Thursday, January 31, 2019
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News from the FCC Meeting
The Federal Communications Commission held its very brief January Open Meeting, but only to thank returning staffers and give a warm welcome its newest member, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. The meeting was a pro forma affair after the government shutdown forced the FCC to move its agenda to the Feb 14 meeting, after not being sure when the government would reopen.
I am deeply honored to serve as a Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, and I thank the President and the United States Senate for this exceptional privilege. As the last few weeks have affirmed, being a public servant is a calling to serve a mission bigger than yourself. Throughout my career, I have focused on protecting the most vulnerable and holding wrongdoers accountable.
In my new role, I shall not only continue to pursue those goals, but also look forward to working with Congress, my fellow Commissioners, and the FCC’s outstanding staff to serve the public interest by encouraging innovation, competition, and security, as well as advancing policies to increase the quality, availability, and affordability of our country’s communications services. Every community has a stake in the future of communications in this country, and all have the right to be heard. I will always be listening.
Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks announced the appointment of several individuals who will serve in his office in acting capacities.
Daudeline Meme, Acting Chief of Staff and Acting Legal Advisor for Wireless and International. Meme will serve as Acting Chief of Staff and advise Commissioner Starks on wireless and international matters. Meme previously served as Deputy Chief in the International Bureau’s Telecommunications & Analysis Division. Prior to that, she served as FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s Legal Advisor for Wireless, Public Safety, and International issues. Immediately before that, Meme was Chief of Staff of the Enforcement Bureau,where she was responsible for providing legal, policy, and administrative oversight. Meme also worked with Chairman Tom Wheeler’s office on implementation of FCC Process Reform and as an Assistant Chief in the Enforcement Bureau’s Spectrum Enforcement Division.
Michael Scurato, Acting Legal Advisor for Media and Consumer Protection. Scurato will advise Commissioner Starks on media and consumer protection matters. Scurato joins the Commissioner’s staff from his position as Special Counsel for the Chief of the Enforcement Bureau. Previously, Scurato served as Legal Advisor for Commissioner Clyburn. Prior to joining the Commission, Scurato was Vice President of Policy at the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
Randy Clarke, Acting Legal Advisor for Wireline and Public Safety. Clarke will advise Commissioner Starks on wireline and public safety issues. Clarke joins the Commission following service as FCC counsel to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Prior to his work in the Senate, Clarke was Acting Deputy Chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau. He has held a variety of roles in the Wireline Competition Bureau since 2004, including Chief of the Competition Policy Division, Deputy Chief of the Pricing Policy Division, Legal Advisor to the Bureau Chief, and Attorney Advisor in the Bureau. Before joining the FCC, Clarke served as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Illinois, focusing on telecommunications policy and consumer advocacy.
Renee Coles, Acting Confidential Assistant. Coles will serve as Commissioner Starks’ Acting Confidential Assistant, addressing all administrative needs. During her 13 years at the Commission, Coles has served as the Staff Assistant to Commissioner Michael Copps and worked in Human Resources as a Specialist in Payroll and Benefits. Prior to joining the Commission, Coles owned a small retail business.
Natalie Martinez, Acting Staff Assistant. Martinez will serve as Acting Staff Assistant in Commissioner Starks’ office. Martinez has served as the Confidential Assistant to five successive General Counsels of the FCC. Before that, she served as the Confidential Assistant to the Chief of the Enforcement Bureau for four years. Martinez began her career at the FCC in 2001 as an Office Automation Clerk in the International Bureau.
[more at the links below]
In New York and other states across the country, authorities are acquiring technology to extract and digitize the voices of incarcerated people into unique biometric signatures, known as voice prints. Prison authorities have quietly enrolled hundreds of thousands of incarcerated people’s voice prints into large-scale biometric databases. Computer algorithms then draw on these databases to identify the voices taking part in a call and to search for other calls in which the voices of interest are detected. Some programs, like New York’s, even analyze the voices of call recipients outside prisons to track which outsiders speak to multiple prisoners regularly.
Authorities and prison technology companies say this mass biometric surveillance supports prison security and fraud prevention efforts. But civil liberties advocates argue that the biometric buildup has been neither transparent nor consensual. Some jurisdictions, for example, limit incarcerated people’s phone access if they refuse to enroll in the voice recognition system, while others enroll incarcerated people without their knowledge. It’s particularly alarming, they add, that the technology’s use in prisons can ensnare people beyond their walls. Prisoners’ rights advocates worry that outsider voice surveillance technology could also be used to coordinate crackdowns against prison organizing campaigns.
It looks like Facebook was not the only one abusing Apple’s system for distributing employee-only apps to sidestep the App Store and collect extensive data on users. Google has been running an app called Screenwise Meter, which bears a strong resemblance to the app distributed by Facebook Research that has now been barred by Apple. In its app, Google invites users aged 18 and up (or 13 if part of a family group) to download the app by way of a special code and registration process using an Enterprise Certificate. That’s the same type of policy violation that led Apple to shut down Facebook’s similar Research VPN iOS app, which had the knock-on effect of also disabling usage of Facebook’s legitimate employee-only apps — which run on the same Facebook Enterprise Certificate. Google said in a statement, “The Screenwise Meter iOS app should not have operated under Apple’s developer enterprise program — this was a mistake, and we apologize. We have disabled this app on iOS devices. This app is completely voluntary and always has been. We’ve been upfront with users about the way we use their data in this app, we have no access to encrypted data in apps and on devices, and users can opt out of the program at any time.”
Apple announced that Facebook violated an agreement by distributing a data-collecting app to consumers, bypassing Apple’s normal review for an app intended for the public. Apple said it is cutting off Facebook’s ability to offer the app to consumers. The announcement comes after the revelation that Facebook has been paying some users (aged 13-35) $20 per month to install a research app on their phones that can collect intimate information about their online behavior and communications. Apple’s developer program allows companies to create their own apps for employees, giving them a way to test and use apps outside of the app store, which are not subject to the same privacy and data policies as those intended for public consumption. But Facebook used this process to sidestep the app store and offer a research app directly to consumers, which Apple has ruled is a breach of the agreement.
In general, we think the integration of Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram has the potential to be beneficial for consumers -- if done right. We still need more details from Facebook’s plan to monetize this move in order to fully understand its privacy implications. However, we believe that there’s a lot of positive potential in this move. Making WhatsApp-level end-to-end encryption the standard for Facebook Messenger and Instagram would in one simple move radically improve the privacy and security of the communications of millions of people. In addition, this restructuring has the potential to provide a blueprint for the interoperability of competitors and potential competitors. We are looking forward to Facebook explaining in detail to its users why this move is in their best interest, and not just a rent-seeking strategy.
Facebook has acknolwedged it has hired three veteran privacy law activists, including Nate Cardozo, an attorney formerly of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who has been very publicly critical of the company in recent years. In 2015, Cardozo once wrote in an op-ed that Facebook's "business model depends on our collective confusion and apathy about privacy." In addition to Cardozo, Facebook also hired attorney Robyn Greene, previously with the Open Technology Institute in Washington, DC, and Nathan White, who is set to leave his position at Access Now.
The Feb. 1 oral argument in the legal challenge to the Federal Communications Commission's Restoring Internet Freedom order (the case is Mozilla Corp. V. FCC) is going to be an epic event, at least in terms of the time allotted for both sides to make their cases. It is the only case slated for argument that day. It will also be streamed live on the court Web site, as has been the case with oral arguments in the circuit since late 2018. The FCC and those challenging its Restoring Internet Freedom order teamed up to jointly ask the court for 75 minutes apiece (with rebuttal time included), divided among various attorneys arguing different issues. The court accepted the proposal and, if past is prologue, the argument will be even longer than those two and a half hours --j udges usually allow some flexibility in individual time allocations and push the time limits with their own questions. By contrast to that 150 minutes, most arguments are only scheduled for between 20 minutes and an hour.
Rep Doris Matsui (D-CA) has been appointed Vice Chair of the House Communications Subcommittee. “In this capacity, I plan to continue my focus promoting policies to achieve 5G and beyond and spur innovation in the US economy,” Rep Matsui said.
Rep Matsui has been a leader on communications and technology policy, including as Co-Chair of the Congressional High Tech Caucus and Co-Chair of the Congressional Spectrum Caucus. She has authored multiple provisions of law that have facilitated spectrum auctions, including the record breaking AWS-3 auction, and focused on commercializing federally-held spectrum for wireless use. She plans to continue to prioritize her work on various spectrum policy initiatives and on the next generation of broadband networks, such as 5G. Rep Matsui is also a leader on preserving network neutrality principles and policies. She will also focus on responsibly promoting innovative technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain.
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