The Big Story: White House tees up AI, 5G work. The White House will take steps in the coming weeks to boost the U.S.’s competitiveness in the fields of artificial intelligence and 5G, the next generation wireless network, according to reports out this week. Those specific tech policy areas are ones where policymakers have expressed concerns about losing out to other countries, including China.
The Big Story: How the new trade deal affects startups. After months of negotiating a new trade deal between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, the three countries’ leaders signed onto a new trade deal—the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA—late last month.
The Big Story: FTC wants more authority, resources for privacy. During a hearing this week, the commissioners of the Federal Trade Commission told lawmakers the agency needs more authority to better protect consumers’ privacy online, including the ability to bring civil penalties against companies that violate privacy rules.
Pushing 5.9 GHz for 5G. The federal government is seeing more and more pressure to free up airwaves currently reserved for vehicle safety so that they can be used for the next generation of wireless networks, especially as different vehicle safety technologies that don’t depend on that spectrum are becoming commonplace.
The Big Story: Europe passes online filtering rules.
This week, the European Parliament approved sweeping changes to its copyright regime, including Article 13, which would effectively require all websites hosting user generated content to adopt expensive and ineffective content filters. The proposal also creates a new IP right for publishers that requires websites to pay publishers if the website creates a link to the publisher’s content.
The First Comment Period for the FCC NPRM on Net Neutrality Closes. Monday was the deadline for the first round of comments to be filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that addresses the 2015 Open Internet Order. Engine was one of over 10 million groups and individuals to file comments with the Commission. The deadline for reply comments extends to August 16. In its submission, Engine explained the need for clear regulations to protect startups from threatening behavior by ISPs and incumbents. “The NPRM’s indifference to the ISP abuse of their terminating access monopoly power is incredibly dangerous to entrepreneurship. Without bright line rules banning anti-competitive ISP practices, startups will be put at a structural disadvantage in competing with well-heeled incumbents, causing venture investment to dry up and innovation to suffer,” Executive Director, Evan Engstrom, wrote. The White House, which has been mostly mum on the topic, also weighed in on the debate this week. “The best way to get fair rules for everyone is for Congress to take action and create regulatory and economic certainty,” deputy White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement.
It is hard to overstate how incredibly dangerous and foolish the Burr-Feinstein “Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016” draft legislation is and even harder to believe it was coauthored by California’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.
This week, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that Apple must assist the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by providing technical assistance to help the Bureau unlock the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. While a resolution to this litigation is far off (due to likely appeals), the case has suddenly catapulted the debate over privacy, security, and encryption into the headlines of nearly every major news outlet in the United States and beyond. And though this case is specific to Apple—the manufacturer and licensor of the hardware and embedded software—the ramifications of the final decision in the case may have a profound impact, both in the technology industry and beyond.
While this isn’t the first time that policymakers have grappled with serious questions related to encryption and digital security—just last year, the White House backed away from a proposal seeking “backdoors” into encrypted devices after a multitude of stakeholders spoke out about the dangers of such anti-security measures—it is likely the most difficult case yet involving such issues. Certainly, the FBI has a strong interest in thoroughly investigating terrorist activity and preventing such acts in the future. Technology companies also care deeply about stopping criminal activity, which is why this is such a difficult problem: though the FBI’s request is tailored to investigating a specific terrorist activity, it will ultimately weaken security standards and may lead to serious vulnerabilities that will put countless consumers at risk.
In the past, Apple has cooperated with law enforcement to unlock phones in order to gain access to information, at least when doing so was technologically feasible. This situation is slightly different, as the court order requires Apple to create an entirely new version of Apple’s operating system (OS) to allow the government to circumvent security features that Apple built into its OS to prevent brute force attacks. This software will effectively make brute force attacks on encrypted devices possible—whether it’s the FBI attempting to brute force the phone or anyone else that has access to the software. Though the FBI says it intends to use this modified OS in this situation only, the spate of high-profile hacks and data breaches over the past year (including a breach of sensitive government information) should cast doubt on any such guarantees.
And, while some may argue that Apple’s strong opposition to the FBI’s request in this case demonstrates that any future requests for similar security circumvention activities will be limited to only the most extreme circumstances, that only holds true if the company being tasked with providing access to encrypted information has the resources to mount such a robust legal challenge. The startups that are responsible for so much of the tech sector’s growth have nowhere near the legal resources needed to fight spurious requests for dangerous encryption backdoors. Establishing a precedent that obligates companies to undermine the security measures that keep millions of consumers and their data safe from criminals will only increase the chances that these security circumvention technologies are employed in spurious cases or, worse, fall into the wrong hands.
Law enforcement is fully justified in attempting to do everything possible to prevent future terrorist attacks, just as Apple is fully justified in arguing that what the FBI wants could have serious negative repercussions for the security of its users. But, the security vulnerabilities that could arise by forcing Apple to undermine the strong encryption technologies it has built into its products should make anyone think twice about establishing such a dangerous precedent.