose to respond to FCC requests.

If adopted, the proposed regulation would require small telcos to abide by cease-and-desist orders, participate in robocall mitigation, cooperate with FCC enforcement, and take responsibility for facilitating illegal robocall traffic.

“International robocallers use these gateways to enter our phone networks and defraud American consumers,” Rosenworcel said in a statement, “We won’t allow them to bypass our laws and hide from enforcement.”

The new rule will be voted on at the FCC’s open meeting on May 19.

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Privacy

Federal Privacy Legislation Needed As State Legislation Could Harm Smaller Players, Event Hears

Different state privacy laws stifle competition and places burdens on small companies, experts say.

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Maneesha Mithal (far-left), Sara Collins (middle-left), Lartease Tiffith (middle-right), Brandon Pugh (far-right) on stage at "Beyond the Basics: The Many Pillars of a U.S. Privacy Law"

WASHINGTON, April 25, 2022 – While experts agreed that federal legislators need to take action on comprehensive privacy legislation, they disagreed on the specifics of how such regulation should be enforced.

Though some states have begun to establish their own frameworks for consumer privacy regulation, each framework puts forth different standards that online platforms would have to adhere to. These varied frameworks have raised concerns among many experts who consider a patchwork of legislation to raise the bar of compliance – a bar that could be lowered by federal legislation.

During an R Street panel on Monday, experts from the technology industry weighed in on the matter with their perspectives.

In March, Utah joined  California, Colorado, and Virginia and became the fourth state to successfully pass consumer privacy legislation. Several additional states, including Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut have experienced mixed success with their bills and have not yet signed anything into law.

Lartease Tiffith, executive vice president for public policy at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, said that the US is an outlier among developed countries. “We are one of the few developed countries that [does not have a federal privacy law],” he said. “I think that in order to reflect the same common values as our colleagues who are in Europe and elsewhere around the world, we need [to make] one.”

Beyond the international perspective, Tiffith also emphasized domestic justifications for federal legislation. “I cannot think of a subject matter that is not more under the purview of Congress than interstate commerce,” he said. “The internet is everywhere – it is not limited by borders. So, we need to have one standard, one set of laws. It should not matter where you live – California, Utah, Virginia, Colorado – you should have the same basic privacy rights as anyone, anywhere.”

Various state legislation harder for smaller companies

Tiffith also explained that a patchwork of regulation would hit smaller businesses the hardest. “If you are a small or medium sized business and you are looking at investing more money into your products and service and delivering and reaching customers – you want to do that rather than spending time on hiring more lawyers to deal with ever complicating regulations.

“We need this for the next set of Amazons and Googles of the world to exists,” he said.

While the panelists were able to agree on the fact that current patchwork of laws is not sustainable, they did not agree on how to enforce a federal framework.

A federal body for consumer data protection

Sara Collins, senior policy counsel for internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, voiced benefits to creating a new data protection authority in the US – a body distinct from the Federal Trade Commission – that would focus expressly on matters related to consumer data protection.

Tiffith pushed back, however, arguing that the FTC already does a good job at handling these issues, and is only held back by what he views as under-resourcing. “If you compare the FTC to other protection authorities, they are very under-resourced,” he said. “So, I think instead of us standing up a whole new data protection authority, I think instead, let’s invest that money in the FTC, give them some rules, some limited rulemaking authority, and let’s give them a lot more staff and a lot more money.

“Let them be the cop on the beat,” he said.

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Robocall

FCC Announces Majority of States Now Signed Onto Robocall Investigation Partnership

The FCC signed on five states this month and seven last month.

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Illustration from C-Zentrix

WASHINGTON, April 7, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday it has partnered with further five more state attorneys general to combat illegal robocalls.

The agency said Thursday it had signed on Alaska, California, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Washington state to investigate the robocalls, which can lead to scams. Thursday’s news comes on the heels of a March 28 announcement, when the agency said it signed similar memorandum of understanding with Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Wyoming.

Altogether, the agency, which announced the federal-state partnership effort in February, said it has signed on the majority of the United States.

“It shows that we are united when it comes to fighting robocalls—urban, rural, north, south, east, and west,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Today I invite every state and U.S. territory to join this effort and establish information sharing and cooperation structures with the FCC so we can work together to investigate and put an end to spoofing and robocall scam campaigns.”

The agency, which has made fighting illegal robocalls a key mandate, has previously credited states with catching those that allow robocalls.

Earlier this month, the FCC credited the North Carolina Department of Justice in an investigation that identified thinQ Technologies as a “facilitator” of robocalls. The agency, which is working with the Traceback Consortium to identify the culprits, has already sent more than a dozen cease and desist letters to those it has identified in investigations.

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