Big Gov meet Big Brother? The U.S. Race to Beat China. HART and #AI, and OpenData, and a Light-Touch on Data Privacy.

The U.S. government has some big ideas on big data.

The U.S. Federal Data Strategy– calling for feedback.

According to this public notice, the Bipartisan Policy Center is hosting a November 8 Forum on the Federal Data Strategy and is accepting public comment on their draft practices:

“On November 8, 2018 the Bipartisan Policy Center and the White House Office of Management and Budget will jointly host a public forum on the Federal Data Strategy. The forum will provide an opportunity for the public, including businesses and other stakeholders, to offer feedback on a draft set of practices that will serve as the basis for new expectations agencies will have for data governance, management, protection, use, and partnerships. During the forum, speakers are invited to provide feedback on the draft practices recently published in the Federal Register and to provide suggestions for specific actions agencies can take to implement the practices.” —Bipartisan Policy Center

Bipartisan Policy Center Forum, November 8

New Privacy Guidelines for Federal Agencies and Tech Industry.

See NIST Framework fact sheet

According to this report from ITCON, Commerce Agencies Push for Light-Touch Approach to Data Privacy:

“…U.S. lawmakers have responded by considering an array of new data privacy laws, ranging from nonbinding standards to GDPR-like regulations. Executives from several technology companies, including Facebook, Twitter Inc.Alphabet Inc.AT&T Inc., and Apple Inc., testified before the Senate Commerce Committee Sept. 26, to advocate self-regulation

Both the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) launched initiatives in September to develop new consumer privacy guidelines for federal agencies and private companies.

NIST announced on Sept. 4 that it had begun work on a privacy “framework” consisting of standardized policies and protocols that organizations can adopt to reduce their risk of data misuse or disclosure without user consent. Like its popular Cybersecurity Framework (CSF), NIST’s privacy framework will be developed in collaboration with industry, and adoption will be voluntary.” [Emphasis]

New bill that wants Artificial Intelligence in Government.

Senators introduce the ‘Artificial Intelligence in Government Act’

According the FedScoop,

…”The AI in Government Act gives the federal government the tools and resources it needs to build its expertise and in partnership with industry and academia. The bill will help develop the policies to ensure that society reaps the benefits of these emerging technologies, while protecting people from potential risks, such as biases in AI.

The proposed legislation is supported by a bunch of companies and advocacy groups in the tech space including BSA, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Intel, the Internet Association, the Lincoln Network, Microsoft, the Niskanen Center, and the R Street Institute.

The senators are hardly alone in their conviction that AI will be a powerful tool for government. At a summit in May, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy created a Select Committee on artificial intelligence, comprised of senior research and development officials from across the government.”

The OPEN Government Data Act 

“And just this week, Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Robin Kelly, D-Ill., made a call for an AI national strategy. Specifically, Hurd and Kelly said in comments, Congress should take a more proactive role in shaping governance around the technology.”

According to FedScoop, the report calls on the government and Congress to better assess how AI development can be supported, whether by making federal data sets available to the public by passing legislation like the OPEN Government Data Act or by leveraging national competitions similar to the grand challenges hosted by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency  (DARPA) to promote competition and innovation.

“I think this would be a great opportunity for public-private partnerships,” Kelly said.”

HART:  Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology.

The Race to Beat China.

China has Sesame Credit, an Orwellian social ranking system based on each citizen’s data score.  India has Aadhaar, a problem-laden, privacy nightmare, biometric ID database for each citizen.  These two national ID/data driven systems determine citizen’s services, benefits, pricing, even health care.    When I was perusing the Brookings website, I came across this article subtitled, The digital planet’s high points — US, Europe, India — are losing ground to China. The article talks about Sesame Credit, Aadhaar’s privacy problems and warns the U.S. is losing the digital race to China. The article states,

“China may set new standards in privacy protection as long as you overlook the notion that the state knows everything…. Speaking of innovation, China is laying the groundwork for beating the US at its own game. It is creating an innovation corridor with a grand infrastructure plan to bind Hong Kong and Macau with the entrepreneurial southern tip of the mainland; its volume of venture-funding has surpassed that of the US; it produces 4.7 million STEM graduates versus 5,68,000 in the US each year; Chinese-origin authors produce anywhere between a quarter to a third of all scientific papers; and, most importantly, it has a government that plans two steps ahead and a president who has a job for life without the annoying disorderliness of democracy. The US, in the meantime, is struggling to deal with its growing angst about its digital companies and their many foibles while its government has all but abandoned investing in innovation for the long term. The digital planet’s high points — US, Europe, India — are losing ground to China.”

What the above digital race article doesn’t mention is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is already building a biometric database: HART. According to this February 2018  Northrop Grumman release,

HART  is a “multi-modal biometric identification of individuals to enable both national security and public safety as well as benefits and services. …multi-modal processing and matching technology that uses a combination of face, finger and iris biometrics meeting DHS accuracy requirements. A keen focus on safeguarding personally identifiable information as well as ensuring the critical sharing of data across interagency partners underpins the technology.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation calls HART a Secretive DHS Program Aimed at Comprehensive Biometric Surveillance. In June 2018 EFF called  on DHS to stop this national biometric surveillance program:

“This kind of biometric information will also be paired with biographic data including relationship modelling based on things like social media profiles, allowing for a comprehensive portrait of every individual encompassed in the HART databases.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation objects to this program on a number of levels. Profiling HART on its website, the organization argues that its detailed profiling capabilities will allow police organizations to profile individuals based on things like political and religious affiliations; and the organizations cites studies indicating that facial recognition systems perform less accurately on non-white and non-male subjects, paving the way for systemic, automated discrimination. On a more fundamental level, the EFF argues that HART will violate citizens’ privacy, and will put their sensitive data at risk by sharing it with other security organizations, and storing it in servers vulnerable to attack.

This thematic conflict is already being played out over the DHS’s face-scanning activities at airports, and over police agencies’ use of tools like Amazon’s Rekognition machine vision service. And while the DHS has made at least a token effort to engage with such concerns, the debate will likely escalate along with the government’s growing collection of biometric data.”

But Privacy

Only a few weeks ago there were Congressional Hearings with privacy advocates and BigTech (Google, Apple, Amazon, AT&T, Twitter, Charter Communications) on what a federal privacy bill should contain. Everyone on the panel agreed privacy and trust are fundamental.  Senators criticized China’s Sesame Credit System.  Senators criticized Amazon’s facial Rekognition platform.   Yet, while this hand of Congress was talking about privacy, the other hand is promoting laws to support an AI driven, open-data government with an industry-driven privacy framework that takes a “Light Touch to privacy”, and we are already building the HART biometric database.  Privacy?

We hope Congress is paying attention and willing to say the U.S. should not be a surveillance state.

And ONE MORE THING: no one is really talking about protecting children and student privacy. (No, COPPA is not the be-all, end-all. It doesn’t cover schools and it doesn’t cover nonprofits and schools can act as parent agent, consenting to data collection in place of parents.  AND… FERPA was gutted in 2011.  FERPA does NOT prohibit student data from being shared or sold to companies, no parent consent needed.)  Congress has been talking about federal privacy legislation, but we really must focus on returning consent and control of student data to parents.

If you are interested in what was said at recent Senate privacy hearings, but don’t have the time to watch, we transcribed highlights of these two meetings to make it easier to search what was said, when, and by whom: 

Suggested keyword searches for Senate highlights: silence, penalty, funders, device, sell, COPPA, play store, coerce, behoove, preempt, pretend, patchwork (the new buzzword), location, man years, elephant, China, Rekognition, tiny, Brookings, bias.


Cheri Kiesecker

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    Governments should never be trusted to protect privacy. Anyone who trusts politicians or bureaucrats or autocrats, is a fool who is throwing away their freedom. Privacy requires insulation and isolation from government intrusion and observation and data collection.

    The only way to ensure privacy is to create and protect communication and data storage that are not available to government monitoring. That kind of privacy will be achievable but it may not be legal. Such are the challenges that free people will always face. Freedom does not come easily.

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