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Panelists Debate Federal Role in Digital Privacy, But Agree Upon Need to Minimize Algorithmic Bias

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Panel on privacy and bias at Next Century City event

WASHINGTON, January 24, 2020 – Panelists at a Next Century Cities event on Thursday clashed on the appropriate federal role in the regulation of digital privacy, but generally agreed on the importance of minimizing algorithmic bias in targeting a particular racial or ethnic group.

The panel began with a spirited debate on who should take the lead on protecting Americans’ digital privacy.

One of two moderators, former National Telecommunications and Information Administrator David Redl (now president of Salt Point Strategies), said California had set the standard for other states in passing the most sweeping legislation on data privacy. The law went into effect on January 1, 2020.

Laura Moy, executive director of Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology, pushed back against the premise that California is an appropriate leader in data privacy. She said that the California law did not go far enough. Moy argued for a blend of federal legislation while also granting cities the flexibility to deal with local issues as they arise.

A moderator then asked the panel whether the federal government has the expertise to deal with the issue. Noting that only 40 to 50 staff employees at the Federal Trade Commission deal with this issue, the moderator emphasized that the agency was not equipped to deal with the significant issue of data privacy.

Tom Lenard, senior fellow of the Technology Policy Institute, countered that the FTC would be the most expert entity in the country to address privacy. Moy, by contrast, argued that the average citizen would know best how to handle their data if empowered by greater disclosure and knowledge.

Sean Perryman of the Internet Association referenced the FTC’s fumbling of the Equifax credit score data breach, and argued that the FTC was inadequate to address privacy issues.

The conversation shifted to the issue of discrimination in algorithmic targeting, particularly in regard to cities’ role in banning facial recognition.

K.J. Bagchi, senior counsel of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, criticized the inclusion of civil rights language in data privacy legislation.

The country needed to have algorithmic accountability and zero detection of bias, he said.

Lenard referenced an MIT study demonstrating that discriminatory advertising could happen even when advertisers have not programmed a specific demographic.  Therefore, we would need more proactive measures to get at the root of discriminatory AI, he said.

The panel concluded by considering the most significant privacy issues over the next two years, particularly during the course of the 2020 Census and the inauguration of a president on January 20, 2021.

Jeremy Greenberg, policy fellow at Future of Privacy Forum, suggested deidentification, Lenard highlighted the role of platforms in upgrading privacy, Moy answered discrimination, and Bagchi alluded to transparency. Perryman mentioned equity.

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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