Identifying TV Political and Issue Ad Sponsors in the Digital Age

Identifying TV Political and Issue Ad Sponsors in the Digital Age. Congressional Research Service. Dana A. Scherer. September 9, 2020

Since the 1930s, both Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have imposed specific requirements on the transmission of political and issue advertising by broadcasters. These rules, which now apply to broadcast radio and television stations, cable and satellite television distributors, and satellite radio services, mandate that the sponsors of political and issue ads be clearly identified within each announcement and that media organizations maintain files of political advertisers’ requests for advertising time and make those files available for public inspection.

[PDF format, 34 pages].

Digital Contact Tracing and Data Protection Law

Digital Contact Tracing and Data Protection Law.  Congressional Research Service.  Jonathan M. Gaffney, Eric N. Holmes, Chris D. Linebaugh. September 24, 2020

Digital Contact Tracing and Data Protection Law Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has infected millions of Americans since the ongoing pandemic began, and the disease has caused many thousands of deaths across the country. Government officials attempting to slow the spread of COVID-19 have implemented a number of responses, including widespread stay-at-home orders, travel advisories, and an increase in testing. State and local public health authorities are also making use of public health investigation techniques to ascertain how the disease has spread. One such technique is contact tracing, a process by which public health investigators identify individuals who have come into contact with infected persons. 

Officials and technology companies have suggested that contact tracing may be accomplished more quickly and easily with the assistance of digital tools. For example, digital technology might assist with tracking individual movements and encounters using information collected from mobile devices. However, public health authorities’ use of digital tools capable of collecting individual information also raises concerns about how to preserve the privacy and security of that data.

This report will discuss how data privacy and security (together, data protection) law applies to a public health authority’s use of digital contact tracing tools. The report begins with a discussion of contact tracing, the role of technology in assisting with contact tracing, and potential privacy concerns. The second section of the report details key federal privacy laws—the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the Communications Act, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, the Privacy Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and the Federal Trade Commission Act—and discusses what rights and obligations these laws may create for users and providers of digital contact tracing tools. Next, the report reviews selected state and foreign data protection laws and their application to digital contact tracing. The report concludes by providing an overview of data protection bills introduced in the 116th Congress in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and discussing some considerations for Congress as it weighs such legislation.

[PDF format, 47 pages].

Foreign Interference in the 2020 Election: Tools for Detecting Online Election Interference

Foreign Interference in the 2020 Election: Tools for Detecting Online Election Interference. RAND Corporation. William Marcellino et al. October 8, 2020.

Given past threats to U.S. elections, it is possible that foreign actors will again try to influence the U.S. political campaign season of 2020 via social media. This report, the second in a series on information efforts by foreign actors, lays out the advocacy communities on Twitter that researchers identified as arguing about the election. It goes on to describe what appears to be an instance of election interference in these communities using trolls (fake personas spreading a variety of hyperpartisan themes) and superconnectors (highly networked accounts that can spread messages effectively and quickly). Although the origin of the accounts could not be identified definitively, this interference serves Russia’s interests and matches Russia’s interference playbook. The report describes the methods used to identify the questionable accounts and offers recommendations for response. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 32 pages].

Disinformation as a Wicked Problem: Why We Need Co-Regulatory Frameworks

Disinformation as a Wicked Problem: Why We Need Co-Regulatory Frameworks. Brookings Institution. Molly Montgomery. August 2020

As the harmful effects of disinformation and other online problems on individuals and societies become increasingly apparent, governments are under pressure to act. Initial attempts at self-regulation via mechanisms such as voluntary codes of conduct have not yielded the desired results, leading policymakers to turn increasingly to top-down regulation. This approach is destined to fail.

Disinformation and other online problems are not conventional problems that can be solved individually with traditional regulation. Instead, they are a web of interrelated “wicked” problems — problems that are highly complex, interdependent, and unstable — and can only be mitigated, managed, or minimized, not solved. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 14 pages].

Utilities for Democracy: Why and How the Algorithmic Infrastructure of Facebook and Google Must Be Regulated

Utilities for Democracy: Why and How the Algorithmic Infrastructure of Facebook and Google Must Be Regulated. Brookings Institution. Josh Simons and Dipayan Ghosh. August 2020

In the four years since the last U.S. presidential election, pressure has continued to build on Silicon Valley’s biggest internet firms: the Cambridge Analytica revelations; a series of security and privacy missteps; a constant drip of stories about discriminatory algorithms; employee pressure, walkouts, and resignations; and legislative debates about privacy, content moderation, and competition policy. The nation — indeed, the world — is waking up to the manifold threats internet platforms pose to the public sphere and to democracy.

This paper provides a framework for understanding why internet platforms matter for democracy and how they should be regulated. We describe the two most powerful internet platforms, Facebook and Google, as new public utilities — utilities for democracy. Facebook and Google use algorithms to rank and order vast quantities of content and information, shaping how we consume news and access information, communicate with and feel about one another, debate fundamental questions of the common good, and make collective decisions. Facebook and Google are private companies whose algorithms have become part of the infrastructure of our public sphere. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 28 pages].

Alliance Power for Cybersecurity

Alliance Power for Cybersecurity. Atlantic Council.  Kenneth Geers. August 4, 2020.

There is only one internet and only one cyberspace connecting individuals, enterprises, and nations all over the world. Ever more frequently, this shared space is coming under attack from malicious actors, both state and non-state, who are seeking to exploit cyberspace’s shared infrastructure for their own ends. Addressing cybersecurity threats is therefore an international problem that requires an international solution. But given the myriad of threats faced in the cyber domain and the ambiguous borders that exist there, how can states best address these challenges and ensure the safety of their own networks and people?

In this new report from the Scowcroft Center’s Transatlantic Security Initiative, Cyber Statecraft Initiative senior fellow Kenneth Geers argues that the best way for democratic states to defend their own cyber networks is to leverage the multinational strength of political and military alliances like NATO and the European Union. Alliances like NATO give democracies an advantage over their authoritarian rivals by providing already established mechanisms for multinational cooperation. Alliances are therefore better equipped to tackle the inherently international challenges of cybersecurity. 

To illustrate the impact of alliances on cybersecurity, Geers uses events in Ukraine as a case study, comparing the Ukrainian government’s efforts to defend against Russian cyberattacks shortly after the 2014 revolution with measures taken in cooperation with partners to defend the 2019 presidential election. Geers illustrates how collective action in 2019 produced improved security outcomes compared to efforts taken by Ukraine alone. Building on these lessons, Geers argues that the only structures likely to produce tangible results in cybersecurity are those within political and military alliances. Indeed, the only credible cyber superpower is a robust alliance. The report then offers a series of recommendations on how NATO and the EU can promote trust and collaboration among Allies and partners to build a more effective cyber alliance. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 28 pages].

The Role of Technology in Online Misinformation

The Role of Technology in Online Misinformation. Brookings Institution. Sarah Kreps. June 2020

States have long interfered in the domestic politics of other states. Foreign election interference is nothing new, nor are misinformation campaigns. The new feature of the 2016 election was the role of technology in personalizing and then amplifying the information to maximize the impact. As a 2019 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report concluded, malicious actors will continue to weaponize information and develop increasingly sophisticated tools for personalizing, targeting, and scaling up the content.

This report focuses on those tools. It outlines the logic of digital personalization, which uses big data to analyze individual interests to determine the types of messages most likely to resonate with particular demographics. The report speaks to the role of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and neural networks in creating tools that distinguish quickly between objects, for example a stop sign versus a kite, or in a battlefield context, a combatant versus a civilian. Those same technologies can also operate in the service of misinformation through text prediction tools that receive user inputs and produce new text that is as credible as the original text itself. The report addresses potential policy solutions that can counter digital personalization, closing with a discussion of regulatory or normative tools that are less likely to be effective in countering the adverse effects of digital technology. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 11 pages].

Bridging the Gaps: A Path Forward to Federal Privacy Legislation

Bridging the Gaps: A Path Forward to Federal Privacy Legislation. Brookings Institution. Cameron F. Kerry et al. June 3, 2020

Despite a promising start in the 116th Congress, comprehensive information-privacy legislation appears stalled on Capitol Hill. Response to the COVID-19 pandemic has necessarily consumed most of the current bandwidth in Congress. Yet the pandemic has raised issues surrounding access to mobility and proximity data, health information, and other forms of personal information that may—and in some cases may not—be useful for public health. These are a reminder of the gaps in the U.S. system of privacy protection. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 84 pages].

The Unforeseen Consequences of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on Society: A Systematic Review of Regulatory Gaps Generated by AI in the U.S.

The Unforeseen Consequences of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on Society: A Systematic Review of Regulatory Gaps Generated by AI in the U.S. RAND Corporation. Carlos Ignacio Gutierrez Gaviria. June 2, 2020.

As a formal discipline, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is over 60 years old. In this time, breakthroughs in the field have generated technologies that compare to or outperform humans in tasks requiring creativity and complex reasoning. AI’s growing catalog of applications and methods has the potential to profoundly affect public policy by generating instances where regulations are not adequate to confront the issues faced by society, also known as regulatory gaps.

The objective of this dissertation is to improve our understanding of how AI influences U.S. public policy. It systematically explores, for the first time, the role of AI in the generation of regulatory gaps. Specifically, it addresses two research questions:

*What U.S. regulatory gaps exist due to AI methods and applications?
*When looking across all of the gaps identified in the first research question, what trends and insights emerge that can help stakeholders plan for the future?

These questions are answered through a systematic review of four academic databases of literature in the hard and social sciences. Its implementation was guided by a protocol that initially identified 5,240 candidate articles. A screening process reduced this sample to 241 articles (published between 1976 and February of 2018) relevant to answering the research questions. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 215 pages].

Mapping Student Needs during COVID-19

Mapping Student Needs during COVID-19. Urban Institute. Kristin Blagg et al. April 29, 2020

Staff, teachers, and students experienced rapid change as school buildings closed in March 2020 because of the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. In this brief, we use American Community Survey (ACS) data to highlight different types of challenges to remote learning and point to district and educator strategies that might mitigate harm to students as districts navigate long-term school closures. Although many families will face unique circumstances and obstacles, we focus on six factors in addition to poverty: linguistic isolation, child disability status, parents in vulnerable economic sectors, single parents, crowded conditions, and lack of computer or broadband access. We describe the difficulties each circumstance presents and potential solutions for school districts. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 27 pages].