Inside Washington Tech Policy Stories – a Reporter’s View

I (Cecilia Kang) feel like everyone is hunched over their phones in Washington even more than other places. This is a news-obsessed town that is texting and e-mailing at all hours. There seems to be a bit of a generational divide on the use of communications apps. Younger staffers on Capitol Hill often use encrypted apps and direct messages on Twitter. But even some of my older sources (my peers, really) can sometimes text me at all hours. It feels totally appropriate to call, text or Signal late at night or on weekends. Many an interview is done with children heard in the background at a park.

The whole attitude toward the tech industry has changed in Washington, with every growing calls for privacy regulation and antitrust enforcement of giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The biggest stories coming up will be the lawsuits to restore net neutrality, which should begin late this summer. The Trump administration and the F.C.C. have focused on the race for the 5G networks and have acted to thwart competition from China, citing national security concerns. And privacy is the big wild card. Even if stricter privacy rules aren’t introduced in the United States, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation set to take effect next month will most likely spill over in some way into American policy.

Faster is better?

Ray Myers

Melania Speaks Out Against Bullying – Wait, What?

Just two days ago, I commented on the bullying tactics of so-called President Trump.  He has become masterful in using social media to taunt and berate friends and foes alike.  Here is what I wrote:  “Over the weekend, the president of the United States retweeted to his 38 million Twitter followers a video clip doctored to show him driving a golf ball off the tee and between the shoulder blades of Hillary Clinton – ‘Crooked Hillary’ in the tweet – knocking the former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee to the ground. Eighty-four thousand people ‘liked’ this violent takedown of Trump’s former opponent (Milbank, Washington Post, 9/20/17).”

Now the so-called President’s First Lady has launched a crusade against bullying, and in particular, cyber bullying.  The first lady’s speech made no mention of her husband as she urged the world to “ensure that our children’s future is bright.”  So please help me figure this all out.  If you are a man and the so-called President, you can bully and/or cyber bully anyone you want, any time, but now Melania is telling all young boys and girls (around the world?) that they should not follow her husband’s example. She plans to follow up with social media leaders and educators on this topic.

Maybe it’s time for the Trumps to coordinate their “messaging.”  But I doubt if that is ever going to happen.  After all, he is the “Bully-in-Chief.”

Ray Myers

In Putin, We Trust?

I hope that I am not overreacting here, but it seems that the U.S. government has been buying security software from a Russian firm.  So I guess that since we now have that “special relationship” with Putin and his buddies, I should not worry so much about such minor details.  But don’t we have some great American companies who can do this same kind of work.  Maybe those greedy Yanks wanted too many rubles, sorry, dollars.  Well, we have finally put an end to all that and taken some action at the highest levels, or has it really been that effective or timely enough?

“In a binding directive, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke ordered federal civilian agencies to identify Kapersky Lab software on their networks (hmmm, what about the military, and what other federal agencies  are these civilian agencies working for?).  After ninety days, unless otherwise directed, they must remove the software, on the grounds the company has connections to the Russian government and its software poses a security risk.”

Kapersky Labs has been on a federal government list of approved vendors.  They have now been removed.  How did they get there and when did they get there in the first place?

Ray Myers

Terrorist Propaganda and the Open Internet

Is it really all about the message, or the role of the messenger?  I was always told to not believe everything I read in the newspaper or saw or heard on TV and radio (I am not sure why – and of course this was all before the dawn of the Internet).  So what has happened to dull our senses to be able to discern what is obviously false and what is true.  Maybe it’s so much easier now to choose what you want to believe and ignore that which might make you change your mind?  There are just so many information “sources”to choose from.   And I guess we have the luxury and liberty to select whatever we want to believe.  You may even like your news completely fabricated and prefer that to “real reporting.”  See my blog of 11/23: “All the News, All Fake, All the Time!”

Now we have some of our top technology companies volunteering to do some censoring for us.  They have formed a coalition to try and save us from terrorist propaganda and recruitment.  Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft announced earlier this week that they have teamed up to fight the spread of terrorist content over the web by sharing technology and information to reduce the flow of terrorist propaganda across their services.  And they are also welcoming any other tech company to join them in this endeavor.  But not everyone is so keen on sharing their secret encryption “sauce.”  Tim Cook, CEO of Apple among them.  Remember his refusal to a FBI request after the San Bernadino attacks in 2015.  The FBI then hired some hackers to access the iPhone used by one of the attackers.

I am afraid that this fight over open access to the Internet and freedom of speech is going to get more sinister.  We in the U.S. have been relatively immune to governmental interference at any level, but some of our newly elected political leaders may feel less constrained.

Ray Myers

No Man is an iPhone.

So back on January 11th this year I posted some comments on a tech industry convening in San Jose, California, aimed at trying to untie the “Gordian Knot” of how everyone’s personal privacy can be protected whenever they choose to use any of the social media tools available to them (“Dazed and Confused in Silicon Valley”).  Government officials flew in from Washington in order to help broker this landmark agreement.  Nearly three months have passed and quess what?  We have reached an impasse, well at least with one of the the technological giants who does not want to share the secrets of its programming encryption.  Mr. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, wants to protect his users’ data.

I guess that’s all very noble and reassuring to iPhone owners, but let’s remember that an act of terrorism was committed here and many innocent American lives were lost.  Does Apple really want to protect the privacy of its customers, or are they more interested in guarding its “special sauce.”  I think it’s the latter.  I remember hearing something about corporate responsibility in American business practices in the past.  This situation may not be perfectly analogous, but let’s remember that companies like Apple have become very successful and very wealthy because of the favorable economic environment that exists in this country.

We should not forget that the victims of the San Bernadino attack at a Holiday party last December were professional staff who were working with individuals with developmental disabilities.  Fourteen were killed, twenty-two were injured.  I think that their lives mattered, and we should respond responsibly.  As Tim Cook himself has said, “This is an issue that impacts all of us and we will not shrink from this responsibility.”

Ray Myers