The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


Did Google just start an arms race with China?

Introducing the Cyberlaw Podcast


I host the Cyberlaw Podcast, a weekly show that features an in-depth interview and an opinionated take on the week's news in cyber law and policy. Well, perhaps "opinionated" is a bit of an understatement, especially for libertarians. If you're hoping for something that is "often libertarian," as our masthead proclaims, I feel obliged to offer a trigger warning. As host, I'm openly skeptical of large parts of the libertarian canon, especially when it involves giving up effective counterterrorism tools in the name of privacy. On the plus side, strict libertarians who listen to the podcast while exercising will get a guaranteed ten beats per minute increase in their heart rate without additional effort. And it's ad-free!

I'll be summarizing the topics and positions explored on the podcast here each week. We just finished our last episode of the podcast for the year—number 196. (We'll resume in January.) The episode features an interview with Elsa Kania, author of a Center for a New American Security report on China's plan for military uses of artificial intelligence – a plan that seems to have been accelerated by the asymmetric impact of AlphaGo on the other side of the Pacific.

In the news, Brian Egan, formerly Legal Adviser to the State Department and the National Security Council in the Obama years, talks about China's perspective on "sovereignty in cyberspace" which was elaborated at China's World Internet Conference and I point out that China continues its "two steps forward, one step back" process of bringing US companies to heel on security issues.

Nick Weaver, our tech expert from Berkeley, explains that the US financial institutions' "project doomsday" could just as easily be cast as "fire hydrant standardization." It could be, but it won't, at least not by headline writers.

Nick also calls out Apple for failing to follow US law in responding to pen/trap and wiretap orders.

I take a victory lap in the episode, because the Director of National Intelligence has promised to apply the "Gates procedures" to unmasking of transition officials. Notwithstanding my normal skepticism about new civil liberties constraints on intelligence collection, I had recommended this step and defended the House Intelligence Committee bill on the topic. Now the DNI is buying in.

Bleeping Computer says Germany is planning backdoors into modern devices. Maybe so, I offer, but whether that includes encryption is not at all clear.

Finally, Nick digs into the remarkable work that Citizen Lab and Bill Marczak continue to do on authoritarian government hacking. He says, with evidence, that efforts to control sales to untrustworthy governments are actually working.

The Cyberlaw Podcast is open to feedback. Send your questions, suggestions for interview candidates or topics to or leave a message at +1 202 862 5785. If you'd like to listen, you can download the 196th Episode (mp3) here. Or you can subscribe to The Cyberlaw Podcast here.