The Cyberlaw Podcast: Cringe-Casting Since 2016

Stewart Baker
Wednesday, February 16, 2022, 9:28 AM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

The Cyberlaw Podcast has decided to take a leaf from the (alleged) Bitcoin Bandits’ embrace of cringe rap. No more apologies. We’re proud to have been cringe-casting for the last six years. Scott Shapiro, however, shows that there’s a lot more meat to the bitcoin story than embarrassing social media posts. In fact, the government’s filing after the arrest of Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan paints a forbidding picture of how hard it is to actually cash $4.5 billion in bitcoin. That’s what the government wants us to think, but it’s persuasive nonetheless, and both Scott and David Kris recommend it as a read.

Like the Rolling Stones performing their greatest hits from 1965 on tour this year, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is replaying his favorite schtick from 2013 or so—complaining that the government has an intelligence program that collects some U.S. person data under a legal theory that would surprise most Americans. Based on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board staff recommendations, Dave Aitel and David Kris conclude that this doesn’t sound like much of a scandal, but it may lead to new popup boxes on intel analysts’ desktops as they search the resulting databases.

In an entirely predictable but still discouraging development, Dave Aitel points to persuasive reports from two forensics firms that an Indian government body has compromised the computers of a group of Indian activists and then used its access not just to spy on the activists but to load fake and incriminating documents onto their computers. 

In the EU, meanwhile, crisis is drawing nearer over the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the European Court of Justice decision in the Schrems cases. David Kris covers one surprising trend. The court may have been aiming at the United States, but its ruling is starting to hit European companies who are discovering that they may have to choose between Silicon Valley services and serious liability. That’s the message in the latest French ruling that websites using Google Analytics are in breach of GDPR. Next to face the choice may be European publishers who depend on data-dependent advertising whose legality the Belgian data protection authority has gravely undercut.

Scott and I dig into the IRS’s travails in trying to implement facial recognition for taxpayer access to records. I reprise my defense of face recognition in Lawfare. Nobody is going to come out of this looking good, Scott and I agree, but I predict that abandoning facial recognition technology is going to mean more fraud as well as more costly and lousier service for taxpayers.

I point to the only place Silicon Valley seems to be innovating—new ways to show conservatives that their views are not welcome. Airbnb has embraced the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), whose business model is labeling mainstream conservative groups as “hate” mongers. It told Michelle Malkin that her speech at a SPLC “hate” conference meant that she was forever barred from using Airbnb—and so was her husband. By my count that’s guilt by association three times removed. Equally remarkable, Facebook is now telling Bjorn Lonborg that he cannot repeat true facts if he’s using them to support the Wrong Narrative.  We’re not in content moderation land any more if truth is not a defense, and tech firms that supply real things for real life can deny them to people whose views they don’t like.

Scott and I unpack the EARN IT Act  (Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act), again reported out of committee with a chorus of boos from privacy NGOs. We also note that supporters of getting tough on the platforms over child sex abuse material aren’t waiting for EARN IT. A sex trafficking lawsuit against Pornhub has survived a Section 230 challenge

Download the 394th Episode (mp3) 

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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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