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Former Estonian President Says U.S. Needs a Secure Digital ID Card to Computerize Government Processes

Liana Sowa



Screenshot from the second panel, including moderator Sam DuPont, deputy director of the German Marshall Fund

November 23, 2020 – Americans need to have secure and unique digital identity documents if the county has a hope to compete with other world powers like China, said Toomas Ilves, former president of Estonia.

Ilves was speaking at a German Marshall Fund event on Friday what asked on what subject he thought the Biden administration should focus. However, he said, he believes it to be politically impossible to for the United States to create such an identity.

To create this digital identity, U.S. citizens would need to be required by law to carry an identification document that is backed with end to end encryption, two factor authentications, and a population registry.

Ilvis also suggested that Americans could put all of this information on a chip and attached it to our driver’s licenses. He said he had seen congressmen with ID’s that had a chip decal but was unsure if any of them had computer chips embedded in the ID. Also participating in the session, Rep. William Hurd, R-Texas, was intrigued enough to say he would follow up on it.

But Ilvis also acknowledged that the America’s libertarian stand – in culture and in law – was likely strong enough to keep his suggestion from every happening.

One step toward digitizing all government processes

Creating a digital identity is important, he said, because it is a step toward digitizing all government processes. According to Ilvis, there are only three things that cannot be done online—marriages, divorces, and selling real estate with a proxy from a holding company.  In the latter case, a member of the board must show up.

In general, Hurd agreed. He called for more data, better data, and open data to be put online.

Hurd said that he was recently trying to get data on how many pencils the government had given out and was told he might not be able to get that information for two years. He advocated for the digitization of such data, including any studies that are funded by the government.

In the competition with China, Hurd emphasized that the U.S. should build a workforce for the future, and specifically mentioned creating coding academies to educate the workforce.

Hurd also emphasized coming to terms with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. America needs to get over this transatlantic spat because the country has much more in common with Europe than with China on privacy.

He called for the creation of a national data breach standard in the U.S.

All of this matters, he said, because the algorithms that are driving artificial intelligence need information, he said. “This is a race. There’s no second place in this race.”

Second panel on suggestions for the Biden administration

Several panelists on a second panel had suggestions and expectations for the new administration.

Quentin Palfrey, president of the International Digital Accountability Council and senior fellow for the German Marshall Fund, said that to reach our national goals, we need federal privacy legislation, “regardless of what happens in Georgia on January 5,” referring to the runoff elections for the Senate that will determine which party controls the chamber.

Palfrey suggested the rules be as clear and harmonized as possible and that individuals making business decisions were educated in those rules. He also said there should be nimble accountability so people can be “tapped on the shoulder” before they break the rules.

He agreed with Hurd on the need to reconcile U.S. privacy law with the GDPR.

Ellen Goodman, law professor at Rutgers and senior fellow for the German Marshall Fund, said he hoped there would be a stimulus that will provide incentive for physical and broadband infrastructure needed to close the digital divide.

John Wilbanks, chief commons officer at Sage Bionetworks, said there are more ways to regulate than just the traditional ones and said the government should be bold and encourage competitive ecosystems.

Ilves urged the German Marshall Fund to help Congress set its oversight agenda for its committees because the document lays out where the gaps are.

Reporter Liana Sowa grew up in Simsbury, Connecticut. She studied editing and publishing as a writing fellow at Brigham Young University, where she mentored upperclassmen on neuroscience research papers. She enjoys reading and journaling, and marathon-runnning and stilt-walking.


National Plan Required For Consumer Privacy, Congresswoman says

Samuel Triginelli



Screenshot of Suzan DelBene from C-Span

April 1, 2021 — A Congresswoman from Washington State, who introduced federal legislation that would be the first national consumer privacy law if adopted, says the federal government is being outpaced by some states that are implementing their own consumer privacy legislation.

“There is a significant problem with consumer privacy in the US,” said Representative Suzan Delbene on Tuesday during a New Democratic Network event. Delbene introduced her Information Transparency, and Personal Data Control Act, a wide ranging federal privacy legislation, on March 10. Delbene is the vice chair of the Ways and Means Committee, and is the chair of the House New Democrat Coalition caucus.

There is no federal data privacy law, which has forced some states to pursue their own consumer data policies. That includes California and, recently, Virginia. Some have said the concern is that there will be a patchwork of different privacy legislation that may end up just confusing Americans.

“We need a uniform set of rights for consumers and businesses standards to follow in the digital world,” DelBene said.

The bill states that companies must provide privacy polies in plain language, must allow users to opt-in for personal information gathering, must disclose who personal information is being shared with, and must submit to privacy audits every two years. The federal law would also give the government the ability to preempt existing state laws.

Simon Rosenberg, president of New Democrat Network, said about the bill that, “together, we have a lot of work to do in the coming years to restore the promise of the Internet. One of the areas of greatest need is creating a single working privacy standard for the United States.

“In her bill, the approach Representative DelBene takes to protecting Americans’ privacy is smart, measured, and will undoubtedly be highly influential in shaping the approach Congress takes in the days ahead. It is a very welcome addition to the vital debate underway about our digital future,” Rosenberg added.

The purpose of this bill is to ensure that privacy policies are transparent and clear. “Many consumers are given lots of information with lots of legal terms, that leads them to click the accept button without knowing what they have signed up for,” DelBene said.

“There is an urgent need for consumers to understand what data is being shared,” she added. “We want to make sure there is enforcement. The law says that this will be the responsibility of the Federal Trade Commission, so the FTC must have the resources to do this.

“I think my bill is focused on privacy specifically because I think it is foundational. We build on important things, such as AI, facial recognition, and all the other issues we need to address. If we don’t start addressing the issues of data privacy, it will be hard to imagine how it will the expansion of laws to address a broader set of issues that need to get ahead of.”

Congresswoman DelBene believes the bill can be bipartisan, but she wants to make sure Congress understands its importance. “I’m not sure Congress understands these issues, so it takes a collective effort to push it forward.”

DelBene says she’s confident that Congress will follow the bill, despite many congresspeople who she said are hesitant to take that first step.

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Attach Strings To Data Collection To Combat Surveillance Capitalism, Experts Suggest

Samuel Triginelli



Photo of Marietje Schaake from the European Parliament

March 29, 2021 – Laws addressing how much data can be collected should be among new regulations that must ensure data collection from big technology companies doesn’t harm Americans, according to a March 17 panel of academics at the South by Southwest conference.

The era of corporate self-regulation is now up, said Marietje Schaake of the Standford University Cyber Policy Center and panelist at SXSW conference discussing the “techno-democratic” approach to Big Tech, including what to do about surveillance capitalism.

Surveillance capitalism is an economic system centered on commodifying personal data with the core purpose of profit-making.

“We have heard many pledges, many promises, and good intention offers for solutions for self-regulatory initiatives. And the time is out for those,” she said.

Schaake said it is time the government attach consequences to data collection to the detriment of the public and to set clear limits on collection practices.

“We have tried for too long, and it has led to several distractions and lost time to make sure that the rule of law is leading and that there are enforceable accountable, transparent expectations placed on these companies,” she said.

Joan Donovan, a social scientist at the Harvard Kennedy School, said what’s critical is how much data tech companies should be allowed to collect and under what conditions should they sell it to ensure rights aren’t violated.

“The tech sector as it is built now, relies on harvesting so much data about an individual that their products and the entire economy they are built on could not exist” if there were robust rights and privacy protections in place, Donovan said.

She said the discussion about regulating these businesses should include moving from a focus on protecting enterprise to protecting human rights.

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House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Calls for Update to Children’s Privacy Legislation

Derek Shumway



March 11, 2021 – House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., on Thursday called for an update to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act at subcommittee hearing on “Kids Online During COVID: Child Safety in an Increasingly Digital Age.”

“The challenges children face online existed before the pandemic, but it’s only gotten worse,” he said.

Visiting in person with extended family and friends have so far become a thing of the past as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Many other in-person activities have been replaced with video games, social media, and other video services.

Kids’ screen time has doubled during the pandemic, said Pallone. The effects of too much screen time can increase instances of anxiety, sleep deprivation, obesity, and cyber bullying, he said.

The increased screen time due to the pandemic has turned consumers into victims of what he called harassment and dark pattern manipulation led by advertisers. Children cannot defend themselves like adults in managing these predatory practices, he said.

“Despite laws to protect children’s privacy, data collection and tracking of children is disturbingly prevalent.” He went on to criticize many apps targeting children on mobile devices are notorious for collecting personal information, which is then bought and sold, resulting in advertising meant to manipulate children.

He said that digital ad spending specifically targeting children was expected to reach $1.7 billion this year. COPPA, which hasn’t been updated since 2013, needs to be updated because, he said, internet companies have since continued to target children.

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