Attacking Free Speech Doesn’t Just Hurt Tech: America Must Stay True to Its First Amendment Principles

The First Amendment is one of the cornerstone principles that define this nation. There is no such thing as freedom if we cannot speak freely.   

Today, however, our nation seems less interested in protecting free speech than at any time I can recall. Major advocates of free speech like the ACLU are wavering in their support of our First Amendment, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are fighting for the government to censor online speech.  

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A Third-Way Approach to Regulating Facial Recognition Systems

The use of facial recognition systems powered by algorithms and software continues to raise controversy given their potential use by law enforcement and other government agencies.  For over a decade, the Department of Commerce’s National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) has evaluated facial recognition to identify and report gaps in its capabilities.  Its most recent report in 2019 quantified the effect of age, race, and sex on facial recognition accuracy.

The greatest discrepancies that NIST measured were higher false-positive rates in women, African Americans, and particularly African American women.  It noted, “False positives might present a security concern to the system owner, as they may allow access to impostors.  False positives also might present privacy and civil rights and civil liberties concerns such as when matches result in additional questioning, surveillance, errors in benefit adjudication, or loss of liberty.”

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Digital COVID Vaccine Passports Should Be Antitrust-Exempt

Our nation’s momentum toward accelerated COVID-19 vaccine distribution is fully apparent.  President Joe Biden has publicly urged state governments to make every adult in the U.S. eligible for a vaccine by May 1.

With this fast-track schedule, increasing attention now should be focused on how Americans will be able to digitally verify their vaccine completion status, not only for travel abroad but possibly even to get into local sporting events, theaters, hotels, or cruise ships.

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Guardrails for Describing Fake News, Misinformation, and Disinformation

Perhaps the most distasteful national omelet we’ve been served during the past four years has been the one that has mixed together an unsavory combination of three ingredients: fake news, misinformation, and disinformation.

While many express growing concerns and look for ways to deal with them, that may be difficult – if not impossible – as long as we use these terms without any agreed-upon definitions that set useful boundaries and are easy to understand among the public at large.  The alternative is to continue repeating the mantra “fake news-misinformation- disinformation” so often that it loses meaning, or using the terms interchangeably so that they become permanently blurred in our minds.

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Digital Privacy Laws Should Reflect Our Work-From-Home Pandemic Lives

With COVID-19 and economic recovery at the top of the policy agenda for the Biden Administration and the new Congress, it may take awhile until serious attention is devoted to enacting national digital privacy legislation.  This continues to put states in a leadership position to craft their own approaches.  Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Washington are among the states that are in the process of developing their own bills for timely legislative approval.

And Virginia’s pending Consumer Data Protection Act is poised to be signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam, after receiving very strong bipartisan support in both the Virginia House and the state Senate.

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Greater Social Media Trust Is Needed To Fight COVID-19

The resumption of daily press briefings by the new White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, has brought back a welcomed routine of making the president’s chief spokesperson available for informational updates and responses to questions posed by various reporters in the press corps.  Ms. Psaki typically holds these weekday sessions in the early afternoon and they can be viewed on a variety of websites.

With that scheduling constant now in place, it’s time for the Biden Administration to devise a separate social media schedule for COVID-19 updates to help minimize the tsunami of misinformation about testing, PPE availability, mandated mask orders, vaccine supply, and actual vaccinations.  These updates should be based on actual data and science, not on rumors or speculation.  And when sufficient information is not yet forthcoming, we should be told why it has not been released and when it may be made public.

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Big Tech Must Self-Regulate To Protect Public Safety

In a single swipe, Twitter and Facebook have done what the U.S. government and the Constitution could not: delete the power of an irreverent president to rile and rally Americans to violent action.

Twitter announced Jan. 8 that it permanently suspended Trump’s account, while Facebook announced Jan. 7 it had suspended Trump’s account indefinitely. 

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The Role of Targeted Advertising In Supporting First Amendment Principles

One can scarcely remember the time, only a few short decades ago, when life moved along without the array of personal digital devices that have come to define today’s culture.  All of that changed, of course, with the advent of the Internet and the ability to access a burgeoning number of websites (which themselves were rapidly evolving). 

Personal desktop computers, portable laptops, tablets, cell phones, and “smart phones” would fuel the tech revolution.  Who could imagine that someday one’s phone, tablet, and computers would all be synchronized into a seamless whole.  Or that millions of Americans would spend vast amounts of time engaging each other via something called “social media.”

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Privacy Policy Research Deserves a Much Wider Audience

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hosted its fifth annual PrivacyCon on July 21, 2020.  This was the first time the one-day conference was fully remote, rather than in person at the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in Washington, D.C.

PrivacyCon should not be confused with Comic-Con, the annual pop culture extravaganza that began the following day with over 350 virtual panels extending over nearly a week.  Perhaps the thousands who show up there each year in San Diego with colorful costumes will not miss a beat as they turn on their Zoom cameras to participate in a way never imagined when this year’s Comic-Con was organized.

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Cancel Culture Is Techno Tyranny

Hyper partisan politics and our divided nation make it easier than ever to vilify anyone, any time, in any way.  In the words of Michael Corleone, “If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.”

Used figuratively here, of course, but that is what cancel culture has wrought in today’s society.

While cancellation may seek to stifle speech, it causes social and economic destruction as well.  It projects permanence and public shame for its targets whether deserved or not.  And it promotes a kind of techno tyranny against which we all should be vigilant.

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