The Cyberlaw Podcast: Conservative Catfight

Stewart Baker
Friday, April 16, 2021, 4:55 PM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

They used to say that a conservative was a liberal who’d been mugged. Today’s version is that a conservative who’s comfortable with business regulation is a conservative who’s been muzzled by Silicon Valley. David Kris kicks off this topic by introducing Justice Thomas’s opinion in a case over Trump’s authority to block users he didn’t like. The case was made thoroughly moot by both the election and Twitter’s blocking of Trump, but Justice Thomas wrote separately to muse on the ways in which Twitter’s authority to block users could be regulated by treating the company as a common carrier or public accommodation. David sees a trend among conservative jurists to embrace limits on Big Social’s authority to suppress speech.

I recount my experience being muzzled by LinkedIn, which would not let me link to a new Daily Mail story about the Hunter Biden laptop and say, “The social media giants that won’t let you say the 2020 election was rigged are the people who did their best to rig it: The Hunter Biden laptop was genuine and scandalous according to the Daily Mail.” To my mind, this is Big Social protecting its own business interests by suppressing a story that could convince people that the industry has too much power over our national dialogue and our elections. (I mocked LinkedIn by posting 5 variants of my original post, all making the same point in slightly different ways. You can see this on my LinkedIn account result.)

But my view that we should not let five or six Silicon Valley owners take over our national dialogue is challenged by Jamil Jaffer, a friend and conservative who is appalled at my deviation from Republican antiregulatory orthodoxy and first amendment doctrine. It’s a great conservative catfight that mirrors the much greater catfight now under way in the Republican party.

Elsewhere in the news roundup, Jordan Schneider and David dig into the claims that China has built advanced weapons systems with the help of American chip designers and Taiwanese fabs.

The accusation has led the Biden administration to slap export controls on several Chinese firms. Whether this will work without more aggressive U.S. controls on, say, foreign fabs serving those firms is open to question.

More to the point, it raises questions about long term U.S. industrial policy. David notes that one answer, the bipartisan “Endless Frontier Act,” is gaining some momentum. (I understand the motivation but question the execution.) We also touch on the sad story of Intel’s recent missteps,

and the opportunity that industrial policy has created for GlobalFoundries’ IPO.

Meanwhile Jamil takes on AdTech espionage, while U.S. senators ask Digital-Ad auctioneers to name foreign clients amid national-security concerns.

We all weigh in on the administration’s cyber picks, announced over the weekend. The unanimous judgment is that Chris Inglis, Jen Easterly and Rob Silvers are good picks—and, remarkably, ended up in the right jobs.

In shorter hits, David and I ponder Twitch’s unusual decision to start punishing people on line for misdeeds offline—misdeeds that Twitch will investigate itself. While neither of us are comfortable with the decision, including the effort to do privately what we pay cops and courts to do publicly, but there is more justification for the policy in some cases (think child sexual abuse) than might be apparent at first glance.

I tell the story of the Italian authorities identifying and arresting someone trying to hire a hitman using cryptocurrency and the dark web. As far as I know, successful cryptocurrency hitmen remain as rare as unicorns

David suggests that I should be glad not to live in Singapore, where the penalty for information the establishment doesn’t like is a criminal libel judgment that I’d be forced to crowdfund like Singapore’s government critics. I note that American sites like GoFundMe and Patreon have already imposed ideological screens that mean I wouldn’t be able to crowdfund my defense against Big Social.

And, for This Week in Data Breaches, I note the new tactic of ransomware gangs trying to pressure their victims to pay by threatening the victims’ customers with doxxing plus the remarkable phenomenon of half-billion-user data troves that the source companies say are not really the result of network breaches and so not disclosable.

Download the 357th 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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