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There were two developments in the battle over Internet privacy this week that hit the news, but are likely to be over-shadowed because of the on-going crisis in Japan (that Spectrum is covering extensively).

The first happened Wednesday, when the Obama Administration announced before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation that it was going to back the creation of a new "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights" to be overseen by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Time magazine reported.

Lawrence Strickling, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce was quoted at the hearing as saying:

"In the digital era, privacy is no longer about being ‘let alone.’ Privacy is about knowing what data is being collected and what is happening to it, having choices about how it is collected and used, and being confident that it is secure."

The Administration now wants the US Congress to pass legislation that incorporates, among other things, a consumer Internet "Do Not Track" proposal as described within the FTC's December 2010 preliminary report titled, "A Preliminary FTC Staff Report on Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: A Proposed Framework for Businesses and Policymakers." The press release for the FTC report is here, while the full report in PDF can be found here

Both Mozilla and Microsoft are incorporating Do Not Track features in their new browser coming out very shortly. Google already has a Do Not Track extension for Chrome available, but I am not totally sure of what Apple's Safari does. Maybe an Apple user can fill in the gap.

Assistant Strickling's full statement before the Senate Commerce Committee can be read in PDF here.

Not everyone is happy with the idea, however. When the idea was first proposed last year, some called it the end of the "Internet as we know it."

More recently, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which bills itself as a "non-profit public policy organization dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty," views any such legislation as a risk "... undermining targeted advertising, impeding business transactions that occur between strangers, and stifling mobile ecosystems that are barely out of the cradle."

The CEI believes that competition will (eventually) foster more effective consumer privacy than government regulation ever will.

The European Union certainly doesn't believe that. According to this story yesterday in the London Guardian, the EU likely before the end of the year enshrine a person's "right to be forgotten online." I blogged about this proposed "right" last November which Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, was strongly advocating for then.

The Guardian says that Commissioner Reding is now planning to introduce proposals before summer "... to make high standards of data privacy the default setting [at social media and other web sites] and give control over data back to the user." The paper quotes her as saying:

"I want to explicitly clarify that people shall have the right - and not only the possibility - to withdraw their consent to data processing... The burden of proof should be on data controllers - those who process your personal data. They must prove that they need to keep the data, rather than individuals having to prove that collecting their data is not necessary."

The Guardian says the proposals will also allow national privacy organizations "to investigate and launch legal proceedings against companies with services that target EU consumers."

How workable this idea is in practice remains to be seen. Many Risk Factor readers voiced their doubts last November, and I suspect those same doubts remain today.

The Conversation (0)

Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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