Peter Singer continues his excursion into what he calls “useful fiction” – thrillers that explore real-world implications of emerging technologies – in Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution, to be released May 26, 2020. This interview explores a thoroughly researched (and footnoted!) host of new technologies, many already in production or on the horizon, all packed inside a plot-driven novel. The book is a painless way to understand what these technologies make possible and their impact on actual human beings. And the interview ranges widely over the policy implications, plus a few plot spoilers.


Continue Reading Episode 316: Our AI Future – Sexbots, Toilet Drones, and Robocops?

J.P. Morgan once responded to President Teddy Roosevelt’s charge that he’d violated federal antitrust law by saying, “If we have done anything wrong, send your man to see my man, and we’ll fix it up.” That used to be the gold standard for monopolist arrogance in dealing with government, but Google and Apple have put J.P. Morgan in the shade with their latest instruction to the governments of the world: You can’t use our app to trace COVID-19 infections unless you promise not to use it for quarantine or law enforcement purposes. They are only able to do this because the two companies have more or less 99% of the phone OS market. That’s more control than Morgan had of US railways, and their dominance apparently allows them to say, “If you think we’ve done something wrong, don’t bother to send your man; ours is too busy to meet.” Nate Jones and I discuss the question of Silicon Valley overreach in this episode. (In that vein, I apologize unreservedly to John D. Rockefeller, to whom I mistakenly attributed the quote.) The sad result is that a promising technological adjunct to contact tracing has been delayed and muddled by ideological engineers to the point where it isn’t likely to be deployed and used in a timely way.


Continue Reading Episode 315: Google to Washington: “Send your man to see my man. And we’ll stiff him.”

We begin with a new US measure to secure its supply chain for a critical infrastructure – the bulk power grid. David Kris unpacks a new Executive Order restricting purchases of foreign equipment for the grid.

Nick Weaver, meanwhile, explains the remarkable extent of surveillance built into Xiaomi phones and questions the company’s claim that it was merely acquiring pseudonymous ad-related data like others in the industry.

It wouldn’t be the Cyberlaw Podcast if we didn’t wrangle over mobile phones and the coronavirus. Mark MacCarthy says that several countries – Australia, the UK, and perhaps France – are deviating from the Gapple model for using phones for infection tracing. Several have bought in. India, meanwhile, is planning a much more government-driven approach to using phone apps to combat the pandemic.


Continue Reading Episode 314: Mirror-Image Decoupling

In this episode, I interview Thomas Rid about his illuminating study of Russian disinformation, Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare. It lays out a century of Soviet, East European, and Russian disinformation, beginning with an elaborate and successful operation against the White Russian expatriate resistance to Bolshevik rule in the 1920s. Rid has dug into recently declassified material using digital tools that enable him to tell previously untold tales – the Soviets’ remarkable success in turning opposition to US nuclear missiles in Europe into a mass movement (and the potential shadow it casts on the legendary Adm. Hyman Rickover, father of the US nuclear navy), the unimpressive record of US disinformation compared to the ruthless Soviet version, and the fake American lobbyist (and real German agent) who persuaded a German conservative legislator to save Willy Brandt’s leftist government. We close with two very different predictions about the kind of disinformation we’ll see in the 2020 campaign.


Continue Reading Episode 312: Russia’s online disinformation has a 100-year history

The Cyberspace Solarium Commission’s report was released into the teeth of the COVID-19 crisis and hasn’t attracted the press it probably deserved. But the commissioners included four sitting Congressmen who plan to push for adoption of its recommendations. And the Commission is going to be producing more material – and probably more press attention – over the coming weeks. In this episode, I interview Sen. Angus King, co-chair of the Commission, and Dr. Samantha Ravich, one of the commissioners.

We focus almost exclusively on what the Commission’s recommendations mean for the private sector. The Commission has proposed a remarkably broad range of cybersecurity measures for business. The Commission recommends a new products liability regime for assemblers of final goods (including software) who don’t promptly patch vulnerabilities. It proposes two new laws requiring notice not only of personal data breaches but also of other significant cyber incidents. It calls for a federal privacy and security law – without preemption. It updates Sarbanes-Oxley to include cybersecurity principles. And lest you think the Commission is in love with liability, it also proposed liability immunities for critical infrastructure owners operating under government supervision during a crisis. We cover all these proposals, plus the Commission’s recommendation of a new role for the Intelligence Community in providing support to critical US companies.


Continue Reading Episode 311: What the Cyberspace Solarium Report Means for the Private Sector

Nate Jones and I dig deep into Twitter’s decision to delete Rudy Giuliani’s tweet (quoting Charlie Kirk of Turning Point) to the effect that hydroxychloroquine had been shown to be 100% effective against the coronavirus and that Gov. Whitmer (D-MI) had threatened doctors prescribing it out of anti-Trump animus. Twitter claimed that it was deleting tweets that “go directly against guidance from authoritative sources” and separately implied that the tweet was an improper attack on Gov. Whitmer.


Continue Reading Episode 310: Is Twitter using the health emergency to settle political scores?

In this bonus episode, we present a lightly edited interview about Israel’s technology- and surveillance-heavy approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. In it, Matthew Waxman and I talk to Yuval Shany, a noted Israeli human rights expert and professor at Hebrew University. We cover the particularly fraught political crisis that the virus exacerbated, the use of Israel’s counterterrorism tools to trace contacts of infected individuals, and the significance of locational privacy in the face of a deadly contagion. Our thanks to both Nachum Braverman of Academic Exchange and Ben Wittes of Lawfare for making the interview possible.


Continue Reading Episode 309: How Israel is fighting the coronavirus

David Kris, Paul Rosenzweig, and I dive deep on the big tech issue of the COVID-19 contagion: Whether (but mostly how) to use mobile phone location services to fight the virus. We cover the Israeli approach, as well as a host of solutions adopted in Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and elsewhere. I’m a big fan of Singapore, which produced in a week an app that Nick Weaver thought would take a year.

In our interview, evelyn douek, currently at the Berkman Klein Center and an SJD candidate at Harvard, takes us deep into content moderation. Displaying a talent for complexifying an issue we all want to simplify, she explains why we can’t live with social platform censorship and why we can’t live without it. She walks us through the growth of content moderation, from spam, through child porn, and on to terrorism and “coordinated inauthentic behavior” – the identification of which, evelyn assures me, does not require an existentialist dance instructor. Instead, it’s the latest and least easily defined category of speech to be suppressed by Big Tech. It’s a mare’s nest, but I, for one, intend to aggravate our new Tech Overlords for as long as possible.


Continue Reading Episode 308: Location, location, location. And the virus.

That’s the question I debate with David Kris and Nick Weaver as we explore the ways in which governments are using location data to fight the spread of COVID-19. Phone location data is being used to enforce quarantines and to track contacts with infected people. It’s useful for both, but Nick thinks the second application may not really be ready for a year – too late for this outbreak.

Our interview subject is Jason Healey, who has a long history with Cyber Command and a deep recent oeuvre of academic commentary on cyber conflict. Jay explains Cyber Command’s doctrine of “persistent engagement” and “defending forward” in words that I finally understand. It makes sense in terms of Cyber Command’s aspirations as well as the limitations it labored under in the Obama Administration, but I end up wondering whether it’s going to be different from “deterrence through having the best offense.” Nothing wrong with that, in my view – as long as you have the best offense by a long shot, something that is by no means proven.


Continue Reading Episode 307: Is privacy in pandemics like atheism in foxholes?