Cyberwar for Real This Time?

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Episode 395 of the Cyberlaw Podcast

Stewart Baker |

Troops and sanctions and accusations are coming thick and fast in Ukraine as we record the podcast. Michael Ellis draws on his past experience at the National Security Council (NSC) to guess how things are going at the White House, and we both speculate on whether the conflict will turn into a cyberwar that draws the United States in. Neither of us thinks so, though for different reasons.

Meanwhile, Nick Weaver reports, the Justice Department is gearing up for a fight with cryptocurrency criminals. Nick thinks it couldn’t happen to a nicer industry. Michael and I contrast the launching of this initiative with the slow death of the China initiative due to a few botched prosecutions and a whole lot of anti-American racial political correctness.

Speaking of political correctness, Michael and I do a roundup of news (all bad) for face recognition technology. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman (ND IL) gets our prize for least persuasive first amendment analysis of the year — in an opinion holding that collecting and disclosing people’s public images can be punished with massive civil liability even if no damages have been shown. After all, the judge declares in an analysis that covers a full page and a half (double-spaced!), the Illinois law imposing liability “does not restrict a particular viewpoint nor target public discussion of an entire topic.” Well, that settles that.

But if you’re a first amendment fan, don’t worry; the amendment is bound to get a heavy defense in the next big face recognition lawsuit – the Texas Attorney General’s effort to extract hundreds of billions of dollars from Facebook for tagging the faces of their users. My bet? This one will make it to the Supreme Court. Next, we review the IRS’s travails in trying to use face recognition to verify taxpayers who want access to their returns. I shamelessly urge everyone to read my latest op-ed on the topic in the Washington Post.

Finally, I mock the wokesters at Amnesty International who think that people living in high-crime New York neighborhoods should be freed from the burden of face recognition cameras that could identify and jail street criminals. After all, if facial recognition were more equitably allocated, think of how many Staten Island scofflaws could be identified for letting their dogs poop on the sidewalk.

Nick and I dig into the pending collision between European law enforcement agencies and privacy zealots in Brussels who want to ban EU use of NSO’s Pegasus surveillance tech. Meanwhile, in a rare bit of good news for Pegasus’s creator, an Israeli investigation is now casting doubt on press reports of Pegasus abuse.

Finally, Michael and I mull over the surprisingly belated but still troubling disclosures about just how opaque TikTok has made its code and methods of operation. Two administrations in a row have started out to do something about this sus app, I note, and neither has delivered – for reasons that demonstrate the deepest flaws of both.

Download the 395th Episode (mp3)

You can subscribe to The Cyberlaw Podcast using iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Pocket Casts, or our RSS feed. As always, The Cyberlaw Podcast is open to feedback. Be sure to engage with @stewartbaker on Twitter.

Here’s a special request. We’ve thought of doing episode 400 in person in Washington, or at least in a public Zoom session that listeners to see live.  If you think you’d attend, and you support either a live or a Zoom session, please send a note to that effect to CyberlawPodcast@steptoe.com. If we get enough interest in one or the other, we’ll try to make it happen.

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.

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