The Biden Administration laid out plans both to remedy the immediate semiconductor shortage causing production halts in industries like autos, as well as longer term semiconductor policy reviews. In the immediate term, the Administration is planning a review of supply chain choke points and is in conversations with trading partners, businesses, and unions like the UAW. The Biden White House is also planning a longer-term, 100-day supply chain review for critical goods, led by the National Economic Council and the National Security Council. The review will look at a range of goods, like critical minerals, medical supplies, and high-capacity batteries, but semiconductors will be a primary focus. The review comes as chip industry leaders are urging Biden to invest in US semiconductor manufacturing to reverse recent declines.
The 1st Circuit, in a unanimous opinion written by Clinton-appointee Judge Sandra Lynch, ruled that border agents can power on US citizens’ phones and other digital devices, scroll through data, and confiscate the devices for weeks, even without suspicion of criminal activity. The Court emphasized the unique nature of international borders, at which “the government’s interest in preventing crime…is at its zenith.” This distinguished the case from the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling, which barred similar searches in ordinary arrests. It warned that barring searches of devices would “hamstring…efforts to prevent border-related crime and protect this country from national security threats.” The ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation brought the suit, which comes at a time when searches of electronic devices are surging. The case sets up a circuit split, given the 9th Circuit’s 2019 ruling to the contrary, which the government has appealed to the Supreme Court.
An Australian law making its way through Parliament would create a statute to cover bargaining between Big Tech and news publishers, with the explicit aim to force Big Tech to pay local media companies for its news. Since the law was proposed, Facebook and Google have vigorously protested what they see as infringements on internet freedom, but each had very different responses. Despite threats to pull out of Australia entirely, Google caved at the last minute, signing licensing deals with major Australian media groups, including Nine, which owns the Sydney Morning Herald and like received tens of millions of dollars. Notably Google’s deal with Murdoch-owned News Corp. covers its outlets worldwide, not just in Australia. By contrast, Facebook banned all sharing of news in Australia, and even barred users elsewhere from seeing or sharing Austrlian news sources on Facebook. Coming as newspaper ad revenue collapses, even as Facebook’s and Google’s ad revenue surges, publishers, technology companies, and policymakers worldwide are watching.
Patent reformers and investors who sought stronger patent protection from the new Democratic Congress are likely out of luck. IP waters had assumed that former ranking-member of the Judiciary Committee’s IP Subcommittee Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) would become Chairman. Instead, the new IP Subcommittee Chairman is Sen. Leahy (D-VT). Senator Coons has been a long-time champion of the STRONGER Patents Act, which would reform the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), and was expected to introduce the Bill in the new Congress. However, because Senator Leahy was a sponsor of the legislation that established PTAB, he is unlikely to allow Coons’ patent reform to get a hearing. This outcome caused patent reformers to warn that the US was falling behind Europe and China in establishing an effective patent framework for emerging technologies.
Following a military coup in Myanmar a couple weeks ago, the military junta has ordered national-scale internet blockages. The internet was fully shut off for 3 consecutive nights, and social media has been fully banned for weeks. The blockages have heightened fears amid military arrests of activists and opposition figures. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned the military against infringements on Myanmar residents’ rights of internet access. Meanwhile, demand for VPNs in Myanmar have skyrocketed up 7,200% after the February 4 Facebook ban.
2021 is likely to mark a major acceleration of Asian countries push for digital currencies. Cambodia was the first country to official launch a digital currency last year, China is trialing a digital renminbi in numerous cities, and countries like Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand are all conducting research and trials. Unlike the libertarian ideological basis for cryptocurrencies in Western countries, state-developed e-currencies have the potential to enhance state power and surveillance. Such a potential will likely spark lively privacy debates in Asian democracies like Japan and South Korea. However, Chinese officials are touting the digital renminbi as a means of enhancing state monitoring, sparking warnings of Big Brother. Experts suggest that privacy-conscious democratic governments and populations will likely prevent the digital renminbi’s internationalization.
As NATO countries warn of increasing “gray zone” threats from hostile actors like China and Russia, the Czech Republic is turning to wargames to strengthen its critical industries against supply chain disruptions, cyber attacks, and even ownership bids by hostile state firms. The Czech government has particularly cited the need to create a stronger nexus between government and industry to guard against China’s targeting of critical strategic technologies in Europe. So far, these exercises are being conducted with the leading Czech defense firms and will likely soon extend to other critical industries like IT, healthcare, and food production.