June 14, 2015
Vol. 19, Issue 5
ACM Washington Update
ACM Washington Update recaps ACM's initiatives in the U.S. technology policy arena monthly. Please forward this newsletter to friends and colleagues in the computing community. View more details on each item below, as well as on the blog. Follow USACM on Twitter and Facebook.
USACM submitted comments to the U.S. Access Board on proposed federal accessibility standards and guidelines.
USACM signed a letter to President Obama from a variety of civil society organizations urging him to pursue public policies to promote the wide adoption of strong encryption technology.
Computer Science Professor Ed Felten, a former USACM Chair, has joined the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer.
Vint Cerf interviewed U.S. CTO Megan Smith about U.S. policy objectives, inclusiveness in the tech sector, the Maker movement, and the competitive global marketplace.
The FCC net neutrality rules went into effect after a federal court denied delaying their implementation pending its review.
The FCC announced new appointees to the Consumer Advisory Committee, which held its first public meeting on June 12.
NIST will host a Cloud Computing Forum and Workshop on July 7-10.
USACM submitted comments to the U.S. Access Board on updated federal accessibility standards and guidelines for information and communication technology (ICT) under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act. The current standards have been in place for roughly 15 years. The updated standards will apply to websites, social media, mobile apps, interactive kiosks, wireless assistive devices, and other technologies.
USACM highlighted three main points:
WCAG Incorporation by Reference
USACM supports the incorporation of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 by reference. Harmonization with an international standard, rather than reliance on a separate national standard or modified restatement of the international standard's requirements, will enable federal agencies, developers, and manufacturers to leverage a broader range of supporting materials, tools, training, and collaboration opportunities.
Accessibility Compliance of Non-Web ICT
For non-web content and technologies, the Board should consider identifying references issued by the W3C or other competent international authorities to help entities comply with WCAG accessibility requirements and to ensure ICT is both accessible and usable for people with disabilities. The Board also should consider requiring that websites, mobile apps, and software not block or interfere with content provided in widely accepted accessible formats.
Functional Performance Requirements
USACM encourages the adoption of functional performance requirements. Given the rapid changes in technologies and the generally lengthy processes to update regulatory requirements, functional performance requirements will better advance and balance the values of accessible participation, technical flexibility, and innovation.
The U.S. Access Board will consider the public comments and then issue a Final Rule, or, if there are significant changes requiring further comment, the Board might issue a further notice of proposed rulemaking. Once adopted, the standards and guidelines will have broad impacts on accessibility policy.
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USACM signed a letter to President Obama from a variety of civil society organizations urging him to pursue public policies that encourage the wide adoption of strong encryption technology. The letter is responsive to public statements by Obama Administration officials suggesting that U.S. companies should not provide strong encryption in products and services unless the government has the ability to decrypt consumers' data.
The following text appears in bold in the letter:
We urge you to reject any proposal that U.S. companies deliberately weaken the security of their products. We request that the White House instead focus on developing policies that will promote rather than undermine the wide adoption of strong encryption technology. Such policies will in turn help to promote and protect cybersecurity, economic growth, and human rights, both here and abroad.
The letter describes how policymakers faced similar choices during the so-called "Crypto Wars" of the 1990s. "Whether you call them 'front doors' or 'back doors,' introducing intentional vulnerabilities into secure products for the government's use will make those products less secure against other attackers."
USACM delivered a similar cautionary message two decades ago in 1994 during the Crypto Wars in its special report on Codes, Keys, and Conflicts: Issues in U.S. Crypto Policy. The report represented the first major undertaking of USACM. The report's discussion of the functions of cryptography and the policy issues related to law enforcement, national security, economic competiveness, and individual privacy remain relevant to today's discussion, as does its conclusion: "The choices the United States makes about escrowed encryption, confidentiality of communications, and government access to encrypted communications will reverberate across the globe."
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Computer Science Professor Ed Felten, a former USACM Chair, recently joined the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer.
"Ed joins a growing number of techies at the White House working to further President Obama's vision to ensure policy decisions are informed by our best understanding of state-of-the-art technology and innovation, to quickly and efficiently deliver great services for the American people, and to broaden and deepen the American people's engagement with their government," the White House said in a blog post.
He is on leave from his position as the Robert E. Kahn Professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs at Princeton University, where he founded the Center for Information Technology Policy. From 2011 through 2012, he served as the first Chief Technologist at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
He is an ACM Fellow, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
You can follow his activities on the White House OSTP blog and on Twitter @EdFelten44.
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ACM Past President Vint Cerf interviewed U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith for this month's Communications of the ACM. She spoke on key policy objectives, the need to increase the number of students in STEM fields, and the landscape of U.S. technology competitiveness in the global economy. Smith formerly served as a Vice President at Google before President Obama appointed her as U.S. CTO last September.
Smith said her job is to advise the President and the White House staff on how technology, innovation, and data can be harnessed for the benefit of the American people. Her initial focus upon joining the White House included policies related to patent reform, copyright, big data, and privacy. She also has been focusing on increasing the technology talent inside government, such as what exists in the new U.S. Digital Service team.
Smith said some of her key objectives are to bring the technology skills and innovative talents that flourish in the private sector into government, expand open government data initiatives for innovative public and commercial use, and increase opportunities and excitement among students, including women and minorities, in STEM fields.
Increasing young people's exposure to science, technology, engineering, and math is key to U.S. competitiveness in the world, Smith said. Sometimes the difficulty students have is discovering available opportunities, she said. "But some people are not getting access" to STEM educational opportunities, she said, "and we want to fix that." She sees a need to focus on making sure that youth "feel really fluent in coding and with these kinds of technologies."
Educational and workplace opportunities also need to be more inclusive. She has been working on ways to increase the visibility of technical women and minorities. Women made up about 40% of the computing field in the 1980s, she said. Now, "for some reason, in computer science we're staying at 10%, 15%, maybe 20% women at any given time."
She concluded by thanking Cerf for his "incredible leadership, and what you've brought to our world with your innovation, your invention, and also just the way you approach the world. For people who haven't gotten to interact with Vint, he is an amazing colleague who includes everyone, encourages everyone, and can see how big the talent base of this world truly is."
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The FCC's Open Internet Order became effective on June 12. The Order imposes new bright-line net neutrality rules that prohibit broadband providers from blocking, throttling, and prioritizing paid "fast lanes." The rules apply to both fixed and mobile broadband Internet service. The Order also reclassifies broadband Internet access service as a "telecommunications service" under Title II of the Communications Act.
The day before the controversial rules went into effect, a federal court denied a request by some broadband providers to stay the reclassification of broadband service as telecommunications service under Title II pending the court's review. The stay would not have altered the net neutrality rules prohibiting blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.
The FCC could still face some challenges in implementing the new rules. Last week in Congress, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government approved a bill that would prohibit the FCC from implementing its net neutrality order until all current court cases challenging the Order are resolved.
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The renewed FCC Consumer Advisory Committee held its first public meeting on June 12. The Committee is comprised of 37 appointed representatives from industry, academia, consumer organizations, disability organizations, and regulatory agencies. FCC Chairman Wheeler reappointed Debra Berlyn, representing the National Consumers League, as the Chair.
Its mandate is to provide guidance to the FCC on consumer protection issues and to facilitate the participation of consumers in FCC proceedings. The Committee also provides consumer perspectives to the FCC on the impact of new and emerging communication technologies.
The Committee's first task is to develop a proposed format for net neutrality disclosures to consumers, as called for in the FCC's Open Internet Order. The disclosures are intended to help consumers know the price and performance of their Internet connections and to easily compare services across broadband providers. The Committee might consider different disclosure formats for fixed and mobile broadband service providers. The digital format must be accessible to persons with disabilities. The Committee will be taking input from a broad range of stakeholders and is required to deliver the proposed format for disclosures by October 31.
Consumer privacy protections also will be a key focus area. At its first meeting, the Committee heard about the work of the FCC Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, including its recent public workshop on broadband consumer privacy. Participants of that workshop discussed whether and to what extent the FCC can apply a harmonized privacy framework to the variety of services within its jurisdiction.
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NIST will host a Cloud Computing Forum and Workshop at its headquarters in Gaithersburg, Maryland on July 7-10. The event will explore the progress since NIST first adopted a definition of cloud computing and what work still needs to be done.
Specific conference topics include cloud computing standards, cloud forensics, challenges faced by government agencies, and progress on addressing ten high-level requirements seen as impeding cloud computing adoption by federal agencies.
Talks and panels will cover clouds across multiple geographic locations, security, interoperability, portability, cloud data deletion, metadata usage, analytics, and cloud research.
The event is free and open to the public. Advance registration is required. The deadline to register is June 23.
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About Washington Update - ACM Washington Update is produced by the ACM Public Policy Office. It highlights activities of the ACM U.S. Public Policy Council (USACM) and the ACM Education Policy Committee (EPC), as well as other events in Washington that affect the computing community.
About USACM - The ACM U.S. Public Policy Council (USACM) is the focal point for ACM's interactions with U.S. government organizations, the computing community, and the U.S. public in all matters of U.S. public policy related to information technology.
About EPC - The ACM Education Policy Committee (EPC) engages policymakers and the public on public policy issues that relate to computer science and computing-related education, including the importance of high-quality education at all levels to the labor market and the economy.
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