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Privacy

As Technology Enables Employer Mass-Surveillance, Activists Say Current Privacy Laws Benefit the Wealthy

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Photo of event at Georgetown University Law Center by Masha Abarinova

WASHINGTON, November 7, 2019 – The poor and working classes are most concerned about privacy and surveillance, yet current privacy laws ultimately benefit the wealthy, experts say at a Georgetown University Law Center Thursday. The event highlighted how marginalized groups are monitored, both physically and digitally.

Surveillance is key to rescinding benefits and removing eligibility for marginalized people, said Gabrielle Rejouis, associate at Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology. Slavery, she said, formed the groundwork for modern day surveillance and class conflict.

Just as algorithms are being used to optimize peoples’ lives, Rejouis said, they are optimizing the workplace. Technology is allowing employers to access more data in a more granular and intrusive way. Furthermore, she said, employees aren’t given the chance to question or bargain about the method of surveillance.

The monitoring of poor and working people has occurred for at least hundreds of years, said Alvaro Bedoya, founding director of Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology. The Elizabethan era “Poor Laws,” for example, implied that lower class citizens were so different that they needed to be morally regulated. Poor houses, he said, have historically been used for this purpose.

In the present day, Bedoya continued, Amazon has obtained a patent for movement-tracking wristbands for its workers, forming an unsettling precedent for on-the-job surveillance.

The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century increased poverty by as much as a third, said Michael Reisch, social justice professor at the University of Maryland. Reisch described middle and upper-class people known as “friendly visitors,” who frequented poor homes and insisted on keeping detailed records of those people’s lives.

Although the means of surveillance have become more sophisticated, he said, its underlying purpose hasn’t changed.

Poor Americans are significantly more concerned about data collection than their wealthy counterparts, said Mary Madden, research lead at the Data & Society Research Institute. The Institute’s surveys have also shown that these people are more concerned about being victims of internet fraud or online harassment.

Low-income Americans suffer from societal extremes of both hypervisibility and invisibility, Madden said. They have the most available online data, yet they are hindered by lack of accessibility to online resources.

A “one-size fits all” privacy solution, she said, cannot help all marginalized communities because they each have different circumstances. Proper safeguards and investments are needed for low-income groups to challenge societal standards.

Privacy laws aren’t written to protect poor people, said Michele Gilman, law professor at the University of Baltimore. Even the Fourth Amendment does not prevent officials from visiting welfare homes, she said, because people choosing to use public housing are considered “consenting.”

For the upper classes, Gilman said, public benefits come in the form of tax breaks. Welfare benefits, on the other hand, are considered a form of charity. As such, welfare donors feel that they have a right to witness how their money is used.

The origin of privacy legislation, Gilman continued, came from high-society figures who wanted the “right to be left alone.” Low-income citizens, however, cannot abide by this principle because they must consistently interact with the state to receive support.

Data collection is largely stigmatizing, she said. Thirty-nine percent of Internal Revenue Service audits last year were of working-class citizens. Because of this information, low-income people are targeted for predatory products and excluded from mainstream housing and public services.

Virginia Eubanks, associate professor of political science at the University of Albany, described surveillance technology as a mechanism for social control.

Not only does it automate a false notion of scarcity, she said, but monitoring of workers increases feedback loops of oppression. These feedback loops also create an “empathy override,” in which worker issues are outsourced to computer programs, so that employers don’t have to determine solutions.

Surveillance is also being used to alter working conditions, said Temple University Law Professor Brishen Rogers. Modern jobs are made up of different tasks, yet only some of these tasks can be automated.

Despite the increase in automation, Rogers said, there hasn’t been an overall higher growth in worker productivity except in warehouse facilities. Amazon, for instance, uses data driven technology to determine how quickly its workers can perform manual actions.

If there was a way for data to enhance enforcement, he said, then perhaps there is a way to alter hourly wages and other working conditions. But there are still some ways to go in that regard.

Constant, on-the-job surveillance, said Marley Pulido, director of Worker Resources and Training at Coworker.org, creates more pressure for workers to succeed and less incentive for them to complain.

Surveillance technology can be difficult for ordinary people to understand, he said, especially how it’s conducted. But the main takeaway workers get is that technology and surveillance seem to go hand-in-hand, and they don’t want to go against that principle.

Cybersecurity

Microsoft Executive Calls For Improved Information Sharing Between Governments and Companies

Brad Smith said information sharing is critical for preventative measures against cyberattacks.

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Microsoft Vice Chair Brad Smith

WASHINGTON, September 20, 2021—Microsoft Vice Chair Brad Smith called for improved information sharing between countries to prevent cyberattacks on critical infrastructure.

While participating in a Washington Post Live discussion on September 20, Smith pointed toward certain sectors and aspects of society that should be protected from cyberwarfare. He specifically mentioned that a country’s digital supply chains, healthcare systems, and electoral processes should be considered off limits.

“I think the sobering fact of life is that unfortunately the world typically comes together to do what needs to be done only after it has experienced some kind [disaster],” he said.

“If we said we won’t harm civilians in a time of war, why should we for a moment, tolerate this kind of harm to civilians in what is supposed to be a time of peace?” Smith likened the SolarWinds attack to tampering with a blood supply to harm recipients.

A webinar in June hosted by the Stimson Center heard that a cybersecurity framework between countries is key to combatting cyberattacks.

Information sharing with private companies

In addition to reaffirming a commitment to not cause civilian harm, Smith also called for improving coordination and information sharing between private companies and stated that these efforts are enhanced by government leadership.

“I think any day when we’re sitting down and talking about how we can collaborate more closely among companies, that’s probably a good day.” Smith lauded efforts by the Biden Administration to facilitate information sharing between tech companies to prevent further attacks like the one SolarWinds suffered, “We are going to need a government that can work as a single well-coordinated team and the team is going to need to include participants in an appropriate way from the private sector as well. I’m hopeful, encouraged and I would dare say even optimistic.”

Last month, Comcast Cable’s chief product and information officer Noopur Davis said the private sector is falling behind on information sharing during cyberattacks, and that companies in the tech industry are reevaluating their strategies and how they share information to prevent such acts. Some have noted that companies are still not prioritizing cybersecurity.

Senator Angus King, I-Maine, has even called for new rules requiring companies to disclose when they’ve been breached in a hack.

Shortage of cybersecurity workforce

Smith noted, however, that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. He described a “substantial shortage” of cybersecurity professionals, which he stated is one of the reasons organizations are not able to move quickly enough to keep pace with bad actors and implement best practices.

“There is a real opportunity for us to work together for community colleges to do more [and] for businesses to do more to train their people,” he said.

Overall, Smith stated that things are moving in the right direction but emphasized that the international community—governments and otherwise—need to establish better methods of federating data that is secure from bad actors but accessible to the necessary parties.

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Cybersecurity

Private Sector Falling Behind on Information Sharing During Cyberattacks, Says Comcast Rep

Comcast’s Noopur Davis says cyber attackers share information better than the private sector.

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Noopur Davis, Chief Product and Information Officer at Comcast Cable.

ASPEN, Colorado, August 23 — In the wake of an influx of ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure and cyberattacks on private carriers, entities across the technology industry are revaluating their strategies and how they share information to prevent such acts.

T-Mobile announced on August 15 that as many as 50 million consumers had their private data compromised during a data breach. Days later, on August 17, as part of Technology Policy Institute’s 2021 Aspen Forum, Noopur Davis, Chief Product and Information Officer at Comcast Cable, sat down for a fireside chat to discuss what the industry was doing to address this event and events like it.

Join in Broadband Breakfast Live Online’s Discussion on “Cybersecurity: Reviewing the Biden Administration’s Executive Order,” on Wednesday, August 25, 2021, at 12 Noon ET.

When Davis was asked how she felt about the current state of cybersecurity, she said it was okay, but that the telecom community at large would have to do more.

She referenced the mean time of comfort—that is, the average duration between the time that a service becomes connected to the internet and when it is targeted by bad actors. While in the early days of the internet cybersecurity experts could expect to have significant mean times of comfort, she stated that this is no longer the case.

“The second you connect [to the internet] you are attacked,” she said.

As soon as a successful breach is recognized, Davis explained that the target companies begin to revaluate their “TTP,” or tactics, techniques, and procedures.

Information sharing is crucial

Though one company may find a remedy to their breach, other companies may remain vulnerable. To combat this, Davis said that it is critical for companies to share information quickly with their counterparts, but she indicated that this is a race that the private sector is currently losing.

“[Attackers] share information better than [the private industry does].”

She went further, revealing that there is now a sophisticated market for malware as a service, where various platforms publish reviews for their products and services and even offer tech support to those struggling to get the most out of their purchases.

Growing market for hacking tools

She pointed to the Colonial Pipeline attack as an example where hackers did not even create the malware themselves—they just purchased it from a provider online. She explained that this marketplace has significantly lowered the barriers of entry and deskilled the activity for would be attackers, and that theoretically anyone could engage in such nefarious acts today.

Though Davis was in favor of collaboration between companies to address these attacks, she made it clear that this would not mean that responses and capabilities would become standardized, and that every company would maintain their own unique strategies to ensure that their services and data remain uncompromised.

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Robocall

Associations Press FCC to Keep Robocall Extension for Facilities-Based Carriers

Organizations say preponderance of illegal calls don’t come from facilities-based providers.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 11, 2021 – In submissions to the Federal Communications Commission on Monday, associations representing smaller telecom are asking the agency to keep an extension specifically for facilities-based carriers to comply with new robocall rules.

In May, the FCC voted to push up by a year, from 2023 to 2022, the deadline for small carriers to comply with the STIR/SHAKEN regime, which requires telephone service providers to put in place measures – including analytics services to vet calls – to drastically reduce the frequency of scam, illegal robocalls, and ID spoofing that misleads Americans to believe the call is legitimate. Large carriers, however, had a deadline of June 30 this year.

But in submissions to the FCC this week, the Competitive Carriers Association, NTCA, and USTelecom said the preponderance of illegal robocalls come from smaller providers – those with fewer than 100,000 lines – that don’t have networks and, because of that, facilities-based carriers should have the additional year to comply with the rules, which is reportedly a highly technical and complex endeavor.

To appreciate the effort, providers must tag or label all calls on their network, using analytics tools, to ensure that the calls are legitimate. All illegitimate calls must be tagged as potential spam or blocked completely. Even still, the possibility of “false positives” can occur. Failure to comply with the rules could result in hefty penalties.

‘Good faith’ actors shouldn’t be penalized

“Commenters recognize as well that care must be taken to correctly identify this group of small providers in a surgical and precise manner that does not sweep in innocent actors and compel them to adopt this standard on a timeframe they had neither anticipated nor budgeted for,” the NTCA said in its submission to the FCC on Monday.

“A more targeted and effective way of capturing the parties that prompted these proposals can be found in the record – specifically, the Commission should require operators that are not ‘facilities-based’ voice providers…to adopt STIR/SHAKEN on a more accelerated timeframe,” the NTCA continued.

Burden of proof on non-facilities providers to show need for extension

USTelecom, however, added that the non-facilities-based providers – which generally originate calls over the public internet – should be able to request the full two-year extension, but they must show why they need it.

“It’s also critical that they are required to explain in detail and specificity why their robocall mitigation plans are sufficient to protect consumers and other voice service providers from illegal and unwanted robocalls,” USTelecom said in its Monday submission.

“Such a requirement would offer the right balance between affording non-facilities-based small providers the opportunity for the full extension if truly needed, but without creating an opportunity for the small VoIP providers responsible for illegal robocalls to abuse the process in order to continue to send unsigned illegal traffic downstream to the detriment of other providers and consumers,” USTelecom added.

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