Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:
- White House launches cybersecurity plan. President Obama unveiled a Cybersecurity National Action Plan this week. It calls for a 35 percent increase in the federal funding for cybersecurity, creates a chief information security officer for the federal government, and establishes two independent councils--one on cybersecurity and the other on privacy--to advise the executive branch. The plan also includes two initiatives to help the private sector with its cybersecurity challenges and supports the launch of a public awareness campaign led by Google, Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies to educate users about security features. Although critics have argued that the plan is nothing novel, Net Politics’ Rob Knake argues it’s aimed at implementing and improving existing programs, rather than creating entirely new ones, and lay the groundwork for the next administration.
- India has zero patience for zero-rating. On Monday, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India banned Internet service providers (ISPs) from offering select content to users for free, a slap in the face to Facebook, which has been pushing a service called “Free Basics” in the country. Free Basics offers zero-rated access to Facebook as well as basic online services like news, health, and career information. Facebook has argued that offering basic online services for free will help bring more people online, improving the lives of millions. Critics contend that Facebook is creating an uneven playing field by only letting certain services into Free Basics. The regulator’s decision was influenced by a widespread public outcry against the service over the last several months, both over a concern that it violates the net neutrality principle and that it will create “walled gardens” that will keep users inside the Facebook ecosystem, giving a competitive advantage to the websites or ISPs Facebook chooses to partner with. However, there’s no evidence yet that zero-rating actually has the effect of giving some services an unfair advantage.
- The United States and United Kingdom negotiate mutual legal assistance work-around. Late last week, the Washington Post reported that the United States and United Kingdom are in the early process of negotiating an agreement that would allow UK law enforcement to serve wiretap or subpoena directly to American tech firms. Currently, U.S. law--specifically the Stored Communications Act--prohibits American companies from handing over digital data to anyone without explicit authorization from a U.S. court. This forces UK officials to make a formal request for evidence through the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) process, where it can take up to ten months for a request to be processed. This poses a huge barrier to UK law enforcement seeking to investigate a crime that wholly took place in the United Kingdom (i.e. assailant, victim and crime are all in the United Kingdom), with the exception of data being stored in the United States. The agreement, if completed, would seem to allow the British authorities to go directly to US-based providers, like Google or Facebook, to obtain the evidence they need. The deal faces an uphill battle, especially as it would require a change in U.S. law. However, if the deal succeeds, it could be a model for other jurisdictions and a work around the Gordian knot that is MLAT reform.
- Cyber! Be afraid! The U.S. intelligence community has listed cyber-related threats as its top concern, outranking terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and counter intelligence in the annual ranking of the greatest threats facing the United States. This is the fourth year in a row that cyber threats have been named the most dangerous, given their “increasing in frequency, scale, sophistication, and severity of impact.” Interestingly, the unclassified report had very little to say about Iran’s cyber capabilities, unlike last year’s report when the intelligence community noted that "Iranian actors have been implicated in the 2012-13 DDOS attacks against US financial institutions and in the February 2014 cyber attack on the Las Vegas Sands casino company." Maybe the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal has tempered the Iranians’ fire?
- ICANN announces new CEO. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has named Göran Marby its new president and CEO. Marby has held several other leadership roles in the technology sector, including his current position as Director-General of the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority and former position as CEO of Cygate, a network services company. He will succeed current president and CEO Fadi Chehadé, whose term finishes on March 15, 2016.