Technology, Economics, And Governance News Roundup | April 29 - May 6

Friday, May 6, 2022

A weekly digest of the latest news and research related to the work of the Technology, Economics, and Governance Working Group. Topics covered in the digest include cybersecurity, domestic regulation, innovation, international competition, social media disinformation, and the California exodus.

This week’s roundup covers indications of a North Korean nuclear test, Putin’s strategy in Ukraine, the anti-satellite test ban, the risk to consumers posed by big tech legislation, President Biden’s new national security memo on quantum, and Governor Newsom’s steps to regulate cryptocurrency. Additional topics include using wide-area motion imagery technology for anomaly detection, the role of AI in a US-China conflict, and the implications of codifying “extremism” at the federal level. 

Industrial Policy, International Competition, and Cooperation

US assesses that North Korea may be ready to conduct underground nuclear test this month | CNN

US officials say signs of increased activity at Pyongyang’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site indicate that North Korea could be equipped to conduct an underground nuclear test by the end of this month. Satellite imagery shows vehicle and personnel movement at the site, although government sources do not know whether the regime has placed nuclear materials in the tunnels underneath the facility. This assessment precedes President Biden’s planned visit to South Korea and Japan later this month. North Korea has not tested a nuclear weapon in almost five years.

Russia’s War Has Been Brutal, but Putin Has Shown Some Restraint. Why? | The New York Times

The invasion of Ukraine has caused countless deaths and displaced millions of refugees; however, analysts are puzzled by Moscow’s hesitancy to utilize all of the tools in its arsenal. For example, Russian forces have not aggressively targeted Ukrainian transportation infrastructure, even though doing so could disrupt the flow of Western military aid. Likewise, fears of large-scale cutoffs of energy exports to Europe have not come to fruition, nor have worries that the Kremlin would launch a devastating cyber campaign. While the incompetence of Putin’s invasion force and the success of Ukrainian air defenses may partially explain why much Ukrainian infrastructure remains intact, recent patterns in Russian troop activity indicate that the Kremlin is transitioning to a more cautious strategy centered in Eastern Ukraine.

The anti-satellite test ban must not undermine deterrence | Defense News

Retired US Air Force General Kevin Chilton writes that America’s adversaries are unlikely to mirror the United States’ recent testing ban of direct-ascent, anti-satellite missiles. In order to ensure that this decision does not jeopardize American deterrence in space, he argues that the US must maintain multiple offensive options to demonstrate resolve and to hold adversaries’ space-based resources at risk. The Department of Defense’s ability to project American power on the ground could be threatened if the US loses parity in space to our rivals.

Domestic Regulation

Congress Is Putting Attacking Big Tech Ahead of Protecting Americans | American Enterprise Institute

Despite cybersecurity warnings from the State Department, the White House, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency cautioning users to be vigilant in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, lawmakers in Congress remain committed to the Open App Markets Act—an antitrust bill that would force tech companies to allow unvetted, third-party applications on their devices. The authors argue that closed app ecosystems are critical for cyber safety. Forcing private actors to dismantle these barriers is a short-sighted policy that sacrifices consumers’ cybersafety by forcing them to work in an open app economy, even though ways of circumventing safety nets have always existed.   

Innovation

The spy in the sky that sees backwards in time | The Economist

Advances in wide-area motion imagery (WAMI)—technology that allows aerial surveillance teams to look through extensive footage to track irregular behavior—include improvements in automated, AI-driven anomaly identification. One WAMI system currently being tested by the US Navy features a network of specialized sensors that automatically integrate their findings and develop an intelligence package fit for human eyes. As WAMI begins to enter non-military sectors, critics have raised concerns that these systems could be used by law enforcement to violate civil liberties.

How AI Would — and Wouldn’t — Factor into a U.S.-Chinese War | War on the Rocks

Artificial intelligence is unlikely to be the deciding factor in a military confrontation with China, but it could strengthen China’s information operations and offensive cyber capabilities aimed at US communication networks. Both social media botnets and infrastructure attacks could be enhanced by machine-learning applications. On the American side, help from AI systems would be crucial for facilitating complicated logistical operations to transport supplies to the Pacific. Other uses include mobilizing smart drones to support outnumbered American air fighters and cutting down on wasted munitions.

Cyber

Many Hands in the Cookie Jar: Response Options to Cyber Incidents Affecting U.S. Government Networks | RAND Corporation

After studying five cases of Chinese and Russian cyber-enabled espionage aimed at the United States, RAND researchers concluded that American policymakers rarely initiated a vigorous response to cyber provocations. Decision-makers felt hesitant to retaliate because committing to a normative opposition to cyber espionage might constrain future American activities in cyberspace. However, the United States’ limited pushback appears to have emboldened its adversaries to expand their cyber activities. The authors recommend that the US expand its diplomatic efforts, establish firm norms for cyber espionage, and bolster defensive cyber measures.

President Biden Signs Memo to Combat Quantum Computing Threat | NSA

Washington announced on Wednesday that President Biden signed a National Security Memorandum addressing issues related to quantum computing. In the future, powerful quantum computers will likely be able to crack most existing digital cryptography—including those that protect critical infrastructure and military communications. Biden’s new directive orders government agencies to begin a multi-year effort to migrate their systems to quantum-resistant cryptography.

California

California governor issues executive order on crypto as state embraces blockchain technology | CNBC

California Governor Newsom signed an executive order this week that includes a framework of regulations and consumer protections for cryptocurrencies. The document also explores how the state of California can benefit from blockchain technologies. Newsom’s goal is to create a controlled business environment for blockchain usage that protects consumers, fosters growth, and incorporates California values.

Freedom of Speech, Domestic Democracy, and Extremism

What Extremism Means to the Federal Government | Lawfare

The federal government does not have an official definition of the word “extremism.” Participating in extremism does not necessarily entail violence or other unlawful behavior. Thus, drafting a legal definition of extremism that extends beyond conduct already deemed unlawful is a politically fraught process. The Justice Department focuses on violent extremism and does not prosecute non-violent extremism. However in the Defense Department, where servicemembers are not privy to the same First Amendment rights as civilians, codifying policies prohibiting non-violent extremist behavior is a shakier process. Important questions remain about whether the government should be able to both define extremism and implement policies targeting non-violent actors.