Michael Petricone's Techdirt Profile

Michael Petricone

About Michael Petricone

Posted on Techdirt - 7 March 2022 @ 12:00pm

Congress Is Weakening America’s Cybersecurity. It Couldn’t Have Picked A Worse Time.  

Last week the world watched in horror as Russia illegally launched a brutal war in Ukraine. Online videos and eyewitness accounts evoked a terrible throwback to WWII, with tanks rolling over borders, frightened refugees, and bomb blasts in a major European capital.

While the visuals look hauntingly familiar, this war is very different: it is the first major global conflict to be fought not only on the ground, but also online as Russia aggressively extends its campaign to the online sphere. Indeed, dominating the cyber realm is a critical part of Russia’s military strategy.

Even prior to the physical invasion, Russian cyber warriors initiated massive attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure. Government ministries, military institutions, and bank websites were knocked offline using sophisticated malware. The aim was to deny Ukrainians access to news, communications services, banking, and the power and conveniences of the Internet. Meanwhile, on social media sites, Russian trolls unleashed a blizzard of online disinformation in an effort to sow fear and confusion.

U.S. social media sites are responding to the challenge. Facebook parent company Meta has removed disinformation posts and websites, and has banned Russian state media from running ads or monetizing on the Meta platform anywhere in the world. Twitter is stepping up efforts to detect platform manipulation and is actively monitoring the accounts of government officials, journalists, and other high-profile individuals to prevent hacks and takeovers. Meanwhile, user traffic within Ukraine has shown a spike in the use of Telegram, Signal, and other encrypted messaging services.

Russia’s cyberwar will likely not end at Ukraine’s borders. Cybersecurity experts warn the United States and other western democracies that they will likely be the next targets as Russian hackers zero in on data centers, critical infrastructure, and sensitive data. Many U.S. companies are at risk: the Financial Times reports that more than 100 Fortune 500 companies use Ukrainian IT services.

Russia certainly has the means and expertise to expand the cyber battlefield. According to the Microsoft Digital Defense Report, 58% of all cyberattacks observed in 2021 came from Russia. Even more chilling: nearly a quarter of nation-state cyberattacks targeted not governments or businesses, but individual consumers.  

 In this treacherous environment, you would think that Congress would rush to reinforce the security of American networks and personal devices. In fact, the opposite is true. In their haste to punish “big tech,” U.S. policymakers are advancing legislation that makes Americans less secure and creates an online playground for foreign adversaries and other bad actors.

The most egregious example is the Earn IT Act, a bill that creates a false choice between protecting the physical safety of children and protecting the online safety of Americans.  Not only will this overly broad bill chill lawful speech, but it will also undercut internet safety by making platforms criminally liable for providing encryption. Online wrongdoers of all types were presumably thrilled when this bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, despite pointed objections from many Senators. 

The EARN IT Act is not the only example. Another Senate bill, the Open App Market Act, forces app stores to enable the downloading of unverified software from third-party providers. More, the bill prohibits the required use of in-app payment systems owned by the app store provider, placing app store users at the mercy of bad actors using unvetted payment systems. Taken together, these provisions allow foreign actors or cyber thieves to sidestep the sophisticated and effective measures currently used by app stores to screen for malicious and dangerous software.

Finally, so-called “competition” bills in the House and Senate include provisions intended to prevent large tech platforms from self-preferencing a company’s own services against those of competitors. Unfortunately, these bills would also prevent companies from blocking or taking down offensive or unwanted content. These bills open the door to content from Russian and other foreign propagandists, as well as stalkers, cyberthieves, and other bad actors.

Policymaker pique at a handful of tech companies does not justify undermining the online security of millions of Americans. At the very least, Congress should put an immediate stop to all bills that prevent platforms from moderating foreign propaganda or protecting the security of consumer devices. Instead, Congress should work with the tech industry on legislation to strengthen Americans’ privacy and online safety and provide our companies with the tools to navigate an increasingly challenging online world.

Michael Petricone is the Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Consumer Technology Association (CTA)

Posted on Techdirt - 21 January 2022 @ 01:31pm

The SOPA Fight Reminds Us Of The Internet's Power And Usefulness

Ten years ago this week, I watched my computer screen as much of the Internet slowly switched off. Over a hundred thousand websites, including that of our predecessor organization CEA, were going dark in a last-ditch protest of a House bill called the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and its Senate counterpart, the “Protect IP Act” (PIPA).

These bills were backed by large content companies concerned that the Internet would disrupt their longstanding business models. While we sympathized with their concerns about unauthorized downloading, we could not agree with their proposed solution: allowing content owners to easily “take down” entire websites, without due process or notification, if they claimed that the site hosted unauthorized content.

If these bills had passed, the consequences for the Internet would have been devastating. Any website featuring third-party content, including libraries and community bulletin boards, would have been vulnerable to sudden and permanent removal after a single complaint. Sites would vanish and have little recourse. Bad actors would run rampant, using the SOPA-PIPA process to harass competitors and censor opposing viewpoints.

Opposition to SOPA-PIPA had been slowly growing. A strange-bedfellows coalition ranging from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to the Heritage Foundation was opposing the bills. Artists like Amanda Palmer and OKGO denounced the bills’ impacts on creativity. A group of startup founders including Alexis Ohanian, Micah Shaffer, and Christian Dawson walked the Capitol meeting with legislators, many of whom had never previously been face-to-face with an internet entrepreneur. And at the 2012 CES, Republican Rep. Darrell Issa and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden stood together and declared they would do anything in their power to stop the bills.

But this opposition, vigorous as it was, shrank in comparison to the bills’ support. SOPA and PIPA were backed by dozens of DC’s biggest players, including the Motion Picture Association, the Recording Industry Association, and the powerful US Chamber of Commerce. SOPA had dozens of Congressional sponsors, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith.

In the Senate, PIPA sailed unanimously through the Judiciary Committee and Majority Leader Reid announced that he planned to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. By normal DC rules, the game was over and the bills were sure to pass.

But the Internet blackout drew public attention, and the tide quickly turned as Americans began calling and emailing their members of Congress. In total, more than 14 million Americans contacted their lawmakers to protest the legislation. I remember sitting in a legislator’s office the morning after the blackout and watching in sincere astonishment as the phone rang off the hook.

The impact was swift, as legislators rushed to take their names off the bills. For the first time, policymakers realized that the Internet wasn’t some fringe domain for computer geeks, it was a central and treasured element of their constituents’ daily lives. Within a week, SOPA and PIPA had been pulled from consideration in the House and Senate.

The death of SOPA/PIPA unleashed a Cambrian Explosion of online innovation. Companies like Instagram, Tinder Slack, Patreon, and thousands of others changed the way we work, play, and live. Anyone who attended CES 2022 could not help but see the extraordinary dynamism and competition that currently exists in the technology industry.

The content industry also thrived once they stopped treating the internet as an enemy and began treating it as an asset. While content companies once declared that ”you can’t compete with free,” in the wake of SOPA-PIPA they pivoted to offering well-designed, consumer-friendly services at reasonable prices. 

According to the RIAA, U.S. recorded music revenues grew 9.2% in 2020, with 83% of the revenue coming from Internet streaming. The movie industry has seen similar gains, with global streaming video revenue projected to hit $94 billion by 2025. Meanwhile, independent creators used new internet platforms to present their work directly to fans without having to go through gatekeepers or intermediaries.

Most importantly, the post-SOPA-PIPA Internet has proven to be the most impactful communications platform in human history. On May 25, 2020, 17-year-old Darnell Frazier used her smartphone to document the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Posted to Facebook, this video kicked off an ongoing national conversation on race and injustice.

Similarly, in 2017 women took to the Internet to respond to sexual assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and describe their own experiences under the hashtag #MeToo. Widespread media coverage changed the way our society responds to sexual harassment. For the first time, regular people have been empowered to speak to millions on important issues, and they are using the power to change society for the better.

Over the last decade, we have learned many lessons. We have learned that the Internet, while it provides tremendous benefits, is not perfect. That is why we need clear federal guidelines in areas like online privacy and digital currencies that protect consumers and promote innovation.

We have learned that Americans continue to care passionately about the Internet. Over the last two years during COVID, millions have gone online to work, educate their children, access health care, keep in touch with loved ones, and arrange delivery of critical goods. No wonder online companies rank highly in surveys of America’s most-loved brands.

However, the SOPA-PIPA fight is not over. In “Groundhog Day” fashion, threats to the free and open Internet are reemerging. Policymakers are threatening to increase government control over Internet speech, and impose other limitations that would harm online companies and small businesses.

Many of those pushing today’s “anti-tech” narrative are the same disgruntled competitors and legacy industries that engineered SOPA-PIPA. In fact, some broadcasters and content companies are even opposing an eminently qualified FCC nominee, Gigi Sohn, because of her correct and pro-consumer opposition to SOPA-PIPA a decade ago

Congress is now considering legislation that would eliminate products like Google Docs and Amazon Prime. These services are woven into the lives of millions who rely on them to surmount the difficulties of COVID. If Congress breaks these services, the reaction from voters could make the SOPA-PIPA earthquake look like a mild tremor. Similarly, you could predict a SOPA-PIPA-type backlash if the government places unreasonable restrictions on the 46 million Americans who own digital assets.

A few weeks after SOPA-PIPA died, I was ordering coffee when the barista pointed at the “STOP SOPA” sticker on my laptop. “I emailed my member of Congress about that, and it worked…It was the first time I felt I could actually change things in Washington,” he said.

Thankfully, ten years after SOPA-PIPA, the Internet’s ability to empower American expression and innovation is only just beginning.

Michael Petricone is the Senior VP, Government Affairs, at the Consumer Technology Association.

This Techdirt Greenhouse special edition is all about the 10 year anniversary of the fight that stopped SOPA. On January 26th at 1pm PT, we’ll be hosting a live discussion with Rep. Zoe Lofgren and some open roundtable discussions about the legacy of that fight. Please register to attend.

Posted on Techdirt - 17 January 2014 @ 10:11am

Happy Birthday Betamax, Old Friend; Here's To The Thirty Years Of Innovation You Enabled

30 years ago today, the Supreme Court ruled that creators of the Sony Betamax VCR and other new technologies could not be held liable for acts of copyright infringement as long as the device is capable of substantial legitimate uses. This ruling has become the Magna Carta of the technology industry and an ironic gift to the content interests who fought it tooth and nail.

By ruling that people have a right to record over-the-air broadcasting for private use, the Betamax court clarified the rights of copyright holders, innovators and users. In doing so, it enabled a surge of new products, from the DVD to portable music players to online services. It is not hyperbole to say that ruling gave innovators wings, allowing them to bring new technologies to market without asking the content industry for permission first.

Big content fought hard against the Sony Betamax, making wild claims in Washington about how this new product would lead to the destruction of the American film industry. Of course, the opposite happened. While big content obsessed about the “record” button, users focused on the “play” button. The result? A multi-billion dollar industry in pre-recorded media, which now accounts for the majority of Hollywood’s profits. This entire revenue stream would not exist but for Justice Stevens, who disregarded content industry pleas and cast the deciding vote in a razor-thin 5-4 decision.

Now Betamax is back in the news, as the broadcasters decry yet another innovation that they claim will destroy their industry. This time the culprit is Aereo, a service that uses individual antennas to send local, free, over-the-air broadcast programming to users’ mobile devices. It’s a boon to the public, especially to viewers in dense urban areas with broadcast reception challenges.

While the broadcasters acknowledge your right to put up an antenna and run a wire to your TV set, they claim that doing the exact same thing remotely (i.e. simply though a longer wire) is somehow illegal. Their contention has serious implications, especially to the nascent and burgeoning cloud computing and storage industries. Indeed, the Aereo case can be viewed as a backdoor attack on the Cablevision case, in which a federal court affirmed the legality of a remotely controlled digital video recorder (DVR). This decision has unleashed waves of investment and the provision of extraordinary new services to internet users.

The broadcasters fighting Aereo are the very same ones who have been granted billions of dollars in public spectrum at zero cost. As a condition of this massive government subsidy, they are obligated to provide the public with widely available, free programming – exactly what Aereo enables. Rather than embracing technologies that promote access, some networks even claim they will halt over-the-air broadcasting if Aereo is found to be legal. Broadcasters must make their own decisions – but if they believe that broadcasting is no longer a viable business, they should promptly return their spectrum to the public to be used for wireless internet and other productive uses.

Over the last three decades, the technology landscape has changed dramatically. But some things remain the same: legacy industries complain that new services or products disrupt business models, and run to the courts or Congress for relief. But this creative destruction is the story of human progress. Innovation disrupts, new business models arise, unsustainable models die and society reaps the benefits.

I hope that broadcasters eventually recognize the clear lesson of Betamax: embracing new technologies and providing their viewers with extraordinary cutting-edge services will benefit all our industries. I’m glad the Supreme Court has taken this case, and I hope that it will rule for Aereo, innovation and users.

Michael Petricone is Senior Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs for the Consumer Electronics Association

More posts from Michael Petricone >>