Cyberizing Covert Action

Jenn Lato

The 21st century presents a host of new challenges to national security. The United States is no longer embroiled in a Cold War, and the current strategic environment entails threats that are complex and remarkably more sophisticated. Terrorism, transnational organized crime, cyber crime, and weapons of mass destruction are examples of these threats, and challenge the state in exceedingly new ways. However, the evolution of national and global security threats does not necessitate entirely new security measures. In particular, covert action has advanced with the national security demands of the 21st century. It will continue to play a role as a key instrument of U.S. foreign policy and national security, and in the digital age, covert action is essential for preventing and thwarting threats via the cyber domain.

Throughout the Cold War era, the U.S. Government undertook a variety of covert actions against a Soviet hegemony and leftist, often militant, political movements that posed a threat to U.S. national security. Covert operations to combat these threats were met with varying degrees of success, and have resulted in a re-examination of covert action as either a necessary policy instrument or an antiquated Cold War phenomenon. For instance, throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the CIA used financial backing and anti-communist propaganda to overthrow the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. While considered a success, the overthrow of Allende gave rise to the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, whose notoriously brutal regime put a black mark on U.S. covert operations in South America. Moreover, in 1987 the Iran-Contra affair raised legal questions over the use of covert action, specifically, covert action that is not congressionally authorized. However, covert action has not been eliminated. It has kept pace with advances in technology, and its importance is both strong and increasing. For instance in 2010 Stuxnet, a U.S.-Israeli computer virus, successfully destroyed 1/5 of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges at the Natanz Nuclear Plant. In March 2015, Adan Garar, a member of Al-Shabaab’s intelligence outfit, was successfully killed by a U.S. drone strike. Therefore, the question is not whether covert action will continue, but how will it be used in the digital age?

Today, almost everything is in digital format. A person posts his or her personal information, opinions and ideas on social media platforms. As demonstrated by the Arab Spring, social media platforms such as Twitter can be used as an outlet to transform an idea into a revolution. Rather than place covert propaganda in newspapers and on the radio, the CIA today could foster political influence through Facebook or Twitter. Social media allows propaganda to be distributed to across the globe, and its transmission time is extremely faster than Cold War communication. This means that not only is covert action evolving, its continued effectiveness has redefined the way in which the intelligence community operates.

Cyber security is also expanding the nature of covert action. Anything that has an Internet connection is at risk, and the potential for state and non-state actors to leverage this presents both new opportunities and threats. Therefore, while covert action may involve paramilitary conflict or foreign direct financial assistance, we will see an increase and shift toward cyber attacks. The U.S. could be faced with or initiate an attack directed at critical infrastructure, used to destabilize a financial system, or could involve the insertion of malware into a government computer system. These covert actions hardly existed in the Cold War era.

Given the current nature of conflict, covert action will continue to be a foreign policy instrument, and its use in the cyber domain will extend into the foreseeable future. Its value did not end with the Cold War, and the need for it is expanding with developments in technology and cyber security. To be successful, covert action must remain in line with strategic policy goals, and strike a balance between national security and an integrated international system of governance and laws. Covert action will continue throughout the 21st century and into the 22nd and such, the U.S. Government must continue to cyberize the covert world.

Internet Providers Are Now ‘Common Carriers’: What Does That Mean For You?

Jennifer McArdle

On February 26, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in favor of reclassifying broadband Internet Service Providers (ISP) as ‘common carriers’ under Title II of the 1996 Telecommunications Act by a 3 to 2 vote. So what does that mean for you?

Well, it depends on who the ‘you’ is, because that answer differs based on whether you are a regular consumer of Internet content, a provider of Internet content, or an ISP. However, essentially, this ruling is about net neutrality—the ability to access the Internet free of discrimination. So let’s break this down a bit.

Prior to the February 26 ruling, ISP’s were regulated under Title I of the 1996 Telecommunications Act and classified as “information services.” The FCC also put in place specific anti-blocking and non-discrimination rules as part of their 2010 Open Internet Order. Basically, the FCC was attempting to ensure two things: one, that ISPs could not block or deny consumers access to an Internet site of their choosing, and two, that ISPs could not create a tiered access system, with higher paying users accessing the Internet on a ‘fast-lane’ while others are regulated to a ‘slow-lane.’

In January 2014, Verizon, one of the largest ISP’s, sued the government and challenged the FCC’s regulations designed to implement net neutrality. The US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit upheld the FCC authority to use section 706 of the Telecommunications Act to regulate the Internet; however, it struck down the specific anti-blocking and anti-discrimination measures, giving Verizon the leeway to disregard the FCC’s rules. Five months later, the FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on the Internet regulatory structure, which eventually received over 4 million public comments, the large majority of which were in favor of net neutrality. This set the stage for the FCC’s ruling last month.

By defining ISP’s as common carriers, the FCC is essentially defining broadband Internet service providers as a utility. They are mandated by government to provide the same service to everyone without discrimination—much like electricity and gas services.

So, what does that mean for you?

You, the content consumer

By classifying ISP’s as common carriers the FCC has banned ‘paid prioritization’—there will be no fast lanes and slow lanes of the Internet. And this is a good thing for the average consumer. Last June, John Oliver on his show Last Week Tonight (which is well worth watching) noted that 96% of Americans have access to two or fewer cable companies. That means that even if your Internet was being delayed or distorted you may not have the option to change to another provider.

Moreover, privacy advocates have noted that in order for ISP’s to play bandwidth favorites, they need to monitor what you are doing online via deep packet inspection. While deep packet inspection is certainly important to protect against nefarious viruses or malware, it can, under certain circumstances, lead to invasions of privacy. Defining ISP’s as ‘common carriers’ helps prevent against that.

The FCC resolution is designed to ensure that you the average content consumer— regardless if you consume high- or low-bandwidth—has access to Internet content free of discrimination, much like your access to other facilities deemed essential for public life, such as canals, rails, and the telephone.

You, the content producer

Last year, Netflix consumers noticed that there was far more buffering of Netflix content. That is because broadband providers insisted that Netflix users were consuming much of the available Internet bandwidth and therefore the ISP’s slowed it down. Netflix reluctantly agreed to pay interconnection fees to broadband providers in order to ensure its content consumers could stream its videos. Netflix, not surprisingly, is for net neutrality.

However, it is not just the giant content producers that stand to benefit from this ruling. President Obama has noted that ‘paid prioritization’ stacks the deck against small content producing companies, which are unable to challenge the dominance of Internet giants such as Twitter, Facebook, and Netflix.

Defining ISP’s as ‘common carriers’ ensures that content producers are not held hostage to ‘last mile Internet gatekeepers’ and can ensure their content reaches consumers free from bias.

You, the ISP

Not surprisingly, this ruling was not the best for ISP’s who stand to make money from a tiered Internet access system. Moreover, opponents to net neutrality argue that if broadband ISPs cannot collect fees from companies who take up an outsized portion of bandwidth, they lose the incentive to invest in maintaining and upgrading their current infrastructure. This may indeed be true.

The Future?

While the February ruling seemed to settle the debate on net neutrality, it may really be just beginning. The Title II ruling is not set in stone yet and it is already beginning to be legally challenged on the Hill. What that means for ‘you’ may fundamentally change in the months to come.

The 28th Amendment: Part 1 – The World is Watching You

Charles Mueller

In the very near future, everything you do, everything you say, and everything you think will be monitored, studied, and analyzed in order to understand what makes you ‘tick’.

Look no further than the infamous story about how Target figured out a father’s teenage daughter was pregnant before he did. By closely monitoring this young girl’s spending habits, Target was able to predict this girl was pregnant and send her coupons for diapers. This ability is not malicious in any way, it is just a new kind of creepy. It becomes a little more creepy when you realize there currently are not any rules or laws in place to protect us from someone using this same type of personal data mining to try and do something like raise your health insurance premium because your shopping habits suggest you are eating unhealthy. How exactly are we going to ensure that these capabilities are only being used to enhance our society rather than take advantage of it? Our leaders today are not taking this issue seriously and it means that we need to take matters into our own hands. A good start may to be to push for a constitutional right to own the digital information we produce (our data) when we engage with the world through the Internet.

The Internet has revolutionized how marketers and advertisers communicate their messages to individuals and consumers. This has all been enabled by the exponential increase in data produced by individuals using digital technologies like smart phones. Our every move in the digital world is tracked and the data collected by what the marketing industry calls a 3rd party data company, such as Axciom; essentially a big data crunching machine that finds patterns that help marketers and advertisers understand what makes us do the things we do. Many of us have no idea we are opting in to this type of profiling nor do we care because often it is used to sell us things that we believe we want.

The digital technologies that make it all possible will continue to evolve and this type of individual targeting will become easier as more users wear their devices.  Big data is no longer just assisting marketers; it is defining how they approach their jobs. How will the world change when big data can be used to create targeted, personalized digital content in real-time? How far away is a future where my commute to work is so well analyzed by big data companies that they can generate and deliver messages at the most opportune times to get me to buy Starbucks coffee instead of Dunkin Donuts?

It will be an incredible power to be able to deliver an optimized message that makes an individual “act” in response to receiving that message. Who decides what messages are sent through all the various digital platforms that are becoming more ubiquitous in our lives? We have already seen the influence big data and social media can have on a presidential election. Will future presidents be elected because they literally raised the most money? Will access to my thoughts simply be granted to the highest bidder? Who is making sure those watching and studying my digital life are using that information for things that are in my best interest?

The role of the government is and has always been to protect its citizens’ rights. In the digital future, the most precious trait of the citizen may be their data. Ensuring that individuals have a constitutional right to own their data could be a way to protect consumers from potential practices of malicious real-time big data analysis. Data ownership will only make it easier to take advantage of the current methods that allow users to opt in or opt out of the powerful targeting mechanisms continually being developed. Having the power to share your data with certain companies could become a type of voting system; you share your data with companies who use it to enhance your experiences and deny it to those who do not.

The digital age is rapidly evolving and the agencies that historically advise Congress on issues regarding consumer protection still have not figured out how to properly respond. We need leaders who understand this and are willing to create policies that protect us. Establishing the ownership of digital data to the citizen is a potential step in the right direction. The 28th Amendment to the Constitution should state that we have the right to own our data.

 

Access Granted

Kathy Goodson

If the most diligent and efficient way to provide public information to citizens is through the Internet, then Internet access should be free. Free access to information is not only a right, but it is also an integral component of the government’s responsibility in creating informed citizens. The government provides multiple quality-controlled ways to access public information. This includes, but is not limited to, physical records at city hall, public hearings, and free public records databases. However, as the government continues to digitize public information, a new approach to providing access to this public information will be necessary. An approach that requires all citizens to have access to the Internet will ensure the public retains free access to the information found in places and documents such as libraries, public reports, and phone books.

Phone books and pay phones are examples of free access to public information. It is archaic that we still print in such high volumes. In Chicago alone, 1.2 million phone books were distributed this year. Supporters argue that greater than 50% of all Americans still use phone books, but every unwanted phone book incurs a fine for the phone company. The remaining 50% of Americans have a better resource to find public information in their pocket, their smartphone. Just like traditional public pay phones (when is the last time you saw one of those?), phone books are slowly being phased out for their smartphone counterparts. The smartphone gives us the functionality of the payphone and the information of the phone book all in one small portable device. Yes, there are great arguments for the use of pay phones including ensured access to phone services for those who can’t afford them. However, there is an equally compelling argument to provide public information to everyone in the most responsible, effective, and productive manner possible. Free Internet access as a means for public information would support that goal.

An educated public is vital to the existence of our democracy. Accordingly, the government has historically advocated literacy through institutions like the public library. However, traditional forms of free access to public information are no longer the most convenient or productive. Court records, marriage licenses, and phone books are all better utilized in electronic formats. The shift toward electronic repositories is becoming the norm. Legal electronic documents with electronic signatures are considered just as valid a their handwritten counterparts. Security clearances are digital from the initial application to the fingerprinting process. Shouldn’t we extrapolate these digitized models, such as the security clearance process, into all forms of public information? However, in order to do this successfully, Internet access has to be free everywhere, all the time. To achieve free Internet access in a quality-controlled manner, management by the government, as with other forms of outsourced dissemination of public information, will be required.

Hence, the government should supply reliable free Internet access to the masses everywhere. The hope is that public access to government information increases or at minimum maintains public literacy. Lack of access to government information debilitates people from interacting with the local, state, and federal government. The government is well aware of and has even made preparation for America’s Digital Age. Last year, a panel from the National Academy of Public Administration put out a report with 15 recommendations regarding ways to better position the federal government in our digital society for the Government Printing Office. While the recommendations prompt the retention and safeguard of digital documents, and the continued mandate of free public access, it does not focus on how this access will be given to the masses. If there is a shifting tide in how the masses obtain their access to government information, the government should be able to accommodate the need. The requirement to meet this need is competent and successful access. Thus, Internet access should be free. This ensures that the free government repositories of public information remain totally free and available.

 

The Truth is Hard to Find in the Digital Age

Charles Mueller & Jennifer Buss

Do you trust everything you read on the Internet? No, ok. Do you scour the first couple hits on Google until you find a source that you believe is reputable? That reputation has never mattered more than in today’s world because the level of competition for the public’s attention has never been greater. In order to respond to this demand, our information generation and delivery processes have become focused on being the first to grab the public’s attention. In order to be first, many sacrifice the accuracy of the information they produce, and because modern technology has enabled information to be spread at unprecedented rates, this results in misinformation and inconsistent “facts” becoming mainstream common knowledge; the truth is becoming harder to find.

A recent example of this occurred when Rolling Stone reported on a girl who claimed she was gang-raped at a UVA at a fraternity party. The story only reported the perspective of the female involved and did virtually nothing to corroborate her story. Rolling Stone has recently come forward explaining that their original report no longer agrees with the facts that have since emerged. This error forces the conversation away from the fact that UVA has a poor history of properly dealing with rape issues. Rolling Stone should feel absolutely humiliated. Maintaining a good reputation and trustworthiness in journalism requires good detective work, but in this instance, it looked like the author didn’t even try. If journalists can’t verify the events from the sources, they aren’t doing their job (i.e. reporting the facts to the public).

This situation has exposed a problem with our information delivery systems, a problem where the truth is sacrificed for personal gain. We’ve seen this problem with Internet reporting of current events; in the scientific literature regarding the creation of stem cells from skin cells; in medicine with the claims that vaccines cause autism; and in the 2008 global financial crisis. What matters most now is no longer the truth. The most important objective is giving your audience what they want because that is what they pay for.  We are pressuring scientists to produce revolutionary results instead of encouraging them to think freely and incentivizing journalists to entertain us rather than report on the facts. What are going to be the long-term consequences of putting these types of pressures on the professionals that produce information in our society?

In the days where the newspaper reined supreme, there was less disagreement among society about the facts surrounding an issue. In the digital age, where the accuracy of information is questionable and availability of different perspectives is unprecedented, the amount of disagreement among the facts can only broaden. While a diversity of opinion is essential for a democratic society, too much diversity, especially when it’s spawned through misinformation, can only damage society. The opinions built on misinformation are only going to increase as technology continues to make it easier to access and generate information. To counter this trend, we need to start mandating trustworthy sources, validating our news, changing the monetary value in publishing, and modifying the current system to focus less about the individual and more on the greater good. Applications like Checkdesk attempt to do this, but more is needed. It is time to take action, combat this reality head-on, and restore confidence in our information generation and delivery processes. The truth in the Digital Age is already hard enough to find.

 

The Internet House of Representatives

Brian Barnett

We should create an Internet House of Representatives, where your representative is chosen based on your political beliefs rather than based on where you live. A representative democracy is a good system because of the sheer size and complexity of our federal government. The men and women in Congress dedicate their time to synthesizing the advice of experts, the desires of constituents, and the influence of interest groups to make informed decisions and choices for our government. The average citizen does not have time to learn or deal with the intricacies of our bureaucratic systems. Yes, their voices should be as well represented as possible, especially in situations where a vote can easily determine a policy outcome, but they do not necessarily have the time and resources to make every political decision.

A representative democracy therefore makes sense when the general population is not interested in writing the content of laws for issues in which they have no education. The Internet provides us all with the opportunity to become educated across many fields, but we do not (yet) have the technology that minimizes the inordinate amount of time that this requires. When we think about the ways in which the Internet affects the government, a logical application would be the creation of a direct democracy. Everyone with an Internet connection could vote on all of our laws and the simple majority would win. This scenario raises the above issue of whether people have the time and knowledge to accomplish this feat effectively. I would argue that a representative democracy still makes sense in the Digital Age, but we can leverage the benefits of the Internet within this framework when it comes to how well the people we elect to Congress represent our interests.

Why are our representatives divided based on state lines and districts? If I am a conservative voter living in San Francisco or I am a liberal voter living in Oklahoma, my voice will be washed out by the opposite majorities in my district. Does this mean I am really being represented if my representative votes in diametric opposition to my political beliefs? What about in a moderate district where the voters are split 50/50 but my candidate just barely lost? Is my voice again stifled if the winner of the election is not in line with my political beliefs? Should I have to move to a district that is more in line with my beliefs? The average margin of victory for a representative across the US is 33%. This shows that 66% of the population has a representative that they voted for (regardless of how well this person will actually represent them), but 33% of the nation does not have a representative who even comes close to matching their political beliefs. The Internet allows me to communicate and become very close to other people around the country. Why can’t I form a voting bloc with similarly minded men and women in Seattle, Reno, Nashville, and Cleveland to have an impact on the federal legislative branch?

This Internet House of Representatives could be made up of 300 women and men (one representative per roughly one million people), elected every 2 years, who each represent a constituency made up of a population spread out among the US. Their offices, lines of communication, reports, and bills could all be located on the Internet so everyone can evaluate candidates and vote for the person who best represents their interests. The details of how you vote for these representatives and the reassignment of federal-state interactions in the Senate or elsewhere are important as well, but do not need to be hashed out here to make the point. In today’s world, where the Internet is the nervous system that connects us all together, our national policies and laws should be written by representatives whose path to Congress is based on the usage of this nation-bridging technology.

Digital Victimization

The Impact of Sexual Violence in the Digital Age

Jennifer McArdle

In early September a group called hackappcom posted a proof of concept script on the popular code repository Github, which allowed users to breach iCloud and access user accounts, including the accounts of various Hollywood starlets, such as Jennifer Lawrence. What followed was perhaps the largest celebrity nude photo leak in history, amounting to over 21,000 images targeting over 100 female celebrities. While the leak has garnered mass media attention and elicited an FBI response, Internet “sex crimes” against females continue to go unanswered. Sexual harassment and violence laws must be expanded to reflect the digital age.

There is no dearth of recent instances where females were unable to control the malicious manipulation of their image in the virtual domain. Indeed a quick scan of news sites relay countless incidences of digital harassment, bullying, and sexual and emotional violence. What follows below is a short glimpse into some of the devastation that have been wreaked in cyberspace:

In December 2012, an Icelandic woman named Thorlaug Agustsdottir discovered a page titled “Men are better than woman,” depicting mutilated and nude photos of woman. After publishing an outraged post about the page on her wall, Agustsdottir soon found a manipulated image of herself on the page, complete with slogans such as, “Women are like grass, they just need to be beaten/ cut regularly” and “You just need to be raped.” After reporting these disturbing images to Facebook, Facebook responded that the images did not violate Facebook’s standards on hate speech, and the images were filed under ‘Controversial Humor.’ It was only after Agustsdottir contacted the local press, and the story proliferated, that the image was removed.

In 2010, 12 year old Amanda Todd showed her chest to what she thought was a boy, but was in fact a pedophile. Amanda’s image and doctored images circulated around the Internet and was repeatedly posted on sexually explicit pages. One such post encouraged Amanda and similar girls to, “drink bleach and die.” In October 2012, Amanda committed suicide, posting a YouTube video, explaining her struggle with harassment and the subsequent decision. Amanda and her mother were unable to control the spread of her image.

Furthermore, shortly after Google’s announcement that it was removing celebrity images, revenge porn victim Holly Jacobs, tweeted this response:

jennyblogpic1

Jacobs has suffered years of Internet harassment after her ex allegedly posted intimate photos of her on the Internet without her consent. Jacob’s attempts at enlisting FBI assistance, an Internet specialist, and an attorney were all “dead ends.”

The thread that links all three stories—apart from these females being rendered digital victims—is that there was little to no legal mechanism to control the propagation of their image. As Kathy Sierra, one of the more outspoken victims of Internet harassment, noted in Wired last week, “You’re probably more likely to win the lottery than to get any law enforcement agency in the United States to take action when you are harassed online, no matter how viscously and explicitly.’’

While the leak of celebrity photos is shedding new light on Internet harassment and violence against women, more must be done to ensure that these problems are addressed equitably. Social media and Internet sites need to review their free speech protections in light of ongoing events in order to ensure that their platforms are not inadvertently promoting hate speech. Moreover, government, both national and state, have an important role to play. California recently expanded its state ban on revenge porn; other states (and perhaps the federal government) should follow suit.

It is time for companies and government to take a proactive rather than reactive response to online harassment and sexual and emotional violence. Current harassment and sexual violence laws must be expanded from the physical to the virtual domain.