This week’s episode includes an interview with Bruce Schneier about his recent op-ed on privacy. Bruce and I are both dubious about the current media trope that facial recognition technology was spawned by the Antichrist. He notes that what we are really worried about is a lot bigger than facial recognition and offers ways in which the law could address our deeper worry. I’m less optimistic about our ability to write or enforce laws designed to restrict use of information that gets cheaper to collect, to correlate, and to store every year. It’s a good, civilized exchange.
There’s a fine line between legislation addressing deepfakes and legislation that is itself a deep fake. Nate Jones reports on the only federal legislation addressing the problem so far. I claim that it is well short of a serious regulatory effort – and pretty close to a fake law.
In contrast, India seems serious about imposing liability on companies whose unbreakable end-to-end crypto causes harm, at least to judge from the howls of the usual defenders of such crypto. David Kris explains how the law will work. I ask why Silicon Valley gets to impose the externalities of encryption-facilitated crime on society without consequence when we’d never allow tech companies to say that society should pick up the tab for their pollution because their products are so cool. In related news, the FBI may be turning the Pensacola military terrorism attack into a slow-motion replay of the San Bernardino fight with Apple, this time with more top cover.
For this special edition of the Cyberlaw Podcast, we’ve convened a panel of experts on intelligence and surveillance legal matters. We take a look at the Department of Justice Inspector General’s report on the FBI’s use of FISA applications – and the many errors in those applications. We also touch on FBI Director Wray’s response, as well as a public order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. We wrap up with thoughts on how to resolve some of the issues identified by the IG’s report and suggestions for improving the FISA process.
The apparent terror attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola spurs a debate among our panelists about whether the FISA Section 215 metadata program deserves to be killed, as Congress has increasingly signaled it intends to do. If the Pensacola attack involved multiple parties acting across US borders, still a live possibility as we talked, then it would be just about the first such attacks since 9/11 – and exactly the kind of attack the metadata program was designed to identify in advance.
Algorithms are at the heart of the Big Data/machine learning/AI changes that are propelling computerized decision-making. In their book, The Ethical Algorithm, Michael Kearns and Aaron Roth, two Computer Science professors at Penn, flag some of the social and ethical choices these changes are forcing upon us. My interview with them touches on many of the hot-button issues surrounding algorithmic decision-making. I disclose my views early: I suspect that much of the fuss over bias in machine learning is a way of smuggling racial and gender quotas and other academic social values into the algorithmic outputs. Michael and Aaron may not agree with that formulation, but the conversation provides a framework for testing it – and leaves me more skeptical about “bias hacking” of algorithmic outputs.
This Week in the Great Decoupling: The Commerce Department has rolled out proposed telecom and supply chain security rules that never once mention China. More accurately, the Department has rolled out a sketch of its preliminary thinking about proposed rules. Brian Egan and I tackle the substance and history of the proposal and conclude that the government is still fighting about the content of a policy it’s already announced. And to show that decoupling can go both ways, a US-based chip-tech group is moving to Switzerland to reassure its Chinese participants. Nick Weaver and I conclude that there’s a little less here than Reuters seems to think.
Brad Smith is President of Microsoft and author (with Carol Ann Browne) of Tools and Weapons: The Promise and Peril of the Digital Age. The book is a collection of vignettes of the tech policy battles in the last decade or so. Smith had a ringside seat for most of them, and he recounts what he learned in a compelling and good-natured way in the book – and in this episode’s interview. Starting with the Snowden disclosures and the emotional reaction of Silicon Valley, through the CLOUD Act, Brad Smith and Microsoft displayed a relatively even keel while trying to reflect the interests of its many stakeholders. In that effort, Smith makes the case for more international cooperation in regulating digital technology. Along the way, he discloses how the Cyberlaw Podcast’s own Nate Jones and Amy Hogan-Burney became “Namy,” achieving a fame and moniker inside Microsoft that only Brangelina has achieved in the wider world. Finally, he sums up Microsoft’s own journey in the last quarter century as a recognition that humility is a better long-term strategy than hubris.
This Week in Mistrusting Google: Klon Kitchen points to a Wall Street Journal story about all the ways Google tweaks its search engine to yield results that look machine-made but aren’t. He and I agree that most of these tweaks have understandable justifications – but you have to trust Google not to misuse them. And increasingly no one does. The same goes for Google’s foray into amassing and organizing health data on millions of Americans. It’s a nothing-burger with mayo, unless you mistrust Google. Since mistrusting Google is a growth industry, it’s getting a lot of attention, including from HHS investigators. Matthew Heiman explains, and when he’s done, my money is on Google surviving that investigation comfortably. The capital of mistrusting Google is Brussels, and not surprisingly, Maury Shenk tells us that the EU has forced Google to modify its advertising protocols to exclude data on health-related sites visited by its customers.
The Foreign Agent Registration Act is having a moment – in fact its best year since 1939, as the Justice Department charges three people with spying on Twitter users for Saudi Arabia. Since they were clearly acting like spies but not stealing government secrets or company intellectual property, FARA seems to be the only law that they could be charged with violating. Nate Jones and I debate whether the Justice Department can make the charges stick.