ACM Washington Update
December 4, 2014
Vol. 18, Issue 11
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 Chair Ed Felten and USACM member Annie Antón testified before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
  • ACM A.M. Turing Award Laureate Charles Bachman and ACM Fellow Mary Shaw were recently honored by President Obama with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
  • The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) sponsored Tech Week to help keep its examiners informed of the latest technical developments.
  • The USPTO held a roundtable to discuss the possibility of using crowdsourcing and other third-party solutions for connecting examiners with prior art for patents.

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The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) met in Washington D.C. on November 12 to take testimony on privacy in the context of counterterrorism programs. The board heard from four panels of experts, two of whom were USACM members testifying in their individual roles as privacy and technology researchers. Video of the meeting is available through C-SPAN, and the Board is taking public comments until December 31.
USACM Chair Ed Felten of Princeton was on the first panel, titled "Defining Privacy Interests." Felten's testimony focused on how changing data practices in both government and the private sector have affected considerations of privacy. He highlighted the challenges in predicting the consequences of collecting data (including the mosaic effect - how the mixing of collected data can result in unintended and unforeseen outcomes), the increasing complexity of data handling systems, and the synergy between commercial and government data collection practices. He concluded by emphasizing the need for the Board to ask probing technical questions along with policy and legal questions.
USACM member (and former Vice-Chair) Annie Antón of Georgia Tech was on the second panel, which focused on privacy interests in the context of counterterrorism, and the impact of technology. Antón's testimony discussed the need to avoid providing backdoors in technical system for law enforcement and/or intelligence purposes. She favors strong encryption as a default for the greater security it provides, and objects to backdoors in part because they do not represent best practices in cybersecurity. They can be exploited, and planned weaknesses undercut the efforts of the United States to produce top notch computing talent and innovation.
The other panels represented the private sector (and non-governmental organizations), and government officials responsible for implementing privacy controls in their agencies. The tension between the need for transparency (and the trust it can engender) and the secret nature of counterintelligence was keenly felt in both panels.
This meeting, and the comments that are submitted, will inform the work of the PCLOB going forward, as it continues to review national security surveillance programs.

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President Obama awarded eleven U.S. National Medals of Science and eight U.S. National Medals of Technology and Innovation at a White House ceremony in the East Room on November 20. Among the recipients, ACM A.M. Turing Award Laureate Charles W. Bachman and ACM Fellow Mary Shaw received National Medals of Technology and Innovation for their pioneering accomplishments and contributions to the computing field and society. ACM President Alex Wolf and Immediate Past ACM President Vint Cerf attended the ceremony and gala, which included other National Medal Laureates and attendees from the Cabinet, Congress, and other high-level policy officials. The medals represent the nation's highest honors for achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
ACM A.M. Turing Award Laureate Charles W. Bachman received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation for his fundamental and pioneering inventions in "database management, transaction processing, and software engineering." He designed one of the first computer database management systems in 1963. Ten years later in 1973, he received the ACM A.M. Turing Award for his contributions to database technologies.
ACM Fellow Mary Shaw received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation for her "pioneering leadership in the development of innovative curricula in computer science." She is renowned for her contributions to the establishment of software architecture as a discipline. Mary Shaw is the Alan J. Perlis University Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University.
Congratulations to Dr. Bachman, Dr. Shaw, and the other laureates.

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) sponsored a Tech Week for patent examiners from December 1-5. USPTO brought in experts to assist in this training. Examiners could benefit from lectures on a wide range of computing-related topics, including innovations in computer architecture and software, data and network security, search technologies, and emergent areas in technology.
If you are interested in participating in future USPTO Tech Weeks, these are the participation guidelines:
  • Presentations are generally 1 hour, followed by Q&A.
  • Presenters can present in person at USPTO offices in Alexandria, Denver, or Detroit, or present via webcast.
  • Speakers are to inform examiners about a topic.
  • Speakers are not to provide advice or recommendations.
The USPTO does not provide financial assistance. If you are interested in presenting during Tech Week or at other future events, see the additional information provided by the USPTO about the Patent Examiner Technical Training Program.

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) held a Roundtable on December 2 to discuss crowdsourcing and third-party preissuance submissions to identify prior art for patents. The USPTO will accept public comments until December 9.
The USPTO seeks input on the following questions:
  1. How can the USPTO utilize crowdsourcing tools to obtain relevant prior art in order to enhance the quality of examination and issued patents?
  2. What suggestions do you have for ways the USPTO can leverage existing private sector solutions for the electronic receipt and hosting of crowdsourced materials as a means to provide prior art to examiners? If the USPTO were to post a question relating to the technology of a published application on a crowdsourcing Web site, what follow-up communications, if any, could someone from the USPTO have with parties on the Web site? Some examples of how the public traditionally engages in follow-up communications on crowdsourcing Web sites include: A conversation on the thread with a particular party who responded to the posted question to clarify information the party provided, and a conversation on the thread with a particular party who responded to the initial posting to request additional information.
  3. What appropriate precautions, if any, could the USPTO employ to ensure that the use of crowdsourcing tools does not encourage a protest or other form of preissuance opposition to the grant of a patent?
  4. If the USPTO cites in an application prior art obtained via crowdsourcing tools, to what extent, if any, should the USPTO document the crowdsourcing activities used to identify the prior art?
  5. For each published patent application, if the USPTO gave the patent applicant the option to opt-in or opt-out of the USPTO's use of crowdsourcing, would applicants choose to participate in the crowdsourcing program? What considerations would inform the applicant's decision?
For more information, and to submit comments, read the announcement in the Federal Register, "Request for Comments and Notice of Roundtable on USPTO Use of Crowdsourcing To Identify Relevant Prior Art." (

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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 issues and 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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