The Cyberlaw Podcast: Ratchet to Disaster

Stewart Baker
Wednesday, February 26, 2020, 6:33 PM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

We interview Ben Buchanan about his new book, The Hacker and the State: Cyber Attacks and the New Normal of Geopolitics. This is Ben’s second book and second interview on the podcast about international conflict and cyber weapons. It’s safe to say that America’s strategic posture hasn’t improved since his first appearance. We face more adversaries with more tools and a considerably greater appetite for cyber adventurism. Ben recaps some of the stories that were undercovered in the US press when they occurred. The second large attack on Ukraine’s grid, for example, was little noticed during the US election of 2016, but it appears more ominous after a recent analysis of the tools used, and perhaps most importantly, those available to the GRU but not used.

In the news, Nick Weaver, Gus Hurwitz, and I take a quick pass at the Internet content regulation problem and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. I’ve written that Section 230 needs to be reconsidered, and I predict that the Justice Department, which held a workshop on Section 230 last week, will propose reforms. Gus and I offer two different takes on Facebook’s recent white paper about content moderation. Gus is more a fan of Twitter’s approach. And Nick reminds us that there are some communities on the Internet whose content causes real harm, including to innocent children.

The debate in the US is taking a distinctly European turn, I suggest, which makes Europe’s determination to regulate its way to digital innovation a little less implausible than usual. Maury Shenk outlines the very tentative (and almost certainly out of date before it’s launched) plan for building a European data lake to foster a European AI and digital economy.

Speaking of AI regulation, Elon Musk hasn’t given up on his concerns about the technology’s risks. But the real action in media circles is attacking fairly simple machine learning tools as used by law enforcement and the justice system. I think the attack is wrongheaded and will either result in abandoning tools that can discipline true outliers. Nick thinks the institutionalization of bias is bad enough that giving up such tools may be the better course.

In quick hits, Nick explains how Google’s effort to stamp out ad click fraud can generate a secondary form of criminal extortion. Maury explains the latest flap over Australia’s encryption law; the tl;dr is that nothing is likely to change soon. Gus makes a down payment on an emerging issue: Whether ISPs can defeat Internet privacy laws that affect them by pleading their First Amendment rights. Nick calls BS on the simplest forms of “anonymization” for credit card data now being sold. I highlight a ransomware attack on a US natural gas operator that actually affected operations and is thus a forerunner of future attacks. Nick reminds us that Julian Assange is in court to stop a US extradition bid. And Europe’s data protection advisor is questioning Google’s acquisition of Fitbit.

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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