Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By William Ford
Tuesday, March 20, 2018, 11:54 AM

Despite the possibility of talks between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Pentagon announced Monday that joint military exercises with South Korea will remain the same size as they have in recent years, the Washington Post reports. During the Winter Olympics, Washington and Pyeongchang pushed the exercises back in an attempt to maintain peace with the North and decrease tensions on the peninsula. They are scheduled for April 1. Though the Kim regime has in the past characterized the exercises as preparations for war, on March 8 it communicated to President Trump—through a South Korean national security official—that it “understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue,” notwithstanding possible talks.

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether Facebook violated a 2011 settlement by handing over the personal data of 50 million users to Cambridge Analytica without those users knowledge, Bloomberg reports. The settlement stipulates that Facebook must secure user consent for particular changes to user-privacy settings; it followed federal accusations that the company tricked its users into sharing more private data than they intended by failing to report the changes that Facebook made to the platform’s privacy settings. If the FTC finds Facebook at fault, it can issue fines against the tech giant worth thousands of dollars for each day of each violation.

The U.K. is also investigating whether Facebook did enough to protect user data from Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting, Reuters reports. Elizabeth Denham, the director of Britain’s Information Commission, is working to secure a warrant to raid the offices of Cambridge Analytica. In doing so, she hopes to determine whether Facebook “safeguarded personal information on the platform” and “acted robustly” in response to the data breach, or informed users when the company learned of the breach. In Ireland, the data protection commissioner plans to follow up with Facebook on the company’s oversight of third-party apps with access to users’ data, the New York Times adds. The Irish commissioner oversees the European Union’s regulation of Facebook because the tech giant’s European headquarters is in Dublin.

Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief information security officer, will leave the company by August after disputes with colleagues over his proposal to disclose more information about Russian interference and disinformation on the platform, the New York Times reports. Stamos advocated for restructuring Facebook to address the threats posed by Russia and other states’ misuse of the platform, but faced staunch opposition from his colleagues. In December 2017, Facebook’s leadership reassigned Stamos’s daily responsibilities to other individuals but persuaded him to remain at the company “because executives thought his departure would look bad.” If Stamos leaves the company by August, he will become the first senior official to leave Facebook in response to the company’s failure to address Russia’s use of the platform to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and spread disinformation.

President Trump plans to ease restrictions on the sale of certain models of lethal American-made drones to dozens of allies, Reuters reports. The policy shift will lower barriers to the sale of the lighter “hunter-killer drones” that carry fewer bombs and perform short-range missions. It will also ease restrictions on the sale of surveillance drones of all sizes. The list of allies expected to benefit from the eased restrictions includes NATO members, Saudi Arabia and other close partners in the Gulf, and Japan and South Korea. The administration could unveil these changes as early as this month; it intends to do so within the framework of the president’s “Buy America” initiative. Easing restrictions on the sale of potent drone technology would upend the military’s longstanding practice of sharing America’s unmanned military aircraft only with Washington’s closest allies.

Concerns about the national security risks posed by Huawei, the powerful Chinese telecommunications company, spread to U.S. allies this week, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Canadian Parliament debated the risks the company poses, and the chief executive of South Korea’s largest telecommunications company described Huawei as a serious concern. Australia has urged the Solomon Islands to end Huawei’s contract to construct the undersea cables linking the islands to Sydney, offering to fund the development of separate cables itself. Australia has also begun cautioning other countries about the risks posed by engagement with Huawei. Countries’ concerns over Huawei stem from the company’s formidable strength and the fear that it will secure for China a sizable lead in the development of 5G network infrastructure.

On Tuesday, 23 Russian diplomats and their families left the U.K. for Russia, Reuters reports. British Prime Minister Theresa May expelled the diplomats after finding Moscow responsible for the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Russia continues to deny that it carried out the attack; it closed the British Council in Russia. May’s decision to expel the Russian diplomats marks the biggest blow to British-Russian relations since Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher demanded that Soviet spies exit the country in 1985.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Orin Kerr challenged Andrew McCarthy’s accusation that the special counsel departed from Justice Department policy by failing to secure a guilty plea from Rick Gates on the most serious charge levied against him.

Daniel Byman argued that Hamas’s continued control of Gaza is the best-case scenario for Israel given the lack of better alternatives.

Bob Bauer suggested that the attorney general’s removal of FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe may indicate that the lawyers around the president will enable him, not resist him, as he looks to take action against Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Timothy Saviola and Nathan Swire posted Water Wars, a collation of the latest news, analysis, and opinions related to ongoing tensions in the South and East China Seas.

In response to President Trump’s escalating attacks on Mueller, Steve Vladeck dissected the legal questions relevant to legislation seeking to prohibit the dismissal of the special counsel.

Jordan Brunner summarized the first congressional authorization of the Department of Homeland Security since its creation in 2003.

Stewart Baker shared the Cyberlaw Podcast, which includes an interview with Pete Chronis, Turner’s Chief Information Security Officer.

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