Google to face $5bn privacy lawsuit as consumer craving for secrecy increases

Law firm Boies Schiller Flexner has filed a $5 billion class action lawsuit against Google in the Northern District of California for continuing to collect data while privacy mode is activated.

Alleging Google violated the Federal Wiretap Act, the California Invasion of Privacy Act and the Fourth Amendment, the law firm is suing on behalf of millions. Although $5 billion is a significant financial penalty to be fearful of, Google should perhaps be more worried of precedent as losing this case could open the door for other lawsuits in States with their own privacy laws.

The ruling of this lawsuit will boil down to one question; did Google illegally mislead users by overstating the privacy protection afforded when users activated ‘Incognito’, a mode which supposedly acts as an opt-out for data collection and analysis.

“Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy,” the lawsuit states.

“Indeed, even when Google users launch a web browser with ‘private browsing mode’ activated (as Google recommends to users wishing to browse the web privately), Google nevertheless tracks the users’ browsing data and other identifying information.”

Should the lawsuit be successful, the team would like to award $5,000 in damages to every user who has used Google’s ‘Incognito’ mode since June 1, 2016.


‘Incognito’ mode was first introduced to Google search functions in 2008 and is designed to allow users to browse the internet without Google Chrome remembering the activities. Although it sounds promising, what should be noted is that Google has always stated it is not an absolute protection from online tracking.

The following statement is taken from the Google ‘Incognito’ section of the website:

Chrome won’t save your browsing history, cookies and site data, or information entered in forms. Files you download and bookmarks you create will be kept. Your activity isn’t hidden from websites you visit, your employer or school, or your internet service provider.

The contentious issue is how much ‘Incognito’ mode was oversold to the user, with the Boies Schiller Flexner legal team believing Google misled users. Through applications and functions such as Google Ad Manager and Google Sign-In, the claim is that browsing information was still collected by the search giant despite assurances to the user it wouldn’t.

Of course, what is worth noting is that there is serious incentive for the collection of personal information. According to estimates (albeit, old estimates) from Tim Morey of digital strategy firm Frog, the value of different data segment vary quite significantly:

  • $240 – Social security number
  • $150 – Credit card information
  • $57 – Internet browsing history
  • $38 – Health history
  • $5.7 – Online purchasing history
  • $4.2 – Contact information

The question which is being asked today is whether all of these data collection and analysis strategies are being done legally.


One trend which is becoming increasingly more obvious is the desire for more privacy.

Earlier this week, Brave, a privacy-orientated search engine, said that monthly active users (MAUs) passed 15 million for the first time in May, a 125% increase year-on-year. These browsers also tend to be more engaged, with click-through rates of ads were as high as 9%.

Perhaps it is the dangers of the digital economy hitting home, finally, but users are becoming much more aware of their privacy rights. This is not good for business for the likes of Google and other internet giants where business models are moulded around information, but it does raise a few questions about the suitability of existing privacy laws:

Telecoms.com Poll – Should privacy rules be re-evaluated in light of a new type of society?
30% Yes, the digital economy requires a difference stance on privacy
41% The user should be given more choice to create own privacy rights
29% No, technology has changed but privacy principles are the same

One question which has not been properly addressed is whether the privacy rules which are being enforced today are suitable for the digital era?

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) were passed in 2018, ensuring rules in Europe were fit for purpose, but many countries are dictated by privacy rules and regulations written in a bygone era.

In this lawsuit against Google, the three laws mentioned could certainly be considered out of date:

  • The Federal Wiretap Act was actually written in 1968 and largely replaced by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986
  • California’s Invasion of Privacy Act was first legislated in 1967, though there have been numerous updates, including the California Consumer Privacy Act in 2018
  • The Fourth Amendment was written in 1789 to protect the rights of citizens and prevent warrantless searches of their homes

Although all of these laws are theoretically in the same ballpark, they have been designed for analogue societies. Legal documents are full of nuances and loopholes and taking an example slightly out of context can create all sorts of problems. Today’s digital society is fundamentally different from the analogue era, making it difficult to apply existing laws perfectly.

A donkey might have four legs, a tail and eat hay, but that does not mean it will be at home in the starting gate at a racecourse.


There are plenty of ways the lawsuit against Google can fall apart, most notably as the lawyers on the offensive will have to demonstrate an extensive knowledge of the intricate operations within the search engine business to prove their points. This is an issue.

What you can also guarantee is that Google will throw plenty of legal resources at the case. These are seasoned professionals who have become very well accustomed to defending the internet giant.

Google will of course not want to pay the $5 billion penalty which is being sought by the lawyers championing this class action suit, a bigger consequence is precedent. If lawyers are successful in suing Google for breaking California laws, who is to say another firm would not raise the alarm in any one of the other 49 States which make up the USA.

The USA is a highly litigious country and precedent is a very powerful force in this community.

A look back at the biggest stories this week

Whether it’s important, depressing or just entertaining, the telecoms industry is always one which attracts attention.

Here are the stories we think are worth a second look at this week:


GSMA cosies up to O-RAN Alliance

The GSMA, the telco industry lobby group, has announced a new partnership with the O-RAN Alliance to accelerate the adoption of Open Radio Access Network (RAN) technologies.

Full story here


Europe backtracks on market consolidation opposition

The General Court of the European Court of Justice has annulled a decision made in 2016 to block the merger between O2 and Three in the UK, potentially opening the door for consolidation.

Full story here


Huawei CFO loses first legal battle in extradition case

Huawei CFO Wanzhou Meng, the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, has lost her first legal battle in Canada and will now have to face an extradition case.

Full story here


Data privacy is in the same position as cybersecurity five years ago

It has taken years for the technology and telecoms industry to take security seriously, and now we are at the beginning of the same story arc with privacy.

Full story here


Indian telco association pushes for ‘floor tariffs’ on data pricing

In an open letter to India’s telecoms regulator, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has pressed for quicker decision making on pricing restriction rules.

Full story here


UK’s National Cyber Security Centre launches another Huawei probe

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has confirmed it is attempting to understand what impact potential US sanction directed towards Huawei would have on UK networks.

Full story here


 

UK Gov launches IOT cybersecurity fund

The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a £400,000 fund to fuel ambition for the security of internet-connected products.

The ultimate hope will be to kick-start the development of an assurance market for consumer internet-connected products such as wearable devices or smart doorbells. Such assurance schemes could offer accreditation for products which have undergone relevant tests, providing more confidence for consumers to purchases and to make full use of all functionality without fear of poor security.

“We are committed to making the UK the safest place to be online and are developing laws to make sure robust security standards for consumer internet-connected products are built in from the start,” said Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman.

“This new funding will allow shoppers to be sure the products they are buying have better cyber security and help retailers be confident they are stocking secure smart products.

“People should continue to change default passwords on their smart devices and regularly update software to help protect themselves from cyber criminals.”

The idea is a simple one, but a very good one. Should such assurance programmes be nurtured correctly, and the general public be made suitably aware, it would become a factor in the buying decision making process. Manufacturers would be effectively coerced into compliance as sales could be impacted without the presence of the certification.

Alongside this initiative, new laws in the UK will come into play for both enterprise and consumer internet-connected devices. Any device sold in the UK will soon have to adhere to three rules:

  1. Device passwords much be unique with no option to restore to factory settings
  2. Manufacturers must create and maintain a public point of contact to report device or software vulnerabilities
  3. Manufacturers must state how long the device will receive security updates

These rules should form the basis of a more secure digital economy, though product assurance programmes would add more credibility and confidence in the quickly developing segment.

Recent figures from IDC suggest the wearables market is growing, 29.7% year-on-year for the first three months of 2020, though the numbers could have been higher. The on-going COVID-19 pandemic limited shipments due to supply chain disruptions and sourcing component for the products.

While the consumer IOT segment is still in the early development stages, it is critical the industry set the standards on security. Should the segment be allowed to progress too far with bad habits, attempting to correct mistakes and bad practice will become much more difficult. The UK should be applauded for its attempts to get ahead of trends, and hopefully other Governments are taking note.


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Privacy is in the same position as security was five years ago

It has taken years for the technology and telecoms industry to take security seriously, and now we are at the beginning of the same story arc with privacy.

The purpose of a story arc in popular culture is to take the character on a journey, agonising through challenges and failures, and up to success and lessons, ultimately concluding with some sort of resolution. There are seven different types, for example, a Cinderella story arc where the protagonist experiences a rise, then a fall, before a final rise, or an Icarus arc where there is simply a rise before an ultimate failure.

The security segment of the technology and telecoms world has gone through somewhat of a Rags to Riches story arc, with adequate protections being ignored for years before becoming a critical component of the technology landscape. That said, some would argue the arc has not been completed as there is still not enough investment.

Perhaps privacy is treading the same path as security, and it will have to battle moral dilemmas, successes and failures over numerous series before it is finally appreciated. The principles of privacy are certainly being ignored, massaged and bent sideways by private and public organisations today.

One question which might be raised is whether we need to reconsider the definitions of privacy for the new world; are we inappropriately judging digital privacy by the standards of the analogue era?

“In my view, there is currently no case for relaxing the privacy rules. There is a need to embed privacy considerations in design of technology,” said Joann O’Brien, VP of Digital Ecosystems at the TM Forum.

“In many cases architectural design/best practice and the embedding of the citizen at the centre of the design still needs to happen. When this happens, meeting privacy requirements becomes exponentially easier to achieve. In many cases relaxing any privacy policy due to impacts on innovation is really playing into the hands of lazy architectures and exploitative technologies.”

This sounds remarkably similar to the same rhetoric which was positioned around security technologies for years. Experts said security needs to be built into the products foundations, not simply an add-on. It does appear the same mistakes are being made with privacy.

One country which does seem to be taking the right approach to building contact tracing applications to combat COVID-19 is Switzerland. Using the decentralised approach, the app was built around the privacy foundations, with all sensitive operations taking place on the user’s device. Other countries should take note of this example championing privacy rights.

“TM Forum advocates for continuing and upholding the privacy rules as the long-term consequences of not doing so will have a negative impact on society and potentially run the risk of citizens losing trust in technology.”

While any reasonable person should not advocate the dilution of privacy rules, perhaps there is a case for reimagining them.

Should governments be able to ensure the same levels of protections and privacy are maintained, there is a case for rewriting rules to ensure they are fit for the digital society. After all, privacy rules as we know them today were written for a bygone era. It is like trying to fit a square peg through a round hole, it might fit if you try hard enough, but it is more suitable for another hole.

“The problem with the current system is it insists that every company asks for consent at a very granular level, which makes it impossible for people to read and understand what they are agreeing to,” said Ross Fobian, CEO of ResponseTap, a provider of intelligent call tracking software.

“It is also annoying because you are presented with messages on every website, but don’t have the time to really understand each one. This results in the user simply trying to get the box out of the way as quickly as possible. This means that generally people default to simply clicking the ‘I agree’ button, without understanding what they are agreeing to.”

The transfer of data to corporations can benefit both sides, however. Companies more intelligently and appropriately are able to target potential customers, while experience of products and services can be enhanced for the consumer.

“The problem is that some companies or even government entities don’t necessarily use your data just to help you,” said Fobian. “They use your data to manipulate you. Cambridge Analytica is a perfect example of this. Also, companies can get hacked and hackers can use that data in ways it was never intended. For this reason, at ResponseTap we don’t store personal data by default, which minimises the risk. However, this is not always possible.”

There are new privacy rules being created for this era, which are heading in the right direction according to Fobian. Telecoms.com readers generally agree with this statement also, with 32% believing privacy rules should be re-imagined for the digital era and 48% suggesting the user should be given more choice to create own privacy rights.

Privacy is a challenge today for several reasons, most of which can be directly linked back to corporations and governments ignoring its importance. In years gone, security was an add-on, despite what anyone told you, and the exact same position has been created for privacy today.

All these companies are telling us that they are pro-privacy, but eventually they will have to start showing us with actions which back up the rhetoric.

China deliberates privacy law in the midst of increased state surveillance

China’s parliament has said it will legislate on privacy protection, while the state has vastly increased surveillance since the outbreak of COVID-19.

The National People’s Congress, China’s highest legislature, is back in session after being delayed by two months by COVID-19. In his work report, the Chairman of the People’s Congress’s Standing Committee singled out three pieces of legislation related to state security and society control as priority tasks in the immediate future. Privacy protection is one of them, the other two being laws on data security and biosecurity, according to the reporting by People’s Daily, one of China’s main propaganda outlets.

This does not come as a complete surprise. At the end of last year, the People’s Congress announced at a press conference that a comprehensive privacy law would go through the legislation process in 2020. So far China’s privacy protection legislation is dispersed in different criminal, civil, and commercial laws and it often replies on the interpretation of judges when it comes to specific litigations. This gives those organisations, businesses, and individuals that have almost unbridled access to personal and private data an almost free hand to determine how to use the data. A group of consumers in China actually lost their case against Amazon when their privacy data on the e-commerce giant’s China site was comprised, which led to their losing large amount of money to phishing schemes.

Tencent and Alibaba have deployed facial recognition solutions at retail outlets where users of their online payment systems can pay for their purchases by looking at the camera at the check-out point. It is true that such solutions are both convenient and adding fun to the shopping experience, and it may also be true that the attitudes towards privacy in China are different from that in Europe. “In China, and across Asia, data is not seen as something to be locked down, it’s something that can be used,” according to a Hong Kong-based lawyer.

More recently, while the country was combating COVID-19, various tracing applications have been developed and deployed using personal data including name, date of birth, physical address, ID number, geo location records, and the like. Some of these apps have been jointly developed by commercial entities and public authorities and law enforcement agencies. Some people have raised concern that when the emergency is over, who and for how long such sensitive data should still be kept.

Probably more important is the scope of application of the impending law. The discussion on China’s official media is all about how to protect private data from being misused or abused by businesses, in particular the internet companies that have both access to the data and the technologies to benefit from it. It cannot help but giving the impression that the law is designed to primarily keep big businesses in check, without tying the government’s hands.

While the state legislature announced the new law being codified, China has vastly increased surveillance over its people, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Reuters reported that the country has seen “hundreds of millions of cameras in public places” being set up in cities and villages, as well as “increasing use of techniques such as smartphone monitoring and facial recognition.” The authorities have successfully located people infected by COVID-19 with surveillance images and facial recognition technologies, state media reported.

However, despite all the talking about AI, big data, and facial recognition, surveillance in China is still largely done by human beings constantly watching surveillance camera footages on screen and smartphone, which doesn’t come cheap. 4,400 cameras were installed in a village in Hubei, the province where COVID-19 first started, costing $5.6 million, according to the Reuters report.


Telecoms.com Daily Poll:

Should privacy rules be re-evaluated in light of a new type of society?

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UK’s National Cyber Security Centre launches another Huawei probe

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has confirmed it is attempting to understand what impact potential US sanction directed towards Huawei would have on UK networks.

With Huawei equipment and components delicately woven throughout the complex tapestry of telecoms in the UK, sanctions from the US which would materially inhibit Huawei operations should be a major concern.

“The security and resilience of our networks is of paramount importance,” a cross-government statement reads. “Following the US announcement of additional sanctions against Huawei, the NCSC is looking carefully at any impact they could have to the UK’s networks.”

There have been reports circulating through the press suggesting UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is once again considering the role of Huawei in the telecoms landscape. These rumours are a separate story, but directly linked; the US wants to reduce the commercial opportunities for Huawei, and this is yet another attempt.

First, the US Government attempted the diplomatic approach, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attempting to prove his debating skills. Secondly, fear was introduced with the US attempted to reignite xenophobic fears of communism. The third strategy was more directly aggressive; work with Huawei or have access to our intelligence data, you can’t have both.

None of these strategies worked, but the latest attempt is an interesting one. If Huawei’s supply chain can be compromised, the UK (and other) Governments might have to turn its back on the Chinese vendor because it does not meet the standards required for resiliency tests.

Should the UK Government be revising its position, it would certainly be a blow to Huawei’s credibility.

“We’ve seen the reports from unnamed sources which simply don’t make sense,” said Victor Zhang of Huawei. “The government decided in January to approve our part in the 5G rollout, because Britain needs the best possible technologies, more choice, innovation and more suppliers, all of which means more secure and more resilient networks.

“As a private company, 100% owned by employees, which has operated in the UK for 20 years, our priority has been to help mobile and broadband companies keep Britain connected, which in this current health crisis has been more vital than ever. This is our proven track-record.”

Looking at the other rumours outside this confirmed investigation into the impact of US sanctions on Huawei, the underlying cause could be directed back tor Conservative backbencher Sir Iain Duncan Smith. Once a prominent voice in the House of Commons, Duncan Smith’s influence has been wilting rapidly, so much so this is one of the first times anyone has paid attention to him for what feels like decades.

In March, Duncan Smith led a small group of Tory revolters in opposition of the Supply Chain Review. Instead of limiting ‘High Risk vendors’ to 35% of any telecoms network, this group wanted them banned completely. These politicians clearly did not understand the complexities of the situation and debates were riddled with inaccuracies, but it appears the pressure has been enough to turn the head of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

What is worth noting is that while the industry has been in firm support of Huawei in recent years, this staunch stance seems to be softening.

Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read recently discussed the Huawei situation during the telco’s earnings call, and while Vodafone had been warning of catastrophic consequences to prevent work with Huawei, the current rhetoric is no-where near as firm. The executive talked of removing certain firms “moderately” and investments into alternatives. It does appear Vodafone is preparing for the worst-case scenario.

While the rumours are nothing more than rumours, with the US undermining Huawei’s ability to operate as desired some uncomfortable questions will be asked. Top of the list is whether the vendor can maintain security and resiliency credentials for its products and components following such a disruption to its supply chain. This could drastically impact its position in the UK telecoms landscape.


Telecoms.com Daily Poll:

Should Huawei be allowed to operate in the UK?

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A look back at the biggest stories this week

Whether it’s important, depressing or just entertaining, the telecoms industry is always one which attracts attention.

Here are the stories we think are worth a second look at this week:


Facebook reignites the fires of its Workplace unit

Facebook has announced its challenge to the video-conferencing segment and a reignition of its venture into the world of collaboration and productivity.

Full story here


Trump needs fodder for the campaign trail, maybe Huawei fits the bill

A thriving economy and low levels of unemployment might have been the focal point of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, pre-pandemic, but fighting the ‘red under the bed’ might have to do now.

Full story here


Will remote working trends endure beyond lockdown?

It is most likely anyone reading this article is doing so from the comfort of their own home, but the question is whether this has become the new norm is a digitally defined economy?

Full story here


ZTE and China Unicom get started on 6G

Chinese kit vendor ZTE has decided now is a good time to announce it has signed a strategic cooperation agreement on 6G with operator China Unicom.

Full story here


ITU says lower prices don’t lead to higher internet penetration

The UN telecoms agency observes that, while global connectivity prices are going down, the relationship with penetration is not as inversely proportion as you might think.

Full story here


Jio carves out space for yet another US investor

It seems the US moneymen have a taste for Indian connectivity as General Atlantic becomes the fourth third-party firm to invest in the money-making machine which is Jio Platforms.

Full story here


Telecoms.com Daily Poll:

Can the sharing economy (ride-sharing, short-stay accommodation etc.) survive COVID-19?

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Trump needs fodder for the campaign trail, maybe Huawei fits the bill

A thriving economy and low levels of unemployment might have been the focal point of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, pre-pandemic, but fighting the ‘red under the bed’ might have to do now.

In 2016, Donald Trump won the Presidential election for numerous reasons, but one very important element was his ability to mobilise the vote of elements of society who wouldn’t have had any interest in politics otherwise. One reason was because of who Trump was and is, a celebrity more than a statesman, but perhaps a more critical element was the message.

Trump ignored political correctness, seemingly appealing to racism and xenophobia as the Make America Great Again slogan was born. He proposed the deportation of all illegal immigrants, the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border and a temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the US. The forgotten men and women of the US were the focal point of this campaign.

This campaign, focusing on a single message of foreign people are bad for patriotic US citizens, worked. If Trump is to repeat the success of his 2016 Presidential Election in November, there will have to be another message at the core of the campaign to rouse the masses and build a slogan on.

There has been a suspicion that the success of the economy and low levels of unemployment would have been this focal point. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy was on the rise. From Trump’s entry to the Oval office on 6 January 2017, to the final days before lockdown in February, the Dow Jones grew from 19,963 to 29,398, a 47% surge. Unemployment was down to 3.5%, slowly eroding through the three-year period.

The message could have been ‘look what four years of Trump has gotten you, wouldn’t you like four more?’. But then coronavirus hit, and the economy went down the toilet.

The Dow Jones will recover, as will unemployment, but the Trump campaign would be playing with fire by making this the central point of the campaign. Many believe Trump was too slow to act against the coronavirus after spending months claiming it was little more than the common flu. At its worst point, the Dow Jones fell to 18,591 while unemployment is currently as high as 14%, and likely to go higher.

Using the economy as a reason for re-elections is offering ammunition to the Democrat candidate, the opening round of a slug match where Trump can be undermined and embarrassed.

Without this weapon in his arsenal, Trump will have to find a new focal point to build a campaign around; China and Huawei could fit the bill.

Trump needs to redirect attention away from his failings as a leader during the pre-coronavirus weeks. People generally need an enemy when times are hard, and the invisible enemy of today will not do; you can’t get people angry about a virus, not in the way that the Trump campaign will want. If Trump can further vilify the Chinese, he can position himself as the hero, the man to champion US values, whatever they might be.

Huawei has been made the proxy of the Chinese Government in the eyes of the US. If the US is scared about the ‘red under the bed’, the idea of communism creeping into democratic societies secretly, the successful telecoms vendor can be made public enemy number one.

This is clearly not a new campaign of hate from the President, but it is one which had quietened off over the last few months. It is an on-going conflict point between the US and Chinese Governments, and fuel was thrown onto the embers last week.

In a new assault from the US Department of Commerce, further efforts were made to inhibit the ability of Huawei to source semiconductor components for smartphones and base stations. The US is perhaps hoping the globalised nature of the technology industry, which has allowed Huawei to thrive, can be weaponised against it as few (if any) companies could operate without a single trace of the US in its supply chain.

“We have survived and forged ahead despite all the odds,” Huawei Rotating Chairman Guo Ping said at a virtual conference this week. “The US insists on persistently attacking Huawei, but what will that achieve for the world?”

Conflict with the Chinese might not sound good for economic reasons, but for political ones, it is fantastic. Trump needs an enemy so he can be the champion of for the forgotten men and women of the US.

While it is clear there are a lot of US politicians buying into the anti-China campaign of hate, we asked Telecoms.com readers how they feel about the on-going aggression towards Huawei:

Telecoms.com Poll: Do you feel the US Government is justified in its action against Huawei?
Yes, it is effectively a pawn for the Chinese Government 43%
Yes, but Government links are not there 1%
Maybe, but show us the evidence of foul play first 12%
No, Trump shouldn’t punish a company just because it is Chinese 22%
No, international competition should be left to sort itself out 22%

Huawei might have enjoyed a brief breather over the last few months, but the signs are there to suggest there might be greater conflict on the horizon. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark Esper both drew battle lines.

“Let’s talk for a second about the other realm, cybersecurity,” Pompeo said during his speech. “Huawei and other state-back tech companies are trojan horses for Chinese intelligence.”

“Under President Xi’s rule, the Chinese Communist Party is heading even faster and further in the wrong direction,” said Esper. “More internal repression, more predatory economic practices, more heavy handedness, and most concerning for me, a more aggressive military posture.”

Further sanctions and more aggressive policies against Huawei specifically, as well as other Chinese companies in the international markets, could be on the horizon. Huawei executives have certainly expressed concern, but there are numerous other companies who should also be sitting uncomfortably.

The US Senate recently passed the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act (S.945) which could result in numerous companies who do not pass strict criteria being delisted from US stock exchanges. China is of course a target with this legislation.

“The SEC works hard to protect American investors from being swindled by American companies,” said Senator John Kennedy, one of the politicians to introduce the original bill.

“It’s asinine that we’re giving Chinese companies the opportunity to exploit hardworking Americans – people who put their retirement and college savings in our exchanges – because we don’t insist on examining their books. There are plenty of markets all over the world open to cheaters, but America can’t afford to be one of them.”

This legislation would not impact Huawei, it is a private company after all, but it is further evidence of increasing aggression towards China, and suggestions there could be rising tensions.

And while Huawei might be attracting the most attention from US Senators right now, there are certainly more which could fall into the crosshairs. Tencent owns TikTok which has already come under criticism, Alibaba is hoping to expand its cloud computing venture into international markets, while the likes of OPPO and Xiaomi are proving to be quite successful in gaining interest as challenger smartphone brands. These are all companies which would perhaps fall foul of US opinion.

The first Trump campaign rallies will give more of an indication of what will be the focus of his scorn and hatred over the coming months, and where the pent-up frustrations of US citizens could be directed. We suspect Huawei could be in for a rough few months as Trump further vilifies the Chinese Government and looks for an opponent to bureaucratically challenge during the campaign.

Taking down Huawei could be the feather the Trump campaign is looking for in its quest for re-election to the White House.


Telecoms.com Daily Poll:

Can the sharing economy (ride-sharing, short-stay accommodation etc.) survive COVID-19?

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German spooks chastised for mass surveillance

A German court has reprimanded the Federal Intelligence Service for mass surveillance which violates Basic Law and the privacy rights of its citizens.

For a country which usually flies the banner of privacy rights, some might be surprised by the German intelligence services, Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), lurching beyond the line of acceptability. However, once again it appears political rhetoric is a distraction technique as the spooks get their hands caught in the cookie jar.

“Thanks to the chief legal counsel, Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte (GFF), this a major victory for global civil liberties, but especially those that live and work in Europe,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said.

“Many will now be protected after lacklustre 2016 surveillance reforms continued to authorize the surveillance on EU states and institutions for the purpose of ‘foreign policy and security’ and permitted the BND to collaborate with the NSA.”

The EFF is of course celebrating this decision, though there are numerous other privacy advocates who have vocalised their pleasure.

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The issue which is at the heart of this decision is one of unsupervised and unrestricted collection of data. Thanks to an amended version of certain legislation in 2016, telcos and intelligence agencies would monitor communications traffic running through Germany, collecting and analysing any information using keywords.

According to the complainants, data relating to German nationals or persons within Germany must be separated from the other data and deleted prior to any further analysis. Another complaint was the unrestricted nature of the data collection. Content-related keywords that do not target specific individuals is contrary to what would be deemed acceptable in the international regulatory community.

In the ruling from the German courts, the privacy rights of the German constitution also protects foreigners in other countries as well as German nationals, while the wide-reaching and unencumbered nature of data collection from the intelligence services was well beyond its jurisdiction, especially in foreign countries. No intelligence agency should be given complete freedom to operate, such is the powers which are granted to authorities today.

US Senate blurs democratic principles with OK for warrantless searches

In a move which is more suited to an authoritarian state, the US Senate has voted to extend the powers of intelligence authorities to search browser history without a court warrant.

Although the amended text still has to be agreed by the House of Representatives before heading to the Oval Office to be approved by President Donald Trump, this is a blow for US citizens who should correctly crave the right to privacy.

With only 59 votes being cast in support of a clause which would remove the ability of intelligence and enforcement agencies to snoop and spy without petitioning court judges for a warrant. Such abilities were introduced during the Patriot Act, following the 9/11 attacks in the US, to fight terrorism but it seems these politicians have forgotten the very principles which they are supposed to be protecting.

Ironically, at the same time it is supposedly fighting dictatorships around the world, the US’ attitude towards remarkably similar to the Chinese Governments.

The snooping powers were granted as part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which expired in March. Certain aspects from this Act and Section 215 of the US Patriot Act had been slated to be included in the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act. The USA Freedom Reauthorization Act was an effort to renew numerous elements, including the ability for intelligence agencies to spy with judicial authorisation.

Despite the PR campaign in play to validate the legislation (such as ludicrous Bill names and acronyms), and efforts to increase national security, privacy rights should still be respected. Fear should not be used as a weapon to erode democratic rights.

In most democratic nations, authorities have to seek permission from the courts to workaround privacy rules, but this is not the case here. Such rules contradict the claim that Governments are working for the people and can be held accountable by the people; the process of checks and balances has been compromised.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has been championing the fight against government overreach, but it seems he fell one vote short. Had 60 votes been cast in favour of the clause, privacy of the US citizens would be protected, however, his cause fell one vote short. It is not fair to blame the failure of this pro-democracy movement on a single person, but it is interesting to see who didn’t turn up to cast a vote.

There were four individuals not to show up:

Absentee votes for Amendment Number: 1583
Senator State Party
Lamar Alexander Texas Republican
Ben Sasse Nebraska Republican
Patty Murray Washington Democrat
Bernie Sanders Vermont Independent

The Republican Senators were expected to vote against the Amendment (though many defied party orders) therefore the absence of Alexander and Sasse is not a material loss. Murray, the Democratic representative of Washington was not in the capital during the vote, and neither was the anti-establishment figure of Bernie Sanders.

It does appear both Murray and Sanders have been distracted in recent weeks, enough so that inaction has sent US legislation down a worrying path.


Telecoms.com Poll:

Do US authorities believe in the right to privacy?

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