File 20180409 114128 1i5qiz9.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
What role did you play? Composite of Christos Georghiou and sdecoret/, CC BY-ND

Sarah Igo, Vanderbilt University

As Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress, he’s likely wondering how his company got to the point where he must submit to public questioning. It’s worth pondering how we, the Facebook-using public, got here too.

The scandal in which Cambridge Analytica harvested data from millions of Facebook users to craft and target advertising for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has provoked broad outrage. More helpfully, it has exposed the powerful yet perilous role of data in U.S. society.

Repugnant as its methods were, Cambridge Analytica did not create this crisis on its own. As I argue in my forthcoming book, “The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America,” big corporations (in this case, Facebook) and political interests (in this case, right-wing parties and campaigns) but also ordinary Americans (social media users, and thus likely you and me) all had a hand in it.

The allure of aggregate data

Businesses and governments have led the way. As long ago as the 1840s, credit-lending firms understood the profits to be made from customers’ financial reputations. These precursors of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion eventually became enormous clearinghouses of personal data.

For its part, the federal government, from the earliest census in 1790 to the creation of New Deal social welfare programs, has long relied on aggregate as well as individual data to distribute resources and administer benefits. For example, a person’s individual Social Security payments depend in part on changes in the overall cost of living across the country.

Police forces and national security analysts, too, gathered fingerprints and other data in the name of social control. Today, they employ some of the same methods as commercial data miners to profile criminals or terrorists, crafting ever-tighter nets of detection. State-of-the-art public safety tools include access to social media accounts, online photographs, geolocation information and cell tower data.

Probing the personal

The search for better data in the 20th century often meant delving into individuals’ most personal, intimate lives. To that end, marketers, strategists and behavioral researchers conducted increasingly sophisticated surveys, polls and focus groups. They identified effective ways to reach specific customers and voters – and often, to influence their behaviors.

In the middle of the last century, for example, motivational researchers sought psychological knowledge about consumers in the hopes of subconsciously influencing them through subliminal advertising. Those probes into consumers’ personalities and desires foreshadowed Cambridge Analytica’s pitch to commercial and political clients – using data, as its website proudly proclaims, “to change audience behavior.”

Citizens were not just unwitting victims of these schemes. People have regularly, and willingly, revealed details about themselves in the name of security, convenience, health, social connection and self-knowledge. Despite rising public concerns about privacy and data insecurity, large numbers of Americans still find benefits in releasing their data to government and commercial enterprises, whether through E-ZPasses, Fitbits or Instagram posts.

Revealing ourselves

It is perhaps particularly appropriate that the Facebook scandal bloomed from a personality test app, “This is your digital life.” For decades, human relations departments and popular magazines have urged Americans to yield private details, and harness the power of aggregate data, to better understand themselves. But in most situations, people weren’t consciously trading privacy for that knowledge.

In the linked and data-hungry internet age, however, those volunteered pieces of information take on lives of their own. Individual responses from 270,000 people on this particular test became a gateway to more data, including that belonging to another 87 million of their friends.

Today, data mining corporations, political operatives and others seek data everywhere, hoping to turn that information to their own advantage. As Cambridge Analytica’s actions revealed, those groups will use data for startling purposes – such as targeting very specific groups of voters with highly customized messages – even if it means violating the policies and professed intentions of one of the most powerful corporations on the planet.

The benefits of aggregate data help explain why it has been so difficult to enact rigorous privacy laws in the U.S. As government and corporate data-gathering efforts swelled over the last century, citizens largely accepted, without much discussion or protest, that their society would be fueled by the collection of personal information. In this sense, we have all – regular individuals, government agencies and corporations like Facebook – collaborated to create the present crisis around private data.

The ConversationBut as Zuckerberg’s summons to Washington suggests, people are beginning to grasp that Facebook’s enormous profits exploit the value of their information and come at the price of their privacy. By making the risks of this arrangement clear, Cambridge Analytica may have done some good after all.

Sarah Igo, Associate Professor of History; Associate Professor of Political Science; Associate Professor of Sociology; Associate Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Third Anniversary of the Signing of the Minsk Package of Measures

WASHINGTON – U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE – Yesterday marked the somber third anniversary of the signing of the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements‎. Sadly, Russia continues to disregard its commitments under the Minsk agreements, stoking a hot conflict in Ukraine that has cost over 10,000 lives, including more than 2,500 civilians, and has displaced 1.6 million Ukrainians.

Russia continues ‎to deny its direct involvement, while Russian-led forces intimidate and deny secure access to unarmed OSCE monitors and suppress the work of independent media and civil society.‎ Ukraine has passed legislation—including amnesty for anti-government forces and special status for the Donbas—indicating Ukraine’s desire to implement the Minsk agreements.‎

Working closely with France and Germany, the United States continues to urge the Russian government to cease its aggression in Ukraine. The United States takes this opportunity to reiterate that our sanctions will remain in place until Russia fully implements its commitments under the Minsk agreements. Our separate Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns the peninsula to Ukraine.

U.S. Department of Commerce Finds Dumping of Imports of Carbon and Alloy Steel Wire Rod from Belarus, Russia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

November 21, 2017

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the affirmative final determinations in the antidumping duty (AD) investigations of imports of carbon and alloy steel wire rod (wire rod) from Belarus, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“The United States is dedicated to free, fair, and reciprocal trade with these countries, and this case was decided strictly on a full and fair assessment of the facts,” said Secretary Ross. “The Department of Commerce is committed to protecting U.S. companies being hurt by foreign manufacturers that refuse to play fair.”

The Commerce Department determined that exporters from Belarus, Russia, and the UAE sold wire rod in the United States at 84.10 – 756.93 percent less than fair value.

As a result of today’s decisions, Commerce will instruct U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to collect cash deposits from importers of wire rod from Belarus (280.02 percent), Russia (436.80 – 756.93 percent), and the UAE (84.10 percent) based on these final rates. Since Commerce also found that critical circumstances exist with respect to all Russian exporters/producers, Commerce will instruct CBP to collect cash deposits retroactively on all entries of wire rod from Russia for a period beginning 90 days prior to the preliminary determinations (September 5, 2017).

In 2016, imports of wire rod from Belarus, Russia and the UAE were valued at an estimated $10.4 million, $32.3 million and $7 million, respectively.

The petitioners in these investigations are Gerdau Ameristeel US Inc. (FL), Nucor Corporation (NC), Keystone Consolidated Industries (TX), and Charter Steel (WI).

The AD law provides U.S. businesses and workers with an internationally accepted mechanism to seek relief from the harmful effects of unfairly dumped imports into the United States.

Enforcement of U.S. trade law is a prime focus of the Trump administration. From January 20, 2017, through November 7, 2017, Commerce initiated 77 AD and countervailing duty (CVD) investigations – a 61 percent increase from 48 in the previous year.

Commerce currently maintains 412 AD and CVD orders which provide relief to American companies and industries impacted by unfair trade.

If the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) makes affirmative final injury determinations, Commerce will issue AD orders. If the ITC makes negative final determinations of injury, the investigations will be terminated and no orders will be issued.

Click HERE for a fact sheet on today’s decision(s).

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Enforcement and Compliance unit within the International Trade Administration is responsible for vigorously enforcing U.S. trade laws and does so through an impartial, transparent process that abides by international law and is based solely on factual evidence.

Foreign companies that price their products in the U.S. market below the cost of production or below prices in their home markets are subject to AD duties.

Dan Rather Calls For Independent Investigation of Sessions Russian Involvement

By Dan Rather
March 2, 2017

Every once in a while in Washington, the fuse is lit for what seems to be a big scandal. Much more rarely does that fuse lead to an explosion of the magnitude we are seeing with Russia and the new Administration, and frankly the Republicans in Congress. How can anybody say, with all this billowing smoke and sights of actual flames, that there is no need to at least independently investigate whether a fire is burning down the very pillars of our democracy?

The pressure is obviously starting to mount as leading Republicans are now calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. This comes in the wake of serious and credible evidence reported by a vigilant press that the Attorney General, mind you the top law enforcement man in the United States, perjured himself in testimony to the Senate about meeting the Russian ambassador during the election. Sessions is but the latest person close to President Trump who seems to be ensnared in a story that is more worthy of Hollywood melodrama than the reality of the governance of our country. Democrats are calling for Sessions to resign, and this story could move very quickly.

We are well past the time for any political niceties or benefits of the doubt. We need an independent and thorough investigation of Russia’s meddling in our democracy and its ties to the President and his allies. We don’t know what we don’t know. Perhaps there are perfectly innocuous reasons for why Mr Trump won’t release his tax returns, why he has continued to speak admirably about President Putin and why his aides and advisors seem to be so close to Russia. That’s why we need an investigation. If the air is to be cleared, it needs to be cleared. And if there is deep rot, it needs to be exposed. And quickly.

The press is doing an admirable job. But there is only so much it can do without such things as subpoena powers. Let’s just make this clear. This is about a foreign and hostile power trying to influence our election while being in contact with close aides to the presidential campaign that the Kremlin wanted to win. Furthermore, there are serious questions about Mr Trump’s longstanding ties to Russian money and influence peddlers. We don’t know where this might go, but it isn’t going away.

South Dakota Democratic Party Calls on State Republican Leaders to Put Country Before Party

March 2, 2017

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The South Dakota Democratic Party released the following statement in response to reports that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied under oath about meeting with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign and that Trump associates and Putin associates had multiple in-person meetings in Europe during the campaign, according to European intelligence services:

“New and troubling revelations about connections between the Trump campaign or Trump associates and Russia seem to come to light almost every day. Almost as troubling as these ongoing revelations is the continuing lack of leadership shown by Republican leaders in South Dakota in responding to these continuing revelations. Republican elected officials and candidates, such as Representative Noem, Senators Rounds and Thune, Attorney General Jackley, and congressional candidate Dusty Johnson need to finally put their country above their party and call for the resignation of Jeff Sessions, the appointment of a special prosecutor, and the formation of an independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate the connections between Donald Trump, his campaign, and the Russian government. If they do not do so today, they need to be asked what other shocking and incriminating revelations it will take for them to do so.”



February 14, 2017

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement on the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn:

“I thank General Flynn for his many years of distinguished service to our country, especially his invaluable contributions in the fight against terrorism. I wish him the very best in his future endeavors.

“At the same time, General Flynn’s resignation is a troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national security apparatus. As our nation confronts the most complex and diverse array of global challenges since the end of World War II, it is imperative that the President select a new National Security Advisor who is empowered by clear lines of authority and responsibility and possesses the skills and experience necessary to organize the national security system across our government.

“General Flynn’s resignation also raises further questions about the Trump administration’s intentions toward Vladimir Putin’s Russia, including statements by the President suggesting moral equivalence between the United States and Russia despite its invasion of Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, threats to our NATO allies, and attempted interference in American elections. American policy toward Russia must be made clear and unequivocal: we will honor our commitments to our NATO allies, we will maintain and enhance our deterrent posture in Europe, we will hold Russian violators of human rights accountable for their actions, and we will maintain sanctions on Russia so long as it continues to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

“As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I look forward to working with the President’s administration, especially Secretary Mattis, to defend the nation and support our military service members.”