AU hosts Facebook Live event on cyber-safety in the wake of campus hate crimes

Following last Monday’s racist incident on campus and subsequent online harassment directed at AU Student Government President Taylor Dumpson, American University hosted a Facebook Live video event on Friday outlining practical steps students can take to protect themselves from online hate.

Watch the video here.

Vice President for Communication Terry Flannery and Assistant Director of Physical Security and Police Technology Doug Pierce touched on several actions the university is taking to protect students, both on campus and online, while also addressing best practices students can adopt to protect themselves in the offline and online worlds.

Mr. Pierce highlighted the importance of actively managing one’s privacy settings on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, including disabling geolocation, which raises the risk that online threats could develop into real-world threats to a victim’s physical security.

In what was a concerted effort to engage with the university community in an open and transparent manner, Ms. Flannery and Mr. Pierce took questions from users posted in real-time, many of whom expressed a growing sense of frustration over the larger issues of hate and fear bubbling up on campus and beyond. Echoing these sentiments was a general sense of disillusionment as to the efficacy of one-off discussions (no matter how well-intended) in response to what many see as merely the latest in a string of incidents reflecting deep-seated divisions on campus.

Addressing the larger political and social context, Ms. Flannery explained, “I think so much has been affected by the current political climate that we’re in. And I’ve seen many people who’ve, in their social media streams, talk[ed] about how they’re taking a break because the heated rhetoric following the election resulted in just the kind of heated emotion that was difficult. But this is different, what we’re talking about now. We’re talking about people who are targeting you personally because of what you represent or particular views, or your identity based on race, or other factors. And so I think it’s a particularly egregious form of hate; and a particularly personal form of hate.”

Identifying strategies for dealing with direct online harassment, Mr. Pierce suggested avoiding engagement with perpetrators and so-called trolls. “Don’t respond to the messages from these people who are trolling you and trying to provoke a reaction. That reaction is exactly what they’re trying to achieve by doing this. So the goal would be to not give them that satisfaction.”

But several students balked at the notion of self-censorship in the face of deplorable expressions of hate. “We shouldn’t have to hide ourselves online or in person,” wrote one commenter, highlighting the difficulty and dissonance many social media users experience when balancing tradeoffs like privacy versus security online.

“We tend to pit participation on these platforms against protection… that more of one requires less of the other,” explains Internet Governance Lab affiliated alumna Dr. Tijana Milosovic, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Communication at the University of Oslo who studies online hate and cyberbullying (she received her Ph.D. in Communication Studies from AU in 2015).  “From what I have seen, the Facebook talk given by AU administrators focuses to a large extent on safety and security–framing the problem in this way. It is, of course, important to point out these security-related aspects, with advice for students on how to protect themselves and to ensure that everyone is safe and feels safe. However, I think we should be cautious not to forget the cultural aspect of it.”

And while framing the discourse of hate, whether online or offline, is increasingly difficult given the labyrinthine and constantly shifting web of actors seeking to pollute the public sphere with vitriol, Dr. Milosovic argues that combating it requires a more holistic approach. “We tend to forget the aspects of our culture that normalize humiliation. I think this is very evident with the new administration–normalizing and implicitly (or even explicitly!) sanctioning such behavior… Creating a culture (not just on campus but more widely, in the society) where these hate-related problems are openly talked about is very important as well.”

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Q&A with Internet Governance Lab Faculty Fellow Jennifer Daskal

Joining the Internet Governance Lab as a Faculty Fellow, Jennifer Daskal is an Associate Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law, where she teaches and writes in the fields of criminal, national security, and constitutional law. She is on academic leave from 2016-2017, and has received an Open Society Institute Fellowship to work on issues related to privacy and law enforcement access to data across borders. From 2009-2011, Daskal was counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the Department of Justice. Prior to joining DOJ, Daskal was senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, worked as a staff attorney for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, and clerked for the Honorable Jed S. Rakoff. She also spent two years as a national security law fellow and adjunct professor at Georgetown Law Center.

Daskal is a graduate of Brown University, Harvard Law School, and Cambridge University, where she was a Marshall Scholar. Recent publications include Law Enforcement Access to Data Across Borders: The Evolving Security and Rights Issues (Journal of National Security Law and Policy 2016); The Un-Territoriality of Data (Yale Law Journal 2015); Pre-Crime Restraints: The Explosion of Targeted, Non-Custodial Prevention (Cornell Law Review 2014); and The Geography of the Battlefield: A Framework for Detention and Targeting Outside the ‘Hot’ Conflict Zone (University of Pennsylvania Law Review 2013). Daskal has published op-eds in the New York TimesWashington Post, and International Herald Tribune and has appeared on BBC, C-Span, MSNBC, and NPR, among other media outlets. She is an Executive Editor of and regular contributor to the Just Security blog.

Recently, we discussed her research and some of the many hot topics arising at the intersection of Internet governance and national security law. 

You’ve worked at the Department of Justice, in the NGO space at Human Rights Watch, in the DC Public Defender’s office, and now in academia. How do these varied experiences inform your current work? When it comes to the intersection of Internet governance and national security law, does Miles’s law hold (does where you stand really depend on where you sit)?

The move from Human Rights Watch to the National Security Division at the Department of Justice was quite eye-opening.  I thought I had prepared myself for the shift, but the adage that where you stand depends on where you sit turned out to be even more true than I had imagined.  In many ways, it makes sense.  At Human Rights Watch, the primary goal was to ensure that government pursued its national security policies in ways that protected human rights.  In the government, the primary goal was to protect the American public from the perceived national security threats.  Ideally, these two goals work in tandem, and both policy and law are generally at their best when it does.  But the primary starting point is quite different and that alters the lens through which just about everything is viewed.

Much of your research focuses on law enforcement’s use of online data.  To what extent are law enforcement officials concerned about the risks of fragmentation/balkanization associated with data localization and so-called “Internet sovereignty”? 

That depends a great deal on who you ask (and where you sit).  As Americans, we have long been used to having access to or control over a majority of the world’s data, thanks in large part to the dominance of American service providers.  Fragmentation of the Internet is thus a threat that undermines this dominance. But for many countries, this is not the case.  Mandatory data localization requirements and Internet fragmentation provide a means of ensuring access to sought-after data and asserting control.

From my perspective, these trends are quite concerning.  Mandatory data localization laws are extremely costly for companies that want to operate internationally, often pricing smaller start-ups out of the market.  The trend toward localization also serves as a means for authoritarian governments to limit free speech and assert increased control.

Any early indications as to how the new administration may handle cross-border data requests? Should we expect a more transactional approach, more multilateral cooperation, or a continuation of the status quo? What impacts could such decisions have on privacy and interoperability? 

The new administration hasn’t yet taken a public stance on these issues, but there are two key issues that ought to be addressed in short order.  First is the concerning impact of the Second Circuit decision in the so-called Microsoft Ireland case.  As a result of that decision, U.S. warrants for stored communications (such as emails) do not reach data that is held outside the United States. If the data is outside the United States, the U.S. government must make a mutual legal assistance request for the data to the country where it is located – even if the only foreign government connection to the investigation is simply that the data happens to be held there.  This makes little normative or practical sense, incentivizes the very kind of data localization efforts that the United States ought to be resisting, undercuts privacy, and is stymying law enforcement’s ability to access sought-after data in legitimate investigations.

As numerous Second Circuit judges opined, Congress should weigh in—and the new administration should support an update to the underlying law.  Specifically, Congress should amend the underlying statute to ensure U.S. law enforcement can access to extraterritorially-located data pursuant to a warrant based on probable cause, but also ensure that both law enforcement and the courts take into account countervailing foreign government interests.

Conversely, foreign governments are increasingly frustrated by U.S. laws that preclude U.S.-based companies from turning over emails and other stored communications content to foreign governments – even in situations where the foreign governments are seeking access to data about their own citizens in connection with a local crime.  These frustrations are also further spurring data localization requirements, excessively broad assertions of extraterritorial jurisdiction in ways that put U.S. companies in the middle of two conflicting legal obligations, and use of surreptitious means to access sought-after data.  These provisions should likewise be amended to permit, in specified circumstances, foreign governments to access that data directly from U.S.-based companies.  The legislation should specify baseline substantive and procedural standards that must be met in order to benefit from this access – standards that are essential to protecting Americans’ data from overzealous foreign governments.

What role do private companies play in establishing the normative and legal bounds of cross-border data requests? Do you see this role changing going forward?

Private companies play significant roles in numerous different ways.  They are, after all, the recipients of the requests.  They thus decide when to object and when to comply.  They also have a strong policy voice – meeting with government officials in an effort to shape the rules.  And they also exert significant power through a range of technological and business decisions about where to store their data and where to locate their people; these decisions determine whether they are subject to local compulsory process or not.

While the majority of ISPs and content platforms are currently located in the U.S., many have expressed concerns about the long-term impact(s) policies like Trump’s travel ban could have for Silicon Valley. Taking these concerns to their logical conclusion, do you see the geography of ISPs and content platforms changing significantly as a result of these policies, and if so, how might these changes alter the legal landscape vis-a-vis cross-border data requests?

I think it’s a fair assumption that whatever the reason, at some point the share of ISPs and content platforms located in the United States will decrease.  It is, as a result, critically important that the United States think about the broader and long-term implications of the rules it sets.  At some point, it may no longer hold the dominant share of the world’s data and will need the cooperation of foreign partners to access sought-after data.  The rules and policies that are adopted should take these long-term interests into account.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re currently working on?

I continue to work on issues associated with law enforcement access to data across borders, engaging in a comparative analysis as to how some of these key issues are playing out in both the United States and the European Union.  More broadly, I am also examining the increasingly powerful role of private sector in setting norms, policies, and rules in this space. And I continue to do research and writing on the Fourth Amendment as it applies to the digital age. 

How Trump’s war with the news media could impact net neutrality

In a stunning attack on the nation’s news media, the President of the United States took to Twitter on Friday to write, “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”. Echoing the well-worn rhetorical agitprop of tyrants past and present, Trump’s tweet was viewed by many, including those in his own party, as an attempt to divert attention from the chaos enveloping his new administration by eroding trust in a fundamental pillar of democracy. But, viewed through the narrower prism of Internet and telecommunications policy, Trump’s latest salvo aimed at the news media sheds light on the complex and increasingly interconnected interests involved in the administration’s efforts to roll back regulations like net neutrality.

Passed in 2015, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) net neutrality provisions were designed to protect the principle that all data should be treated equally as it moves across the Internet. Advocates of net neutrality, including consumer rights groups and most of Silicon Valley, argue that it protects users and encourages innovation in the content space by prohibiting large telecom providers (e.g. AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, etc.) from throttling traffic (either by slowing down data from competitors or creating “fast lanes” for their own approved content). Critics, including Trump’s newly appointed FCC Chairman (and former Verizon lawyer) Ajit Pai, say the net neutrality rules discourage much-needed competition in the telecom infrastructure industry.

Of course, the lack of competition in the telecom space is hardly a new phenomenon — the concentration of ownership in the industry is a problem that predates the FCC’s net neutrality provisions by at least thirty years. Moreover, the few companies that have come to dominate in this exclusive ecosystem have, in large part, done so through the acquisition of content providers, including several of the mainstream news media outlets Trump so abhors. As such, debates over whether or not to keep net neutrality are not as simple as they may seem.

To this point, Klint Finley of Wired explains that several of the largest telecom providers will be required to adhere to the net neutrality rules, per the terms of their merger agreements, regardless of any changes the new Trump-controlled FCC may make. Comcast is contractually obligated to honor net neutrality until 2018 following its merger with NBC Universal (parent company of the “failing” @NBCNews), while Charter Communications must adhere to the provisions until 2023 after its merger with Time-Warner (parent company of the “failing” @CNN).

Criticizing the most recent media mega-merger in October, then-candidate Trump called AT&T’s proposed $85 billion acquisition of Time-Warner a deal that would place “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.” But in prefacing his comments by calling out CNN in particular as a key part of “the power structure I’m fighting,” the president seemed more concerned with punishing his perceived enemies in the press than ensuring fair competition in the industry. And while most expect the AT&T/Time-Warner deal to be approved, some industry experts have expressed concern that the FCC’s net neutrality regulations could remain in place only to become a political cudgel used by the president to inflict pain on his critics in the press. As Harold Feld of the digital rights group Public Knowledge explains to Finley in the aforementioned Wired story:

“he could appoint commissioners who will keep the net neutrality rules on the books, but not enforce them. Then if MSNBC were to offend him he could launch an investigation into its parent company, Comcast, over net neutrality. If the administration approved the AT&T/Time-Warner deal, it would have a similar bludgeon to use against CNN. In other words, we could end up with perhaps the worst of both worlds: a highly consolidated media industry, coupled with a regulatory body that selectively enforces rules for political reasons.”

But if this sort of Machiavellian gambit is the worst-case scenario, the likely alternatives are not much better. For a self-described pro-business president who, during the campaign, promised to cut regulations by as much as “75 percent, maybe more!“, scrapping net neutrality altogether remains the most likely outcome. Others suggest some elements of net neutrality could gain bi-partisan support in Congress, although any legislation would almost certainly roll back the so-called Title II provision reclassifying broadband Internet service as a “common carrier,” on par with other utilities like telephone service. It is also likely that limits on “zero rating,” in which Internet/mobile network operators (like AT&T, Verizon, and T-mobile) provide free data to customers for certain preferred content (often their own content or through partnerships with third party content providers), will be significantly scaled back under the new FCC.

Perhaps the only silver lining for advocates of net neutrality is that any changes to the provisions will be met with the forceful and increasingly influential dissenting voice of Silicon Valley. The overwhelming majority of large content providers and online platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter strongly support net neutrality. And in the wake of Trump’s controversial travel ban, Apple’s fight with the FBI over encryption, the SOPA and PIPA protests, and the industry’s successful lobbying effort against a 2014 FCC proposal calling for the creation of “fast lanes,” it is clear Silicon Valley is ready and able to defend its interests in Washington.

How this all plays out remains to be seen. But it seems clear that in an environment of increasing ownership concentration, both among Internet service providers and online content platforms (recall that European lawmakers continue to pursue an antitrust case against Google), the consequences involved in reversing net neutrality will be far-reaching and difficult to contain.

Prospects for Cooperation Between Tech and Trump Complicated by Executive Orders

In the wake of President Trump’s sweeping executive order restricting entry to the US to refugees and immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries and with a nascent anti-Trump movement beginning to coalesce, tech industry executives are struggling to navigate an increasingly politicized environment, in which efforts to engage the new administration are colliding with the demands of politically active users and widespread dismay within Silicon Valley over the administration’s policies.  

Reflecting the potential impact of social media to harness popular discontent and underscoring the politically fraught position many tech CEO’s now find themselves in, the hashtag #DeleteUber began trending over the weekend after the ride-hailing app was criticized for undercutting New York City taxi drivers staging a work stoppage to protest the immigration order. Seizing on the popular backlash against Uber was the company’s chief competitor Lyft, whose co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer announced a $1m donation to the ACLU and issued the following statement sharply criticizing the executive order:

“This weekend, Trump closed the country’s borders to refugees, immigrants, and even documented residents from around the world based on their country of origin. Banning people of a particular faith or creed, race or identity, sexuality or ethnicity, from entering the U.S. is antithetical to both Lyft’s and our nation’s core values. We stand firmly against these actions, and will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community.”

And Lyft was not alone. Twitter, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, and Airbnb all released statements over the weekend, ranging from judicious to vociferous. Among the more strongly-worded repudiations was Aaron Levie of the cloud company Box, who took to Twitter to write, “On every level – moral, humanitarian, economic, logical, etc – this ban is wrong and completely antithetical to the principles of America.”

Meanwhile, Google co-founder Sergei Brin was spotted at a protest at San Fransisco International Airport less than a month after Mr. Brin’s co-founder and current Alphabet CEO Larry Page was among a group of tech executives invited to Trump Tower to meet with then President-elect Trump. And while Trump’s meeting with the tech leaders was seen by many as little more than a charm offensive aimed at paving the way for future cooperation with Washington, a new report by Adam Segal of the Council on Foreign Relations provides some context for why such cooperation is necessary.

“The Silicon Valley-Washington rift has real implications for U.S. cybersecurity and foreign policy,” writes Segal, adding, “An ugly fight between the two sides makes it more difficult to share cyber threat information, counter online extremism, foster global technology standards, promote technological innovation, and maintain an open internet.”

As the report explains, the divide between Washington and U.S. tech firms began in earnest over three years ago with the Snowden revelations, which forced global platforms to reckon with an outraged public demanding greater security and privacy protections. Most notably, these new economic and reputational incentives informed Apple’s decision to make end-to-end encryption standard across the company’s products, prompting a protracted fight with law enforcement after authorities were initially unable to access the contents of a cell phone belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers.

But if debates over encryption, privacy, and net neutrality created the rift between Silicon Valley and Washington, last week’s immigration order left a gaping chasm between the two.

Aside from the obvious constitutional concerns, the immigration restrictions are particularly worrisome for tech companies that recruit some of their top talent from abroad.

On Wednesday Twitter joined Lyft and others, donating over $1m to the ACLU to help fight the immigration order, while the messaging platform Viber announced it would provide free international calls to the seven countries affected by the executive order. Also on Wednesday, the Hill cited several cybersecurity researchers who are declining to work with law enforcement until the immigration order is revoked.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that an open letter expressing concern over Trump’s immigration policies was circulating through Silicon Valley and beyond, including among CEOs on Wall Street and in the manufacturing, energy, and consumer goods sectors.

Whether or not the combined weight of an overwhelming majority of the tech community is enough to sway the administration’s thinking on immigration (or anything for that matter) remains to be seen. Regardless, critical issues like stepping up cyberdefense, curbing data localization, and protecting a free and open Internet will require some degree of cooperation between Tech and Trump, a prospect that, at the moment, is difficult to imagine.

The High Politics of Internet Governance, October 30, 2015, Columbia University SIPA

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On December 15-16 in New York, the United Nations is convening a General Assembly High-Level Meeting to review the goals of the World Summit on the Information Society after a decade (WSIS+10) and to craft a future vision for the information society. Input from various stakeholders has raised questions about the future of the Internet and who will run it. This Columbia SIPA panel will explain the implications of this dialogue for Internet sustainability, security, and freedom, and how this high-level discussion connects to the planned transition of U.S. oversight in Internet governance.

This panel is being convened to discuss:

• Challenges in Internet governance due to changes in the Internet over the past decade, particularly the changing role of the United States;

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