April 18, 2014

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Annual report of FCC’s Open Internet Advisory Committee

For the past year, I’ve been serving on the FCC’s Open Internet Advisory Committee (OIAC), and chairing its mobile broadband working group. The OIAC just completed its first annual report (available here). The report gives an overview of the past year of work from four working groups (economic impacts, mobile broadband, specialized services, and transparency). I highly recommend anyone interested in Open Internet issues take a look.
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NSA, the FISA Court, and Risks of Tech Summaries

Yesterday the U.S. government released a previously-secret 2011 opinion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), finding certain NSA surveillance and analysis activities to be illegal. The opinion, despite some redactions, gives us a window into the interactions between the NSA and the court that oversees its activities—including why oversight and compliance of surveillance are challenging.
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Groklaw Shuts Down, Citing NSA Eavesdropping

The legendary technology law blog Groklaw is shutting down. Groklaw’s founder and operator, Pamela “PJ” Jones, wrote that in light of current eavesdropping, email is no longer secure. She went on to say:

There is no way to do Groklaw without email. Therein lies the conundrum.
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What to do? I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure it out. And the conclusion I’ve reached is that there is no way to continue doing Groklaw, not long term, which is incredibly sad. But it’s good to be realistic. And the simple truth is, no matter how good the motives might be for collecting and screening everything we say to one another, and no matter how “clean” we all are ourselves from the standpoint of the screeners, I don’t know how to function in such an atmosphere. I don’t know how to do Groklaw like this.

I can’t help thinking that there might be more here than meets the eye.
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Ethical dilemmas faced by software engineers: A request for real-world examples

Software developers create the architectures that govern our online and often our offline lives — from software-controlled cars and medical systems to digital content consumption and behavioral advertising. In fact, software shapes our societal values. Are the creators of code aware of the power that they wield, and the responsibilities that go with it? As students, are they trained in the ethics of their discipline?

The good folks at the Markkula center for applied ethics at Santa Clara University have released a self-contained software engineering ethics module to fill the gap between the critical role of software and the lack of adequate ethical training in computer science and software engineering programs. (I had a small part to play in helping write the introduction.) If you’re an educator or a student, I encourage you to give it a look!

The module has several hypothetical examples as thought exercises for students. This is nice because it isolates certain ethical principles for study. That said, we felt that it would also be useful to present real-world examples of ethical dilemmas, perhaps in a follow-on module for slightly more advanced students. There are a huge number of these, so we’d like your help in compiling them.

At this point I’m not looking for fully articulated case studies, but merely examples of software deployed in the real world in a way that raises ethical concerns. A few examples with different levels of severity to start things off: 1. Stuxnet 2. Circumvention of Safari cookie blocking by Google and other companies. 3. The Keep calm and rape T-shirt.

If you have an example to suggest, please leave a comment, , or tweet at me. You will have the reward of lavish gifts knowing that you’ve helped improve the abysmal state of ethics education for the next generation of software engineers. Thank you!

 

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Educating Leaders who Tackle the Challenges of their Time; Lessons from the Past: Book Review: First Class, The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School

One of last year’s CITP lectures that is still fresh in my mind is Brad Smith’s talk on “Immigration, Education, and the Future of Computer Science in America.” In his presentation on developing a process for educating the next generation of computer scientists in U.S. high schools and colleges, Mr. Smith noted that in the state of New Jersey, where 8.8 million people live, only 874 students took the computer science AP exam, and of those, only 17 were African-American. In Alison Stewart’s excellent new book “First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School,” Ms. Smith tells the story of one of the best and most important American high schools of the 20th century. In the first half of the 20th century, Dunbar High School, a public school located in Washington, DC, produced numerous leaders in medicine, science, education, law, politics and the military, including several from my family. With the end of segregation, the conditions that resulted in Dunbar’s creation ceased to exist. The question remains, however, as to how in diverse public education systems to develop leaders in the fields that are critical to the country’s economic and social progress.
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British Court Blocks Publication of Car Security Paper

Recently a British court ordered researchers to withdraw a paper, “Dismantling Megamos Security: Wirelessly Lockpicking a Vehicle Immobiliser” from next week’s USENIX Security Symposium. This is a blow not only to academic freedom but also to progress in vehicle security. And for those of us who have worked in security for a long time, it raises bad memories of past attempts to silence researchers, which have touched many of us over the years.
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