At a glance.
- Tracking wars join the crypto wars.
- NATO to assess strategic implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The COVID-19 emergency is likely to delay action on the US Cyberspace Solarium Commission's recommendations.
The Crypto Wars and the Tracking Wars look like two theaters in a Privacy War.
Contact tracking (or tracing) is a well-established, long-used approach to controlling epidemics. It's historically been time-consuming and labor-intensive, but the current COVID-19 pandemic has led to experiments with technologies that could track contacts quickly, inexpensively, and at scale. Singapore's TraceTogether system, which has also found favor in Australia, is one example of a Bluetooth-based approach to determining whether someone (or, more accurately, someone's mobile device) had come within a few meters of an infected person (actually, within a few meters of an infected person's mobile device). It provides for opt-in participation, promises to anonymize data and not share them, and also deletes data from participants' devices within twenty-one days of collection.
But ZDNet has an account of university research in Australia that has too many ways (in the researchers' eyes) through which the "Central Authority," as the government organization running the collection and analysis is called, could easily bypass safeguards. It's not entirely clear, privacy advocates think, that TraceTogether could pass muster under the existing Australasian Contact Tracing Guidelines. People in Singapore, by global standards relatively willing to opt into such data collection, are themselves wary: a survey described by ZDNet indicated that less than half (41%) were willing to sign up for TraceTogether.
There are similar concerns surrounding the work Apple and Google are doing on contact tracking in the United States. The two companies described their efforts to TechCrunch this week, and they received a similar reception from critics: insufficient safeguards against abuse coupled with an uncomfortably high likelihood of false positives and false negatives. It's not necessary to assume bad faith on the part of either the authorities or the developers to warrant some degree of suspicion. It's also not necessary to assume that the privacy advocates are invested in their own forms of bad faith (what are they covering up? why don't they care about the common good?) to think that the data collection and analysis have an important public health role to play. In this respect the Tracking Theater also closely resembles the Crypto Theater.
NATO looks at COVID-19's strategic implications.
Defense News reports that NATO's defense ministers are conferring today (by secure video teleconference, of course) to address the coronavirus pandemic's effects on the Atlantic Alliance. The most obvious effect is budgetary: member nations' defense budgets are very much up in the air as governments grapple with the immediate needs of responding to COVID-19. The likelihood of a recession will also hurt defense spending. Beyond that are considerations of the opportunities the crisis could present rivals like Russia and China. But there are also interesting questions about the pandemic's effect on intra-European relations generally. These could change in several radically divergent ways, the German Council on Foreign Relations thinks. Whether closed borders will produce a breakdown in European defense cooperation or whether mutual aid rendered during the crisis will engender closer, more collaborative ties, remains an unanswered question.
Two Cyberspace Solarium commissioners see the pandemic delaying implementation of cyber strategy.
In the US, National Defense thinks that one of the strategic effects the virus is likely to have will be a delay in implementing the Cyberspace Solarium Commission's recommendations. Suzanne Spaulding, former undersecretary in the Department of Homeland Security, said at a virtual meeting hosted by the law firm of Mayer Brown that the Commission presumed that Congress would give appropriate legislative authorization to many of the Solarium's recommendations. The Commissioners themselves had begun to work on draft legislation with Hill staffers even before their report was out. But action on any of this legislation has obviously become impossible in the near term: Congress is understandably preoccupied with the pandemic. Commissioner Chris Inglis, a former NSA deputy director, explained: “We essentially pre-discussed these with the executive and the legislative branches." in an effort to ensure that members of the two branches understood the recommendations' importance. But since “Congress itself has been stymied to conduct its normal and routine business, it remains to be seen how fast we can proceed.” That seems in all likelihood to be not very fast.