Emerging Technologies Washington Update

February 27, 2020

Pardon Our Dust

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This Week: FTC releases annual privacy and data security report; AI: White House endorses OECD efforts, Pentagon adopts new ethical principles; FAA hosts Drone Advisory Committee meeting, solicits new members.

Week in Review

Congress was in session this week, though the Senate recessed for Republican and Democratic retreats on Wednesday and Thursday.

House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI) is planning to introduce legislation to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make platforms liable for running “demonstrably false” political ads. The bill will be the latest in a series of legislative proposals to reform the landmark law and comes on the heels of last week’s Department of Justice public workshop.

On Tuesday, President Trump concluded a 36-hour trip to India. He was accompanied by a high-level delegation that included Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, and about a dozen others. Although the visit did not secure a “mini” trade deal as was originally intended, it did showcase the strength of the US-India relationship and the friendship between President Trump and Prime Minister Modi. As a participant in the delegation, it was reported that Chairman Pai spoke to Indian counterparts about spectrum issues including 5G.

Stateside, the President requested $2.5 billion in supplementary appropriations to protect the United States from the spread of the coronavirus as multiple congressional committees of jurisdiction have been convening hearings on various aspects of the crisis. Negotiations continue as Senate Democrats have put forth their own proposal for $8.5 billion in spending. In the meantime, President Trump announced during a Wednesday evening press conference that Vice President Mike Pence would lead the U.S. effort to manage the response to the virus. The administration Thursday announced that State Department Ambassador-At-Large Debbie Birx will serve as the administration’s coronavirus “czar.”

Meanwhile, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sent a letter on Tuesday to the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Commerce and House Energy and Commerce Committees providing an update on California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) implementation. He also urged Congress to adopt federal privacy legislation that, at a minimum, provides the rights to access, correct, and delete personal data that has been collected; to minimize data collection, processing, and retention; to data portability among services; and; to know what data is collected and processed and for what reasons. He also urged Congress to make clear that state attorneys general have parallel enforcement authority and to adopt a private right of action, while warning against preemption.

Looking Ahead

With the FY21 appropriations process officially underway, Cabinet secretaries and other senior administration officials will continue to make the rounds before congressional committees of jurisdiction over the coming weeks to testify in support of the President’s budget request. The House Appropriations Committee is planning to begin subcommittee markups on April 21, followed by full committee markups the week of April 28. The Committee plans to complete all markups by May 19 with the goal of passing all of its bills before July. The House and Senate Armed Services Committees are also in the early stages of hearings for the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The White House is planning to host a 5G summit in April, according to National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will also hold a forum on March 26 focused on 5G virtualized radio access networks.

FTC Releases Annual Privacy and Data Security Report

On February 25, the Federal Trade Commission released its annual update on privacy and data security, disclosing a record year for enforcement actions including a $5 billion penalty against Facebook for violation of the 2012 privacy order and a record $170 million penalty against YouTube and Google for alleged violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The FTC also announced a global settlement, along with 50 states and territories and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with Equifax totaling as much as $700 million related to its 2017 data breach. In other enforcement actions, the FTC brought 13 cases against companies that violated the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework.

Beyond enforcement, the FTC hosted more than 75 events to address privacy and security, including its fourth annual PrivacyCon, and engaged in numerous advocacy efforts like providing comment on National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) proposed privacy framework.

On the international front, the FTC engaged in multiple cooperative enforcement initiatives with overseas counterparts in countries such as Chile, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and the United Kingdom, as well as participated in missions and bilateral discussions focused broadly on privacy and data security issues.

AI: White House Endorses OECD Efforts, Pentagon Adopts New Ethical Principles

Today, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) officially launches its Policy Observatory on Artificial Intelligence, an online platform to shape and share AI policies. Ahead of the launch, Deputy US Chief Technology Officer Lynne Parker endorsed the OECD’s standards, emphasizing that the countries that make up the organization share common democratic values and beliefs with the United States and recognize “the importance of innovation for advancing the public good when it comes to AI.”  Unlike the G20 and other international forums, the OECD does not include China as a member nation.

On Monday, February 24, the Pentagon adopted five “ethical principles” to guide the U.S. government’s use of AI in combat and non-combat applications. Adopting AI principles has been one of Defense Secretary Esper’s top priorities since before his confirmation. The principles call for people to “exercise appropriate levels of judgement and care” when deploying and using AI systems, including those that scan for targets employing aerial imagery. The principles also call for decisions made by automated systems to be “traceable” and “governable” in that there should be a way to disengage them if they are acting in unintended ways. The principles follow recommendations presented last year by the Defense Innovation Board, led by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

On Wednesday February 26, the Electric Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint with the FTC arguing that Airbnb’s nontransparent algorithm to determine a customer’s “trustworthiness” is “unfair and deceptive” under the FTC Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  Airbnb secretly rates customers based on a patent that considers such factors as “authoring online content with negative language.” It also considers posts on a person’s social network account as well as the individual’s relationships with others, which all factor into a “trustworthiness score.” EPIC further argues that Airbnb’s approach violates the fairness and transparency principles and standards for AI decision-making established by the international community.

FAA Hosts Drone Advisory Committee Meeting, Solicits New Members

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) met today. The FAA largely accepted three sets of recommendations the DAC made at its last meeting on remote identification early equipage, UAS security, and Part 107 waivers. During today’s meeting, the DAC made recommendations on its three most recent taskings related to facility maps, beyond visual line of sight operations, and unmanned traffic management (UTM). The FAA will review these new recommendations and decide to what extent it will or will not accept them at the next DAC meeting, which is not yet scheduled.

As for the DAC’s next assignments, the FAA extended the UTM tasking as the FAA’s concept of operations (ConOps) 2.0 was not released during the task group’s work. Therefore, the UTM task group will reconvene once ConOps 2.0 is released to provide additional recommendations on UTM capabilities. According to the FAA, the updated ConOps document is in the final stages of review and its release is imminent. The FAA also proposed a new tasking on aviation safety culture for drone operators, asking for recommendations and ideas “to assist the drone community in adopting an aviation safety culture,” including “ideas for motivation and suggestions for industry involvement.”

Additional information from today’s meeting can be found here. The FAA also noted that the Department of Transportation will soon begin soliciting additional DAC members to fill several vacancies on the committee.