WASHINGTON, April 25, 2022 – While experts agreed that federal legislators need to take action on comprehensive privacy legislation, they disagreed on the specifics of how such regulation should be enforced.
Though some states have begun to establish their own frameworks for consumer privacy regulation, each framework puts forth different standards that online platforms would have to adhere to. These varied frameworks have raised concerns among many experts who consider a patchwork of legislation to raise the bar of compliance – a bar that could be lowered by federal legislation.
During an R Street panel on Monday, experts from the technology industry weighed in on the matter with their perspectives.
In March, Utah joined California, Colorado, and Virginia and became the fourth state to successfully pass consumer privacy legislation. Several additional states, including Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut have experienced mixed success with their bills and have not yet signed anything into law.
Lartease Tiffith, executive vice president for public policy at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, said that the US is an outlier among developed countries. “We are one of the few developed countries that [does not have a federal privacy law],” he said. “I think that in order to reflect the same common values as our colleagues who are in Europe and elsewhere around the world, we need [to make] one.”
Beyond the international perspective, Tiffith also emphasized domestic justifications for federal legislation. “I cannot think of a subject matter that is not more under the purview of Congress than interstate commerce,” he said. “The internet is everywhere – it is not limited by borders. So, we need to have one standard, one set of laws. It should not matter where you live – California, Utah, Virginia, Colorado – you should have the same basic privacy rights as anyone, anywhere.”
Various state legislation harder for smaller companies
Tiffith also explained that a patchwork of regulation would hit smaller businesses the hardest. “If you are a small or medium sized business and you are looking at investing more money into your products and service and delivering and reaching customers – you want to do that rather than spending time on hiring more lawyers to deal with ever complicating regulations.
“We need this for the next set of Amazons and Googles of the world to exists,” he said.
While the panelists were able to agree on the fact that current patchwork of laws is not sustainable, they did not agree on how to enforce a federal framework.
A federal body for consumer data protection
Sara Collins, senior policy counsel for internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, voiced benefits to creating a new data protection authority in the US – a body distinct from the Federal Trade Commission – that would focus expressly on matters related to consumer data protection.
Tiffith pushed back, however, arguing that the FTC already does a good job at handling these issues, and is only held back by what he views as under-resourcing. “If you compare the FTC to other protection authorities, they are very under-resourced,” he said. “So, I think instead of us standing up a whole new data protection authority, I think instead, let’s invest that money in the FTC, give them some rules, some limited rulemaking authority, and let’s give them a lot more staff and a lot more money.
“Let them be the cop on the beat,” he said.
Led by Wyden, Democrats Call on NTIA to Reform Privacy Standards for .US Domains
The Democratic legislator called on NTIA end the automatic disclosure of .US web domain users’ personal information.
WASHINGTON, September 21, 2022 – A bicameral coalition led by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on Wednesday called on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to end the automatic disclosure of .US web domain users’ sensitive personal information.
The all-Democrat coalition – including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. – laid out its concerns Wednesday in a letter to Administrator Alan Davidson of the NTIA:
“It is highly concerning that NTIA, since at least 2005, has not directed its contractors administering .US to adopt any protections for this sensitive information. The automatic public disclosure of users’ personal information puts them at enhanced risk for becoming victims of identity theft, spamming, spoofing, doxxing, online harassment, and even physical harm,” the coalition wrote.
Rejecting the NTIA’s current disclosure policy, the coalition called anonymity “a necessary component of free speech” and argued that with better privacy protections, .US domains would be more attractive to new website creators.
Besides making .US users’ information private, the letter recommends requiring users’ “affirmative, informed consent” for all third-party data transfers, strengthening barriers against law-enforcement investigations, and notifying users if a foreign government seeks access to their data. The coalition stated that instituting stronger privacy measures wouldn’t increase rates of online crime.
“A privacy- protective .US should support NTIA in these negotiations by providing a model for best practices in the broader domain name ecosystem. We urge you to continue the fight for privacy, expression, and human rights,” the letter said.
EU’s Digital Services Act May Be a Model for the United States
The Digital Services Act imposes transparency requirements and other accountability measures for tech platforms.
September 16, 2022 – European Union’s Digital Service Act, particularly its data-sharing requirements, may become the model for future American future tech policy, said Mathias Vermeulen, public policy director at the AWO Agency, at a German Marshall Fund web panel Monday.
Now in the final stages of becoming law, the DSA aims to create a safer internet by introducing transparency requirements and other accountability measures for covered platforms. Of note to the German Marshall Fund paneliests was the DSA’s provision that, when cleared by regulators, “very large online platforms” – e.g., Facebook and Twitter – must provide data to third-party researchers for the purpose of ensuring DSA compliance.
In addition, the EU’s voluntary Code of Practice on Disinformation was unveiled in June, requiring opted-in platforms to combat disinformation by introducing bot-elimination schemes, demonetizing sources of alleged misinformation, and labeling political advertisements, among other measures. Signatories of the Code of Practice – including American tech giants Google Search, LinkedIn, Meta, Microsoft Bing, and Twitter – also agreed to proactively share data with researchers.
Vermeulen said that he expects the EU will soon draft new legislation to address the privacy concerns raised by the Digital Service Act’s data-sharing requirements.
The risks of large-scale data sharing
To protect user privacy, the DSA requires data handed over to researchers to be anonymized. Many experts believe that “anonymous” data is generally traceable to its source, however. Even the EU’s recommendations on data-anonymization best practices acknowledges the inherent privacy risks:
“Data controllers should consider that an anonymised dataset can still present residual risks to data subjects. Indeed, on the one hand, anonymisation and re-identification are active fields of research and new discoveries are regularly published, and on the other hand even anonymised data, like statistics, may be used to enrich existing profiles of individuals, thus creating new data protection issues.”
An essay from the Brookings Institution – generally supportive of the DSA’s data-sharing provisions – argues that many private researchers do not have the experience necessary to securely store sensitive data, recommending that the EU Commission establish or subsidize of secure centralized databases.
Jeff Pulver and Noah Rafalko: A Humble Request to the FCC on Robocalls
Blocking bad actors requires a whole new way of thinking, the authors say in this ExpertOp exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.
Should the Federal Communications Commission seek out alternative platforms to solve their 2022 spam, scam and robocall issues? Yes! Does Blockchain offer valuable solutions? Yes! We would like to ask the FCC to increase the width of their lens when it comes to deploying solutions to solve their growing number of systemic challenges.
Any action to stop robocall insanity and tech-driven scams would be welcome. While Americans deal with the linger pandemic, mass shootings, an uncertain economy and war in Europe, the constant annoyance from scammers and 4.1 billion robocalls a month is just too much. Most people have responded by literally giving up voice communications all together.
Recently implemented legislation called STIR/SHAKEN is a step in the right direction, but it is not a long-term solution. The FCC is simply taking old standards and applying them to new technologies. New thinking is needed; the next generation of technology must be explored. And the most promising of the new tools to protect our telecommunications system from fraudulent players lies in blockchain.
The key to stopping these nefarious acts lies in a digital identity solution powered by blockchain – a shard database or ledger. An identity solution enables customers to be confident that the communication is truly from enterprises they know and trust.
With blockchain, only authorized and verified messages get through. Spam and robocalls are virtually eliminated in one shot. All that’s required is a slight change in how we approach communications.
In a world where consumers are already doing whatever they can to self-manage their identity, it isn’t a large leap of faith to imagine adding a certified, digital ID to our telephone numbers.
Consumers freely use their telephone numbers to attest and manage their identity – even more than they use their Social Security numbers, birthdays, mother’s maiden name and secret questions. In our current digital universe, consumers use their phone numbers to register for store discounts, receive health and safety alerts and even transfer money to others.
And in their effort to stop spam and robocalls, consumers willingly add apps such as Hiya, paying over $300 million a year to these intermediaries.
The FCC needs to evolve and embrace the technology that allows consumers and mobile carriers who have a shared stake in attesting their identities. They need to recognize that blockchain technology offers an elegant, all-encompassing solution to the $40 billion in fraud that consumers fall victim to every year.
It’s time we leveraged a solution that’s already being used in other countries such as India, where blockchain technology helps protect over 600 million citizens from spam and robocalls.
Back in 2004, when the future of telecommunications was being written, the FCC was challenged with laying down rules governing Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). At that time, we hosted brown-bag lunches for Congress, and held open demonstration days at the FCC as well as a mini-trade show on the Hill in our effort to inform and educate Congress, staffers and other government employees on the latest and greatest innovations in Internet communications technology.
The FCC would be wise to revisit this practice of show and tell where they hear from the innovators of new game-changing technologies that can solve their biggest concerns. It certainly is wiser than simply taking advice handed down from lobbyists and relying on legislation that’s severely limited and unenforceable.
When the FCC uses its influence to investigate and embrace new and innovative technologies, they can finally make significant headway in restoring trust in the quality of service associated with our communications.
Jeff Pulver is an innovator in the field of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). He was instrumental in changing how the FCC classified VoIP in 2004, paving the way for the development of video and voice internet communications. The co-founder of Vonage, Jeff has invested in over 400 start-ups.
Noah Rafalko is a pioneer in TNID (Telephone Number ID), a blockchain solution that restores trust in communications. Noah is founder and CEO of TSG Global, Inc. which provides voice, messaging and identity management services for SaaS companies and large enterprises. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.
Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to firstname.lastname@example.org. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.
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