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Robert Amsterdam: “Disruption and the Weaponization of Law” | Talks at Google

Over the past half century, we have been experiencing a tremendous acceleration in the velocity of history. As Arthur Schlesginer, Jr. originally wrote in the Atlantic in 1967, the present is becoming the past ever more quickly, and events of just a few years ago may feel as distant as the 19th century, accompanied by an intensification of both the means and volume of communication. Our understanding of recent historical events is no longer thorough, our collective memories are short, and in many cases our capacity for resilience is buckling under the weight to understand the new realities of our environment. Disruptive innovation, a well intentioned goal of many Silicon Valley firms, not only brings forward new opportunities and access for billions, but also carries unintended consequences, creating misalignments, discontinuity, and socioeconomic displacement.

We have seen very clearly that such a sudden and powerful challenge to status quo interests is in many cases met with fierce resistance. The explosive growth of populist political movements, including in the United States, presents a challenging minefield of geopolitical risk. Executives of technology firms are increasingly becoming targets of new legislation and “contract prosecutions,” not only by states, but also by competitors with proximity to power. We’ve seen WhatsApp executives arrested as part of anti-corruption crusades in Brazil, Uber offices raided by police in the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and China, and even outbreaks of violence in other countries. The European Commission continues to assert regulatory authority on the “right to be forgotten” debate, while Russia continues to block access to businesses such as LinkedIn over their refusal to physically place their data servers with the boundaries of the country’s claimed “digital sovereignty.”

Robert Amsterdam, an international lawyer who has intensively worked on high-level political cases in more than a dozen countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, argues that the political pressure being applied against judicial systems and prosecutors has resulted in a crisis of legitimacy and weakened institutions. International law and foreign policy have been weaponized while individual entrepreneurs now face risks unimagined in years past. Drawing comparisons between his own client experiences facing down politically-charged cases, Amsterdam proposes that companies must undertake corporate foreign policies to help them navigate these challenges and protect against the next challenges of the future.

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