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J.P. Morgan once responded to President Teddy Roosevelt’s charge that he’d violated federal antitrust law by saying, “If we have done anything wrong, send your man to see my man, and we’ll fix it up.” That used to be the gold standard for monopolist arrogance in dealing with government, but Google and Apple have put J.P. Morgan in the shade with their latest instruction to the governments of the world: You can’t use our app to trace COVID-19 infections unless you promise not to use it for quarantine or law enforcement purposes. They are only able to do this because the two companies have more or less 99 percent of the phone OS market. That’s more control than Morgan had of U.S. railways, and their dominance apparently allows them to say, “If you think we’ve done something wrong, don’t bother to send your man; ours is too busy to meet.” Nate Jones and I discuss the question of Silicon Valley overreach in this episode. (In that vein, I apologize unreservedly to John D. Rockefeller, to whom I mistakenly attributed the quote.) The sad result is that a promising technological adjunct to contact tracing has been delayed and muddled by ideological engineers to the point where it isn’t likely to be deployed and used in a timely way.
Another lesson we draw in today’s episode is for authoritarian governments: Worry less about Cyber Command and more about NGOs. Citizen Lab has released a great paper making the case that WeChat monitors its users outside China, not to suppress their speech but to flag documents and images for later suppression inside China. Ironically, Matthew Heiman notes, Western users of WeChat who circulate human rights material are giving China’s censors the ability to hash and block that material as soon as it crosses the Great Firewall.
Meanwhile, Nate points out, Bellingcat has done for Russia’s GRU what Citizen Lab did for China. Perhaps inspired by Germany’s indictment of Dmitry Badin for hacking the Bundestag, Bellingcat doxes him to a fare-thee-well, finding his phone number, car registration, GRU office address and preposterously bad password.
David Kris explains the intersection of export control law and the Law of Unintended Consequences, as the U.S. Commerce Department finds that its efforts to isolate Huawei may be excluding U.S. firms from some standards bodies.
Israel’s passive-aggressive Supreme Court, meanwhile, has found a second way to say, “Meh,” to the Israeli government’s use of intelligence tools to do contact tracing.
Matthew lays out what’s at stake as the Senate tries again to pass its FISA bill. That may happen as early as today.
In short hits, everybody’s government hackers are adding COVID-19 to their targets, going after everyone from the WHO to coronavirus researchers. I make an effort to explain why Apple has brought a DMCA copyright lawsuit against Corellium. It’s all about the “chilling effect” on security research. And maybe one particular Five Eyes researcher. I make the case for Justice Department intervention on Corellium’s behalf—or at least Azimuth’s. Banjo’s CEO steps down. And where is Jean-Paul Sartre when you need him? He’s the only one who can resolve the odd dispute over “authenticity” between Twitter and the U.S. State Department.
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