SOC alumnus Dr. Luis Hestres discusses net neutrality on Texas Public Radio

Dr. Luis Hestres is a tenure-track assistant professor of digital media at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He received his Ph.D. in Communication from American University in 2014.

With last week’s announcement by FCC chair Ajit Pai that the agency plans to dismantle a set of landmark net neutrality regulations, many have asked what such a move could mean for consumers, the tech industry, and the future of the internet as we know it.

Discussing the implications of the proposed repeal on Texas Public Radio’s “The Source” on Monday, SOC alumnus and professor in digital communication at the University of Texas at San Antonio Dr. Luis Hestres described net neutrality as “the principle that internet service providers can’t discriminate against any type of data that flows through their networks.”

Click here to listen to the discussion.

The current net neutrality regulations, put in place by the Obama administration, categorize broadband as a public utility (on par with electrical and telephone grids), prohibiting internet service providers (ISPs) from “throttling” or otherwise slowing down the flow of data from certain websites or from charging more for high-quality streaming from certain websites.

The proposed repeal has reignited a debate between large telecom providers like AT&T and Verizon on one side and increasingly powerful tech companies like Google and Facebook on the other. Silicon Valley firms and internet freedom advocates argue that dismantling the regulations would stifle innovation and give ISPs the power to serve as digital gatekeepers.

Further complicating matters, the FCC proposal comes as the Department of Justice is suing AT&T to block a proposed $85.4 billion bid for Time Warner, a deal that would see the telecom giant acquire CNN, HBO, and Warner Brothers Pictures in an effort to merge content and distribution (a strategy already embraced by one of AT&T’s chief competitors Comcast, whose purchase of NBCUniversal was approved in 2011). Taken together, the government’s contradictory stances toward AT&T reflect the difficulty in reconciling the increasing consolidation of the telecom and media ecosystems with the current administration’s anti-regulatory pro-business agenda.

But as Dr. Hestres explains, the telecoms themselves have engaged in similar doublespeak, especially as it concerns net neutrality. “The telecoms are saying one thing to the FCC and something completely different to their investors,” ensuring their shareholders that they continue to invest heavily in network architecture even as they claim that the net neutrality rules have stalled investment in broadband.

Adding to these competing (often contradictory) set of interests, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman published a letter to the FCC last week alleging that the agency’s public comments process, which allows citizens to voice their concerns on the proposed net neutrality repeal, “has been corrupted by the fraudulent use of Americans’ identities.” While it is as yet unclear who is behind the fraudulent comments (Schneiderman’s office received no “substantive” response from the FCC) it would seem to represent another instance in which networked actors have meddled in institutions of governance and the democratic process. “If law enforcement can’t investigate and (where appropriate) prosecute when it happens on this scale, the door is open for it to happen again and again,” wrote Schneiderman.

Update: On Monday, December 11, Dr. Hestres explained the net neutrality decision on KENS TV, a local CBS affiliate in San Antonio. Check out the video here.

 

 

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Faculty Fellow Dr. Eric Novotny Presents on “Circumventing Censorship with New Technologies”

On Thursday, November 16th at 3pm, the Internet Governance Lab Roundtable Speaker Series will host Dr. Eric Novotny of American University’s School of International Service for a discussion on emerging information communication technologies designed to circumvent censorship and their impacts on freedom of expression and privacy online.

The event will take place in SIS 260 at AU’s School of International Service.

As Dr. Novotny explains:

Censorship on the world wide web by governments continues to be a barrier and a threat to freedom of speech, ideas, and information. Regimes use various techniques such as IP blocking, DNS poisoning, and DPI to interfere with traffic among clients and servers. Almost all contemporary, operational circumvention technologies rely on network access and routing through proxies or bridges to obfuscate traffic between their client and an intended host.  Increasing capabilities are surfacing that will challenge the utility of such end-to-end proxy techniques.  Refraction routing is an emerging technique that takes an end-to-middle approach to the problem by building anti-censorship into the core of the Internet architecture.  This discussion introduces the general problem of circumvention technology and compares various ways that refraction routing can be implemented on the world wide web.  These techniques may provide significantly stronger resistance to common forms of blocking by repressive governments and also provide collateral cybersecurity benefits.  One method for implementing refraction routing has already been successfully field tested to overcome blocking and will be discussed.

All are welcome and we look forward to a lively discussion of the topic following Dr. Novotny’s presentation.

#DataLove: A new norm for data security?

By Erica ‘Diya’ Basu

Harlo Holmes, Director of Newsroom Digital Security at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, led a Digital Security Clinic on Friday, October 13 at American University’s School of Communication. The session was co-sponsored by AU’s Internet Governance Lab, the Center for Media & Social Impact and the Internet Society of Washington, DC.

AU SOC Associate Professor Aram Sinnreich opened the discussion by highlighting the fact that digital security is a cultural issue and called on the audience to embrace a social norm of #DataLove, placing people at the center of digital security discussions. Policy circles have tended to view digital security primarily through a binary lens, between the geopolitical exigencies of national sovereignty and security and the economic drivers of commercial profit and competitive edge.

Harlo grounded her discussion on a “Threat Modeling” tool to assess digital security vulnerabilities. A practical, four-part schema that individuals could use to not feel overwhelmed and gain control of what was at stake with one’s online information. Ask yourself four questions. What assets or what is it that I am protecting – passwords, personal information, emails, photographs, financial data? Who is the adversary, who am I protecting this information from – companies, hackers, social and professional enemies, governments? What resources do my adversaries have, to access this information – technical expertise, time, monetary resources? How far will I go and what are my abilities to protect my assets – gain information, invest in anti-malware software, use better authentication options? The sheer practicality of the model resonated well with the audience especially considering recent data breaches reported by Yahoo, Target, Equifax, and Whole Foods. And reports of stalking and cyberbullying incidents on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. We have either been victims ourselves or know of family and friends who have been affected by their data being stolen or whose identities were compromised on the Internet.

Harlo provided useful tips on managing one’s digital “assets,” like using pass-phrases instead of passwords, password manager software, two-factor authentication and physical USB keys to secure our online data. She encouraged the use of end-to-end encryption platforms like Signal and WhatsApp, and reminded the audience of the distinct kinds of phishing ploys that “adversaries” may use to access our devices and our data. 

Developing a culture of #DataLove may be the way forward as we navigate a hyper-networked world. Where our attitudes about digital security may often be at odds with our actions as we voluntarily and involuntarily leave larger and deeper digital footprints on the Internet. To this end, Harlo’s fourth question from the Threat Modeling tool was a telling one – how far will we go to protect our online assets and improve our digital security?

Check out the presentation below, which begins at the 22:42 minutes.

 

Faculty Fellow Dr. Kathryn Montgomery to speak at HHS on Health Wearables and Privacy in the Digital Age

On Thursday, October 26, 2017, Internet Governance Lab Faculty Fellow and Director of AU’s Communication Studies Division Dr. Kathryn Montgomery will discuss the wide-ranging implications of Internet-connected health wearables at a conference organized by the Department of Health and Human Services. The presentation, titled “Health Wearables: Ensuring Privacy, Security, and Equity in an Emerging Internet-of-Things Environment,” draws on Dr. Montgomery’s research at the intersection of the Internet of Things and privacy, including an AU and Center for Digital Democracy study (funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), looking at the privacy and consumer protection concerns raised by the proliferation of health and fitness wearables, which consumers are increasingly using to track everything from their heart rates to sleep patterns and stress levels.

“Many of these devices are already being integrated into a growing Big Data digital health and marketing ecosystem, which is focused on gathering and monetizing personal and health data in order to influence consumer behavior,” the report explains. As the use of these devices becomes more widespread, and as their functionalities become increasingly sophisticated, “the extent and nature of data collection will be unprecedented.”

As Dr. Montgomery explains, “the connected-health system is still in an early, fluid stage of development,” adding, “there is an urgent need to build meaningful, effective, and enforceable safeguards into its foundation.”

Orwell’s 1984 and the Contemporary Cyber Surveillance State

On Wednesday, October 18th, from 3-4:30 pm in Batelle-Tompkins Atrium, the American University Literature Department and the Internet Governance Lab will host a colloquium on Orwell’s 1984 and its relevance to the contemporary cyber context.

All sectors of the economy and society are now digitally mediated, made possible by the Faustian bargain of pervasive and privatized surveillance in which citizens relinquish personal data in exchange for free services. Authoritarian and democratic nation-states alike enact expansive surveillance, either for politically motivated censorship, identification of dissidents, or law enforcement and intelligence gathering. The same technologies that have provided unprecedented opportunities for creative expression, innovation, and free speech are used for all manner of social, political, and economic control. Modern flashpoints such as the Snowden NSA surveillance disclosures and Russia’s cybersecurity incursions and influence campaigns during the 2016 American presidential election have attracted greater public attention to longstanding tensions between cybersecurity and human rights. This panel will bring together experts in cyberpolitics and cybersecurity to examine Orwell’s 1984 through the lens of the contemporary cyber-surveillance state. How has the language of Orwell shaped/constructed modern cyber discourses? How do the modern surveillance state and underlying political tensions differ from Orwell’s dystopian vision? How would 1984 have been re-written in light of contemporary technological capabilities? Speakers include:

Moderator: Dr. Linda Voris
Professor in the Department of Literature
American University

Dr. Derrick Cogburn
Faculty Director, Internet Governance Lab at American University
Professor in the School of International Service

Dr. Laura DeNardis
Author of The Global War for Internet Governance (Yale University Press)
SOC Professor and Faculty Director, Internet Governance Lab at American University

Dr. Eric Novotny
Professor in the School of International Service
Faculty Fellow, Internet Governance Lab at American University

Colonel (Ret) Randolph Rosin
Faculty of the National Intelligence University
Internet Governance Lab Research Fellow