At a glance.
- Does the DSA demonstrate the opacity of EU policy-making?
- US CIA names first CTO.
- ODNI report describes government surveillance on US soil.
Does the DSA demonstrate the opacity of EU policy-making?
As we previously noted, the EU last week completed negotiations for its Digital Services Act (DSA). The legislation, which could set a new global standard, calls for measures that are unprecedented in their ambition: heightened transparency when it comes to content moderation, and increased due diligence requirements, especially when it comes to protecting minors. However, Wired notes, civil rights groups might not be rejoicing just yet, as the usual lack of transparency in EU inter-institutional negotiations, called the Trilogues, has many hesitant to consider the DSA a done deal. For instance, during the fast-moving and opaque process of the Trilogues a measure called the “Crisis Response Mechanism” was introduced which would have given the European Commission unilateral power to declare a state of emergency and require platforms to take mitigating actions. While such a measure is understandable given recent crises like the pandemic and the War in Ukraine, it could lead the Commission to overstep the Rule of Law. The DSA text will now be finalized and voted upon—as a formality—by the European Parliament and Council before it is officially made law.
US CIA names first CTO.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has selected Nand Mulchandani its first Chief Technical Officer (CTO). CIA Director William J. Burns stated, “Since my confirmation, I have prioritized focusing on technology and the new CTO position is a very important part of that effort. I am delighted Nand has joined our team and will bring his extensive experience to this crucial new role.” Mulchandani brings with him a robust background in the private sector and in government, with over twenty-five years in Silicon Valley and the Department of Defense (DoD), having most recently served as the CTO and Acting Director of DoD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. Mulchandani stated, “I am honored to join CIA in this role and look forward to working with the Agency’s incredible team of technologists and domain experts who already deliver world-class intelligence and capabilities to help build a comprehensive technology strategy that delivers exciting capabilities working closely with industry and partners.”
ODNI report describes government surveillance on US soil.
The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has released its “Annual Statistical Transparency Report Regarding the Intelligence Community’s Use of National Security Surveillance Authorities,” an overview of the government’s use of its national security surveillance powers. The data show that national security surveillance on domestic soil has decreased for the third year in a row, and the New York Times explains that the decrease is likely due to the decline of the Islamic State, the reduction of travel during the pandemic, and pushback following the Federal Bureau of Investiation’s surveillance transgressions in the Trump-Russia investigation. The total number of court-approved surveillance targets, 376, was the lowest in the report’s nine-year history, with 309 foreigners on domestic soil and 67 US citizens, companies, or permanent residents. Benjamin T. Huebner, the ODNI’s chief civil liberties, privacy, and transparency officer, explains, “The Covid-19 pandemic likely influenced target behavior — as it did last year — and those changes were one of the factors influencing the numbers this year,” adding the decrease could also be reflective of “the changing nature of the threat from certain international terrorism groups during this time period.”
The Washington Post notes that the report shows a significant rise in the number of searches of data related to people or companies in the US as authorized by the Section 702 program, which is designed to target individuals outside of the US but sometimes results in the search of data belonging to American entities. Nearly 2 million of the approximately 3.4 million searches can be attributed to one suspected Russian hacking case relating to attempts to compromise critical US infrastructure, though, CNN adds, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has declined to specify exactly which case that was. A senior official explained, “More specifically on this threat, we identified a pool of potential victims, which did include U.S. persons, and we ran that against our 702 collection in order to identify who, in particular, Russia was actually targeting.”
The Wall Street Journal explains that the actual number of searches is likely far lower, as complexities in counting and sorting foreign data from US data can lead to single unique searches being counted multiple times. Nonetheless, the report’s findings could complicate the Biden administration’s efforts to renew Section 702, due to expire in 2023, the Record by Recorded Future notes. Longtime privacy advocate Senator Ron Wyden said of the report, “For anyone outside the US government, the astronomical number of FBI searches of Americans’ communications is either highly alarming or entirely meaningless. Somewhere in all that over-counting are real numbers of FBI searches, for content and for noncontent — numbers that Congress and the American people need before Section 702 is reauthorized.”
Chris Hauk, consumer privacy champion at Pixel Privacy, shared a sour view of the Feds' respect for privacy:
“As we've seen in the past, the FBI and other government agencies will use any excuse they can to spy on U.S. citizens and their activities. While the usual terrorist and hacker fears are usually used as an excuse, unconstitutional searches like these are worrying to anyone that is concerned about their personal and business privacy. The government will continue to practice unconstitutional searches such as are mentioned in the report, at least until someone speaks up to put a stop to it. Until then, U.S. citizens will need to stay vigilant about who accesses their information, protecting as much as they possibly can by using encrypted storage to protect their information and by using VPNs and privacy focused browsers and search engines to protect their online activities from the nosy digging of the government and other bad actors.”
Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate with Comparitech, thinks it likely that FISA's provisions are likely to be renewed:
“Given that Obama renewed FISA's powers with the Freedom Act in 2015, I expect Biden will follow suit and renew the FBI's surveillance powers under FISA. FISA was originally enacted prior to the proliferation of the internet and was only intended to target foreigners, not US citizens. Bulk surveillance of private correspondence is a violation of the 4th Amendment because it targets Americans who have not been suspected of any crime. The lack of transparency, due to FISA courts being secret, makes it impossible to know which or even how many Americans were targeted. The announcement underscores the necessity of end-to-end encrypted messaging apps in lieu of unencrypted emails and SMS messages.”