Open Journal Systems

Developing Nations Push for Covid-19 Vaccines Without the Patents

A group of developing nations led by South Africa and India are calling for certain patent restrictions to be lifted in an effort to ensure broad access to vaccines and therapies. The proposal, which was heard at the WTO earlier this month, argues for a waiver for certain countries to be able to manufacture vaccines for themselves and for poorer nations which lack such manufacturing capabilities. About 20 years ago, South Africa successfully lobbied the WTO to lift patent restrictions for HIV treatments. The US and the European Union oppose the proposal, asserting that patent protections are necessary to drive innovation notwithstanding whether these developments disproportionately benefit the developed. According to a Duke study, the US alone has already pre-purchased 2.6 billion vaccine doses, enough to inoculate every American nearly four times (assuming two dosages are required). Covax, a WHO-backed initiative to reserve vaccines for developing nations, has amassed 450 million doses for a population of around 3.9 billion. For the proposal to pass, 75% of WTO members need to approve the proposal. The WTO will decide on the issue in the next two months, roughly coinciding with the expected ramp up in vaccine distribution.

Is emergency use authorization the best way to get a COVID-19 vaccine to the public?

The emergency use authorization is more recent than you might expect. Introduced in the Project Bioshield Act of 2004, the authorization’s original intent was to allow for speedy responses biological to weapons in the aftermath of the 2001 anthrax attacks. Two years later, the Pandemic and All-Hazard Preparedness Act expanded the scope of emergency use authorization to include public health threats from “natural” sources. Since the pandemic began, the FDA has already approved about 250 diagnostic kits, lab tests, PPE devices, and ventilators, as well as a handful of drug-based treatments. However, in this article, author HyunJung Kim suggests that emergency use is inappropriate in light of the fact that it has never approved a novel vaccine through this process. The FDA already has several non-emergency processes for expedited approval. Emergency use authorization has been vital for coronavirus responses, but Kim argues that a forward-looking technology such as a vaccine requires broad public trust which might be undermined by hasty approval.

The Supreme Court will hear its first big CFAA case

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments as to what constitutes unauthorized access to a computer or network under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The case concerns a law enforcement officer who accepted cash to search for an acquaintance in a police license plate database. The law, passed in 1986, has come under scrutiny from cybersecurity experts who believe it can unfairly criminalize those who use unauthorized access to discover and alert firms as to a network’s security vulnerabilities. Riana Pfefferkorn, a Stanford Law professor and cybersecurity expert, welcomes the opportunity for the Court to finally clear up these ambiguities through a more narrow construction of the CFAA.

Protecting consumers from collusive prices due to AI

Machine learning programmers have faced criticism for failing to prevent algorithms from perpetuating socio-economic discrimination from subtly-biased training sets. But what about price discrimination? An article by four economists and one statistician looks into how the rising of prices set by algorithm can lead to effectively collusive practices. A programmer can train a price-setting algorithm to maximize profits based on real-time fluctuations in prices by competitors. But if competitors use such algorithms too, what appears to be a free market becomes an inorganic ecosystem of coordinated price changes. The article assesses this possibility and makes policy recommendations, including a shift from a system that focuses largely on communication-based collusion.

By passing Proposition 24, California voters up the ante on federal privacy law

One of the seemingly hundreds of propositions Californians voted on this month further cemented the state as the leader in privacy protections – and may have made federal privacy protections all the more unlikely. Proposition 24 expanded the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) enacted at the beginning of this year by requiring businesses to minimize the amount of data they collect and retain. While the original law itself included sweeping protections, it relied on getting consumers to merely click “opt out” in order to go back to business as usual. The new law strengths opt-out notices as well as requires businesses to create regular privacy reports to submit to regulators. This development is great for Californians who care about their information privacy, but may have thrown a wet blanket on any movement at the federal level. The authors point out that a weaker federal law would very likely preempt the amended CCPA. And considering California’s healthy representation in House leadership and the Democratic caucus, Congress may be further caught in a deadlock due to the tension between wanting modest protection without disturbing the CCPA.

After 27 million driver’s license records are stolen, Texans get angry with the seller: the government

Last week, the Dallas Morning News broke the news that 27 million Texans – more than 90% of the state’s total population – had their license information stolen. This included their name, address, date of birth, and driver’s license number as well as slew of vehicle data. The state government can sell this information to companies so long as they won’t use it in marketing. This substantial breach occurred due to “human error” on the part of an insurance software firm in Colorado.