At a glance.
- US colleges join the TikTok ban bandwagon.
- The evolution of NSA’s CSfC program.
- China attempts to regulate deepfakes.
US colleges join the TikTok ban bandwagon.
Amidst growing concerns that TikTok could be a threat to national security, thirty-one US state governments have banned the use of the popular social media app on government-owned devices. Now, it seems, universities are following suit. Auburn University, University of Oklahoma, and Texas A&M are among the higher ed institutions who have recently decided to block the platform from school WiFi networks. As the Guardian explains, such measures are typically reserved for sites that publish harmful content like pornography, but growing concerns surrounding the video-streaming app, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, have motivated colleges to take action. Students at the affected schools are expressing their disapproval of the move on TikTok itself, posting videos on the app to demonstrate the limitations of such a ban.
The Washington Post notes that it’s unclear whether such bans actually have any bite, given that the number of devices they impact is extremely small, and some experts say officials are merely doing it to send TikTok a message. But in attempting to limit citizens’ access to the app, are American officials any better than the Chinese authorities they’re attempting to avoid? Milton Mueller, a Georgia Institute of Technology professor and co-founder of the Internet Governance Project, stated, “This is the US adopting a Chinese attitude toward the internet: We’re going to block things we don’t want you to see because everything’s a national security threat. It’s really a dangerous attitude — not just for American values of free expression but for this whole idea of an open and interconnected internet.”
The evolution of NSA’s CSfC program.
The US National Security Agency’s (NSA) Commercial Solutions for Classified (CSfC) program gives defense and intelligence agencies secure access to commercial tools. Established in 2010, the program certifies commercial network solutions, allowing agencies to create encrypted networks to support their missions while maintaining the security of classified National Security Systems data. As FedTech notes, the program has undergone significant developments in recent months that have expanded its reach. In order to benefit from CSfC, agencies no longer need to be connected to legacy data centers, allowing the program to support mobile and wireless use cases, data at rest for remote locations, hybrid cloud and even fully cloud-based operations. The program has also provided increased support for multi-domain operations by federating capabilities, allowing different departments within the Department of Defense to securely engage with one another. To keep up with an ever-evolving technology landscape, as well as increased collaboration between NSA and its Trusted Integrators, policy changes have allowed for a more streamlined registration, authorization, and accreditation process for CSfC tools.
China attempts to regulate deepfakes.
Deepfake technology – which allows people to create a moving, talking digital forgery of anyone’s face – has become increasingly powerful and prevalent in recent years. Now anyone with an iPhone can swap faces with Barack Obama from the comfort of their couch, and the more dangerous applications of the technology are easy to imagine. So far, world governments have done little to reign in the use of deepfake tech. This is partly because, in a world that thrives on viral videos and largely unregulated social media platforms, deepfake abusers would be difficult to catch. There’s also the concern that governments could use restrictions on deepfakes to prevent free speech, and with artificial intelligence being a relatively new and amorphous frontier, there’s little precedent for legislation.
Ravit Dotan, a postdoctoral researcher who runs the Collaborative AI Responsibility Lab at the University of Pittsburgh, told the New York Times, “The AI scene is an interesting place for global politics, because countries are competing with one another on who’s going to set the tone. We know that laws are coming, but we don’t know what they are yet, so there’s a lot of unpredictability.” China, however, has decided to make the first move to curb the unwieldy beast of face-swapping tech. This month, Beijing lawmakers adopted laws requiring that the subject of any manipulated material must consent to the use of their likeness, and that deepfake tech providers must offer solutions to “refute rumors.” Proposals for such legislation have stalled in the EU and US, but could China, where the government has already made it a priority to control citizens’ access to the internet and associated tech, succeed where other nations have failed?