Executive Briefing August 23, 2019

Dear Executive Briefing subscribers,

This summer, I attended my first Microsoft Inspire conference. It was a great opportunity to connect with Microsoft partners and partner leaders interested in advocacy. From hosting an “Advocacy Meetup” to sponsoring and participating in IAMCP’s Executive Roundtables program, it was a busy few days to say the least! You can read more about VFI’s highlights from Inspire on our latest blog: https://www.voicesforinnovation.org/microsoft-inspire-2019-recap/

And, as the 2020 presidential primary heats up, we’ll be separating candidates’ statements on technology issues, plus other election news, into a new section.

I also wanted to remind readers that you can pre-order Microsoft president Brad Smith’s new book, Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age, out in just a few weeks.

Finally, we’ll be taking a week off from the Executive Briefing for the Labor Day holiday. I’ll be spending time with my family as summer begins coming to a close – and I hope you will, too.

Here’s your weekly roundup of technology policy news:


B+C Sen. Manchin Pledges to be FCC’s Broadband Speed Pen Pal
Saying the lack of broadband access is having a “devastating” impact on tourism in his state, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) said he plans to be a regular correspondent with FCC chair Ajit Pai on the issue of broadband speeds and availability.

MarketWatch Tech shares fall as U.S. finally admits it is investigating Big Tech for antitrust
After months of speculation and reports, the U.S. government openly announced Tuesday afternoon that it is investigating the largest U.S. tech companies for anticompetitive practices, an inquiry that could lead to antitrust charges. “The Department’s antitrust division is reviewing whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers,” the Justice Department announced.

The Hill Bipartisan panel to issue recommendations for defending US against cyberattacks early next year
A congressionally mandated commission plans to issue its recommendations for protecting the U.S. against cyberattacks early next year, a former top official at the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday. The Cyberspace Solarium Commission — made up of bipartisan members of Congress, former government officials and industry representatives — is working toward formulating a comprehensive, strategic approach, commission member Suzanne Spaulding said at the Digital Government Institute’s 930gov conference.

NextGov DHS is Collecting Biometrics on Thousands of Refugees Who Will Never Enter the U.S.
The Homeland Security Department months ago started collecting biometric information on every refugee who is referred for resettlement in the U.S., and it retains the data even if those people never set foot in the country. Every year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees sends profiles on tens of thousands of refugees to federal agencies, which uses that information to determine if the person can enter the country. Those profiles contain biographic information like name, birthday and country of origin, and as of late, they also include biometric data.


Politico Democrats torch Trump failures on rural digital divide
Democrats are offering President Donald Trump’s rural supporters a reason to turn against him in 2020 — his failure to bring them the high-speed internet he promised. Several presidential candidates including Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg have rolled out proposals for tens of billions in new federal dollars to bring fast broadband service to rural America, with Warren’s $85 billion plan leading the spending pack.

Vox Bernie Sanders wants to ban police use of facial recognition tech
Facial recognition technology has found a new foe: Bernie Sanders. The Democratic presidential candidate announced his plan over the weekend to ban police use of facial recognition technology as part of a wider overhaul of the criminal justice system. He is the first major politician running for president in 2020 to take this stance against the controversial surveillance technology.

Fast Company Inside Microsoft’s plan to fix America’s broken voting system
ElectionGuard, a new project by Microsoft, debuted this summer at the Aspen Security Forum. ElectionGuard is an open code standard that anyone can audit, freely use, and plug into, to create secure digital voting machines that remove many of the barriers of voting.


Technical.ly Gov. Hogan opens up nearly $10M for rural broadband expansion in Maryland
Maryland is aiming to expand reliable broadband connectivity in rural areas of the state through a new plan. This week, Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration said it is opening up $9.9 million in funding, which is part of a broader plan to bring better, affordable connectivity to underserved areas. In all, the goal is to reach 225,000 people.

The Hill Officials say at least 20 Texas government entities targeted in cyber attack
At least 20 local government entities across Texas were hit by a ransomware attack, authorities announced Friday. The Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) said in a statement that officials from state agencies were responding to the cyberattack, but did not release the identities of affected agencies. “Currently, DIR, the Texas Military Department, and the Texas A&M University System’s Cyberresponse and Security Operations Center teams are deploying resources to the most critically impacted jurisdictions. Further resources will be deployed as they are requested,” the department said in the press release.

New York Times Ransomware Attacks Are Testing Resolve of Cities Across America
Another, deeper look at ransomware attacks on American municipal governments.

Bloomberg Facebook’s Libra Currency Gets European Union Antitrust Scrutiny
European Union antitrust regulators are already probing Facebook Inc.’s two-month-old Libra digital currency project, according to a document seen by Bloomberg. The European Commission is “currently investigating potential anti-competitive behavior” related to the Libra Association amid concerns the proposed payment system would unfairly shut out rivals, the EU authority said in a questionnaire sent out earlier this month.

Financial Times EU plans sweeping regulation of facial recognition
Brussels is exploring ways to impose strict limits on the use of facial recognition technology in an attempt to stamp out creeping public surveillance of European citizens. The European Commission is planning regulation that will give EU citizens explicit rights over the use of their facial recognition data as part of an overhaul in the way Europe regulates artificial intelligence, according to senior officials who spoke to the Financial Times.

NY Times Facebook’s New Tool Lets You See Which Apps and Websites Tracked You
Facebook has built an extensive network of tracking technology outside of its core social network to bolster its targeted advertising business. That has allowed the company to collect information about its users’ browsing habits, even when they were not using the social network.

Bloomberg Biometric Data Breach Could Link Your Face to Illegal Activities
The nature of how organizations capture and store the public’s biometric data, such as fingerprints and images of faces, came under renewed scrutiny this week by security experts and regulators. Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office said it was opening an investigation into the use of facial-recognition camera technology at London’s Kings Cross development. It followed revelations on Wednesday that millions of pieces of personal biometric data may have leaked from a popular security service.

TechCrunch MoviePass exposed thousands of unencrypted customer card numbers
Movie ticket subscription service MoviePass has exposed tens of thousands of customer card numbers and personal credit cards because a critical server was not protected with a password. Mossab Hussein, a security researcher at Dubai-based cybersecurity firm SpiderSilk, found an exposed database on one of the company’s many subdomains. The database was massive, containing 161 million records at the time of writing and growing in real time.

Reuters Exclusive: Fearing data privacy issues, Google cuts some Android phone data for wireless carriers
Alphabet Inc’s Google has shut down a service it provided to wireless carriers globally that showed them weak spots in their network coverage, people familiar with the matter told Reuters, because of Google’s concerns that sharing data from users of its Android phone system might attract the scrutiny of users and regulators. Even though the data were anonymous and the sharing of it has become commonplace, Google’s move illustrates how concerned the company has become about drawing attention amid a heightened focus in much of the world on data privacy.

TechCrunch Amazon customers say they received emails for other people’s orders
Users have said they are receiving emails from Amazon containing invoices and order updates on other customers, TechCrunch has learned. Jake Williams, founder of cybersecurity firm Rendition Infosec, raised the alarm after he received an email from Amazon addressed to another customer with their name, postal address and their order details. Williams said he ordered something months ago which recently became available for shipping. He checked the email headers to make sure it was a genuine message.

The Information Developers Call Apple Privacy Changes Anti-Competitive
Apple has said upcoming changes to its iPhone operating system will better protect the privacy of users. But a group of app developers recently told Apple some of those changes will hurt their businesses, while accusing the company of anti-competitive behavior in the way it subjects its own software to the new rules.

The Wall Street Journal Small Companies Play Big Role in Robocall Scourge, but Remedies Are Elusive (Paywall)
The billions of illegal robocalls inundating Americans are being facilitated largely by small telecom carriers that transmit calls over the internet, industry officials say, but authorities are at odds over what—if anything—they can do to stop them. These telecom carriers typically charge fractions of a cent per call, making their money on huge volume.


American Enterprise Institute

  • Blog on Cryptocurrency: When I served as global policy counsel of the Bitcoin Foundation in 2014, I was fond of saying that the inevitable “Bitcoin revolution” would come in five, 15, or 50 years. Our task was simply to shorten the time frame. Five years on, the Bitcoin Foundation is essentially defunct. Bitcoin faces stiff competition from other digital assets (including competing “bitcoins”). And we know that it will be more than five years before cryptocurrency reaches its potential. (AEI Ideas – Bitcoiners acclimating to life on the fringe, August 22, 2019)

Competitive Enterprise Institute    

  • Blog on Facebook and Speech Regulation: Facebook today released an interim report by former U.S. Senator John Kyl (R-Ariz.) examining claims by some conservatives of political bias on the part of the social media giant. The report does not attempt to lay out proof that such bias either does or does not exist. Instead, it reviews some of the concerns raised by conservatives and considers whether those problems stem from misunderstandings or political bias. (News Releases – Facebook Report on Bias Overlooks Looming Threats of Speech Regulation, August 20, 2019)

 Note: Voices for Innovation regularly shares a range of opinion articles and press releases from organizations in and publications covering tech policy. These pieces are meant to educate our audience, not to endorse specific platforms or bills.