October 2 2020

COVID-19: Industry News & Response

Science Daily AI can detect COVID-19 in the lungs like a virtual physician, new study shows
A University of Central Florida researcher is part of a new study showing that artificial intelligence can be nearly as accurate as a physician in diagnosing COVID-19 in the lungs. The study, recently published in Nature Communications, shows the new technique can also overcome some of the challenges of current testing. Researchers demonstrated that an AI algorithm could be trained to classify COVID-19 pneumonia in computed tomography (CT) scans with up to 90 percent accuracy, as well as correctly identify positive cases 84 percent of the time and negative cases 93 percent of the time.

KOB4 New Mexico Tech biologists develop nasal spray to protect against COVID-19
Two biologists at New Mexico Tech developed a nasal spray that they say blocks COVID-19. Dr. Danielle Turner and Dr. Snezna Rogelj said the nasal spray has been years in the making. The nasal spray is based on a substance licensed by Parnell Pharmaceuticals, from New Mexico Tech, to treat drug-resistant bacteria and fungi. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the doctors realized it could also be used to attack the virus.

McKnight’s Senior Living How tech is reducing social isolation in senior living in the COVID-19 era
Human interaction is critical for our mental, emotional and physical well-being. In a 2015 meta-analysis of studies on loneliness, researchers found the following: living with air pollution increases your odds of dying early by 5%; living with obesity, 20%; excessive drinking, 30%. But living with loneliness increases our odds of dying early by 45%. That’s more than twice the effect of obesity, which we know is a massive issue.


CNBC Fears mount over Russian and Chinese hackers targeting the 2020 U.S. presidential election
As the 2020 presidential election approaches across America, voters have déjà vu and are concerned over the risk of hacking. On Sept. 10, Microsoft warned that the Russian military intelligence unit that had attacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016 was back. This time, the company warned, the threats would be more sophisticated and target consultants, staff members, and other entities associated with both Democratic and Republican campaigns.

Nextgov Foreign Hackers Cripple Texas County’s Email System, Raising Election Security Concerns
Last week, voters and election administrators who emailed Leanne Jackson, the clerk of rural Hamilton County in central Texas, received bureaucratic-looking replies. “Re: official precinct results,” one subject line read. The text supplied passwords for an attached file. But Jackson didn’t send the messages. Instead, they came from Sri Lankan and Congolese email addresses, and they cleverly hid malicious software inside a Microsoft Word attachment. By the time Jackson learned about the forgery, it was too late. Hackers continued to fire off look-alike replies.

Protocol The mail-in voting tech industry can’t keep up
Runbeck Election Services has been working on elections since the 1970s, but Jeff Ellington, the company’s chief operating officer, had a feeling even before COVID-19 hit that 2020 would be a busier election than most. So, in early March, a week before most of the country began shutting down, he ordered an extra 11 mail-in ballot inserters, just to be safe. He had no idea then how badly he’d need them. Despite ramping up capacity and working overtime, mail-in ballot vendors like Runbeck have been struggling to meet the needs of every state and county knocking on their doors.

Politico At White House’s urging, Republicans launch anti-tech blitz ahead of election
The Trump administration is pressuring Senate Republicans to ratchet up scrutiny of social media companies it sees as biased against conservatives in the run-up to the November election, people familiar with the conversations say. And the effort appears to be paying off. In recent weeks, the White House has pressed Senate Republican leaders on key committees to hold public hearings on the law that protects Facebook, Twitter and other internet companies from lawsuits over how they treat user posts, three Senate staffers told POLITICO.


Foundation for Economic Education Does Big Tech Violate Antitrust Law? Let the Courts Decide, Not Congress
If you were accused of breaking the law, who would you trust more to hear you out, a court of law or Congress? In late July, the House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee held a hearing to study the market power of online platforms. Billed as a bipartisan review of Big Tech, the witnesses included Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Multichannel News FCC Extends Telehealth Program Purchase Deadline
The FCC has extended the deadline for its telehealth program recipients to use their money to buy eligible devices and services to the end of the year. The FCC has given out $200 million in CARES Act telehealth subsidies for healthcare providers to purchase tablets and smart phones and other telehealth provision tech, as well as broadband service. The FCC stopped accepting applications July 8 because the money had run out.

Nextgov DOD Pours Millions of Dollars into Print-on-Demand Drugs
An idea born of battlefield need — print-on-demand pharmaceuticals — may ultimately help ease COVID-era concerns about foreign supply chains. On Monday, the Defense Department announced a $20 million contract to On Demand Pharmaceuticals, to further develop machines that can produce drugs at the point of care. ODP’s miniature drug factories are built on research first funded in 2016 by the Battlefield Medicine project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA’s goal was to create a drug-making machine that could be shipped to harsh environments and mix medicines on demand for a wide variety of illnesses or conditions

The Hill House passes bills to secure energy sector against cyberattacks
The House on Tuesday unanimously passed four bills aimed at securing the power grid and other energy infrastructure against cyberattacks. All four of the bipartisan bills were approved by voice vote, and supported by the leaders of the House Energy and Commerce and House Science, Space, and Technology panels.  The Cyber Sense Act, primarily sponsored by Reps. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), would require the secretary of Energy to establish a program to test the cybersecurity of products intended to be used in the bulk power system.

Fedscoop National AI strategy resolution could pass during lame duck session
Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Robin Kelly, D-Ill., want to see their resolution to create a national artificial intelligence strategy passed this year, possibly during Congress’ upcoming “lame duck” session. The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology is handling the resolution, and its authors are currently “twisting arms” for more co-sponsors, Hurd said during the launch of MITRE‘s Center for Data-Driven Policy on Thursday. Quick passage of the resolution would provide the next couple of congresses with a framework for debating AI specifics, as the U.S. battles China to become the world leader in the emerging technology, Hurd said.

Federal News Network House Modernization Committee issues last round of recommendations
The House Select Committee on Modernization of Congress has passed its final round of recommendations before its term expires at the end of this session of Congress. Those recommendations include standing up a Congressional Data Task Force and identifying continuity of operations best practices the House made during the coronavirus pandemic. Members of the committee have recommended creating a Congressional Digital Services Task Force that would overhaul the House’s internal and public-facing operations. The committee has introduced 97 recommendations over the past 20 months.

Protocol What Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court would mean for the future of tech
Having another Republican justice on the Supreme Court might be good for most businesses. For tech, it’s more complicated. Over the next decade, the Supreme Court will likely be asked to weigh in on issues that shape the future of the tech industry, including government surveillance, U.S. privacy laws, intellectual property rights, antitrust and content moderation. Its decisions could determine how far the government is allowed to reach into companies like Facebook and Google and what the constitution says about digital rights.


The Verge Facebook’s latest integrations with Instagram could make it harder for regulators to break up the company
Today, let’s talk about a couple little things that could turn into a big thing. In January 2019, Mike Isaac reported a noteworthy development about Facebook at the New York Times. In the months to come, he said, Facebook would unify the technical infrastructure powering Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. To the user, these changes would be invisible. But to Facebook itself, there were clear strategic imperatives to merge the apps. Among them: the move came just as the US government was beginning to consider an effort to break the company up.

Axios K-12 schools scramble for tech equipment this fall
Tens of millions of students across the U.S. risk falling farther behind this fall as schools struggle to secure the technology needed to effectively teach online. Many schools across the country ordered child-friendly technology like Lenovo Chromebooks in the spring to continue classes virtually in the fall. But, order backlogs are pushing some arrival dates to as late as October. The world’s three biggest computer companies, Lenovo, HP and Dell, said they have a shortage of nearly 5 million laptops, per AP.

Roll Call Privacy of biometric data in DHS hands in doubt, inspector general says
An inspector general’s report is casting doubt on the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to protect its massive repository of personal data from hackers amid a push by the Trump administration to vastly expand its collection of biometrics through the use of facial recognition and other tools. The report, released by the DHS inspector general’s office on Sept. 23, found that U.S. Customs and Border Protection failed to protect a collection of 184,000 facial images of cross-border travelers prior to a massive data breach last year. At least 19 of the images, which were collected through a pilot program at the Anzalduas Port of Entry in Texas, were later posted on the dark web.

Canton Daily Ledger USDA launches webpage to announce rural broadband projects
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand announced that USDA has launched a webpage to notify the public when the Department has received applications from rural electric cooperatives and utilities for loans and loan guarantees in which up to 10% of the funds will be used to deploy broadband service. The applications pertain to the Electric Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee Program.


The Brookings Institution 

  • Podcast on voter suppression and election interference.
    With the 2020 presidential election about to take place, concerns about foreign interference, disinformation, mail ballot snafus, and voter suppression remain high. Already, there have been major phishing attacks against leading campaigns and Facebook has removed hundreds of thousands of fake accounts operated by foreign entities. With countries such as Russia, China, and Iran having a major stake in the outcome, what should U.S. election officials be doing to safeguard the election? Are American policymakers prepared for what likely will be the most important election in decades? In this episode, Brookings experts Elaine Kamarck, Chris Meserole, and Darrell West identify the major threats to our election system, highlight lessons learned from 2016 that could help protect voters, and discuss whether disinformation and voter suppression will enable President Donald Trump to win reelection. (TechTank – TechTank Podcast Episode 5: Will disinformation and voter suppression help Trump win reelection?, September 30, 2020)

American Enterprise Institute

  • Blog on Big Tech censorship and Section 230
    As my AEI colleague Mark Jamison discussed yesterday, there is significant buzz on both ends of the political spectrum to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the cornerstone of internet law. Last week, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) argued that the best way to stop Big Tech censorship is to weaken Section 230’s protections and unleash the trial lawyers on Silicon Valley; in his words, “let Americans sue!” As a law professor, I should perhaps be excited by the new job opportunities Hawley wishes to create for our graduates. But there are reasons to be skeptical of this move to shift tech oversight from Congress to the courtroom. Section 230 provides two important protections for internet-based companies. Section 230(c)(1) offers “posting immunity”: It assures that companies such as Facebook are not held liable for material that their users post online. Section 230(c)(2) also provides “takedown immunity”: It insulates companies from liability for removing user content that the company, in good faith, determines is objectionable. Together, these provisions give internet-based companies near-plenary authority to manage user-generated content, which shaped the social media revolution. (AEIdeas – Making sense of Senator Hawley’s call to arms against Big Tech, September 29, 2020)

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.