Cybersecurity & Tech

The Cyberlaw Podcast: Yet Another Synthetic Moral Panic Over Privacy

Stewart Baker
Wednesday, June 21, 2023, 11:26 AM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is to moral panics over privacy what Andreessen Horowitz is to cryptocurrency startups. He’s constantly trying to blow life into them, hoping to justify new restrictions on government or private uses of data. His latest crusade is against the intelligence community’s purchase of behavioral data, which is generally available to everyone from Amazon to the GRU. He has launched his campaign several times, introducing legislation, holding up Avril Haines’s confirmation over the issue, and extracting a DNI report on the topic that has now been declassified. It was a sober and reasonable explanation of why commercial data is valuable for intelligence purposes, so naturally WIRED magazine’s headline summary was, “The U.S. Is Openly Stockpiling Dirt on All Its Citizens.” Matthew Heiman takes us through the story, sparking a debate that pulls in Michael Karanicolas and Cristin Flynn Goodwin.

Next, Michael explains IBM’s announcement that it has made a big step forward in quantum computing. 

Meanwhile, Cristin tells us, the EU has taken another incremental step forward in producing its AI Act – mainly by piling even more demands on artificial intelligence companies. We debate whether Europe can be a leader in AI regulation if it has no AI industry. (I think it makes the whole effort easier, pointing to a Stanford study suggesting that every AI model we’ve seen is already in violation of the AI Act’s requirements.

Michael and I discuss a story claiming persuasively that an Amazon driver’s allegation of racism led to an Amazon customer being booted out of his own “smart” home system for days. This leads us to the question of how Silicon Valley’s many “local” monopolies enable its unaccountable power to dish out punishment to customers it doesn’t approve of.

Matthew recaps the administration’s effort to turn the debate over renewal of section 702 of FISA. This week, it rolled out some impressive claims about the cyber value of 702, including identifying the Colonial Pipeline attackers (and getting back some of the ransom). It also introduced yet another set of FBI reforms designed to ensure that agents face career consequences for breaking the rules on accessing 702 data. 

Cristin and I award North Korea the “Most Improved Nation State Hacker” prize for the decade, as the country triples its cryptocurrency thefts and shows real talent for social engineering and supply chain exploits. Meanwhile, the Russians who are likely behind Anonymous Sudan decided to embarrass Microsoft with a DDOS attack on its application level. The real puzzle is what Russia gains from the stunt. 

Finally, in updates and quick hits, we give deputy national cyber director Rob Knake a fond sendoff, as he moves to the private sector, we anticipate an important competition decision in a couple of months as the FTC tries to stop the Microsoft-Activision Blizzard merger in court, and I speculate on what could be a Very Big Deal – the possible breakup of Google’s adtech business.

Download 463rd Episode (mp3)

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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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