The Cyberlaw Podcast: Rupert Murdochizing The Internet

Stewart Baker
Tuesday, April 12, 2022, 2:12 PM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
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The theme of this episode of the Cyberlaw Podcast is, “Be careful what you wish for.“ Techlash regulation is burgeoning around the world. Mark MacCarthy  takes us through a week’s worth of regulatory enthusiasm. Canada is planning to force Google and Facebook to pay Canadian news media for links. It sounds simple, but arriving at the right price—and the right recipients—will require a hefty dose of discretionary government intervention. Meanwhile, South Korea’s effort to regulate Google’s Android app store policies, which also sounds simple, is quickly devolving into such detail that the government might as well call it price regulation—because that’s what it is. And, Mark notes, even in China, which seemed to be moderating its hostility to tech platforms, just announced algorithm compliance audits for TenCent and ByteDance.

Nobody is weeping for Big Tech, but anybody who thinks this kind of thing will hurt Big Tech has never studied the history of AT&T—or Rupert Murdoch. Incumbent tech companies have the resources to protect themselves from regulatory harm—and to make sure their competitors will be crushed by the burdens they bear. The one missing chapter in the mutual accommodation of Big Tech and Big Government, I argue, is a Rupert Murdoch figure—someone who will use his platform unabashedly to curry favor not from the left but from the right. It’s an unfilled niche, but a moderately conservative Big Tech company is likely to find all the close regulatory calls being made in its favor if (or, more likely, when) the GOP takes power. If you think that’s not possible, you missed the last week of tech news. Elon Musk, whose entire business empire is built on government spending, is already toying with occupying a Silicon Valley version of the Rupert Murdoch niche. His acquisition of nearly 10 percent of Twitter is an opening gambit that is likely to make him the man that conservatives hail as the antidote to Silicon Valley’s political monoculture. Axios’s complaint that the internet is becoming politically splintered is wildly off the mark today, but it may yet come true.

Nick Weaver brings us back to earth with a review of the FBI’s successful (for now) takedown of the Cyclops Blink botnet—a Russian cyber weapon that was disabled before it could be fired. Nick reminds us that the operation was only made possible by a change in search and seizure procedures that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and friends condemned as outrageous just a decade ago. Last week, he reports, Western law enforcement also broke the Hydra dark market. In more good news, Nick takes us through the ways in which bitcoin’s traceability has enabled authorities to bust child sex rings around the globe.

Nick also brings us This Week in Bad News for Surveillance Software: FinFisher is bankrupt. Israeli surveillance software smuggled onto EU ministers’ phones is being investigated; and Google has banned apps that use particularly intrusive data collection tools, outed by Nick’s colleagues at the International Computer Science Institute.

Finally, Europe is building a vast network to do face recognition across the continent. I celebrate the likely defeat of ideologues who’ve been trying to toxify face recognition for years. And I note that one of my last campaigns at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was a series of international agreements that lock European law enforcement into sharing of such data with the United States. Defending those agreements, of course, should be a high priority for the State Department’s on-again off-again new cyber bureau.

Download the 402nd 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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