ACM Washington Update, Vol. 12.10 (November 6, 2008)

By David Bruggeman
November 6, 2008


[1] Newsletter Highlights
[2] Washington Post Notes Key Voter Database Issues
[3] A Framework for Addressing Surveillance
[4] EDUCAUSE on IT Workforce in Higher Education
[5] Google Books’ Copyright Settlement
[6] Federal Trade Commission Chairman Speaks on Internet Privacy
[7] GAO Reports that Social Security Numbers are Widely Available
[8] About USACM

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


With the election just behind us, this month’s newsletter focuses on
activities important to the next administration. There are more details on
each item below, as well as on our weblog at

* The Washington Post reported on the same voter registration database
concerns addressed by USACM about database matching errors.

* A National Academies report on surveillance recommends lawmakers
systematically review all counterterrorism programs dealing with personal
data and establish new privacy rights.

* EDUCASE released a report assessing leadership in Information
Technology for the higher education sector, showing a potential shortage may
be ahead.

* Google Book Search settles a groundbreaking copyright case, which may
increase public access to millions of books online.

* Federal Trade Commission Chairman William Kovacic discussed Internet
and privacy issues on C-SPAN’s The Communicators.

* A Government Accountability Office report notes that Social Security
Numbers are widely available online and in bulk from public records.


The Washington Post addressed growing concerns over the latest
implementation of voter registration procedures in conjunction with new
statewide voter registration databases (VRDs). The new federally enforced
databases, which are intended to be more efficient and accurate in keeping
up-to-date records, are replacing locally managed lists.

One of the most difficult issues arising from the new databases is the “no
match” problem. This occurs during the comparison of federal and state
database and may be due to typos in entries, outdated data, or simply
incorrect information. As a result of no match problems, eligible voters
can be dropped from voting polls and possibly not given enough time to
correct the problem before an election.

USACM’s 2006 VRD report addressed this issue and provided many
recommendations such as allowing only senior election officials to follow a
strict manual while reviewing changes or only conducting large-scale purges
of voters well in advance of any election.

USACM’s full report can be found at:


Part of the challenge of fighting terrorism is assessing the usefulness of
technologies such as data mining for patterns and behavioral surveillance.
The National Academies released a report exploring these personal data
issues in counterterrorism programs.

The report advises the Legislative and Executive branches how to
appropriately review them: “Although these methods (data mining and
behavioral surveillance) have been useful in the private sector…they are
less helpful for counterterrorism precisely because so little is known about
what patterns indicate terrorist activity.” The committee, in turn, suggests
two main recommendations. First, U.S. government agencies should be
required to follow a systematic process to evaluate the effectiveness,
lawfulness, and consistency of every information-based program with U.S.
values. This should be done for detecting and countering terrorists before
and during implementation. Second, the U.S. government should periodically
review laws, policies, and procedures that protect an individual’s private
information or relevance and effectiveness in light of changing technologies
and circumstances.

The framework of these suggestions attempts to answer these key questions:
what is the effectiveness of the information-based program in achieving its
goal, and how well does the program agree with our societies laws and

The podcast and webcast of the report release can be found at: and


EDUCAUSE recently released a report, ‘Leading the IT Workforce in Higher
Education,’ building on previous work done in 2004 on information technology
leadership. The report combines research based on a web-based survey,
interviews, input, and case studies of IT professionals including senior
leaders, aspiring CIOs, and women leaders.

A key point of this report is the potential shortage anticipated in the IT
workforce. This is seen quantitatively with nearly twenty-nine percent of
the respondents intending to leave higher education within the next five
years as well as an expected 48.1 percent of respondents to retire by 2018.
Also, few respondents felt that their institutions were being proactive in
addressing this shortage problem. Other key issues were regarding the
sufficient quality of senior IT leadership and the lack of preparedness of
those aspiring to CIO positions.


A class-action lawsuit in 2005 filed against Google by the Authors Guild and
the Association of American Publishers centered on issues around copyright
infringement. Google provides a Book Search technology that gives the
public access to out-of-copyright materials as well as snippets of
copyrighted materials. Publishers claimed the snippets were a violation of
copyright that Google was using for its own commercial purposes. Google
countered that its technology fell under statutory Fair Use exemptions
copyrighted material since the full text was still protected and it provided
an invaluable chance for books to receive more public exposure.

The recent agreement settled the case. Under the $125 million agreement,
authors and publishers benefit with greater distribution opportunities,
while the public and researchers have an easier time tracking down
out-of-print books. Copyright owners will be better protected, given means
to control their intellectual property’s accessibility, and be compensated
for the use of their work digitally.

More can be read about this agreement online at:


A growing concern with the increase in computing technologies is the ability
to control how much one reveals about oneself over the Internet and who can
access that information. William Kovacic, Chairman of the Federal Trade
Commission, addressed these concerns about the Internet and privacy policy
on C-SPAN’s The Communicators.

The discussion focused on two main areas: The basics of Internet tracking
and aggregation, and the major Internet-related concerns such as Internet
infrastructure, social engineering, identity theft and mobile marketing.

The audio podcast is available online at:


According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), many bulk and
online public records contain Social Security Numbers (SSNs), exposing many
people to an increased risk of identity theft. The use of SSNs by private
entities was addressed in testimony USACM Executive Committee member Annie
Anton made last year.

The GAO sampled state and local government and business records practices
and determined the following estimates:

* Eighty-five percent of the largest counties make records with full or
partial SSNs available in bulk or online. Smaller counties do this much less
of the time (roughly 41 percent).
* Of the counties that make records available in bulk or online, roughly
16 percent of them place any restrictions on the entities that can use these

State and local governments are taking steps to safeguard SSNs in their
records, but redacting these numbers in all records takes time. You can
read the GAO report online at:


USACM is the U.S. Public Policy Committee of the Association for Computing
Machinery (ACM). With over 88,000 members, ACM is the world’s largest
educational and scientific computing society, uniting educators, researchers
and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the
field’s challenges. ACM strengthens the computing 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.

USACM acts as the focal point for ACM’s interaction with the U.S. Congress
and government organizations. It seeks to educate and assist policy-makers
on legislative and regulatory matters of concern to the computing community.

For more information about USACM and ACM, see:


For earlier editions of the ACM Washington Update, see:


To subscribe to ACM’s Washington Update newsletter, send an e-mail to with “subscribe WASHINGTON-UPDATE “First Name” “Last Name”
(no quotes) in the body of the message.

To unsubscribe, simply include the “SIGNOFF WASHINGTON-UPDATE”
command in an email to from your email address

As an alternative, enter your email address

at and we’ll remove you.

If in the future you’d like to re-subscribe, please enter your address at