• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


Bubbling Internet Issues

The FCC, security monitoring, suit against Google.

February 9, 2016

This past week a number of Internet law and policy issues bubbled up. This post touches on a three of them: the F.C.C.; Berkeley Prof and security monitoring; Berkeley students sue Google.

In the “Big P” area of policy, the Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C.) is gearing up again for another major move. Last year, the public achieved a landmark moment of influence when its comments to the penultimate “net neutrality” proposal caused the F.C.C. to revise the final rule. Out went language purported to create a “fast track” and language that bolstered net neutrality came in, rebranded as “The Open Internet.”

This year, Tom Wheeler is at it again, demonstrating that as a former lobbyist for the communications industry and now current chairman of the F.C.C. he observes the second rule of attorney professional responsibility: zealous representation of your client. (The first rule is don’t go to jail for your client … well, it is an unofficial rule, but primary nonetheless.) His client now is the public, and it is in their interest that he has presided over thumbs’ down on mergers with Time Warner. Antitrust is the concern. That concern demonstrates once again what Susan Crawford explained so well a couple of years back in her book Captive Audience, i.e. the relationship between anti-trust and “an open Internet.” 

The next step in that process follows the market for cable content.  It is going the way of rabbit ears on TV sets. Unlocking the cable box is technically illegal, but with market, user and legal pressures on cable companies to give up their monopoly on content the public moves towards more legal choice in how it receives what it wants from entertainment, news and media. Watch for the next step, however!  Cable companies might lose, but Big Internet (I just made that phrase up) is bound to win: Amazon, Netflix, Apple, and Google at the forefront.  Instead of being two steps behind, the F.C.C. might consider now what dangers await the public with the concentration of wealth and power at the doorstep of Big Internet.

In the “Little P” area, or institutional policy, the University of California system has two topics on offer.  The first is the dust up over a network security monitoring system thought by at least one member of the faculty at Berkeley to be in violation of privacy.  Much needed education lies in this matter about how to communicate information security to campus communities, what role CIOs play vis a vis presidents, chancellors and provosts, as well as faculty, staff and students, and how to parse the concept of “monitoring” in its many uses when it comes to the Internet.  Opportunity lost if campuses don’t use this example as leverage for crucial conversations on critical campus topics.  My key take away: in the global scope, we share more than that which divides us.

And now for my personal favorite: Four Berkeley students sue Google for violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.  In light of my own research on this subject, and my experience a year ago November with F.T.C. Chairperson Terrell McSweeny about it, I applaud their efforts.  In fact, I have a proposal for them: don’t just strike out for yourself.  Make it a class action suit for all of education that had GAFE in the period from 2010, when Google inserted its OneBox technologies that obviated enterprise contracts, until 2014, when they claimed to have fixed it.  Prayer for relief: free education/pay off students’ loans of those affected, and who are now forever in Google’s profiling matrix.  


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