The Cyberlaw Podcast: Does a Dead Horse Have a Right to Self-Defense?

Stewart Baker
Tuesday, December 7, 2021, 10:22 AM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

Federal district judge Robert Pitman has enjoined enforcement of Texas’s law regulating social media censorship. The ruling sparks a fight between me and Nate Jones that ranges from how much weight should be given to the speech rights of social media to the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict imposed by Facebook when it decided he was guilty and wouldn’t let anyone disagree. On the merits, as before, we agreed that the Obama appointee was on solid ground (for now) in applying the Tornillo line of cases saying that the government should not directly regulate the editorial judgments of publishers. But the judge’s ruling on the transparency and due process requirements of the law suggests that he wasn’t prepared to give the law a fair shake. So, look for a competitive appeal on the topic and quite possibly a certiorari grant as well. By the time we stop beating this horse, he’s long past any possible right of self-defense.

Megan Stifel has an easier task: Explaining cybersecurity recommendations for rail and other surface transportation companies. The advice is mostly something that could have been offered in the 90s, so we both puzzle over the fierce resistance from industry. Maybe it’s the 24-hour requirement to notify TSA of cyber incidents.

Nate and I explore proposals from the Biden administration to muster a group of like-minded countries to curb sales of surveillance gear to authoritarian regimes. No doubt the initiative was reinforced by news that U.S. State Department phones were recently hacked by exported spyware from Israel. But I think the whole project fails for a simple reason: authoritarian governments can buy all the surveillance gear they need from China, which is happy to sell it. In the absence of credible enforcement, condemning such sales is empty virtue signaling.

I critique a new story from the Markup about PredPol crime prediction software, which claims the software is biased because it urges the police to patrol more Black neighborhoods than white neighborhoods.

Speaking of stupid, Megan explains how a “smart contract” turned out to be anything but, allowing hackers to steal $31 million in digital coin.

I ask exactly how the hacker’s feat differs from really good lawyering.

Nate and I look at how well Russia is doing in bringing Twitter to heel with a mobile slowdown. Twitter hasn’t broken yet, but it’s clear that the authoritarians of the world are slowly winning their battle with Silicon Valley.

Megan tells us how a cybersecurity professional at Ubiquiti decided to stop riding with the hounds and to ride instead with the fox. Of course, we all know how most fox hunts end for the fox, and this story is no exception.

In updates, I remind listeners of the elaborate gas-lighting effort put on by Jeff Bezos in trying to blame the Saudis and the National Enquirer for his brother-in-law’s leak of Bezos’s deeply embarrassing text messages. All the investigations that Bezos managed to get started are done now, and the verdict is in: the Saudis didn’t do it.

Megan and I note a Wall Street Journal article on how tough it is to be a spy in a world of smartphones, biometrics, and universal surveillance cameras. Our reaction: Yup.

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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