At a glance.
- France, the UK push for more content moderation.
- Privacy legislation in the US Senate.
- Espionage during the pandemic.
- Early reviews of Britain's COVID-19 contact-tracing system.
- Pandemic funds require anti-fraud oversight.
More governments want faster, more extensive content moderation.
A law enacted in France yesterday will give platforms one hour to remove pedophile and terrorist content, on pain of fines up to 4% of a company's annual global revenue, Reuters reports. The news service specifically mentions Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat as examples of the platforms that will be affected. While pedophile and terrorist material must be gone within the hour, the law isn't so permissive as to allow everything else in. It's just that companies will have up to twenty-four hours to take down other "manifestly illegal" content. Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told parliament the law represents a significant step forward in the Republic's fight against hate speech: “People will think twice before crossing the red line if they know that there is a high likelihood that they will be held to account,” she said. It's stiff punishment, but it's not yet clear how brightly drawn that line will in fact prove to be.
The UK is also on the warpath with respect to content moderation, although in Westminster the concerns are more about COVID-19 disinformation than they are about hate speech. ComputerWeekly reports that Minister of State for Digital and Culture Caroline Dinenage, on Tuesday told the Lords' Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee that Her Majesty's Government has very clearly told technology companies that more is expected of them. “We do welcome the steps that social media have taken so far," she said, "but the secretary of state has met with a number of the large platforms recently and been very clear that he expects them to go further and faster to address misinformation and disinformation relating to Covid-19." Going further and faster isn't confined to the pandemic emergency, either. “This has lessons for beyond Covid-19 and into the ‘new normal’ world that we may be facing in the months ahead.”
Senate sends US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act renewal back to the House.
The US Senate yesterday amended the bill it received from the House of Representatives that would have renewed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act with more privacy protection for US citizens. The legislation now returns to the House, sent there by a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate, POLITICO reports.
In other news, Recode writes that the Senate narrowly failed (falling one vote short) to amend the Patriot Act in ways that would have forbidden the Government from secretly collecting information about online behavior.
Espionage during the pandemic.
Yesterday's joint statement by the US FBI and CISA warning that Chinese intelligence services are engaged in a far-reaching campaign to collect against COVID-19 research has elicited the foreseeable response from officials in the People's Republic. It's "slander," Reuters quotes a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying. Spokesman Zhao Lijian also said that any interference with research ought to be condemned.
The joint warning is interesting for the way the Bureau and CISA connect espionage with damage to the research itself. "The potential theft of this information jeopardizes the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options." Thus the risk appears to be more than the usual competitive threat to intellectual property that the US has typically complained of in connection with Chinese espionage.
Early reviews of the UK's centralized contact-tracing system.
The NHSX-sponsored contact-tracing app is now undergoing a closed beta trial on the Isle of Wight. Gizmodo says that the Isle's MP, Bob Seely, has offered a generally optimistic appraisal of how the app's doing. He notes that it's “throwing up lots of really good information." Of course it's only to be expected that any application developed and deployed under emergency conditions would experience problems, and this one is no different. Preliminary reports from users complain that the app is a battery hog, and that the permissions it asks for are confusing. Researchers who've looked at the system say that they've found other issues, in particular problems with iOS-Android interoperability.
Privacy concerns also persist. The app probably runs afoul of GDPR, for one thing. WIRED writes that the data are not fully anonymized (or not anonymous, "but extra information would be needed to work out who you are," in WIRE's formulation). The difficulty of giving meaningful consent to tracing might in itself be sufficient to constitute a GDPR violation.
Pandemic stimulus funds attract fraud.
The US Government is stepping up oversight to reduce the amount of fraud seeking to take advantage of emergency stimulus funds, the Wall Street Journal reports. Congress has appropriated nearly $3 trillion in relief, and small businesses in particular, the Washington Business Journal warns, should pay close attention to the official guidelines under which they apply for aid.