The Cyberlaw Podcast: The Empire Strikes Back, at Twitter

Stewart Baker
Tuesday, November 22, 2022, 10:22 AM

The latest episode of the Cyberlaw Podcast.

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

The Cyberlaw Podcast leads with the legal cost of Elon Musk’s anti-authoritarian takeover of Twitter. Turns out that authority figures have a lot of weapons, many grounded in law, and Twitter is at risk of being on the receiving end of those weapons. Brian Fleming explores the apparently unkillable notion that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) should review Musk’s Twitter deal because of a relatively small share that went to investors with Chinese and Persian Gulf ties. It appears that CFIUS may still be seeking information on what Twitter data those investors will have access to, but I am skeptical that CFIUS will be moved to act on what it learns. More dangerous for Twitter and Musk, says Charles-Albert Helleputte, is the possibility that the company will lose its one-stop-shop privacy regulator for failure to meet the elaborate compliance machinery set up by European privacy bureaucrats. At a quick calculation, that could expose Twitter to fines up to 120% of annual turnover. Finally, I reprise my skeptical take on all the people leaving Twitter for Mastodon as a protest against Musk allowing the Babylon Bee and President Trump back on the platform. If the protestors really think Mastodon’s system is better, I recommend that Twitter adopt it, or at least the version that Francis Fukuyama and Roberta Katz have described.

If you are looking for the far edge of the Establishment’s Overton Window on China policy, you will not do better than the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a consistently China-skeptical but mainstream body. Brian reprises the Commission’s latest report. The headline, we conclude, is about Chinese hacking, but the recommendations does not offer much hope of a solution to that problem, other than more decoupling. 

Chalk up one more victory for Trump-Biden continuity, and one more loss for the State Department. Michael Ellis reminds us that the Trump administration took much of Cyber Command’s cyber offense decision making out of the National Security Council and put it back in the Pentagon. This made it much harder for the State Department to stall cyber offense operations. When it turned out that this made Cyber Command more effective and no more irresponsible, the Biden Administration prepared to ratify Trump’s order, with tweaks.

I unpack Google’s expensive (nearly $400 million) settlement with 40 States over location history. Google’s promise to stop storing location history if the feature was turned off was poorly and misleadingly drafted, but I doubt there is anyone who actually wanted to keep Google from using location for most of the apps where it remained operative, so the settlement is a good deal for the states, and a reminder of how unpopular Silicon Valley has become in red and blue states.

Michael tells the doubly embarrassing story of an Iranian hack of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board. It is embarrassing to be hacked with a log4j exploit that should have been patched. But it is worse when an Iranian government hacker gets access to a U.S. government network—and decided that the access is only good for mining cryptocurrency. 

Brian tells us that the U.S. goal of reshoring chip production is making progress, with Apple planning to use TSMC chips from a new fab in Arizona

In a few updates and quick hits:

  • I remind listeners that a lot of tech companies are laying employees off, but that overall Silicon Valley employment is still way up over the past couple of years.
  • I give a lick and a promise to the mess at cryptocurrency exchange FTX, which just keeps getting worse.
  • Charles updates us on the next U.S.-E.U. adequacy negotiations, and the prospects for Schrems 3 (and 4, and 5) litigation.

And I sound a note of both admiration and caution about Australia’s plan to “unleash the hounds” – in the form of its own Cyber Command equivalent – on ransomware gangs. As U.S. experience reveals, it makes for a great speech, but actual impact can be hard to achieve.

Download the 431st 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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