‘Communications Policy in the COVID-19 Era’ with Geoffrey Starks (Ep. 225)
FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks joined Joe Miller to discuss the communications priorities his office is focused on amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Geoffrey Starks (@geoffreystarks) was nominated to serve as a Commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission by the President and was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate on January 2, 2019. He was sworn into office on January 30, 2019.
Previously, Commissioner Starks served as Assistant Bureau Chief in the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, Senior Counsel in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he received the Attorney General Award for Exceptional Service—the highest award a DOJ employee can receive. Prior to his entry into federal public service, Commissioner Starks was an attorney at the law firm Williams & Connolly, clerked for the Honorable Judge Duane Benton on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, served as a legislative staffer in the Illinois State Senate, and worked as a financial analyst.
Commissioner Starks is a native of Kansas and was born in Kansas City, Missouri. Commissioner Starks earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard College with high honors and a law degree from Yale Law School. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Lauren, and their two children.
Starks, G. (2020). To Fight Coronavirus, Millions More Americans Need Internet Access. The New York Times available at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/19/opinion/internet-broadband-coronavirus.html.
Zoom, which has been the darling of remote workers in recent weeks, is under fire for privacy violations. A Zoom user in California sued the company, claiming it improperly shared their data with Facebook. Also, So-called Zoom-bombers have been interrupting meetings breaching Zoom’s security systems. In one incident, black students at the University of Texas at Austin were conducting a meeting on the platform, only to be interrupted by someone making racial slurs. The FBI has reported “Zoombombing” incidents nationwide and New York Attorney General Letitia James wrote to Zoom leadership requesting a faster response to these and other security breaches.
School systems across the country have launched remote learning platforms for their students in response to coronavirus-related school closures. But remote learning poses unique challenges for those without internet access at home. And the $2 trillion stimulus empowered Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to cut funding and support for accommodations for special education students.
The New York Court of Appeals, the State of New York’s highest court, has ruled that Postmates delivery workers are entitled to receive unemployment insurance benefits. The decision has implications for gig workers throughout New York, including Uber and Lyft drivers. New York State Attorney General Letitia James applauded the decision.
Multiple reports found last week that federal officials are prying into cellphone tracking data to assess how the coronavirus is spreading. Advocates argue that data collection is necessary, but guardrails should be established to ensure that federal officials don’t use the data as a backdoor to conduct warrantless surveillance, which they have been angling to do for some time.
Tech companies are scrambling to respond to ever-evolving risks to the electoral system. The New York Times reports that a number of tactics that Facebook, Twitter, and Google began implementing to defend against misinformation online, are being tested by politicians themselves, with Michael Bloomberg’s campaign investing directly in Instagram meme accounts promoting his campaign, for example. The companies spent billions to deal with threats happening in plain sight, the most well-known examples being those conducted by Russia with the assistance of Cambridge Analytica and prominent Republicans. But the stealthier approaches taken by bad actors 4 years later underscores the need to invest even more resources to address the newest attacks.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved a $300 million telehealth initiative designed to ensure that folks in remote areas can access telehealth applications while they’re stuck at home. But the funding is directed toward providers themselves. And most grants will be for less than $1 million. Part of the money will also be used to address remote access issues that have plagued the country for decades.
The US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled last week that journalists and others are free to investigate platforms for signs of algorithmic bias, even if it means submitting false information to the site that would violate the site’s terms of service. The American Civil Liberties Union brought the pre-enforcement lawsuit on behalf of two Northeastern University computer science professors, to prevent the Department of Justice from attempting to use the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to prevent investigators from using evasive tactics to assess the extent to which a platform engages in algorithmic bias. The Department of Justice argued that such violations would violate a platform’s First Amendment Rights. But the decision turned on whether the site had set up adequate permissions such that an investigator, scholar, or journalist could be found to have exceeded the granted permission level. The Court found that breaching terms of service agreements doesn’t rise to the high level of permission granted by, say, an authentication gate, which adds another level of permission by requiring a password.