Computing Research Policy Blog

Encouraging Words from Sen. Domenici (R-NM)

Thanks to Richard Jones of the American Institute of Physics for sending around remarks Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), former chair of the Senate Budget Committee (now chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee), made on the Senate floor in support of increased funding for basic research.
“The time has come to spend money on basic research, just as we have on medical research,” Domenici said.
Read the complete remarks by following the link below.

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Some TIA-related work goes on, but not privacy work?

The Boston Globe has a piece on the apparent disposition of some TIA-related (DARPA .pdf) work in the wake of Congress’ move last year to eliminate DARPA funding for the controversial program. The program, an attempt to “design a prototype network that integrates innovative information technologies for detecting and preempting foreign terrorist activities against Americans,” came under fire from a number of groups, including CRA, who saw the eventual deployment of such a system as a serious threat to American civil liberties and security. (However, CRA also argued, in a letter to the House and Senate negotiators, that while a prohibition on deploying the technology might be appropriate, prohibiting research into these areas would not be in the national interest.)
Though Congress cut funding at DARPA for TIA-related research at DARPA and eliminated the office at the agency that housed the project, language in the FY 2004 Defense Appropriations bill did allow related research to continue at unspecified intelligence agencies. The article notes that this work is apparently going forward, though parallel work DARPA had undertaken to insure there were privacy protections in any TIA-related system is apparently not.
It’s difficult to know with any certainty whether privacy-related research is actually being funded by any of the intelligence agencies (though it’s clear from the article that work that had been funded by DARPA in the area has not been continued). This lack of transparency is an unfortunate consequence of the research moratorium imposed by Congress, and one of the reasons CRA opposed it….

Business Week Special Section on “America’s Tech Might: Slipping?”

Business Week is running a special report on US R&D policy and how America may be slipping down the curve compared with other countries. Some choice quotes:

For anyone concerned about strengthening America’s long-term leadership in science and technology, the nation’s schools are an obvious place to start. But brace yourself for what you’ll find. The depressing reality is that when it comes to educating the next generation in these subjects, America is no longer a world contender. In fact, U.S. students have fallen far behind their competitors in much of Western Europe and in advanced Asian nations like Japan and South Korea.
This trend has disturbing implications not just for the future of American technological leadership but for the broader economy. Already, “we have developed a shortage of highly skilled workers and a surplus of lesser-skilled workers,” warned Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan in a March 12 address at Boston College. And the problem is worsening. “[We’re] graduating too few skilled workers to address the apparent imbalance between the supply of such workers and the burgeoning demand for them,” Greenspan added.
As a result, “the future strength of the U.S. science and engineering workforce is imperiled,” the National Science Board warned in a sweeping report issued last year.
– from “America’s Failure in Science Education
William Harris spent most of his career in the U.S. teaching chemistry or working at the National Science Foundation, where he was responsible for doling out $750 million a year in federal grants. But three years ago, Harris, now 59, moved to Ireland, the land of his forebears, to help turn it into a technology power.
He became director general of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), which since its founding in 2000 has attracted dozens of internationally renowned scholars from the U.S., Britain, Germany, and Russia. The newcomers get labs, promises of fast response to requests for assistance, and, most important, money for research into cutting-edge areas such as nanotechnology. SFI has $1 billion to play with — an enormous resource for a country of just 4 million people.
FERTILE CULTURES.  The intent is to emulate America’s success as a worldwide technology leader — a transformation that not just Ireland but China, South Korea, India, and Israel, among others, intend to replicate. As these countries make their run for glory, they could eat into America’s dominance, experts say. “The U.S. has more aggressive competition than it has had in the past decade or so,” notes Erich Bloch, a principal at Washington Advisory Group, management consultancy in Washington, D.C.
Already, the European Union has outstripped the U.S. in the number of scientific papers it publishes in major journals every year. That’s a key barometer of a region’s reputation in the scientific world, says R.D. Shelton, president of technology assessment for the nonprofit World Technology Evaluation Center in Baltimore. And the international pressure will only grow as other governments support their domestic companies with ambitions in telecommunications, semiconductors, and nanotechnology, among other initiatives.
– from Challengers to America’s Science Crown

Though the articles note (and the interview with White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Marburger also mentions) that information technology R&D has been a focus of US federal R&D efforts, it’s also worth pointing out that the Bush Administration request for IT R&D in FY 2005 is for a reduction of 1 percent in spending vs. FY 2004. And that level is still $685 million below the funding level recommended by the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee way back in 1999.
Here’s more detail from CRA’s Computing Research News Online.

Latest CRA-Bulletin is Out!

The latest issue of the CRA-Bulletin has been e-mailed to subscribers. You can find a web version here.
CRA-Bulletin is a free, occasional electronic bulletin to inform you about events we think are of interest to the computing community. You can find instructions on how to subscribe at the bottom of this page.

CA Attorney Gen. Circulates Anti-P2P Letter Authored by MPAA?

Wired has an eye-opening article on a draft letter circulated by the California Attorney General’s office to other state attorneys general that suggests peer-to-peer software producers are making a “dangerous product” and that the failure of technology makers to warn consumers could constitute a deceptive trade practice. More intriguing is that Wired obtained a copy of the draft document (a Word file) and reports that the document’s metadata suggests it was either authored by or reviewed by the Motion Picture Association of America.
The letter represents a continuation of the attack on P2P technologies themselves — rather than a focus on the illegal activities — begun by groups like MPAA and RIAA. From the letter (which is intended for P2P software producers):

It is widely recognized that P2P file-sharing software currently is used almost exclusively to disseminate pornography, and to illegally trade copyrighted music, movies, software and video games. File-sharing software also is increasingly becoming a means to disseminate computer worms and viruses. Nevertheless, your company still does little to warn consumers about the legal and personal risks they face when they use your software to “share” copyrighted music, movies and computer software. A failure to prominently and adequately warn consumers, particularly when you advertise and sell paid versions of your software, could constitute, at the very least, a deceptive trade practice.

Fred Lohman, of The Electronic Frontier Foundation, is quoted a bit later in the article in reaction:

It’s one thing for the MPAA to come up with a theory like that, but it would be quite another for a state attorney general to adopt it. The principle has no limit — you can use Internet Explorer to violate the law or unintentionally access pornography, so does he want to suggest that Microsoft is also breaking the law? Why stop at the Internet — should Ford be held liable for failing to warn drivers that exceeding the speed limit will expose them to citations?”

Here are the other behaviors the letter writers believe characterize P2P programs:

Whether it is the widespread availability of pornography, including child pornography, the disclosure of sensitive personal information to millions of people, the exposure to pernicious computer worms and viruses or the threat of legal liability for copyright infringement, P2P file-sharing software has proven costly and dangerous for many consumers.

Not a very optimistic view of the technology….
Anyway, it’s not surprising that MPAA may have been involved in drafting the document, but that doesn’t make it any less unseemly. If nothing else it shows they still have a bit to learn about digital content.

FBI, Justice Seek Easier Internet Wiretaps

Just a quick link to a worrisome Washington Post story about a Justice Department petition to the FCC urgently requesting the agency intervene to require internet service providers to allow easier access to their networks for wiretapping purposes. The news article suggests that Justice is asking for technological changes to the network in order to make this possible, but I have not yet read the 75-page Justice Department petition (link forthcoming, hopefully).

DARPA takes aim at IT sacred cows

Government Computing News has an interesting, short article on DARPA’s focus on new computer architectures and networking protocols, discussed this week at the DARPATech conference in Anaheim.

Flaws in the basic building blocks of networking and computer science are hampering reliability, limiting flexibility and creating security vulnerabilities, program managers said this week at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s DARPATech conference.
Among the IT holy grails that DARPA wants to see revamped are the Internet Protocol, the seven-layer Open Systems Interconnection model—which defines how devices communicate on today’s networks—and the von Neumann architecture, the basic design style underpinning almost all computers built today.
Many military commanders have been slow to adapt IT for critical tasks because they sense the equipment is unreliable, said Col. Tim Gibson. He is a program manager for DARPA’s Advanced Technology Office, which is leading efforts to radically redefine computer architecture.
“You go to Wal-Mart and buy a telephone for less than $10 and you expect it to work,” Gibson said. Yet people usually do not expect the same of their computers. “We don’t expect computers to work, we expect them to have a problem.”
“If a commander expects a system to have a problem, then how could they rely upon it?” Gibson said.

There’s an aspect of this that could be worrisome. DARPA Director Tony Tether told CRA’s Computing Leadership Summit last month that the Department of Defense increasingly sees the Internet and computer networks in general as critical to its network-centric strategy of warfare. As a result, they are, with increasing frequency, moving their information security and assurance research into the “black” or classified world. They believe that any information about DOD’s capability — offensive or defensive — in network warfare is a threat to national security. It will be interesting to see how their focus on new paradigms for the “building blocks” of computing will exist in this new, more classified environment.

Science Committee Views on the Budget

The House Science Committee released its annual Views and Estimates, its analysis of the President’s budget request for the agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction. The Committee provides this analysis to the House Budget Committee, which is in the process of putting together the House Budget Resolution for FY 2005.
The document confirms that the Science Committee’s top objective for the coming year will be evaluating the President’s space exploration initiative. But also cited for attention interagency efforts for networking and information technology R&D and cyber security R&D. Here’s what the Committee had to say about the President’s request in those areas:

The Administration proposes a 1 percent decrease from the FY04 estimated level for the interagency program on Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD). This program includes important work on high-end computing and high-confidence software and systems, and the Committee believes that funding for work in this area should be raised, not lowered.
While cybersecurity R&D is not a formal Presidential initiative, significant effort is being put into programs in this area at a number of agencies. While the budget requests $76 million for cybersecurity R&D and education and training programs at NSF (up 19 percent) and $18.5 million for cybersecurity R&D at NIST (up 48 percent), this funding is still well below the levels authorized in the Cyber Security Research and Development Act (P.L. 107-305). In addition, within the DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, the FY05 budget requests only $18 million for cybersecurity R&D, the same level as in FY04. The Committee believes that increased funding for, and increased coordination of cybersecurity R&D programs are needed.

About half of the committee members endorsed this V&E, including the Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert and new Committee Ranking Member Bart Gordon. Here’s the complete list.

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