Since 2010, the Benton Foundation and the New America Foundation have partnered to highlight telecommunications debates from countries outside the U.S.
Stories from Abroad
Remarks of Commissioner Michael O'Rielly Before the International Institute of Communications' Annual Conference 2017
I will begin by suggesting that in order to properly determine and comment on the larger issue of how the world’s telecommunication regulators are adapting to the changing environment and technological explosion, it is critical to first recognize the differing levels of legal authority that respective governments bestow upon each regulatory agency. In other words, regulators can only regulate when they are authorized to do so.
In the United States, which has seen monumental technological advancements as the result of convergence and digitalization, we constantly struggle with these lines of authority. To act outside our bounds – however meritorious it may seem – can be harmful. It increases uncertainty and can paralyze entire industry segments for months or years with legal challenges and/or legislative responses, thereby depriving consumers of valuable services and opportunities in the meantime. This isn’t just my opinion, as there are numerous examples of Commission actions to highlight this.
It was a case of spies watching spies watching spies: Israeli intelligence officers looked on in real time as Russian government hackers searched computers around the world for the code names of American intelligence programs. What gave the Russian hacking, detected more than two years ago, such global reach was its improvised search tool — antivirus software made by a Russian company, Kaspersky Lab, that is used by 400 million people worldwide, including by officials at some two dozen American government agencies.
The Israeli officials who had hacked into Kaspersky’s own network alerted the United States to the broad Russian intrusion, which has not been previously reported, leading to a decision in Sept to order Kaspersky software removed from government computers. The Russian operation, described by multiple people who have been briefed on the matter, is known to have stolen classified documents from a National Security Agency employee who had improperly stored them on his home computer, on which Kaspersky’s antivirus software was installed. What additional American secrets the Russian hackers may have gleaned from multiple agencies, by turning the Kaspersky software into a sort of Google search for sensitive information, is not yet publicly known.
YouTube videos of police beatings on American streets. A widely circulated internet hoax about Muslim men in Michigan collecting welfare for multiple wives. A local news story about two veterans brutally mugged on a freezing winter night. All of these were recorded, posted or written by Americans. Yet all ended up becoming grist for a network of Facebook pages linked to a shadowy Russian company that has carried out propaganda campaigns for the Kremlin, and which is now believed to be at the center of a far-reaching Russian program to influence the 2016 presidential election. A New York Times examination of hundreds of those posts shows that one of the most powerful weapons that Russian agents used to reshape American politics was the anger, passion and misinformation that real Americans were broadcasting across social media platforms.
“This is cultural hacking,” said Jonathan Albright, research director at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. “They are using systems that were already set up by these platforms to increase engagement. They’re feeding outrage — and it’s easy to do, because outrage and emotion is how people share.”
Britain is looking at the role of Google and Facebook in the provision of news and what their wider responsibilities and legal status should be, said a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May. As more people get their news through Google and Facebook, some in the industry say the internet giants are publishers and not just platforms, meaning they should be held responsible for the content and regulated like traditional news providers.
“We are looking at the role Google and Facebook play in the news environment,” the spokesman told reporters, saying the work was part of a commitment to produce a digital charter setting out how firms and individuals should behave online. “As part of that work we will look carefully at the roles, responsibility and legal status of the major internet platforms.”
It is a pleasure to be here with my fellow regulators to discuss the amazing benefits and challenges presented by the new digital age. My goal today is to provide a picture of how this complex subject is being considered within the United States and what that may mean for my international counterparts.
Please forgive me for having the task of reminding everyone that I do not speak for the Trump Administration or the Federal Communications Commission as a whole. My views are just my own.
The FCC’s regulatory speed – and I am sure this isn’t a US specific issue – quite candidly cannot keep up with technological change or the demands of consumers. Simply put, our rather drawn-out pace is not well suited for the dynamic digital age. For this reason, I maintain that we must be very hesitant to regulate new, disruptive technologies. Instead, the presence of these innovative technologies should lead to reduced regulation of our traditional, more heavily regulated sectors.
Google for the first time has uncovered evidence that Russian operatives exploited the company’s platforms in an attempt to interfere in the 2016 election, apparently.
The Silicon Valley giant has found that tens of thousands of dollars were spent on ads by Russian agents who aimed to spread disinformation across Google’s many products, which include YouTube, as well as advertising associated with Google search, Gmail, and the company’s DoubleClick ad network. Google runs the world’s largest online advertising business, and YouTube is the world’s largest online video site. The discovery by Google is also significant because the ads do not appear to be from the same Kremlin-affiliated troll farm that bought ads on Facebook -- a sign that the Russian effort to spread disinformation online may be a much broader problem than Silicon Valley companies have unearthed so far.
Russian trolls and others aligned with the Kremlin are injecting disinformation into streams of online content flowing to American military personnel and veterans on Twitter and Facebook, according to an Oxford University study released Oct 9. The researchers found fake or slanted news from Russian-controlled accounts are mixing with a wide range of legitimate content consumed by veterans and active-duty personnel in their Facebook and Twitter news feeds. These groups were found to be reading and sharing articles on conservative political thought, articles on right-wing politics in Europe and writing touting various conspiracy theories. In some cases, the disinformation reached the friends and families of military personnel and veterans as well, the researchers said. But it was not always clear who was creating the content.
[Commentary] With Facebook handing over Russian propaganda ads from the US election to Congressional investigators, we must understand that this is part of a much broader assault. The threat of these digital attacks extends to all democracies, in the West and beyond. Furthermore, attacks on elections over the past year are asymmetric. Liberal democracies do not and often cannot respond in kind to cyberattacks on their own way of governance. Democracies with free and fair elections are vulnerable to attack, while in autocratic societies, it only matters who is counting the votes. Authoritarian regimes do just fine manipulating their own elections. In Russia, tweeting or sharing real news that’s embarrassing to the regime can land you in prison. Imagine then the response of the regime to fake news that’s damaging to the Kremlin. If democracies actively disseminated such fake news, it would only reduce us to Russia’s level and lead to greater repression there.
The response to these cybercrimes must be international and must be broad-based, ranging from regulating social media to guarding our electrical grid and electoral systems. Building a collective defense in this new code war is at least as great a challenge as staving off the territorial or regional threats of the Cold War, when NATO was established in order to respond to threats in Europe.
[Toomas Hendrik Ilves served as president of Estonia from 2006-2016. He is a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.]
Apparently, hackers working for the Russian government stole details of how the US penetrates foreign computer networks and defends against cyberattacks after a National Security Agency contractor removed the highly classified material and put it on his home computer. The hackers appear to have targeted the contractor after identifying the files through the contractor’s use of a popular antivirus software made by Russia-based Kaspersky Lab.
The theft, which hasn’t been disclosed, is considered by experts to be one of the most significant security breaches in recent years. It offers a rare glimpse into how the intelligence community thinks Russian intelligence exploits a widely available commercial software product to spy on the US. The incident occurred in 2015 but wasn’t discovered until spring of 2016, apparently.The stolen material included details about how the NSA penetrates foreign computer networks, the computer code it uses for such spying and how it defends networks inside the US.
Global Harmonization & US Leadership in Wireless Technologies. While some in this country may eschew global harmonization, and I understand that our market position means we have the option of going it alone or in coordination with a handful of other countries, offering commercial services on the same frequencies around the world has many benefits for US consumers and providers. On the consumer side, there is the ability to use your devices and have the same wireless experience at home and abroad. At the same time, the economies of scale created by marketing products internationally enables research, development, and manufacturing costs to be widely dispersed, promoting investment and innovation while reducing the cost of devices and services for Americans.