ACM Washington Update, Vol. 12.3 (March 5, 2008)

By David Bruggeman
March 7, 2008


[1] Newsletter Highlights
[2] Final Report on Florida 13th Election Contest
[3] ACM to Cosponsor Tribute to Jim Gray
[4] USACM Comments on Newly Proposed E-voting Legislation
[5] FY 09 Proposed Budget Increases for Research and Cyber Security
[6] 08 Tech. Policy Outlook: Filtering Reality
[7] 08 Tech. Policy Outlook: Health Privacy and Health IT
[8] Feds Extend Comment Period on Proposed Voting Standards
[9] About USACM

[An archive of all previous editions of Washington Update is available at]


February proved to be busy month for technology policy developments. With congress back in session we’re starting to get a better feel for the year’s technology outlook. There is more detail on each item below, as well as on our weblog at

* The Committee on House Administration’s Election Task Force unanimously passed a motion to dismiss the contest of the 2006 election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District following a GAO Report that concluded that the voting machines did not contribute to the large under vote.

* The ACM, IEEE-CS and the University of California, Berkley, along with family and colleagues, will host a tribute and a technical symposium honoring Dr. Jim Gray. Dr. Gray is a visionary in the field of computing and has been missing at sea since January 2007.

* Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) introduced new e-voting legislation providing grants to states for the purchase of paper trail systems and audits for their voting systems. USACM stated that the legislation generally followed its policy recommendations for e-voting and called for broader reforms in the future.

* The proposed budget for fiscal year 2009 contains healthy, although uncertain, increases for The National Science Foundation (NSF), The Department of Energy Office of Science (DoE), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

* While large, overarching changes to copyright policy may be a long-shot, Congress could act on higher penalties related to copyright infringement and technology-based filtering of protected content this year.

* The Wired Act and TRUST in Health Information Act have a long road to their goal to strengthen health information technology and privacy this year.

* The EAC extended the comment period on the next iteration of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines, which are the Federal standards for all voting equipment, to early May.


On Friday February 8th, The Committee on House Administration’s Election Task Force unanimously passed a motion to dismiss the contest of the 2006 election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

The issue surrounding the contest of this election hinged upon the comparably high percentage of undervotes (where there are fewer votes for a particular race on the ballot compared to other races on the same ballot) in only one of the counties covered by this district. The State of Florida conducted tests, and the GAO was asked to conduct their own independent review. While several different factors could explain the undervote issue, the GAO concluded that the voting machines did not contribute to the large under vote.

More information is available at the following site:


On May 31, 2008, ACM, IEEE-CS and the University of California, Berkley, along with family and colleagues, will host a tribute and a technical symposium honoring Dr. Jim Gray. Dr. Gray has been missing at sea since January 2007. He is a former Turing Award winner (widely considered the top prize in the computing field) and was considered a visionary in the field of computing, particularly as a database expert.

Details about the tribute are at the following website:


In February USACM sent a letter to Representative Rush Holt commenting on his newest piece of electronic voting legislation. The bill, the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008, provides money to jurisdictions that rely on DRE voting machines to purchase paper trail systems in time for the general election. At the same time, USACM indicated a need for further
electronic voting reform, such as the reforms discussed in Rep. Holt’s other, more comprehensive e-voting legislation, currently stalled in the House.

From the letter:

“The Emergency Assistance for Security Elections Act is entirely consistent with our previous policy statements that voting systems should enable each voter to inspect a physical (e.g., paper) record to verify that his or her vote has been accurately cast and to serve as an independent check on the result produced and stored by the system. With too many jurisdictions using paperless voting systems, H.R. 5036 is an effective way to increase the transparency, accuracy, and reliability of our elections. This measure will help ensure confidence in our election process.

Should Congress enact this legislation, we believe there is still need for broader reforms of the voting system, including greater transparency over software used in voting systems and reforming the testing and certification procedures for e-voting systems. These reforms are contained in your legislation (H.R. 811) and comparable Senate legislation, and we hope that Congress will continue its work on these efforts. In light of the Emergency Assistance for Security Elections Act and with jurisdictions focusing on the 2008 elections, it is reasonable to alter the timelines in H.R. 811 and Senate legislation to reflect the longer-term nature of reforms. We look forward to Congress revisiting electronic voting both before and after the 2008 elections.”

Full text of the letter is available here:


For the past few years we’ve been following funding for three key physical science agencies – The National Science Foundation (NSF), The Department of Energy Office of Science (DoE), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Last week the President released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2009, which contains some healthy increases for these agencies.

For a snapshot table, please visit the following link:

If approved by Congress, these funding levels would restore some of the damage done by flat-funding these key agencies last year. However, these are just targets. The appropriations process is going to be a long grind this year. We wouldn’t be surprised to see it go into 2009 before it is resolved.

Taking a deeper look at NIST’s budget, the good news/bad news story is pretty similar to previous years. The good is that the Administration is proposing a substantial 21 percent increase for research funding at the labs. The bad is that it also proposes only close-out costs for two programs that have favor in Congress – the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP)
program and the Technology Innovation Program (TIP – formerly the Advance Technology Program [ATP]). While we don’t have any particular interest in these two programs, the decision has a practical impact on the lab budget. Congress will balk at zeroing out these two programs and look for funding from the proposed lab increases.

The other looming issue with NIST’s budget is the ever increasing role of earmarks. As a policy, the Administration requests no funding for earmarks, and Congress is almost certain to put substantial ones back in NIST’s construction budget. Last year, the $80 million in earmarks dominated NIST’s budget, as Congress only increased the lab budget by $6 million.

A good chunk of funding within the President’s request would go towards new and existing computing-related programs. First, as part of the Administration’s yet-to-be-released new Comprehensive Cyber Security Initiative, NIST is requesting $5 million for ‘Leap Ahead Technologies’. NIST also proposes $5.8 million for a new optical communications and computing program aimed at developing a new generation of transmission and networking technologies. Finally, NIST would allocate $7 million to continue its work on quantum science, including quantum computing.

The proposed FY09 budget for the labs is welcome news, but the road before it will be long and difficult. Last year the Administration proposed a $66 million increase for the labs. NIST got $6 million, which undermined many planned initiatives. Let’s hope for a better outcome this year.


This year action on large or overarching changes to copyright policy is a long-shot. Nonetheless, Congress may address two copyright issues related to technology policy – increased penalties related to copyright infringement and technology-based filtering of protected content.

Congress has long looked toward technology-based filters to help with difficult policy issues. In 2000, Congress enacted the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which required libraries and schools to install filters to block objectionable content when web surfing. In 2006, Congress tried to extend this by requiring filtering of social networking sites with the Deleting Online Predators Act. (This legislation ultimately stalled.) Then late last year, the context switched from dealing with pornography and predators to copyright infringement.

Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) proposed an amendment to the Higher Education Act that would have required universities to install a ‘technology-based deterrent’ to prevent copyrighted materials from being downloaded or shared on peer-to-peer networks. The university community fought back and was able to weaken the proposal so that only reporting of their policies was required.

While using filtering technology as a matter of choice may be appropriate, requiring it as a matter of public policy is deeply troubling. First, what filters can accomplish is limited. Motivated pirates can encrypt peer-to-peer traffic or use other obfuscation methods to bypass filters that are looking for some specific known digital signature. This sets up an inevitable, and expensive, arms race of measure and counter measure between filtering and peer-to-peer software. At some point universities might be faced with either shutting down all encrypted traffic or doing deep packet inspection to deal with other obfuscation methods. These actions would undermine personal privacy and security protections.

Second, filters are costly and can undermine existing freedoms and rights. Even the best filters cannot determine what is a fair use of a copyrighted work. Fair use is a construct of law, not technology, and a policy requiring filtering could undermine existing, long-established rights as overly aggressive filters blocked otherwise legal activities.

As the House and Senate work toward finalizing the Higher Education Act, filtering will remain on the agenda. There is some worry that the focus may shift to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) safe harbor provisions. Under the DMCA a service provider on the Internet cannot be held liable for copyright infringement if it follows certain requirements. There may be a move to add technology-based filtering as a requirement for safe

Congress, at some level, does recognize that filtering is not a silver bullet. Those advocating for mandates argue that it is part of a suite of methods to deal with piracy of intellectual property. Certainly IP theft is a serious issue, but Congress must face the reality mandating filtering will
ultimately do little to curb piracy, while burdening universities and/or companies and undermining existing freedoms and rights.


Previous attempts at health information technology legislation have stalled in the halls of Congress, and the most recent health legislation – HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – has prompted criticism from some that the bill over regulates and from others that health privacy is at risk. This year there are two bills that stand the best chance
of becoming law.

The Wired Act, sponsored by Senator Kennedy (D-MA) and co-sponsored by 12 other senators (including the two Democratic presidential contenders), was introduced last year and has been approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Its focus is on health information technology. The bill, in its current form (which is available online), would, among other things, establish in law a coordinating office and advisory boards, require the HHS Secretary to contract with private organizations for the storage of federal health data, and extend HIPAA level privacy protections to health information databases.

The Technologies for Restoring Users’ Security and Trust (TRUST) in Health Information Act, was introduced in late February by Representative Markey (D-MA), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The bill shares many of the same general provisions as the Wired Act, but the privacy details are much more detailed and extensive. They reflect the general privacy provisions outlined in the USACM Privacy Policy, providing individuals with the right to review, access, and notice concerning their personal health information. Other parties can access the information under some limited exceptions, which include law enforcement, public health, reporting abuse and neglect, disclosure to authorized representative, health research and health oversight. Privacy advocates will likely be predisposed to this legislation for the additional privacy language. You can review the bill information online.

A review of previous posts we’ve made on Health IT reflects the difficulty of successfully passing legislation on this subject. If Markey’s bill emerges from the four committees that are reviewing it, it must then be reconciled with Senate legislation. The major challenge there will likely be with the differences in privacy provisions. This may well take all year. What is unclear – as with any speculation about the future – is what special events may prompt (in)action on this topic. The recent decision by Google to test a medical record storage system may be such a special event.


In November the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) began a 120 day comment period on the next iteration of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines, which are the Federal standards for all voting equipment. Today the EAC extended that deadline by another 60 days, pushing it to roughly May 5. USACM plans to file comments.

To review and comment on the standards follow this link:


USACM is the U.S. Public Policy Committee of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). ACM is an educational and scientific society uniting the world’s computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field’s challenges. ACM strengthens the profession’s collective voice through strong leadership,
promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence. ACM supports the professional growth of its members by providing opportunities for life-long learning, career development, and professional networking.

For more information about USACM and ACM, see:


For earlier editions of the ACM Washington Update, see:


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