The Cyberlaw Podcast: Toxified Tech

Stewart Baker
Tuesday, November 29, 2022, 10:48 AM

The latest epsiode of the Cyberlaw Podcast.

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

We spend much of this episode of the Cyberlaw Podcast talking about toxified technology – new tech that is being demonized for a variety of reasons. Exhibit One, of course, is “spyware,” essentially hacking tools that allow governments to access phones or computers otherwise closed to them, usually by end-to-end encryption. The Washington Post and the New York Times have led a campaign to turn NSO’s Pegasus tool for hacking phones into radioactive waste. Jim Dempsey, though, reminds us that not too long ago, in defending end-to-end encryption, tech policy advocates insisted that the government did not need mandated access to encrypted phones because they could engage in self-help in the form of hacking. David Kris points out that, used with a warrant, there’s nothing uniquely dangerous about hacking tools of this kind. I offer an explanation for why the public policy community and its Silicon Valley funders have changed their tune on the issue: having won the end-to-end encryption debate, they feel free to move on to the next anti-law-enforcement campaign.

That campaign includes private lawsuits against NSO by companies like WhatsApp, whose lawsuit was briefly delayed by NSO’s claim of sovereign immunity on behalf of the (unnamed) countries it builds its products for. That claim made it to the Supreme Court, David reports, where the U.S. government recently filed a brief that will almost certainly send NSO back to court without any sovereign immunity protection.

Meanwhile, in France, Amesys and its executives are being prosecuted for facilitating the torture of Libyan citizens at the hands of the Muammar Qaddafi regime. Amesys evidently sold an earlier and less completely toxified technology—packet inspection tools—to Libya. The criminal case is pending.

And in the U.S., a whole set of tech toxification campaigns are under way, aimed at Chinese products. This week, Jim notes, the Federal Communications Commission came to the end of a long road that began with jawboning in the 2000s and culminated in a flat ban on installing Chinese telecom gear in U.S. networks. On deck for China are DJI’s drones, which several Senators see as a comparable national security threat that should be handled with a similar ban. Maury Shenk tells us that the British government is taking the first steps on a similar path, this time with a ban on some government uses of Chinese surveillance camera systems.

Those measures do not always work, Maury tells us, pointing to a story that hints at trouble ahead for U.S. efforts to decouple Chinese from American artificial intelligence research and development. 

Maury and I take a moment to debunk efforts to persuade readers that artificial intelligence (AI) is toxic because Silicon Valley will use it to take our jobs. AI code writing is not likely to graduate from facilitating coding any time soon, we agree. Whether AI can do more in human resources (HR) may be limited by a different toxification campaign—the largely phony claim that AI is full of bias. Amazon’s effort to use AI in HR, I predict, will be sabotaged by this claim. The effort to avoid bias will almost certainly lead Amazon to build race and gender quotas into its engine.

And in a few quick hits:

And we close with a downbeat assessment of Elon Musk’s chances of withstanding the combined hostility of European and U.S. regulators, the press, and the left-wing tech-toxifiers in civil society. He is a talented guy, I argue, and with a three-year runway, he could succeed, but he does not have three years.

Download the 432nd 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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