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How we view data is critical to how to regulate its use. In Privacyland right now, the “data as property” argument is bubbling up frequently. In a comprehensive piece for CNET, David Priest argues that “treating your data like property would be terrible.” (Opinion contributor Sarah Jeong argued similarly here in July.) He also offers a potential explanation for Yang’s not answering my question:
Yang’s actual policy suggestions don’t treat data like property. He proposes the rights for you to be informed of data collection and use, to opt outOne of two central concepts of choice (the other, opt in). It means an individual’s lack of action implies that a choice has been made; unless, say, an individual checks or unchecks a box, his or her information will be shared with third parties. Glossary, to be told if a website has data on you, to be “forgotten,” to be informed if your data changes hands, to be informed of data breachesThe unauthorized acquisition of data that compromises the security, confidentiality or integrity of personal information maintained by a data collector. Glossary and to download all your data to transfer it elsewhere.
Priest suggests maybe Yang is just using the wrong language. “Yang is correct that we have a claim” to our data, he writes. “The question we should all keep asking and attempting to answer is, ‘How can we make that claim?’”
At One Zero, Will Oremus examines the idea of how much our privacy is really worth and concludes that “it’s probably fruitless to try to pinpoint with a single number the value of privacy.” He suggests that a better frame may be to look at privacy like a human right, which he defines as “something everyone deserves, whether they fully grasp its value or not.”
Or how about another metaphor? A number of data dividend advocates argue that “data is the new oil,” meaning that tech companies extract our personal information, much like oil companies extract the natural resource from the ground. Their data dividend idea is somewhat based on Alaska’s Permanent Fund, which pays out a yearly sum ($1,606 in 2019) to eligible state residents based on oil revenues. In our interview, Yang used this phrase, too.
I think “data is the new oil” misses the point slightly. But the environmental metaphor — especially pollution — is a helpful model. In an interview, a former Federal Trade CommissionThe United States' primary consumer protection agency, the F.T.C. collects complaints about companies, business practices and identity theft under the F.T.C. Act and other laws. The agency brings actions under Section 5 of the F.T.C. Act, which prohibits unfair and deceptive trade practices. Glossary chief technology officer, Ashkan Soltani, suggested a solution for data similar to a carbon tax for clean air. His analogy of choice was logging:
A long time ago logging entities discovered and harvested a resource at scale before anyone else and one of their advantages was the ability to pollute. But it was only after some time that people said, “wait, that’s my land, too” and mandated that they either needed to be able to restrict the ability to use it or have some sort of retribution in the form of a tax or carbon credit.
Pollution is also a handy way to think about why our data ought to be kept safe by default. As Oremus put it, “It’s a bit like being asked how much you’d be willing to pay for your drinking water to be kept poison-free.”
No wonder we’re all fed up.
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I’ve devoted two of these columns to the Equifax data breach settlement — why it’s a raw deal and what you could do in protest. But I hadn’t really understood just how egregious the company’s data security practices were until last Friday, when Jane Lytvynenko at BuzzFeed News first shared some snippets from the class-action suit from last January.
I went through the whole document, which alleges that Equifax “failed to take some of the most basic precautions to protect its computer systems from hackers.”
The secretive Justice Department inquiry into the Trump-Russia investigation's origins now includes former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI special agent Peter Strzok, and British ex-spy Christopher Steele.
U.S. Attorney John Durham, whose investigative portfolio recently expanded to include events from the launch of the probe in 2016 through the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller in 2017, has taken overseas fact-finding trips. But Durham's focus on the actions taken by specific individuals makes his mission look like it could transform into a criminal investigation. And the line of questioning Durham has taken with potential witnesses — some in line with claims made by President Trump and other Republicans — puts his efforts into sharper focus.
Brennan, a strident Trump critic, told NBC News that Durham wants to interview him and Clapper as Durham looks into the intelligence community's actions as it examined possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Brennan and Clapper led the Obama administration's intelligence agencies when some Republicans allege the CIA illicitly ensnared members of the Trump campaign using informants, though Democrats have dismissed this. Brennan and Clapper played leadership roles in the intelligence community’s assessment of Russian election interference in 2016.
Brennan told NBC News he was “very comfortable with everything” he had done and complained he didn’t know what the inquiry’s legal basis was, calling Durham’s actions “bizarre.”
But Durham's actions aren't out of left field. Attorney General William Barr upset Democrats in April when he said “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign, and President Trump gave Barr “full and complete authority to declassify information” related to the origins of the Trump-Russia inquiry in May. Barr selected Durham to be his right-hand man soon after.
Durham also asked about Strzok both writing and signing the documentation which launched the FBI's Trump-Russia counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 and launching the investigation over a weekend, an unusual series of actions. The New York Times cited former officials who defended the now-fired special agent, saying he spoke with leaders at the FBI before opening the investigation and did so on a Sunday because former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe instructed him to quickly fly to London to speak with two Australian diplomats who provided the information that prompted the investigation.
Australian diplomat Alexander Downer tipped off the bureau that Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos told him the Russians had damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos was allegedly told about this Russian “dirt” by the mysterious Maltese academic Joseph Mifsud, whom Mueller said had ties to the Russian government, but whom some Republicans claim has ties to Western intelligence. Downer was prompted to tell the FBI about his conversation with Papadopoulos by Wikileaks' release of Democratic National Committee emails.
Durham is speaking to witnesses about Steele, the former MI6 agent whose dossier was used to obtain secret surveillance warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page, and Durham wants to know why the FBI used unverified information in its filings with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, according to the New York Times. Sources reportedly said Durham expressed skepticism about the use of Steele’s dossier and worried the FBI exaggerated Steele’s importance to obtain the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants.
The 412 pages of redacted FISA documents released in 2018 show the DOJ and FBI made extensive use of Steele's salacious dossier. The opposition research firm Fusion GPS was hired by Clinton's campaign and the DNC through the Perkins Coie law firm, and Fusion GPS then hired Steele. Clinton’s campaign received briefings about Fusion GPS's findings during 2016, and watchdog groups allege the campaign purposely concealed its actions from the Federal Election Commission. Steele’s Democratic benefactors, his desire for Trump to lose to Clinton, and flaws with his dossier weren’t revealed to the FISA Court.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s investigation into FISA abuse wrapped up in September, and the New York Times reported Horowitz reviewed an assessment that MI6 handed over to the FBI which said the former spy “was honest and persistent but sometimes showed questionable judgment in pursuing targets that others viewed as a waste of time.” Horowitz’s report is expected in the coming days.
Durham also intends to interview CIA analysts and officials involved in the Russia investigation, prompting some to seek legal representation, and NBC News reported tension between the CIA and DOJ over what classified information he should have access to. Durham has already talked to two dozen current and former FBI agents as part of his effort, according to the New York Times.
DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said DOJ was exploring the extent to which “a number of countries” played a role in the Trump-Russia investigation, and Barr and Durham reached out to the United Kingdom, Italy, and Australia. DOJ has taken efforts to distance itself from the actions of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, whose endeavors in Ukraine are a central focus of the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry and whose associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested in New York.
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