Stories from Abroad

Since 2010, the Benton Foundation and the New America Foundation have partnered to highlight telecommunications debates from countries outside the U.S.

Remarks of FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly at Latin America Spectrum Management Conference

By most accounts, the U.S. broadcast incentive auction was a success. Does that mean it was perfect? No. This was a very complex undertaking. Were lessons learned? Absolutely, and I will discuss that a bit later. But all things considered, the mechanisms designed and put in place worked relatively well. Through the incentive auction, the U.S., on a completely voluntary basis, reallocated broadcast spectrum to mobile use, which will now be used by private commercial providers to offer 4G and 5G broadband networks. In fact, one U.S. winning bidder has already announced that it will initiate 5G in 600 MHz and has already turned on its first 600 MHz LTE system.

U.S. surveillance and the eye of the beholder

[Commentary] European law allows the transfer of personal data to non-European countries only if they “ensure an adequate level of protection.” The U.S.-EU Safe Harbor framework was believed to provide such adequate safeguards, but, in its October 2015 decision in Maximillian Schrems v. Data Protection Commissioner, the Court of Justice of the European Union invalidated the framework. In the background were Edward Snowden’s revelations about the prevalence of access to private communications data by the U.S. government, particularly the NSA....

In the next few years, the debate will continue to rage. As the U.K. breaks ranks with its EU partners, its laws too could be deemed “inadequate.” In fact, while not subject to the jurisdiction of the European Commission, national security regimes of European Member States are drawing wide criticism for being overly lenient, cryptic and opaque. To perhaps avoid widely divergent opinion on the relative beauty or ugliness of U.S. surveillance law, this collection will help inform the conversation and ground it in solid facts.

[Omer Tene is Vice President of Research and Education at the International Association of Privacy Professionals. He is an Affiliate Scholar at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and a Senior Fellow at the Future of Privacy Forum. ]

Former Soviet republic goes to court in bid to ‘export censorship’ beyond its borders

The country of Azerbaijan is suing two French journalists for defamation in France for describing the oil-rich state as a “dictatorship.” The move could set an important precedent, in France at least, for foreign governments seeking to curb freedom of the press beyond their shores. The targets of the lawsuit, which critics have decried as an attempt to “export censorship,” are investigative filmmaker Laurent Richard and TV presenter and reporter Elise Lucet.

Facebook says it sold political ads to Russian company during 2016 election

Apparently, representatives of Facebook told congressional investigators that it has discovered it sold ads during the US presidential election to a shadowy Russian company seeking to target voters. Facebook officials reported that they traced the ad sales, totaling $100,000, to a Russian “troll farm” with a history of pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda, apparently.

A small portion of the ads, which began in the summer of 2015, directly named Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the people said. Most of the ads focused on pumping politically divisive issues such as gun rights and immigration fears, as well as gay rights and racial discrimination. Even though the ad spending from Russia is tiny relative to overall campaign costs, the report from Facebook that a Russian firm was able to target political messages is likely to fuel pointed questions from investigators about whether the Russians received guidance from people in the United States — a question some Democrats have been asking for months.

Remarks of FCC Commissioner O'Rielly Before 7th Congreso Internacional de Espectro, Bogota, Columbia

As far as the US perspective, our priorities generally seek to create a regulatory environment that provides our telecommunications industries the opportunity to innovate, obtain investment and ensure continued growth for years to come. We also seek to promote the interests of our citizens, especially those who are unserved and in need of modern and robust connectivity in order to participate in the new digital economy.

European Union court ruling restrains Brussels antitrust enforcers

The European Court of Justice gave Intel a lifeline in its appeal of the €1bn European Union fine for illegal price rebates by sending the case back to the General court to reconsider the chip-maker’s arguments against the 2009 decision.

The ruling raises the burden of proof for Europe’s antitrust watchdog to make a case against pricing incentives offered by dominant companies, increasing the commission’s workload to make its case in its open investigations into Google and Qualcomm. “This is a rebuff for the commission in its wish to apply form-based reasoning without considering the business realities,” said Alec Burnside of law firm Dechert. Price cuts or rebates for volume-buying are standard practice in many companies but current EU rules are unclear whether these discounts are illegal by design or only if they harm competition.

Former FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief LeBlanc Tapped as Privacy Shield Arbitrator

Travis LeBlanc, former Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau chief under Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler, has been tapped to help oversee compliance with the European Union-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework. That is the agreement between the EU and the US over protecting the privacy of cross-border information flows. He will be one of 20 arbitrators—16 have been chosen with four more to come—who will decide claims of violations of the framework obligations. They are a court of last resort if parties fail to resolve issues with the relevant data protection authorities. They are being chosen from a list supplied by both the EU and Commerce.

LeBlanc is a partner in the DC and Palo Alto (CA) offices of law firm Boies Schiller Flexner. The privacy shield replaces the safe harbor agreement that a European Union court invalidated in October 2015 over concerns about the US being able to hold up its end of the agreement given the government surveillance revealed by the Edward Snowden leaks. The framework requires companies to provide notice of what personal information is being collected and stored, the purposes it is used for, and an "opt out" mechanism.

I ran Congress’ 9/11 investigation. The intelligence committees today can’t handle Russia.

[Commentary] Since the Justice Department named a special investigator, Robert Mueller, to handle the government’s official inquiry into Russian meddling in the U.S. election, the weight of public expectation has largely fallen on his shoulders. While the two congressional panels, the Senate and House intelligence committees, continue to hold hearings and question witnesses, both are led by members of a party that is, with the exception of Charlottesville, skittish about criticizing the president. The two intelligence committees should act as if their investigations will be the final (and possibly the only) ones — because they may be.

A central role for Congress is the only real way to guarantee a full report, with conclusions and recommendations, for the American people. I oversaw a similarly complex and politically fraught inquiry as co-chairman of the joint congressional inquiry into 9/11, so I know what it takes — as a matter of resources, time, perseverance and, yes, occasional political courage — to run an investigation of this size and importance. And I know this, too: The congressional intelligence committees, as they are constituted today, are not ready for this burden.

[Bob Graham was a U.S. senator from Florida from 1987 to 2005. He served as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from 2001 to 2003 and as co-chairman of the Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.]

Software Glitch or Russian Hackers? Election Problems Draw Little Scrutiny

After a presidential campaign scarred by Russian meddling, local, state and federal agencies have conducted little of the type of digital forensic investigation required to assess the impact, if any, on voting in at least 21 states whose election systems were targeted by Russian hackers, according to interviews with nearly two dozen national security and state officials and election technology specialists.

The assaults on the vast back-end election apparatus — voter-registration operations, state and local election databases, e-poll books and other equipment — have received far less attention than other aspects of the Russian interference, such as the hacking of Democratic e-mails and spreading of false or damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Yet the hacking of electoral systems was more extensive than previously disclosed. Beyond VR Systems, hackers breached at least two other providers of critical election services well ahead of the 2016 voting, said current and former intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information is classified. The officials would not disclose the names of the companies.

UN Human Rights Chief Condemns Trump’s Attacks on Media

The United Nations human rights chief said Aug 30 that President Donald Trump’s repeated denunciations of some media outlets as “fake news” could amount to incitement to violence and had potentially dangerous consequences outside the United States.

The rebuke by Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights, at a news conference in Geneva was an unusually forceful criticism of a head of state by a United Nations official. al-Hussein was reacting to President Trump’s recent comments at a rally in Phoenix (AZ) during which he spoke of “crooked media deceptions” in reports of the violent clashes at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville (VA) that resulted in the death of a counterprotester. In Phoenix, the president’s words also appeared to whip up audience hostility toward journalists. “It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only a cornerstone of the Constitution but very much something the United States defended over the years, is now itself under attack from the president himself,” al-Hussein said. “It’s a stunning turnaround.”