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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Social Networking and Constituent Communications: Members’ Use of Twitter and Facebook During a Two-Month Period in the 112th Congress

Matthew Eric Glassman
Analyst on the Congress

Jacob R. Straus
Analyst on the Congress

Colleen J. Shogan
Deputy Director and Senior Specialist

Communication between Members of Congress and their constituents has changed with the development of new online social networking services. Many Members now use e-mail, official websites, blogs, YouTube channels, Twitter, and Facebook pages to communicate with their constituents—technologies that were either non-existent or not widely available 20 years ago.

Social networking services have arguably served to enhance the ability of Members of Congress to fulfill their representational duties by providing greater opportunities for communication between the Member and individual constituents. In addition, electronic communication technology has reduced the marginal cost of constituent communications; unlike postal letters, Members can reach large numbers of constituents for a fixed cost.

This report examines Member adoption and use of two social networking services: Twitter and Facebook. The report analyzes data on Member use of Twitter and Facebook collected by an academic institution in collaboration with the Congressional Research Service during a twomonth period between August and October 2011 and the adoption of both platforms as of January 2012. This report analyzes the following questions related to Member use of Twitter and Facebook:

  • What proportion of Members use Twitter and Facebook? 
  • How often are Members using Twitter and Facebook? 
  • How widely are Member Tweets and posts being followed? 
  • What are Members Tweeting and posting about? 

This report provides a snapshot of a dynamic process. As with any new technology, the number of Members using Twitter and Facebook, and the patterns of use, may change rapidly in short periods of time. As a result, the conclusions drawn from these data cannot be easily generalized or used to predict future behavior.

The data show that, at the time of the study, 451 (of 541) Representatives (including Delegates and the Resident Commissioner) and Senators were registered with Twitter (83.4%) and 487 (of 541) Representatives and Senators were registered with Facebook (90%). During the study period—August to October 2011—a total of 30,765 “Tweets” were sent and 16,261 Facebook posts were made. The data show that

  • overall, registered Members sent an average of 1.24 Tweets and 0.63 Facebook posts per day; 
  • Senate Republicans sent the most Tweets per day (1.53 on average), followed by Senate Democrats (1.49), House Republicans (1.23), and House Democrats (1.09); 
  • for Facebook, Senate Republicans posted the most (0.84 on average), followed by House Republicans (0.71), Senate Democrats (0.53), and House Democrats (0.48); and 
  • the data also suggest that the top 20% of Twitter and Facebook users account for over 50% of the Tweets and posts during this study.

Use of Twitter and Facebook was analyzed by coding Tweets and posts into seven categories: position taking, district or state, official congressional action, policy statement, media, personal, and other. The data suggest position taking is the most frequent type of Tweet (41%) and Facebook post (39%). This is followed by district or state (26% of Tweets and 32% of Facebook posts); official action (17% of Tweets and 21% of Facebook posts); and policy statements (16% of Tweets and 16% of Facebook posts).

Date of Report: March 22, 2013
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: R43018
Price: $29.95

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The National Broadband Plan Goals: Where Do We Stand?

Lennard G. Kruger
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

On March 16, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan. The National Broadband Plan (NBP) identified significant gaps in broadband availability and adoption in the United States, and in order to address those gaps and other challenges, the NBP set specific goals to be achieved by the year 2020. Goals were set for next generation broadband service; universal broadband service; mobile wireless broadband innovation and coverage; broadband access of Community Anchor Institutions; a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network; and broadband for tracking energy consumption.

Three years after the rollout of the NBP, available data indicate that there has been progress towards reaching the 2020 goals. The following observations can be made:

  • the United States is much closer to reaching broadband availability goals than broadband adoption goals, which remain a major challenge; 
  • the United States is much closer to achieving broadband download speed goals than upload speed goals; 
  • while the next generation broadband goal of 100 million households with 100 Mbps speeds seems within reach (at least for download speeds), the price remains high—affordability could improve in the future depending on technological advances and consumer demand for ultra-high speed next generation performance; 
  • recent rollouts of next generation wireless technologies have led the FCC to state that the United States leads the world in mobile innovation; on the other hand, the latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data indicate that the United States remains in the middle of the pack with respect to wireless broadband subscriptions per 100 of the population; 
  • while broadband data are incomplete for Community Anchor Institutions, available information indicate that the number of CAIs with 1 gigabit connections remains relatively low; and 
  • two major initiatives—FirstNet and Smart Grid—are currently underway in order to help reach the goals for a public safety wireless network and for broadband monitoring of energy consumption. 

Many of the key telecommunications issues that are currently being considered by the 113th Congress are focused on improving broadband deployment and thus are intended to have a positive impact on the nation’s progress towards reaching one (or in many cases, several) of the NBP goals. As the 113th Congress considers contentious telecommunications issues such as universal service reform, wireless technology and spectrum policy, and telecommunications regulatory reform, the ongoing progress towards meeting the NBP goals is likely to be part of that debate.

Date of Report: March 19, 2013
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: R43016
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Cloud Computing: Constitutional and Statutory Privacy Protections

Richard M. Thompson II
Legislative Attorney

Cloud computing is fast becoming an integral part of how we communicate with one another, buy music, share photos, conduct business, pay our bills, shop, and bank. Many of the activities that once occurred solely in the physical world, including communications with one another, are increasingly moving to the digital world. What was once a letter to a friend is now a Facebook message; a call to a loved one is now a Skype chat; a private meeting with a business partner is now a video conference call. In short, the cloud is revolutionizing not only how we compute, but also how we live. Where individuals once locked personal or business papers solely in a desk drawer or filing cabinet, they now also store them on someone else’s computer.

In short, cloud computing is a web-based service that allows users to access anything from e-mail to social media on a third-party computer. For instance, Gmail and Yahoo are cloud-based email services that allow users to access and store emails that are saved on each respective service’s computer, rather than on the individual’s computer. As more communications are facilitated through these cloud-based programs, it is no surprise that government and law enforcement would seek to access this stored information to conduct criminal investigations, prevent cyber threats, and thwart terrorist attacks, among other purposes. This prompts the following questions: (1) What legal protections are in place for information shared and stored in the cloud? (2) What legal process must the government follow to obtain this information? and (3) How do these rules differ from those applied in the physical world?

Protections of communications in the physical world flow from the Fourth Amendment and various federal statutes such as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), which includes the Stored Communications Act (SCA). Under the Fourth Amendment, government officials are generally prohibited from accessing an individual’s communication, such as tapping into a telephone call or opening a postal letter, without first obtaining judicial approval. In the digital world, courts have by and large required law enforcement to acquire a warrant before accessing the contents of electronic communications, but have permitted law enforcement to access non-content information such as routing data with lesser process. These cases do not seem to distinguish between cloud-based and traditional forms of Internet services.

Federal courts have applied the SCA to various electronic communications including e-mails, messages sent on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and movies posted on video-sharing sites like YouTube. The process for obtaining these communications under the SCA depends on how long the information has been stored with the service provider and how the provider is classified under the SCA. The relatively few cases dealing with cloud computing have required lesser legal process for accessing electronic communications sent via cloud-based services than traditional forms of Internet computing.

In light of this rapidly changing technology, there have been several legislative proposals to augment the Fourth Amendment’s protections for digital communications and update existing statutory protections like the SCA for information shared and stored in the cloud.

Date of Report: March 22, 2013
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: R43015
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Publishing Scientific Papers with Potential Security Risks: Issues for Congress

Frank Gottron Specialist in Science and Technology Policy 
Dana A. Shea 
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

The federal government generally supports the publication of federally funded research results because wide dissemination may drive innovation, job creation, technology development, and the advance of science. However, some research results could also be used for malicious purposes. Congress, the Administration, and other stakeholders are considering whether current policies concerning publishing such research results sufficiently balances the potential benefits with the potential harms. The current issues under debate cut across traditional policy areas, involving simultaneous consideration of security, science, health, export, and international policy. Because of the complexity of these issues, analysis according to one set of policy priorities may adversely affect other policy priorities. For example, maximizing security may lead to detriments in public health and scientific advancement, while maximizing scientific advancement may lead to security risks. Accounting for such trade-offs may allow policymakers to establish regulatory frameworks that more effectively maximize the benefits from such “dual-use,” i.e., potentially beneficial and also potentially harmful, research while mitigating its potential risks.

The issue of balancing scientific publication with security concerns has a long historical context, but the current consideration began in late 2011, when two groups of U.S. government-funded scientists submitted papers to academic journals detailing genetic modifications that increase the transmissibility of a deadly influenza strain. Although these research results may improve pandemic influenza preparedness and response, they may also increase the probability that a highly contagious and deadly influenza strain will be introduced, either accidently or deliberately, into the human population. Stakeholders, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the World Health Organization, journal publishers, and scientists, debated whether the possible benefits of publication outweighed the potential harms. The editors of the scientific journals decided to publish modified versions of both papers.

The controversy surrounding the publication of these influenza experiments revealed weaknesses in the existing federal mechanisms to identify and balance potential benefits of life science research and security trade-offs. Responding to these cases, the Administration released new government-wide policies to address some of these flaws. These new policies establish roles for federal funding agencies, institutions, and scientists to regularly review life science research portfolios and develop methods to mitigate security risks.

It is not clear whether the 113
th Congress will agree with the Administration that the new policies sufficiently address all of the dual-use issues brought to light by this recent controversy. Congress could decide to allow the new policies to be fully implemented before evaluating them. Alternatively, Congress could require agencies to implement new, different processes to identify potential research of concern prior to funding; require federal prepublication review of all potential research of concern to establish appropriate limits on the distribution of the research results; require federal licensing of researchers permitted to conduct such experiments and access results; and limit such research to the most safe and secure laboratories. All of these options might, however, reduce the number and quality of research studies undertaken.

This report describes the underlying controversy, the potential benefits and harms of publishing these manuscripts, the actions taken by domestic and international stakeholders, and options that may improve the way research is handled to minimize security concerns.

Date of Report: March 18, 2013
Number of Pages: 27
Order Number: R42606(01)
Price: $29.95

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Cybersecurity: Authoritative Reports and Resources

Rita Tehan
Information Research Specialist

Cybersecurity vulnerabilities challenge governments, businesses, and individuals worldwide. Attacks have been initiated by individuals, as well as countries. Targets have included government networks, military defenses, companies, or political organizations, depending upon whether the attacker was seeking military intelligence, conducting diplomatic or industrial espionage, or intimidating political activists. In addition, national borders mean little or nothing to cyberattackers, and attributing an attack to a specific location can be difficult, which also makes a response problematic.

Congress has been actively involved in cybersecurity issues, holding hearings every year since 2001. There is no shortage of data on this topic: government agencies, academic institutions, think tanks, security consultants, and trade associations have issued hundreds of reports, studies, analyses, and statistics.

This report provides links to selected authoritative resources related to cybersecurity issues. This report includes information on

  • “Legislation” 
  • “Executive Orders and Presidential Directives” 
  • “Data and Statistics” 
  • “Cybersecurity Glossaries” 
  • “Reports by Topic” 
    • Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports 
    • White House/Office of Management and Budget reports 
    • Military/DOD 
    • Cloud Computing 
    • Critical Infrastructure 
    • National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) 
    • Cybercrime/Cyberwar 
    • International 
    • Education/Training/Workforce 
    • Research and Development (R&D) 
  • “Related Resources: Other Websites”

Date of Report: March 20, 2013
Number of Pages: 91
Order Number: R42507
Price: $29.95

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