June 11 2021

This Week in Washington

The Verge Biden administration makes $1 billion in grants available for broadband on tribal lands
The Biden administration will make $1 billion in grants available to expand broadband access and adoption on tribal lands, Vice President Kamala Harris announced at the White House Thursday. The funds, from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), will be made to eligible Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian entities for broadband deployment, to support digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning.

New York Times Supreme Court Limits Reach of Federal Law on Computer Crime
The Supreme Court on Thursday narrowed the scope of a federal law that makes it a crime to gain access to computer files without authorization. By a 6-to-3 vote, the court sided with a former police officer in Georgia who used his position to search digital license-plate records for an illicit purpose. Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote the majority opinion, which featured an unusual coalition made up of the other two justices appointed by President Donald J. Trump and the court’s three-member liberal wing.

TechCrunch CISA launches platform to let hackers report security bugs to US federal agencies
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has launched a vulnerability disclosure program allowing ethical hackers to report security flaws to federal agencies. The platform, launched with the help of cybersecurity companies Bugcrowd and Endyna, will allow civilian federal agencies to receive, triage and fix security vulnerabilities from the wider security community. The move to launch the platform comes less than a year after the federal cybersecurity agency, better known as CISA, directed the civilian federal agencies that it oversees to develop and publish their own vulnerability disclosure policies.

Reuters 2.31 million U.S. households sign up for broadband subsidy -FCC
A total of 2.31 million U.S. households have signed up to take part in a temporary $3.2 billion broadband subsidy program created by Congress in December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Monday. Over 1,000 broadband providers have agreed to take part in the program, which provides lower-income Americans or people affected by COVID-19 with discounts on monthly internet service and on purchasing laptops or tablet computers. Some providers previously estimated the program, which has been running since May 12, could run out of money in four to six months.

Fed Scoop Pentagon to establish new security standards for 5G technology
The Department of Defense (DOD) is working to create its own set of security standards for 5G, according to the department’s principal director for the technology. Speaking at a 5G security summit hosted by Billington Cybersecurity, Joe Evans said the DOD must understand all hardware and software used — including cell towers and receptors — and that it would have its own set of security standards for procuring 5G networks.

NBC ‘They are hair on fire’: Biden administration mulls cyberattacks against Russian hackers
The Biden administration is moving to treat ransomware attacks as a national security threat, using intelligence agencies to spy on foreign criminals and contemplating offensive cyber operations against hackers inside Russia, U.S. officials and other sources familiar with the matter said. Although using the military to take action against criminals wouldn’t be without precedent, it’s controversial in legal circles, and any American cyber action against targets in Russia would risk retaliation. But officials say criminal ransomware attacks from abroad, once a nuisance, have become a major source of economic damage, as the disruption of gasoline and meat supplies in recent weeks has illustrated.

Nextgov Lawmakers Ask USDA, HUD, and FCC to Cooperatively Help Expand Internet Access
Almost two dozen senators called on the Federal Communications Commission, and Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development departments to improve how they share and use data to pinpoint U.S. communities without internet access. Led by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, the group of lawmakers—all Democrats—urged the agencies to better combine their resources and collectively confront the digital divide.

Article Summary

Axios How the U.S. got boxed in on privacy
The federal government’s failure to craft a national privacy law has left it to be squeezed on the issue by the EU on one side and California on the other. Why it matters: Companies are stuck trying to navigate the maze of EU and state laws, while legislators in Washington have no choice but to use those laws as de facto standards.

The Denver Post Colorado closer to becoming third state to strengthen data privacy and transparency laws (PAYWALL)
Colorado is closer to becoming the third state in the nation to pass a data privacy law, which would go into effect in 2023 if Gov. Jared Polis signs the legislation. SB21-190 got the final stamp of approval Tuesday, what appeared to be the final day of the Colorado legislative session. The bill would allow consumers to opt out of online data collection, and companies would have to make clear what data they collect from online visitors, what they do with the data and how long they store it.

Microsoft Official Blog Addressing racial and digital inequity
Our world is becoming more digital every day. The pandemic has forced so many essential activities online: going to school, earning an income and staying in touch with friends and family all require a reliable broadband internet connection. But millions of Americans don’t have access to broadband –  either because it’s not available or they can’t afford it – and are cut off from what has become essential to everyday life during the pandemic. This problem is particularly acute in Black, African American, Latinx and Hispanic communities in cities where broadband infrastructure largely exists, but the connection and devices to utilize it are unaffordable, leaving access to essentials of life out of reach for millions. This is a problem we can and must fix.

Wired Ransomware Struck Another Pipeline Firm – and 70GB of Data Leaked
When ransomware hackers hit Colonial Pipeline last month and shut off the distribution of gas along much of the East Coast of the United States, the world woke up to the danger of digital disruption of the petrochemical pipeline industry. Now it appears another pipeline-focused business was also hit by a ransomware crew around the same time, but kept its breach quiet—even as 70 gigabytes of its internal files were stolen and dumped onto the dark web. A group identifying itself as Xing Team last month posted to its dark web site a collection of files stolen from LineStar Integrity Services, a Houston-based company that sells auditing, compliance, maintenance, and technology services to pipeline customers.

Axios Privacy tech industry explodes
Businesses forced to comply with a patchwork of state and global privacy rules have turned what was once a cottage industry focused on data and privacy into a multi-billion-dollar sector. As COVID-19 pushed consumers online in droves, companies — from Fortune 500 firms to the corner coffee shop — had to grapple with how to legally handle personal data. The privacy-tech companies who know how to do it have been raking in the cash.

Politico Not-so-remote areas with internet ‘black holes’ renew fight for broadband
Back in 2015, Mark Wherley drove from his home in southern Pennsylvania to nearby Westminster, Md., for a routine ribbon-cutting event. Wherley, a videographer at a nonprofit community TV station, was there to take footage of the unveiling of a new fiber-based internet network just over the state line. Maryland officials had launched the new internet service to turbocharge connectivity in their community. Located not far from bigger cities like Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, they hoped to attract new business to a “makerspace” hub complete with its own 3D printer and faster internet speeds. Big-city commuters living in these close-in rural areas, Maryland officials reasoned, expected to stay robustly connected.

The Washington Post Ransomware attacks are closing schools, delaying chemotherapy and derailing everyday life
It can feel abstract: A group of organized but faceless criminals hijacking corporate computer systems and demanding millions of dollars in exchange for their safe return. But the impact of these ransomware attacks is increasingly, unavoidably, real for everyday people. These crimes have resulted in missed chemotherapy appointments and delayed ambulances, lost school days, and transportation problems.

Politico Cyberattack on food supply followed years of warnings
Security analysts from the University of Minnesota warned the U.S. Agriculture Department in late May about a growing danger — a cyber crime known as ransomware that could wreak more havoc on Americans’ food sources than Covid-19 did. A week and a half later, the prediction became reality as a ransomware attack forced the shutdown of meat plants that process more than a fifth of the nation’s beef supply in the latest demonstration of hackers’ ability to interrupt a critical piece of the U.S. economy.

Multichannel News Computer Giants Seek to Block Enforcement of Florida Bill limiting Sec. 230
Edge players have launched the latest legal salvo in their attempt to block a Florida law they say unconstitutionally restricts free speech, equal protection and due process. The Computer & Communications Industry Association and NetChoice, which together represent all the big players–Amazon, Google, Twitter, Mozilla (Dish and Verizon as well), have filed for a preliminary injunction in a Tallahassee federal district court asking it to block enforcement of the state law scheduled to go into effect next month.

Roll Call In rural South Carolina, a groundbreaking broadband project takes root
Since January, the project has expanded beyond the public Wi-Fi network, powered by additional hubs at key locations around town, to offer residential broadband service for families with school-age children, many of whom have struggled to keep up with school throughout the pandemic because they cannot participate in online learning. Allendale’s situation prior to implementation of the new program wasn’t unique; it persists throughout rural Southern communities, especially poorer areas with larger Black populations.

Axios Exclusive: New York project to combine solar power with high-speed broadband
A new type of housing initiative kicking off in New York City seeks to address two major problems facing the U.S. today: The lack of widespread, high-speed broadband access for low-income residents, and the need to more widely deploy clean energy technologies. The project is a unique marriage between two of the Biden administration’s top infrastructure policy goals, except on a local level. Using funding from the NY Green Bank and New York State Housing Finance Agency, the Workforce Housing Group — a New York-based affordable housing development organization — is set to launch a project involving about two-dozen buildings in New York City. These buildings will capitalize on the cost savings of solar power to bring high speed broadband and WiFi access to residents who might not be able to afford it otherwise.

Think Tank / Tech Trade Association Highlights

The Brookings Institution

  • Blog on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
    On June 3, the Supreme Court ruled in Van Buren v. United States, a case that considered long standing concerns about the scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Van Buren arose from the prosecution under the CFAA of a (now former) police sergeant who, in exchange for an anticipated payment of about $5,000, used a law enforcement computer to run a license plate search. While this action was clearly wrong, was it a violation of the CFAA? In a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Barrett, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that it was not. (TechTank – Reining in overly broad interpretations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, June 7, 2021)

Information Technology & Innovation Foundation

  • Commentary on Consumer Preferences for Data Privacy
    Policymakers seeking to increase data regulation often cite privacy concerns of consumers to justify harsher restrictions on the free flow of data. While greater data sharing allows for more efficient matching of consumer demand with digital services, consumers under this rationale are instead assumed to value privacy above all else. This assumption, however, is unsupported by the empirical findings of four researchers with the National Bureau of Economic Research. (ITIF Blog – Fact of the Week: Consumer Preferences for Data Privacy Don’t Correlate With Data-Sharing Behavior, June 7, 2021)