Executive Briefing May 24, 2019


Broadcasting + Cable POTUS Fight Threatens Rural Broadband Bucks
The $40 billion in funding in the Democrats’ LIFT America Act infrastructure bill could be at risk in the showdown with President Donald Trump over the Mueller report and ongoing Democratic-led investigations into whether the President obstructed justice, an impeachable offense. The President walked out of a meeting over infrastructure legislation funding Wednesday–the same day the House Energy & Commerce Committee was holding a hearing on the bill –saying he would not negotiate while under investigation by Dems.

KRCU FCC’s Investment In Rural Broadband Could Be A “Game-Changer” For Southeast Missourians
The SEMO Electric Cooperative has been one of the benefactors of this project. They’re working to extend services to rural Missourians with a $2 million grant from the FCC they won in a recent auction by the Connect America Fund. In the auction, companies bid on certain amounts of money, which they would use correspondingly to a particular census area. In a time when schools are stepping up with one-to-one programs, fiber broadband could keep rural students at home if they need internet services, rather than taking a trip to the nearest restaurant offering free Wi-Fi.

Axios McCarthy: First step for regulating Big Tech is data transparency
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called for regulation on data collection practices from tech giants like Facebook and Google at an Axios event in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, arguing that companies should not be able to leverage users’ data without their knowledge. Why it matters: If everything comes up GOP in November 2020 and Big Tech regulation is a priority, McCarthy would likely be the Speaker to steer legislation through the House in the next Congress.

Bloomberg Facebook, Google Data Collection Under Fire in New Privacy Bill
A Republican senator plans to propose a bill that would let consumers block all websites from collecting unnecessary data, a measure that would likely hurt the data-powered advertising businesses of Google, Facebook, and others. While Congress is debating privacy measures that could allow consumers to opt out of data collection service-by-service, Josh Hawley’s proposal would allow consumers to choose a single setting that opts out of all data collection “beyond what is indispensable to the companies’ online services,” according to a statement.

Fed Scoop Senators introduce bipartisan national AI strategy
More than $2 billion in federal spending and several policy initiatives are the cornerstones of a new bipartisan bill that would create a government strategy for developing artificial intelligence technology. The Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act is the latest legislation to emerge from the new Senate AI Caucus, which is one of several congressional and executive branch groups focusing on the topic. Two founders of the caucus, Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, are joined by another member, Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in sponsoring the bill. It aims to “organize a coordinated national strategy for developing AI” to the tune of $2.2 billion in federal investment over the next five years.

Politico US to endorse new OECD principles on artificial intelligence
Donald Trump’s administration has finally found an international agreement it can support. At an annual meeting on Wednesday, the 36 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) plus a handful of other nations are set to adopt a list of guidelines for the development and use of artificial intelligence.

Washington Post Both Democrats and Republicans blast facial-recognition technology in a rare bipartisan moment
Facial-recognition technology endured fierce resistance in Washington on Wednesday as both Democratic and Republican lawmakers criticized the artificial-intelligence software as a danger to Americans’ privacy and civil rights. At a time when most issues in Washington generate a starkly partisan divide, members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee were startlingly bipartisan in their condemnation of the technology, which federal and local law-enforcement agencies already are using across the country to identify suspects caught on camera.

Buzzfeed News Amazon Now Has A Web Form For People To Report Abuses Of Its Facial Recognition Tech
Amazon is asking the public to report abuses of Rekognition, the company’s powerful facial recognition tool that it has aggressively pitched to US law enforcement agencies, in a simple web form that asks for their name, business email, company name, phone number, and a field with the prompt, “What would you like to report.” Some civil rights advocates noticed the website ahead of the company’s annual shareholders meeting Wednesday, in which Amazon shareholders voted against proposals to prohibit the sale of facial recognition technology to the government, and to study the impact of government use of the product going forward. Also on Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee held a much-anticipated hearing on facial recognition, which aimed to examine the use of the technology by the government and commercial entities, and the need for oversight on how it is used on civilians.

Multichannel FFTC: House Dems Seek Bipartisan Net Neutrality Bill
Net neutrality activists at Fight for the Future (FFTF) say they have gotten hold of a draft letter signed by almost four dozen Democratic House members calling for compromise network neutrality legislation, including forming a bipartisan caucus, a conciliatory move FFTF strongly opposed. They all voted for a bill, the Save the Internet Act, which would have restored the old net neutrality rules, which passed in the House. But that is going nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate, something the purported draft concedes.

The Hill Google, Facebook and Twitter to testify at election security hearing
Google, Facebook and Twitter will send representatives to testify at an upcoming hearing on election security, the House Oversight and Reform Committee announced Monday. The officials will likely field questions about their companies’ efforts to stave off disinformation and manipulation ahead of the 2020 presidential election after facing enormous scrutiny for allowing bad actors to take advantage of their platforms in 2016.

Politico Lawmakers: FBI can’t say with ‘certainty’ Florida voter databases not affected by 2016 hack
Florida lawmakers once again railed against the FBI on Thursday for its handling of the investigation into Russian election tampering in the state, and expressed skepticism that the intrusion didn’t alter voter rolls. After a briefing with the FBI about its investigation into the 2016 cyberattacks, members of the state’s congressional delegation blasted the bureau for not even revealing the names of the affected counties for almost three years.


Multichannel News Answering the Call for Rural Broadband
This week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will kick off a debate on legislation to modernize America’s infrastructure for the future. We are encouraged the emerging conversation in Washington is shaping up to include what is as essential to American competitiveness as roads, bridges, and energy systems: broadband. In fact, broadband providers across the country have consistently urged Congress to move forward swiftly to provide the critical resources necessary to ensure our nation’s broadband infrastructure can reach every unserved American family, community, and enterprise — especially those in our rural areas.

CNET Microsoft wants a US privacy law that puts the burden on tech companies
Microsoft’s idea of a US privacy law would make it easier for people to protect their data. The company’s corporate vice president and deputy general counsel, Julie Brill, wrote Monday that people have a right to privacy, as they become increasingly alarmed by how much data tech giants have gathered on them. The post comes nearly a year after the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation came into effect. Read more from Microsoft on the Issues.

Reuters California bill to expand privacy protections fails
California’s senate blocked a bill on Thursday that would have expanded the ability of consumers to sue companies over their handling of personal data, a win for tech industry groups concerned about wide-ranging privacy lawsuits. Under California’s data privacy law, which is set to take effect next year, consumers may file complaints to the state attorney general over alleged violations of privacy rules, but can sue over a data breach.

Axios Why campaigns turn down free cybersecurity
Cybersecurity outfits are itching to offer political campaigns free or cut-rate products to protect them from being hacked. But the campaigns, spooked by legal and technical concerns, keep turning them down. Google, Synack, Cloudflare, Microsoft and others already offer a variety of free protections to government officials. Several others, including Akamai, offer discounted services. But offering the same services to campaigns gets complicated, because of campaign finance regulations and lack of expertise. It’s against campaign finance law for corporations to donate directly to campaigns, whether that’s in the form of money or services. The FEC is currently determining whether to offer an exemption to Defending Digital Campaigns, a nonprofit started by campaign advisers to Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton that aims to offer a host of discounted or free cybersecurity services.

VentureBeat Microsoft’s AI generates realistic speech with only 200 training samples
Researchers at Microsoft recently detailed an AI system that leverages unsupervised learning — a branch of machine learning that gleans knowledge from unlabeled, unclassified, and uncategorized test data — to achieve 99.84% word intelligibility accuracy and 11.7% PER for automatic speech recognition. All the more impressive, the model required only 200 audio clips and corresponding transcriptions.

New York Times Amazon Faces Investor Pressure Over Facial Recognition
Facial recognition software is coming under increasing scrutiny from civil liberties groups and lawmakers. Now Amazon, one of the most visible purveyors of the technology, is facing pressure from another corner as well: its own shareholders. As part of Amazon’s annual meeting in Seattle on Wednesday, investors are voting on whether the tech giant’s aggressive push to spread the surveillance software threatens civil rights — and, as a consequence, the company’s reputation and profits.

Morning Consult In New Hampshire, Klobuchar to Lay Out Wide-Reaching 2020 Tech Agenda
When Sen. Amy Klobuchar joined the Democratic presidential primary race in February, she pledged to scrutinize big technology companies and increase accessibility to the digital economy through job programs and wider broadband access. The Minnesota Democrat will lay out her vision for accomplishing those goals during a Sunday evening discussion with Dartmouth College students in Hanover, N.H., on the changing economy: with plans to retool the standing mergers and acquisitions review process, pass federal data privacy legislation and update the tax code to account for gig economy workers.



  • Report on bias in AI and facial recognition: Because machines can treat similarly-situated people and objects differently, research is starting to reveal some troubling examples in which the reality of algorithmic decision-making falls short of our expectations. Given this, some algorithms run the risk of replicating and even amplifying human biases, particularly those affecting protected groups. We argue that operators and other concerned stakeholders must be diligent in proactively addressing factors which contribute to bias. (Brookings Research – Algorithmic bias detection and mitigation: Best practices and policies to reduce consumer harms, May 22, 2019)

Information Technology & Innovation Foundation

  • Blog on Maine’s privacy legislation: The “Act to Protect the Privacy of Online Customer Information” or L.D. 946 has been gaining momentum in Maine’s legislature. The bill, championed by Senator Shenna Bellows (D-Manchester), aims to increase Internet users’ privacy by restricting the collection and use of customers’ data by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Spectrum or Verizon. There are good opportunities to improve regulation of data privacy in the United States, but this proposal is not one of them. This legislation fails to balance privacy with other key interests and wouldn’t effectively increase users’ privacy. (ITIF Publications – Maine Should Avoid Fragmenting Privacy Rules, May 23, 2019)
  • Release on San Francisco’s facial recognition ban: San Francisco made history by becoming the first major city to ban law enforcement from using facial recognition technology. It is understandable that people want to set limits on police surveillance and address racial bias in policing, but as Daniel Castro writes for RealClearPolicy, a blanket ban on facial recognition technology does nothing to address those underlying issues and only makes it more difficult for police to investigate crimes and improve public safety. (ITIF Publications – Facial Recognition Bans Handcuff Law Enforcement, May 22, 2019)

Microsoft on the Issues

  • Blog on rural broadband and veterans: There are 2.7 million Veterans enrolled in Veterans Affairs (VA) who are living in rural communities, 42% of them do not have internet access at home which could support their use of VA telehealth services, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’, Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Rural Health. These rural Veterans live in areas where access to fast, reliable internet service may be limited or inaccessible and are facing higher rates of unemployment, longer drives to reach the nearest clinics and medical centers, and lower levels of educational attainment compared to their urban counterparts. (Microsoft on the Issues – Working together to bring broadband to rural Veterans, May 22, 2019)
  • Blog on GDPR: Around the world, there is a growing expectation that everyone should benefit from digital technology without losing control of their personal information. This is why Microsoft was the first company to provide the data control rights at the heart of GDPR to our customers around the globe, not just in Europe. One year later, the ever-growing number of people using our privacy dashboard is a clear sign that people want to be empowered to control their data. (Microsoft on the Issues – GDPR’s first anniversary: A year of progress in privacy protection, May 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.