Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Matt Gluck
Tuesday, December 22, 2020, 2:26 PM

The Justice Department on Monday announced new charges against alleged bombmaker Abu Agela Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi for his suspected role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, reports the Associated Press. In 2017, U.S. officials obtained a copy of a 2012 interview in which Mas’ud—a former expert for the Libyan intelligence service—reportedly admitted to building the bomb used in the Pan Am attack. Mas’ud is the third Libyan intelligence official the U.S. has charged in connection with the attack—but the first in almost 30 years. The charges were unsealed exactly 32 years after the bombing.

After months of partisan disagreement over pandemic relief, Congress approved a $900 billion coronavirus stimulus bill late Monday evening, writes Politico. President Trump is expected to sign the bill. The relief package includes funds for hospitals, schools and vaccine distribution—in addition to $300 billion for small business loans. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says that the $600 direct payments to individuals and families included in the bill will be distributed “very quickly.”

The Verge reports that the stimulus bill also includes measures that significantly expand the rights of intellectual property owners. For example, it establishes a tribunal that will streamline the process of adjudicating copyright infringement claims.

President-elect Joe Biden and incoming first lady Dr. Jill Biden on Monday received injections of the coronavirus vaccine developed by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech, writes the New York Times. The president-elect encouraged Americans to continue to take precautions that would slow the spread of the virus—such as wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding unnecessary travel.

The CEO of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, said Tuesday that he is confident the company’s vaccine—which was jointly developed with Pfizer—will protect against the new variant of the coronavirus recently detected in England, reports the Associated Press. But Sahin noted that further experiments need to be conducted to confirm this is true. If an adjustment is necessary, Sahin said it would take approximately six weeks to execute.

The suspected Russian hackers who breached U.S. government agencies gained access to the email system used by senior leadership at the Treasury Department, reports the New York Times. Secretary Mnuchin says that the hackers did not breach the department’s classified systems.

High-level advisers to President-elect Biden said Monday that the incoming administration will not immediately undo the Trump administration immigration policies, according to the Washington Post. Biden’s domestic policy adviser Susan Rice explained in a written statement that “[m]igrants and asylum seekers absolutely should not believe those in the region peddling the idea that the border will suddenly be fully open to process everyone on Day 1. It will not.” Rice noted specifically that Biden will not immediately terminate the measures implemented by the Trump administration in March that allow U.S. immigration agents to bypass certain asylum procedures.

A lawsuit filed against Google by 10 states alleges that Facebook and Google agreed to a deal in 2018 in which Facebook would not compete with Google’s online advertising tools in exchange for preferential treatment when Facebook used them, reports the Wall Street Journal. According to the lawsuit, the tech giants allegedly discussed how they would deal with potential antitrust investigations caused by their agreement.

Several prominent tech companies—including Google and Cisco—filed an amicus brief Monday supporting WhatsApp’s case against Israeli intelligence company NSO Group, reports TechCrunch. WhatsApp alleges that NSO exploited a vulnerability in the messaging application to breach at least 1,400 devices. The Israeli firm’s primary defense is that it has legal immunity in the United States because it works on behalf of governments. WhatsApp and the tech companies that have joined it are asking the court to reject NSO’s attempt to gain immunity.

The U.S. imposed more visa restrictions Monday on Chinese officials alleged to have committed human rights abuses, writes Reuters. China says it will retaliate. These sanctions come after the U.S. on Friday added several Chinese companies to a trade blacklist—including top chip producer Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Chinese government is increasingly using the multi-purpose communication and payment app WeChat to surveil political opposition and justify punishments against Chinese individuals. The shift to remote working and education in China during the pandemic has pushed more companies and schools to use WeChat technology, giving the government more visibility into communication in the country.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast covering signals intelligence (SIGINT) in the United Kingdom. David Kris spoke with Michael Drury and Tony Comer who are both former members of the Government Communications Headquarters—the British government’s counterpart to the National Security Agency. They discussed the similarities and differences between U.S. and UK SIGINT operations, among other topics related to signals intelligence.

Alan Charles Raul explained that U.S. companies should be able to show relatively easily that U.S. surveillance authorities will not preclude the companies from complying with the requirements on the use of “standard contractual clauses” established in the Schrems II decision.

Jane Bambauer and Brian Ray detailed the factors that caused the failure of digital contact tracing apps in the U.S. as part of Lawfare’s Digital Social Contract research paper series.

Paul Stern argued that lawmakers will need to be as focused on remedies law as they are on privileges and immunities to make meaningful change in civil rights litigation.

Rohini Kurup shared the Justice Department’s charges against a former Libyan intelligence official for his role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Benjamin Wittes asked readers to support Lawfare.

Wittes also invited the Lawfare community to ask questions for Lawfare contributors to answer on a special episode of the Lawfare Podcast.