Our interview is with Mara Hvistendahl, investigative journalist at The Intercept and author of a new book, The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage, as well as a deep WIRED article on the least known Chinese AI champion, iFlytek. Mara’s book raises
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.
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.
This episode features a lively (and – fair warning – long) interview with Daphne Keller, Director of the Program on Platform Regulation at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center. We explore themes from her recent paper on regulation of online speech. It turns out that more or less everyone has an ability to restrict users’ speech online, and pretty much no one has both authority and an interest in fostering free-speech values. The ironies abound: Conservatives may be discriminated against, but so are Black Lives Matter activists. In fact, it looks to me as though any group that doesn’t think it’s the victim of biased content moderation would be well advised to scream as loudly about censorship or the others for fear of losing the victimization sweepstakes. Feeling a little like a carny at the sideshow, I serve up one solution for biased moderation after another, and Daphne methodically shoots them down. Transparency? None of the companies is willing, and the government may have a constitutional problem forcing them to disclose how they make their moderation decisions. Competition law? A long haul, and besides, most users like a moderated Internet experience. Regulation? Only if we take the First Amendment back to the heyday of broadcast regulation. As a particularly egregious example of foreign governments and platforms ganging up to censor Americans, we touch on the CJEU’s insufferable decision encouraging the export of European defamation law to the US – with an extra margin of censorship to keep the platform from any risk of liability. I offer to risk my Facebook account to see if that’s already happening.
We interview Ben Buchanan about his new book, The Hacker and the State: Cyber Attacks and the New Normal of Geopolitics. This is Ben’s second book and second interview on the podcast about international conflict and cyber weapons. It’s safe to say that America’s strategic posture hasn’t improved. We face more adversaries with more tools and a considerably greater appetite for cyber adventurism. Ben recaps some of the stories that were undercovered in the US press when they occurred. The second large attack on Ukraine’s grid, for example, was little noticed during the US election of 2016, but it appears more ominous after a recent analysis of the tools used, and perhaps most importantly, those available to the GRU but not used. Meanwhile, the US is not making much progress in cyberspace on the basic requirement of a great power, which is making our enemies fear us.
In breaking news from 1995, the Washington Post takes advantage of a leaked CIA history paper to retell the remarkable tale of Crypto AG, a purveyor of encryption products to dozens of governments – and allegedly a wholly controlled subsidiary of US and German intelligence. Nick Weaver, Paul Rosenzweig, and I are astonished at the derring-do and unapologetic enthusiasm for intelligence collection. I mean, really: The Pope?
This week’s interview is with Jonathan Reiber, a writer and strategist in Oakland, California, and former Chief Strategy Officer for Cyber Policy and Speechwriter at the Department of Defense, currently senior advisor at Technology for Global Security and visiting scholar at the UC Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity. His recent report offers a candid view of strained relations between Silicon Valley and the Pentagon. The interview explores the reasons for that strain, the importance of bridging the gap, and how that can best be done.
Nick Weaver and I debate Sens. Graham and Blumenthal’s EARN IT Act, a proposal to require that social media firms follow best practices on preventing child abuse. If they don’t, they won’t get full Section 230 immunity from liability for recklessly allowing the abuse. Nick thinks the idea is ill-conceived and doomed to fail. I think there’s a core of sense to the proposal, which simply asks that Silicon Valley firms who are reckless about child abuse on their networks pay for the social costs they’re imposing on society. Since the bill gives the attorney general authority to modify the best practices submitted by a commission of industry, academic, and civic representatives, critics are sure that the final product will reduce corporate incentives to offer end-to-end encryption.
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.
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.
Our interview is with Alex Joel, former Chief of the Office of Civil Liberties, Privacy, and Transparency at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Alex is now at the American University law school’s Tech, Law, and Security Program. We share stories about the difficulties of government startups and how the ODNI carved out a role for itself in the Intelligence Community (hint: It involved good lawyering). We dive pretty deep on recent FISA court opinions and the changes they forced in FBI procedures. In the course of that discussion, I realize that every “reform” of intelligence dreamed up by Congress in the last decade has turned out to be a self-licking compliance trap, and I take back some of my praise for the DNI’s lawyering.