Policy Highlights from Communications of the ACM – December 2009 (Vol. 52, No. 12)

Below is a list of items with policy relevance from the December issue of Communications of the ACM. As always, much of the material in CACM is premium content, and free content one month may slip behind a pay wall the next. You need to be a member of ACM or a subscriber to CACM to access premium content online.

CSTA Letter

It is a Pivotal Time for K-12 Computer Science by Chris Stephenson

Computer Science Teachers Association Executive Director Stephenson outlines the reasons why changes in undergraduate computer science enrollments do not mean it is time for the computing community to stop its work in improving the state of K-12 computer science education.

CACM Online

Crowdsourcing and the Question of Expertise by David Roman

Roman notes that crowdsourcing, which is cropping up in some of the Obama Administration’s efforts to develop policy, lacks a level of discernment between crowd wisdom and mob rule.
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Technical Guidelines Development Committee Meets After Two Year Hiatus

The Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC), responsible to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) for the drafting guidance for voting system standards, met last week for the first time since 2007. Since the last meeting of the TGDC, there have been several changes in membership, including the chair (now new National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Director Patrick Gallagher).

This first meeting under new leadership was set up as a feeling out process, where questions of focus, direction, and appropriate organization were at least as important as technical issues in the pending revision of the 2005 Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) (the final version is expected early next year) and the future version 2.0 of the VVSG. The committee was asked by the EAC to research the following topics in its upcoming work:
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Administration Finally Releases Open Government Initiative

After a few months of waiting, the Obama Administration released its Open Government Initiative last week. The initiative was just the start of what appears to be several steps from this administration to increase the amount of government data made available to the public, and continues a trend started with usaspending.gov, data.gov, regulations.gov, and other websites to make it easier for people to read and reuse that data. You can follow the development of these initiatives and others on the White House’s Open Government Blog. USACM weighed in on how to best post information online for easy reading and reuse in our Open Government Statement

The Initiative, available online, requires several things from the Chief Technology Officer, the Chief Information Officer, and government agencies over the next 4 months, including:
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House Passes Legislation on Consumer Data Security

On December 9 the House passed two bills that could affect how consumers use peer-to-peer software and how their personal information is used. We wrote about these bills when they passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee back in September.

This marks the first time the Data Accountability and Trust Act, H.R. 2221, has managed to make it to the House floor. Also called the DATA Act, the bill requires the Federal Trade Commission to set regulations over data security policy for entities that keep personal information and sell that information. The changes made to the bill between markup and House passage are minor, and mainly provide additional detail or clarification.

The Informed Peer-to-Peer User Act, H.R. 1319, would change how consumers interact with certain peer-to-peer software, making it more obvious when the program is operating and what files can be accessed by this program. Changes to this bill between markup and House passage were also minor.

The bills move to the Senate for committee review, and it will probably be a few months before the full Senate considers them, if it decides to do so.

Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Almost Done; Science Agencies See Modest Gains

Peter Harsha at the Computing Research Association has the specifics at the CRA Government Affairs Blog. In the current conference agreement most of the science agencies are receiving increases over the previous fiscal year (not counting money from the economic stimulus package). Both the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will receive increases under this agreement that should keep them on track for doubling their research budgets. There is concern that this will not be the case with the President’s request for fiscal year 2011, though that request has yet to be released.

ACM Washington Update, Vol. 13.9 (December 7, 2009)


[1] Newsletter Highlights
[2] Computer Science Education Week Launches
[3] Cybersecurity Receives Congressional Attention
[4] Data Security Bills Approved by Senate
[5] Google Revises Google Books’ Settlement Agreement
[6] PASS ID Legislation Moving Forward
[7] Call for Papers: ACM Computers, Freedom and Privacy (CFP) Conference
[8] About USACM

[An archive of all previous editions of Washington Update is available at
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Hill Tech Happenings, Week of December 7

December 9

The Technical Guidelines Development Committee of the Elections Assistance Commission will meet. (continues December 10)
8:30 a.m., 100 Bureau Drive, Building 101, Gaithersburg, Maryland. (Also viewable online, see http://vote.nist.gov)

December 10

The Technical Guidelines Development Committee meeting continues
8:30 a.m., 100 Bureau Drive, Building 101, Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The Government Performance Task Force of the Senate Budget Committee will hold a hearing on the use of technology in gathering data for performance analysis.
10 a.m., 608 Dirksen Building

Google Books Narrows Its Scope in Proposed Amended Settlement

The Google Books project, where the company scans books, indexes them, and makes either snippets, selections, or the whole work available online, has a long legal history. The nature of the project raises concerns over copyright, not only the legality of making snippets available for search on the web. It presents a way for public domain material to be accessible to a wide audience (and possibly restricted to a single access point that could be put behind a paywall at some point in the future). It also raises issues about so-called orphan works, where the work is still under copyright, but it’s difficult, if not impossible to find the proper rights holder(s).

A class action suit was initiated against the project in 2005, and a preliminary settlement agreement was proposed a little over one year ago. That agreement prompted a series of objections from groups in the United States and abroad. The Department of Justice also weighed in with its concerns, which included copyright and anti-trust concerns. As a result, earlier this fall Google developed a revised settlement agreement, which received preliminary approval from a judge in late November.
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