2019 Texas Legislature

 

With the start of the 86th Texas Legislature, there are many tech and civil-liberties related bills. Below are summaries of some of those bills, with more to follow in the future. An informed citizenry is a powerful citizenry, so equip yourselves and those around you with this knowledge so that we may guide, shape and affect our government. 

HB 352

Cell Site Simulator Devices can be used by law enforcement to involuntarily snatch and store personal information stored on mobile devices. HB 352 would require law enforcement agents, termed “Peace Officers” in the bill text, to obtain a warrant to use these devices and the possible evidence they collect.

A judge would issue a warrant to an applying officer, only if “circumstances and facts” support probable cause to believe that the information collected will produce evidence in a criminal investigation of the suspected criminal activity.

Included in the warrant is:

  • Information on the applying officer
  • An identification of the device being monitored
  • Basic information on the owner of the device
  • The district in which the officer expects the device to be located
  • “Circumstances and facts” that justify the officer’s request for the warrant.

 

In the case of an immediate life threatening situation, officers can act without a warrant and apply for one as soon as possible. If for some reason the judge denies the request, any evidence collected would become void. Officers could also obtain information without a warrant, if the device is reported as stolen by the owner/possessor or with the consent of the owner.

The owner of the mobile device(from which information is collected) would be notified about the collection of their information no longer than a week after the expiration of the warrant, or any additional periods.

Any information collected that may be irrelevant to the cause of application for the warrant would be withheld or redacted. The defendant would also be informed on this matter.. Each entity that obtains and uses Cell Site Simulator Devices would be required to create a written policy for deleting irrelevant information that may have been collected.

The bill also limits ownership and use of Cell Site Simulator Devices to only Law Enforcement.

Author: Cesar Blanco

More Reading on Cell Site Simulator Devices

EFF – Cell-Site Simulators/IMSI Catchers

ACLU – STINGRAY TRACKING DEVICES: WHO’S GOT THEM?

Department of Justice Policy Guidance: Use of Cell-Site Simulator Technology

HB 181

This bill focuses on establishing a pilot program for a digital identification app. The app would contain driver’s license information and personal identification certificates. The only participants in and evaporators of the pilot program would be focus groups and possibly law enforcement agents for the law enforcement version of the app.

To ensure that the program can be executed, the department will assess and upgrade any necessary infrastructure. The upgrades would ensure that the developed mobile application would include an authentication/verification process for wireless devices, is able to be used regardless of a location’s level of wireless connectivity and include the identification information described above.

The department can contract with a third party to establish the program, as long as there is no cost for the department.  

During the time of testing, no digital identification issued under this bill can be used or accepted as valid proof of identification. At the end of the program, the department will create a report with the results of the program, including any recommendations. The report will be submitted to the Public Safety Commission and the legislature by the 180th day after the completion of the program.

Author: Terry Canales

More Reading on Digital Identifiers

Wired – Digital IDs Are More Dangerous Than You Think

The Guardian – Do We Trust Digital Identification

KXAN – Austin Sees Future Of Homeless Digital IDs After Loosing Grant Contest

HB 108

HB 108 would establish a pilot program for a digital portfolio system used to assess student performance. The digital portfolio would be developed by a contracted developer and contain data drawn from a student’s academic career.

To be eligible for the contract,the developing entity must specialize in the development of digital portfolios, and have experience implementing them for student assessment. They would need to be able to create a tool to upload multiple types of student work samples to a digital format.

The portfolio would also need to be secure, yet accessible to students, teachers, administrators. (i.e. any individuals responsible for grading the student’s portfolio). It would also need to be able to deliver the scores recorded by the student to school districts. The bill stipulates that grading parties be prohibited to seeing the student ID information  that is recording their own data. The entity would also be required to develop a rubric for evaluation and other functionalities of the tool.

Participating school districts would have to provide student performance data to the Texas Department of Education for periodic review.

Author: Mary Gonzalez

 

Labor And Responsibility

Are employees responsible for the effects of their labor? 1,400 Google employees believe so, and have gone so far as to demand greater control over the company’s impact on the world.

“Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment,” they said in an open letter to their employer after recent revelations regarding project DragonFly. In the letter, they detailed oversight that would include an ethical review system, the appointment of an ombudspeople, a transparency plan and a publication of “ethical test cases”.

Similar in their response to Project Maven, clearly many Googlers don’t want to become direct tools of government or military power. But can workers reasonably expect to be able to determine the fate and impact of their production? The answer may depend on the nature of the industry.

In his techno-political article, Do Artifacts Have Politics, political theorist Langdon Winner discusses the politics inherent to technologies. “The things we call “technologies” are ways of building order in our world,” Winner says. “Many technical devices and systems important in everyday life contain possibilities for many different ways of ordering human activity.”

DragonFly is a direct concession to the practice of censorship. Its implementation into public use would perpetuate and directly enforce a blinding of the public eye to any information that Chinese authorities wouldn’t want their citizens to be aware of. If Google is willing to concede to such practices for China, then one could imagine them doing so for any other country.

Winner further discusses how practicality and efficiency of operation overshadows moral obligations. However, he also highlights the importance of a strong ‘public management’, when dealing with technologies and systems that could have a significant impact on quality of life. Any control over the flow of information will always have a significant impact on the quality of life. If any of the said employees are citizens of countries that oppose the Chinese government’s intensity of censorship, and refuse to risk such practices invading their own country, then by Winner’s logic, they would have every right to invoke and enforce a public management of Google’s products and practices. Including their own labor.

While employees in the tech field are speaking against the questionable practices of their leaders and CEOs, Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced the Accountable Capitalism Act to the Senate on Wednesday, August 15th, 2018. Aside from requiring business entities in the United States to holistically act on behalf of the best interest of people affected by business practices, the bill also requires that 40% of directors for business entities be elected by employees.

For as long as information is available to a citizenry, it is up to them to determine what’s permissible in their country. If access to that information is somehow threatened, then their ability to take responsibility for themselves and their country is revoked as well.

 

More Digital Inclusion For Diverse Communities?

The “Access Broadband Act” aims to expand broadband internet accessibility by establishing the “Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth”.

The office would  “connect with communities that need access to high-speed internet and improved digital inclusion efforts through various forms of outreach,” as well as share training, strategies and other guidance to propagate the adaptation of and access to broadband internet. It would function as part of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, whose duties include “advising the President on telecommunications and information policy issues,” “administering grant programs that further the deployment and use of broadband and other technologies in America,” and “developing policy on issues related to the Internet economy, including online privacy, copyright protection, cybersecurity, and the global free flow of information online.”

Another function of the office would be to more easily streamline the financial assistance application process for entities and organizations proposing projects that would promote and make broadband internet more accessible to a variety of communities. This would be accomplished by establishing a universal application for all entities to use. The Bill also states that a website would be established for applicants to “learn about and apply for support through any Federal broadband support program.”

Fully titled the “Advancing Critical Connectivity Expands Service, Small Business Resources, Opportunities, Access, and Data Based on Assessed Need and Demand Act,” one could question if it would cater more to businesses or work toward providing equal access among all demographics to the internet.

The NITA provides millions of dollars in grants to a wide variety of projects across the country, ranging from state and data development to infrastructure and sustainable adaptation. Many projects allegedly benefiting Texas communities have received funding from the NITA designed to make internet accessible to otherwise shorthanded communities.

The Mission Economic Development Agency was awarded $3,724,128 for the Latino Microprise Tech Net, which opened several computer centers around the country, two of which were located in Texas. According to the NITA website, the centers offered resources for developing and teaching digital literacy, financial education, online banking, resume creation, and job searches.

Technology For All, Inc. was awarded $9,588,279 for its Texas Connects Coalition project. The project currently supports 94 computer centers across Texas. These centers assist low-income communities with the opportunity for basic computer training, social networking, and applying for jobs.

Given the NITA’s record of providing financial support to projects that aim to increase digital inclusion among diverse communities, this bill may be a true benefit to the financially disadvantaged.

The Bill has been received by the Senate and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.