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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.

Cybersecurity

Biden On Lookout for Cyberattacks with Russia Massing on Border of Ukraine

The president says that, in the past, Russia has taken covert military actions.

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Photo of President Joe Biden on Thursday

WASHINGTON, January 20, 2022 – President Joe Biden said Thursday that the administration will be on the lookout for Russian cyberattacks in Ukraine as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin may be edging closer to invading Ukrainian territory.

Biden warned that, in the past, Russia has launched aggressive computer attacks that, while perhaps falling short of overt military action, have been daunting cyber-offensives of “military” officials not wearing Russian uniforms.

The comments came at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting of Biden’s Infrastructure Implementation Task Force. Biden briefly addressed rising tensions surrounding Ukraine.

Many critics of Russia, including Biden, have said that they Putin will pounce.

During his remarks, Biden said Moscow would “pay a heavy price” should it move any Russian troops across the Ukrainian border.

Following his foreign policy comments, Biden turned his attention to the planned task force talks on implementing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed on November 15, 2022.

He turned to former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the administration’s unofficial “infrastructure czar,” to offer comments on the administration’s progress to press.

Biden specifically addressed the law’s implications for ongoing supply chain issues.

Since the back half of 2021, the world has faced historic shipping delays on a variety of commercial goods as global manufacturing systems continue struggling to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and workforce shortages exacerbated by it.

Specifically, the tech industry has faced chronic shortages of semiconductor chips, perhaps worse than most other commodities. The shortages have crippled many digital industry supply chains. products.

Biden said that with the infrastructure law investment in physical infrastructure, including additional highways to alleviate traffic on the nation’s roads, will allow goods to be transported faster through existing supply chains.

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Cybersecurity

Telework Here to Stay, But Devices Need Beefed Up Security

The future of teleworking will need upgraded security.

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Allen McNaughton, sales director at Infoblox

WASHINGTON, January 19, 2022 – Remote work is here to stay, but that means getting up to speed on securing websites is critical, said a director at an information technology security company Wednesday.

At a Business of Federal Technology event, which posed the question “is hybrid forever?,” Kiran Ahuja, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, said “hybrid remote work and telework policies are clearly helping not only federal agencies, but literally every single office, company, and organization in this country.”

But while Allen McNaughton, sales director at security company Infoblox, agreed that telehealth is “here to stay, no doubt about it,” he also made clear that the reality of hybrid work is not effective without protected technology.

“When you have telework, when you have people that can work anywhere in the world, the world is now your attack surface,” says McNaughton. McNaughton noted that there is now a greater opportunity for hackers to install malware on unsecure devices.

The country has already been gripped by high-profile cyberattacks, including on software company SolarWinds, oil transport company Colonial Pipeline, and meat producer JBS USA.

Some of the attackers simply gained access because devices had simple default passwords, raising concern among security experts about how prepared people are for full-time remote work and school.

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Privacy

Federal Communications Commissioner Starks Seeks to Encourage Democratic Principles Online

The commissioner noted the peril democracy and citizen privacy finds themselves in around the world.

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Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

WASHINGTON, January 14, 2021 – Speaking at an event hosted by Bridge for Innovation on Tuesday, Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks says the private sector must lead in the fight to promote democracy and digital privacy rights online.

With increasing challenges to democracy around the world and citizen surveillance efforts by several international governments, as well as domestic concerns over privacy on social media platforms, Starks says private sector entities should work to set standards which promote democratic principles and privacy for citizens.

Just this month, Facebook faced a lawsuit – which it won – over access of third-party companies such as Cambridge Analytica, the British political consulting firm made famous when it was investigated in connection with alleged Russian interference and collusion in the 2016 United States presidential election, to users’ personal data.

Starks also emphasized that international diplomatic and regulatory bodies play a key role in upholding these norms.

He stated that China is looking to step up its role in these international bodies in attempts to influence policy to gain greater control over its citizens’ political activities and limit their privacy rights online.

At the beginning of November, President Joe Biden’s administration announced an initiative with several international allies to share information on surveillance programs of authoritarian regimes, with key focus landing on actions of the Chinese government.

Additionally, Biden said he would take action to limit U.S. exports to China of technology that  China uses for surveillance efforts.

U.S. technologies are on record being used in China for citizen surveillance, military modernization and persecution of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Looking to domestic broadband expansion efforts following the enactment of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Starks said the FCC will soon be collecting and posting pricing information from internet service providers which participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program.

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