At a glance.
- Does the DSA show the opacity of EU politics?
- US CIA appoints first CTO.
- The ODNI report details government surveillance on US soil.
Does the DSA show the opacity of EU politics?
As mentioned, the EU finalized negotiations for its Digital Services Act (DSA) last week. The legislation, which could set a new global standard, calls for measures that are unprecedented in their aspirations: more transparency in content moderation and increased due diligence, particularly when it comes to protecting minors. Wired notes, however, that civil rights groups may not be rejoicing just yet, as the usual lack of transparency in the EU’s inter-institutional negotiations, known as trilogues, makes many reluctant to consider the DSA a done deal. For example, during the fast-moving and opaque process of trilogues, a measure called the Crisis Response Mechanism was put in place, which would have given the European Commission unilateral powers to declare a state of emergency and oblige platforms to take mitigating measures. While such a measure is understandable given recent crises such as the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, it could prompt the Commission to overstep the rule of law. The DSA text will now be finalized and – as a matter of form – put to the vote of the European Parliament and the Council before it officially enters into force.
US CIA appoints first CTO.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has appointed Nand Mulchandani as its first Chief Technical Officer (CTO). CIA Director William J. Burns stated, “Since my confirmation, my primary focus has been on technology, and the new CTO position is a very important part of that effort. I am pleased that Nand has joined our team and will bring his extensive experience to this crucial new role.” Mulchandani brings a solid private sector and government background, with over 25 years in Silicon Valley and the Department of Defense (DoD), where he most recently served as CTO and acting director of the DoD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. Mulchandani stated, “I am honored to join the CIA in this role and look forward to working with the agency’s incredible team of technologists and subject matter experts, who already provide world-class information and skills to help build a comprehensive technology strategy , which offers exciting capabilities in close collaboration with industry and partners.”
The ODNI report details government surveillance on US soil.
The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has released its “Annual Statistical Transparency Report on the Intelligence Community’s Use of National Security Surveillance Agencies,” an overview of the government’s use of national security surveillance powers. The data shows that national security surveillance on home soil has declined for the third straight year, and The New York Times explains that the decline is likely due to the demise of Islamic State, the reduction in travel during the pandemic and the push back after the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s surveillance violations 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 foreign nationals on domestic soil and 67 US citizens, corporations, or permanent residents. Benjamin T. Huebner, ODNI’s Chief Civil Libertities, Privacy and Transparency Officer, states: “The Covid-19 pandemic has likely impacted target behavior—as it did last year—and those changes were one of the factors driving the numbers in this one year. Adding the drop may also reflect “the changing nature of the threat posed by certain international terrorist groups during this period.”
The Washington Post notes that the report shows a significant increase in the number of searches for data on US people or businesses, as authorized by the Section 702 program, which targets people outside the US but sometimes results in the search of data owned by American companies. Almost 2 million of the approximately 3.4 million searches can be attributed to an alleged Russian hacking case related to attempts to compromise critical US infrastructure, although CNN adds that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has declined to specify exactly what case it was. A senior official stated: “More specifically, in relation to this threat, we identified a pool of potential victims that included US persons, and we compared that to our 702 collection to determine who in particular Russia is actually targeting.” ”
The Wall Street Journal states that the actual number of searches is likely to be much less because the complexity of counting and sorting foreign data from US data can result in single unique searches being counted multiple times. Nonetheless, the report’s findings could complicate the Biden administration’s efforts to renew Section 702, which is scheduled to expire in 2023, the Record by Recorded Future notes. Longtime Privacy Commissioner Senator Ron Wyden said of the report: “To anyone outside of the US government, the astronomical number of FBI searches of Americans’ communications is either highly alarming or completely meaningless. Somewhere in all of this tallying are real numbers of FBI searches, for content and for non-content — numbers that Congress and the American people need before Section 702 is reauthorized.”
Chris Hauk, Consumer Privacy Champion at Pixel Privacy, shared a sour take on the Feds’ respect for privacy:
“As we have seen in the past, the FBI and other government agencies will use any excuse they can to spy on US citizens and their activities. While the usual fears of terrorism and hacking usually serve as an excuse, unconstitutional searches like this one worries anyone with concerns about their personal and corporate privacy. The government will continue to conduct unconstitutional searches such as those mentioned in the report, at least until someone speaks up to put a stop to it. Until then, US citizens must stay vigilant about who is accessing their information and protect as much as possible, using encrypted storage to protect their information and using VPNs and privacy-focused browsers and search engines to keep their online activities safe from prying eyes the government and other bad actors.”
Paul Bischoff, data protection officer at Comparitech, thinks it is likely that FISA’s provisions will likely 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 before the spread of the internet and was intended only for foreigners, not US citizens. The mass surveillance of private correspondence is a Fourth Amendment violation because it targets Americans who have not been suspected of a crime. The lack of transparency, since FISA courts are secretive, makes it impossible to know which, or even how many, Americans have been targeted. The announcement underscores the need for end-to-end encrypted messaging apps instead of unencrypted email and SMS messages.”