The Cyberlaw Podcast: China, U.S. Tech Policy: 'Let Thousand Hands Throw Sand in the Gears.'

Stewart Baker
Tuesday, September 21, 2021, 12:14 PM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

Jordan Schneider rejoins us after too long an absence to summarize the tech policy coming out of Beijing today: Any Chinese government agency with a beef against a tech company has carte blanche to at least try it out. From Didi and others being told to stop taking on subscribers to an end to Western IPOs, to the forced contributions to common welfare, China’s beefs with Big Tech sound a lot like those in the West (well, except for the complaints about AI-enabled censorship). What’s different is that China has freed up its agencies to actually throw sand in the gears of technology businesses. Jordan and I explore the downside of empowering agencies this way. First, it makes the Chinese government responsible for an enormous and hard to govern part of the economy, as the government’s problems with the overvalued property sector show. And it creates opportunities for companies that are better at politics than customer service to cripple their competitors.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is trying out its own version of letting a thousand regulatory flowers bloom. Michael Weiner unpacks the new, amended complaint in FTC v. Facebook and concludes that the FTC has done a plausible job of meeting the objections that led the district court to throw out the first complaint.

Then he tells us the five buckets of sand the Biden administration is dumping into technology merger law in the hope of slowing a massive acquisition boom, from no longer granting early termination, insisting on future merger approvals in standard consent agreements, issuing “close at your own peril” letters when they haven’t finished their review, and replacing the Vertical Merger Guidelines issued in June 2020 with, uh, nothing.

Pete Jeydel takes us on a tour of Project Raven and the deferred prosecution agreements imposed on three former U.S. government hackers who sold their services too freely to the United Arab Emirates. The cases raise several novel legal issues, but one of the mysteries is why the prosecutors ultimately settled the cases without jail time. My guess? Graymail.

In quick hits and updates we note: That TikTok faces an Irish General Data Protection Regulation probe over children’s data and–more significantly–its transfers of data to China. What’s most remarkable to me is how long TikTok has staved off this scrutiny. Who says Donald Trump was bad for Chinese tech companies?

President Biden has nominated a 5th Federal Trade Commission Commissioner. Alvaro Bedoya is a Georgetown Law professor who writes about privacy and face recognition. There’s a lot of dumb stuff out there about AI bias and face recognition, but I’m pleased to say that it doesn’t look as though Prof. Bedoya wrote any of it.

The special prosecutor for Russia-Russia-Russia-gate has indicted a Perkins Coie lawyer for lying to the FBI general counsel while turning over a bunch of bogus evidence of Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. Turns out, I know all of the principals in this drama, and it’s uncomfortable.

Captain Obvious, speaking for the FBI, acknowledged that there is “no indication” Russia has cracked down on ransomware gangs after President Biden yelled at Vladimir Putin about them.

The 4th Circuit has tossed Wikimedia’s money-wasting lawsuit against the National Security Agency for its collection of overseas intelligence in the U.S.

And the Bolsonaro’s ban on social media censorship of politicians has been doubly overturned by the Brazilian Senate and its Supreme Court, leaving Bolsonaro’s decree in the same place as Florida’s (and, probably soon, Texas’s) effort to do something similar.

And more!

Download the 375th Episode (mp3)

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The views expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not reflect the opinions of their institutions, clients, friends, families, or pets.

Stewart A. Baker is a partner in the Washington office of Steptoe & Johnson LLP. He returned to the firm following 3½ years at the Department of Homeland Security as its first Assistant Secretary for Policy. He earlier served as general counsel of the National Security Agency.

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