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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

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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