Today, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it anticipates proposing a privacy rulemaking this month, with comments closing in August.  This announcement follows the agency’s statement in December that it planned to begin a rulemaking to “curb lax security practices, limit privacy abuses, and ensure that algorithmic decision-making does not result in unlawful discrimination.”  The rulemaking will be governed by Magnuson-Moss rulemaking procedures, which contain more procedural safeguards and substantive requirements than Administrative Procedure Act rulemaking.

The UK government has reported a successful start to the implementation of the National Security and Investment Act 2021 (the “NSIA” or “Act”). During the first three months (Jan-March 2022) in which the new NSIA regime has been active, the Investment Screening Unit (“ISU”) received 222 filings and reviewed 17 transactions in depth. Of those 17 transactions, three have been cleared unconditionally, with the other 14 transactions still under review at the end of the reporting period.

Mandatory NSIA filings, which represented 196 of the total flings, were most commonly made in six sectors: defence, military and dual-use, critical suppliers to government, artificial intelligence, data infrastructure and advanced materials.  There were significantly fewer filings in other sectors, with fewer than five filings per sector in areas such as synthetic biology, civil nuclear, advanced robotics and transport.

Collectively, these figures and other data suggest that the NSIA regime is operating, so far, broadly in line with expectations. While there are fewer filings than expected overall, this may reflect a broader global slowdown in M&A and investment activity. The ISU further reports that it is meeting, and often working well within, the maximum statutory time periods for the assessment of filings. The ISU indicates its willingness to complete reviews expeditiously where possible, including for in-depth assessments.

Continue Reading UK National Security and Investment Regime Working Well

On June 6 and June 9, 2022, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) issued additional guidance on the sanctions that prohibit U.S. persons from making a “new investment” in Russia and from providing accounting, trust and corporate formation, and management consulting services to any person located in Russia.

Separately, from June 15, 2022, the UK Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (“OFSI”) gained new powers to impose financial penalties for breaches of UK sanctions regulations (including, but not limited to, the UK sanctions regulations with respect to Russia) on a strict liability basis and to publish reports of cases where it is satisfied that a breach of financial sanctions has occurred but where no penalty is imposed.

This alert summarizes these new sanctions developments.

New U.S. Sanctions Developments

Guidance on the Prohibitions on “New Investment” by U.S. Persons in Russia

On June 6, 2022, OFAC issued guidance in the form of responses to new frequently asked questions (“FAQs”) to clarify certain aspects of the prohibitions on “new investment” in Russia by U.S. persons that were imposed under the following executive orders (“E.O.s”):

  • E.O. 14066, issued on March 8, 2022 (prohibiting new investment by U.S. persons in the energy sector of the Russian Federation, as described in our March 10 alert); 
  • E.O. 14068, issued on March 11, 2022 (prohibiting new investment by U.S. persons in any sector of the Russian Federation economy as may be determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State); and 
  • E.O. 14071, issued on April 6, 2022 (prohibiting “all new investment in the Russian Federation by U.S. persons, wherever located” as well as “any approval, financing, facilitation, or guarantee by a U.S. person, wherever located, of a transaction by a foreign person where the transaction by that foreign person would be prohibited by E.O. 14071 if performed by a U.S. person or within the United States,” as described in our April 11 alert.
Continue Reading Recent Developments in U.S. and UK Sanctions: OFAC Guidance on “New Investment” and Prohibition on the Provision of Certain Services to Any Person in Russia; UK Sanctions Enforcement Developments

The UK government has reported a successful start to the implementation of the National Security and Investment Act 2021 (the “NSIA” or “Act”). During the first three months (Jan-March 2022) in which the new NSIA regime has been active, the Investment Screening Unit (“ISU”) received 222 filings and reviewed 17 transactions in depth. Of those 17 transactions, three have been cleared unconditionally, with the other 14 transactions still under review at the end of the reporting period.

Mandatory NSIA filings, which represented 196 of the total flings, were most commonly made in six sectors: defence, military and dual-use, critical suppliers to government, artificial intelligence, data infrastructure and advanced materials.  There were significantly fewer filings in other sectors, with fewer than five filings per sector in areas such as synthetic biology, civil nuclear, advanced robotics and transport.

Collectively, these figures and other data suggest that the NSIA regime is operating, so far, broadly in line with expectations. While there are fewer filings than expected overall, this may reflect a broader global slowdown in M&A and investment activity. The ISU further reports that it is meeting, and often working well within, the maximum statutory time periods for the assessment of filings. The ISU indicates its willingness to complete reviews expeditiously where possible, including for in-depth assessments.

Continue Reading UK National Security and Investment Regime Working Well

On Monday 13 June, the UK Government tabled a Northern Ireland Protocol Bill (The NIP Bill) giving it the power to dis-apply parts of the N Ireland Protocol (NIP), an integral part of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).  The EU’s response was immediate: unfreezing the 2021 legal action commenced in response to the UK’s unilateral decision not to apply checks to incoming goods from GB to N Ireland.  In the months to come, the UK may face a second legal action by the EU in respect of The NIP Bill.  Without resolution, this issue could ultimately undo the TCA, igniting a trade war between the EU and the UK.

On 14 June, the first UK Government flight taking asylum seekers and refugees from the UK to Rwanda was prevented from taking off by a last minute intervention by an ECHR Judge.   This intervention triggered a backlash among right-wing politicians and commentators, who began to call for the UK to withdraw from the Convention itself – a suggestion which was not discounted by the PM when he was asked about it later.  It will take several months for the courts to decide whether the policy is legal: during that time, the Government appears to have accepted that no more flights to Rwanda can depart, leaving its flagship immigration policy equally grounded.

But the question of membership of the ECHR matters not only for the important principle of international protection of human rights, but because the ECHR is one of the pillars on which the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) rests.  The GFA brought an end to 30 years of The Troubles, and imposed an obligation on the UK to incorporate the Convention into the law of N Ireland to make it directly enforceable in N Ireland’s courts. The UK’s 1998 Human Rights Act did this.  Leaving the ECHR, therefore, to force through the Rwanda asylum policy, would breach the GFA, which the UK Government argues The NIP Bill is intended to defend. 

How did we get here?

Continue Reading Northern Ireland Protocol and the ECHR

This past week, co-defendants in a class action related to the theft of cryptocurrency engaged in their own lawsuit over alleged security failures.  IRA Financial Trust, a retirement account provider offering crypto-assets, sued class action co-defendant Gemini Trust Company, LLC, a crypto-asset exchange owned by the Winklevoss twins, following a breach of IRA customer accounts.  IRA claims that Gemini failed to secure a “master key” to IRA’s accounts, and that hackers were able to exploit this alleged security flaw to steal tens of millions of dollars of cryptocurrency.  This lawsuit demonstrates the growing trend of cryptocurrency thefts resulting from cyber breaches, and ensuing litigation activity.

IRA Financial Trust v. Gemini Trust Company, LLC, 1:22-cv-04672 (S.D.N.Y. June 6, 2022), stems from an alleged cyber incident in February 2022.  IRA provides self-directed retirement accounts, and in 2019 began allowing its customers to include crypto assets in such accounts.  To supply these services, IRA employed Gemini’s crypto exchange service to manage the trading and custody of its customers’ crypto assets.  Following a response by SWAT officers to IRA’s offices in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in response to a purported kidnapping, IRA claims that it discovered cryptocurrency was being transferred within the Gemini program from other IRA customer accounts into one single account, and that roughly $37 million of bitcoin and Ether assets were subsequently transferred out of that account by the hackers.  IRA alleges that this hack resulted from insufficient protection of a “master key” to IRA’s accounts, and avers in its fraud claim that Gemini made misleading statements about their commitment to cybersecurity that induced IRA to select Gemini as a partner.

IRA and Gemini are co-defendants in a class action lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California in March of this year by a plaintiff purporting to represent customers who claim to have lost the cryptocurrency held in their retirement accounts as a result of this alleged breach.  Griffin v. Gemini Trust Co., LLC and IRA Financial Trust Co., 3:22-cv-01747 (N.D.C.A. March 18, 2022).  In that action, Gemini responded with a motion to compel arbitration. While litigation related to cybersecurity incidents, including class actions, have become increasingly common, the rise in the number and sophistication of cyber theft from businesses associated with the trading and holding of crypto assets is likely to result in increasing litigation activity in this space.

On 30 May 2022, the European Union (“EU”) adopted the revised Regulation on guidelines for trans-European energy infrastructure (No. 2022/869) (the “TEN-E Regulation 2022”), which replaces the previous rules laid down in Regulation No. 347/2013 (the “TEN-E Regulation 2013”) that aimed to improve security of supply, market integration, competition and sustainability in the energy sector. The TEN-E Regulation 2022 seeks to better support the modernisation of Europe’s cross-border energy infrastructures and the EU Green Deal objectives.

The three most important things you need to know about the TEN-E Regulation 2022:

  • Projects may qualify as Projects of Common Interest (“PCI”) and be selected on an EU list if (i) they fall within the identified priority corridors and (ii) help achieve EU’s overall energy and climate policy objectives in terms of security of supply and decarbonisation. The TEN-E Regulation 2022 updates its priority corridors to address the EU Green Deal objectives, while extending their scope to include projects connecting the EU with third countries, namely Projects of Mutual Interest (“PMI”).
  • PCIs and PMIs on the EU list must be given priority status to ensure rapid administrative and judicial treatment.
  • PCIs and PMIs will be eligible for EU financial assistance. Member States will also be able to grant financial support subject to State aid rules.
Continue Reading The European Union adopted new rules for the Trans-European Networks for Energy

Last month, the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC) met in Paris-Saclay for the second time since its launch in June 2021. (The first ministerial took place in Pittsburgh in September. France hosted this session as holder of the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.) The meeting was co-chaired by Secretary of State Blinken, Secretary of Commerce Raimondo, and U.S. Trade Representative Tai, and European Commission Executive Vice Presidents Vestager and Dombrovskis. European Commissioner Breton also joined the discussions and the French ministers for foreign affairs, economy, and trade (Le Drian, Le Maire, and Riester) hosted the opening dinner.

The TTC is a new model of economic integration through regulatory coordination. Although both sides reserve their “regulatory autonomy,” they have also invested significant political capital, time, and effort into this process. The TTC spans broad policy areas including tech standards, climate, supply chains, export controls, and investment screening. It operates through ten working groups, which meet at staff working levels and seek input from outside stakeholders. For instance, the European Commission sponsors a “Trade and Technology Dialogue” facility to conduct outreach to the private sector and civil society. Through this technical work, the TTC’s aim is to shape the “rules of the road” for the global economy to favor liberal democracies, leveraging the transatlantic community’s half of global GDP. The ministerials set the themes and political direction for the working groups.

Against the backdrop of Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine, the U.S. and EU noted that the TTC has become a “central pillar” of the transatlantic partnership, “indispensable” in facilitating coordination on sanctions and export controls. It will serve as a forum to monitor and discuss the Russia sanctions and may coordinate their eventual removal. Indeed, the TTC has arguably become more of a geopolitical tool than originally intended. Its 48-page joint statement reflects the breadth and depth of the underlying discussions and signals various future policy directions.

Continue Reading U.S.-EU Trade and Tech Council: Paris Takeaways and Next Steps

Trade associations, 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, other outside groups that pay for
political advertisements, and their donors now have more answers to long-running questions
regarding when donations to these groups are publicly reportable. After postponing
consideration of the issue during its previous meeting, the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”)
approved Wednesday an interim final rule on donor disclosure. The interim rule amends the
federal regulations that describe when outside groups that pay for independent expenditures–
advertisements that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate–
must publicly disclose on FEC reports the names of their donors. The amended rule will take
effect 30 legislative days after the FEC transmits the new rule to Congress, which the FEC
anticipates will be September 30, 2022.

The interim rule brings the FEC’s regulations into harmony with a 2018 court decision that
invalidated a long-standing regulation, 11 C.F.R. § 109.10(e)(1)(vi), requiring outside groups to
disclose only those donors who contributed at least $200 to the outside group “for the purpose
of furthering the reported independent expenditure.” The interim final rule strikes the regulation
entirely. However, the FEC added a note to 11 C.F.R. § 109.10(e)(1) that clarifies the remaining
portions of the regulation and the relevant statute are still in effect.

In the wake of the 2018 decision, many questions remained about when these groups must
disclose donor names. The revised regulation itself was not meant to answer those questions; it
was simply meant to harmonize regulations on the books with existing court decisions. Some of
these questions were answered by an unusual guidance document the Commission posted to
its website after the 2018 decision. That guidance, which remains in effect, provides that groups
(other than political committees) that pay for independent expenditures must disclose the names
of donors of over $200 who made contributions “earmarked for political purposes” during the
reporting period.

Continue Reading FEC Commissioners Issue New Guidance<br />on Donor Disclosure for Groups Paying for<br />Political Advertisements

The UK government has proposed legislation to open the way for gene‑edited food products in England.  The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill (“Precision Breeding Bill”) sets out a new regulatory regime that may provide a faster and easier path to market for certain gene-edited plants, animals and derived products.

Overview of the Precision Breeding Bill

The Precision Breeding Bill applies to “precision bred organisms”.  These are defined in the Precision Breeding Bill as plants and animals that have been genetically modified through the use of “modern biotechnology”, where that genetic modification is of a type that could have been produced using “traditional processes” (i.e. selective breeding, grafting, embryo transfer, spontaneous mutation, etc.).  The definition of “modern biotechnology”, for the purposes of the Precision Breeding Bill, aligns with the set of techniques listed in regulation 5(1)(a) or (b) of the Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) Regulations 2002 (S.I. 2002/2443).  Ultimately, the effect of the Precision Breeding Bill is to create a distinction in law between ‘precision bred organisms’ and all other ‘genetically modified organisms’ (“GMOs”) where the genetic modification could only have been produced using genetic modification technologies (e.g. introducing genes from one species into another, entirely unrelated, species).

The Precision Breeding Bill provides that a person wishing to use precision bred organisms for research or for marketing must first notify and register the precision bred organism.  Once notified and registered for research and development, the precision bred organisms can be released i.e. planted, bred or cultivated.  No specific authorisation is required.  Before marketing the precision bred organism, a person must apply for a ‘precision bred confirmation’, which indicates that the Secretary of State is satisfied, on the basis of information provided by the person, and scientific advice, that the organism qualifies as a precision bred organism.  The UK government will maintain a public register of all notified information. 

Continue Reading UK Draft Bill Permits ‘Precision Bred’ Gene-Edited Plants, Animals and Products