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Privacy

Silicon Flatiron Panelists Differ in Attitudes on Trustworthiness of Big Tech Companies

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Photo of Sarah Holland from Silicon Flatirons

February 14, 2021 – A public policy manager for Google defended the search engine giant’s trustworthiness and status during a Thursday panel discussion, even as she reiterated that the company supports a federal privacy law.

Speaking at a discussion hosted by Silicon Flatirons, Sarah Holland of Google said that . expectations on Google are higher than ever.

Users still trust Google because they still use it, said Holland. But she acknowledged that big tech companies can do more to protect user privacy.

She said Google users are in control of their data more than ever and demonstrated this by touting that users can delete their own search history and be prompted to create stronger passwords. Moreover, Google has expanded features in recent years that allow for more privacy controls, said Holland.

Although Google “is a large company in the discourse, we are still just one company of many,” said Holland.

Others on the panel differed in their approach to the trustworthiness of big tech companies.

There is very little trust right now in tech companies, said Sylvie Delacroix, a law professor of ethics at the University of Birmingham. Improvements in the collection and handling of personal data is not improving in the ways that it needs to. Bottom-up empowerment structures must be made if organizations want to deserve our trust as consumers, she said.

Distrust with the tech industry stems from the ways the industry has used information in the past, said Hugo Teufel, chief privacy officer at Lumen Technologies. Though some companies would have been fine had they simply given notice to consumers about their plans with their data, there are still many cases where no form of data sharing would be deemed acceptable, he said.

In light of recent news surrounding tech companies banning and moderating user’s accounts, some think the companies are making decisions based on politics or ideologies, further eroding their trust in them, said Teufel.

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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Cybersecurity

Congress Must Avoid ‘Overly Prescriptive’ Incident Reporting To Avoid Missing Larger Cyberattacks

Too many reports could burden federal officials, said the executive director of the Alliance for Digital Innovation.

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Rep. Debbie Shultz
Rep. Debbie Schultz, D-Florida

WASHINGTON, January 11, 2022 — The executive director of an organization that pushes information technology reform in government testified Tuesday in front of the House Oversight committee that any incident reporting requirements that Congress is considering should not burden officials so much that they end up missing more serious breaches of cybersecurity.

Ross Nodurft of the Alliance for Digital Innovation told lawmakers studying the reform of the Federal Information Security Management Act, a 2002 law which implements an information security and protection program, that the amended legislation should consider keeping Congress abreast of incidents, but should be mindful of how it defines a security problem.

“As Congress considers defining major incidents or codifying vulnerability response policies, any legislation should be mindful of the dynamic nature of responding to cybersecurity challenges facing government networks,” Nodurft said. “If Congress is overly prescriptive in its definition of an incident, it runs the risk of receiving so many notifications that the incidents which are truly severe are missed or effectively drowned out due to thee frequency of reporting,” he said in prepared remarks.

The comments come on the heels of a year that included major cybersecurity attacks, including the attacks on software company SolarWinds, oil transport company Colonial Pipeline, which prompted a Senate hearing on the matter. The House Oversight committee released details of its investigation into some of the breaches in November.

The comments also come after lawmakers proposed new reporting requirements on companies. Those proposed laws would make it mandatory that small and large companies report incidents to the government so they can best prepare a response to protect Americans.

In July, Sens. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced the Cyber Incident Notification Act of 2021, which requires federal and private sector cybersecurity intrusions to be reported to the government within 24 hours.

Cyber incident reporting was recently left out of a Senate bipartisan version of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Lead cybersecurity officials in government have been calling for mandatory breach reporting to government. Brandon Wales, executive director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told the same Oversight committee in November that Congress should force companies to share that kind of information. Last summer, a Department of Justice official said he supports mandatory breach reporting.

In October, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the department intends to create a new cyber bureau to help tackle the growing challenge of cyber warfare.

Agency roles should be clarified

Rep. Debbie Schultz, D-Florida, talked about the varied organizations and institutions in her state that have been affected by cyberattacks and threats, including the Miami-based software company Kaseya, which experienced a major ransomware attack.

Schultz stated that there are two entities that are critical to federal cybersecurity: the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Office of the National Cyber Director.

Grant Schneider, senior director of cybersecurity services, Venable, said that the Office of the National Cyber Director acts as a conductor in the framework of FISMA. These organizations work with other organizations, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technologies, and the Office of Management and Budget.

With so many organizations, Nodurft explained how important it is for the roles within these organizations to be defined. He talked about how important it is for agencies to know where to turn to report cyberattacks. In part with this, he continued, agencies who “are proactively trying to mitigate their cyber risks” need clear reporting channels and clear areas of jurisdiction to go to for various issues.

According to Nodurft, these defined roles would “make it much easier for [agencies] to work together, to build a broader defensive structure.”

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Robocall

FCC Narrows Small Provider Group for Accelerated Robocall Compliance Timeline

Providers that are not facilities-based will need to meet their robocall obligations by June 2022.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, December 14, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it will provide facilities-based voice service providers a full two-year extension for complying with robocall regulations, while moving up the deadline for certain small operators to comply.

The agency originally ruled earlier this year that all small voice service providers that have 100,000 or fewer subscribers must comply by June 2022 with the STIR/SHAKEN regulations, a regime that requires operators to digitally validate the authenticity of a phone number and give consumers certainty that the number matches that of the supposed caller. The June 2022 date was revised earlier this year from a June 2023 timeline set earlier. The regime has been in place for large carriers since June of this year.

But after reviewing further evidence, the agency on Friday argued that a smaller “subset” of affected carriers that don’t have networks “are originating an increasing quantity of illegal robocalls.”

As a result, the FCC requires those non-facilities-based providers to continue to work toward the June 2022 deadline to comply with the regime, which operators have said is a highly technical and expensive endeavor. By narrowing the group, the FCC effectively allowed facilities-based operators to have the full compliance extension, until June 2023.

Friday’s decision follows submissions to the agency by facilities-based carriers who argued they should be granted a full extension to June 2023 precisely because the preponderance of illegal spam calls doesn’t originate from them.

The Competitive Carriers Association, NTCA, and USTelecom argued that facilities-based providers shouldn’t be penalized for calls that largely don’t run their networks.

The NTCA said in an August submission 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.”

They also argued that the burden of proof is on the non-facilities-based carriers to who why they need additional time.

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