The Cyberlaw Podcast: A Digital Curtain Descends Across Europe

Stewart Baker
Tuesday, March 8, 2022, 9:23 AM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

Much of this episode is devoted to new digital curtain falling across Europe. Gus Horwitz and Mark-MacCarthy review the tech boycott that has seen companies like Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Adobe pull their service from Russia. Nick Weaver describes how Russia cracked down on independent Russian media outlets and blocked access to the websites of foreign media including the BBC and Facebook. Gus reports on an apparent Russian decision to require all servers and domains to transfer Russian zone, thereby disconnecting itself from the global internet. 

Mark describes how private companies in the U.S. have excluded Russian media from their systems, including how DirecTV’s decision to drop RT America led the Russian 24-hour news channel to shutter its operations. In contrast, the EU officially shut down all RT and Sputnik operations, including their apps and websites. Nick wonders if the enforcement mechanism is up to the task of taking down the websites. Gus, Dave and Mark discuss the myth making in social media about the Ukrainian war such as the Ghost of Kyiv, and wonder if fiction might do some good to keep up the morale of the besieged country. 

Dave Aitel reminds us that despite the apparent lack of cyberattacks in the war, more might be going on under the surface. He also he tells us more about the internal attack that affected the Conti Ransomware gang when they voiced support for Russia. Nick opines that cryptocurrencies do not have the volume to serve as an effective way around the financial sanctions against Russia. Sultan Meghji agrees that the financial sanctions will accelerate the move away from the dollar as the world’s reserve currency and is skeptical that a principles-based constraint will do much good to halt that trend. 

A few things happened other than the war in Ukraine, including President Biden’s first state of the union address. Gus notices that much of the speech was devoted to tech. He notes that the presence in the audience of Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, highlighted Biden’s embrace of stronger online children’s privacy laws and that the presence of Intel CEO Patrick Gelsinger gave the president the opportunity to pitch his plan to support domestic chip production. 

Sultan and Dave discuss the cybersecurity bill that passed out of the Senate unanimously. It would require companies in critical sectors to report cyberattacks and ransomware to the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). They also analyze the concerns that companies have about providing information to the FBI. Dave thinks the bills that were discussed in this week’s House Commerce hearing to hold Big Tech accountable, respond to wide-spread public concerns about tech’s surveillance business model, but still he thinks they are unlikely to make it through the process to become law. 

Gus says that Amazon’s certification that it has responded to the Federal Trade Commission’s inquiries about its proposed $6.5 billion MGM merger triggers a statutory deadline for the agency to act. It is not the company’s fault, he says, that the agency has a 2-2 between Democrats and Republicans that will likely prevent them opposing the merger in time. I take the opportunity to note that the Senate Commerce committee sent the nominations of Alvaro Bedoya for the Federal Trade Commission and Gigi Sohn for the Federal Communications Commission to the Senate floor, but that it would likely be several months before the full Senate would act on the nominations.

Finally, Nick argues that certain measures in the European Commission’s proposed digital identity framework, aiming to improve authentication on the web, would in practice have the opposite effect of dramatically weakening web security.

Download the 397th 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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