Digital technologies have influenced all sectors of political and economic life in the 21st century. They have provided unprecedented benefits, but have also provoked massive power disruptions. These technologies are transforming governments, up-ending legal and political norms, reconfiguring economies and societies, and shifting geopolitical balances.
A new administration and Congress provide an opportunity to improve the governance of digital communication technologies. The problems posed by these technologies appear daunting: foreign-sponsored election interference, viral disinformation, online radicalization spilling into street violence, privacy violations, as well as the emergence of platform monopolies with unprecedented power over speech. Additionally, competition among governance regimes, specifically between the United States, Europe and China, has raised the stakes over whether democracies or authoritarian governments will set the rules for the internet. The policy choices made by the new administration will play a pivotal role in shaping our global future.
The following articles highlight technology policy priorities from a diverse array of leading experts. Some of the policy changes they recommend can be accomplished quickly; others may take years. Some must be implemented by government; others could be more quickly implemented by technology companies themselves. The explosion of research and expertise in these areas in recent years in academia, civil society, and the private sector can help guide the White House and Congress as they wrestle with the difficult trade-offs, and potential unintended consequences, inherent in governing the digital future.
This volume of essays is not intended as a comprehensive policy agenda for a new administration. Instead, it represents a compilation of priorities identified by a select group of experts. Some essays focus on one or two very specific recommendations, while other authors take a broader approach, identifying a larger set of priorities essential to the improvement of the digital technology ecosystem.
Despite this variation, several common themes emerge:
- The need to form an alliance between global democracies focused on technology governance in order to counter the rising threat posed by digital authoritarianism. Additional multilateral diplomatic efforts should ensure democratic principles guide the development of the new standards, protocols and norms governing digital technologies and cyberspace writ large.
- The need for the United States government to create dedicated leadership positions responsible for oversight of technology companies, including a potential “Commissioner on Cyber Abuse and Extremism”, an “Ambassador for Global Digital Affairs,” a “Czar” to coordinate agency action on privacy and algorithmic decision-making. Existing government agencies responsible for various aspects of technology oversight should be reorganized and new agencies may be needed to dramatically improve capacity and coordination amongst all relevant government bodies.
- The need for increased US investment in cybersecurity related R&D, and in ensuring universal broadband access, particularly for the most underserved populations.
- The need for greater algorithmic transparency from leading internet platforms, as a necessary precondition for both any meaningful oversight of platform activities, and sensible regulations moving forward.
Specifically, contributors suggest:
- Amending CDA 230 to deny immunity to platforms with respect to illegal and harmful content, that is disproportionately targeted at vulnerable communities, as Mary Anne Franks, professor of First Amendment Law at the University of Miami School of Law suggests.
- Laying the foundations for greater “content competition” by enabling a market for “middleware providers” that would hand editorial control to a diverse group of competitive actors, thereby enabling users to tailor their own online experiences, as Frank Fukuyama, Co-Director of the Cyber Policy Center’s Program on Democracy and the Internet, and co-authors Barak Richman, Ashish Goel, Douglas Melamed, Roberta Katz, and Marietje Schaake, suggest.
- Drafting of a new Platform Transparency and Accountability Act that would enable scholarly research on the impact of technology companies by: providing immunity from civil and criminal liability when big tech platforms share data with vetted academics and immunizing qualified researchers who scrape publicly available data for research purposes, as Nathaniel Persily, faculty Co-Director of the Cyber Policy Center suggests.
- Prioritizing the renewal of transatlantic cooperation in the governance of technology, to serve as the backbone for a global democratic alliance in tech governance, as Cyber Policy Center Director of International Policy Marietje Schaake argues in “Democracy first: the need for a transatlantic agenda to govern technology.”
Other contributors take a broader look, suggesting multiple priorities for reform, including:
- Gaurav Laroia and Matt Wood of media advocacy nonprofit Free Press, who argue that to fix our information ecosystem the Biden Administration must simultaneously work to fix the digital divide, address algorithmic discrimination, be honest about Section 230 and the First Amendment, and build non-commercial media to combat misinformation.
- Jacquelyn Schneider of Stanford’s Hoover Institute, who looks at lessons from both the Obama and Trump administrations to recommend strategic priorities of an open, free, secure internet that safeguards genuine information by focusing on resilience first, bolstered by strategic deterrence, and complemented by ongoing investments in defense, intelligence, and information sharing while conducting counter-cyber operations.
- Eileen Donahoe of the Cyber Policy Center’s Global Digital Policy Incubator argues that the U.S. must rally the world around a democratic, human rights-based vision of digital society, and she recommends a range of early concrete actions that can be taken by the new administration to combat the competing digital authoritarianism model.
Finally, because these chapters reflect the priorities of only this select group of authors, a range of critical topics remain unaddressed. The concluding Additional Priorities section, therefore, highlights other areas requiring urgent attention from federal policymakers.Some priorities are thoughtfully covered in other, related publications, including the Aspen Cybersecurity Group’s A National Cybersecurity Agenda for Resilient Digital Infrastructure, the German Marshall Fund’s #Tech2021 - Ideas for Digital Democracy, and the Cyberspace Solarium Commission’s 2020 Report. These additional priorities include: investing in a future US cybersecurity workforce, taking collaborative measures to secure the public core of the internet, developing functional cybersecurity metrics, improving the security of the digital supply chain, addressing growing concerns presented by algorithmic bias, and more.
In the coming months, the thought leaders included here, alongside many other experts from across the field, look forward to working with the next administration and Congress to address the impact that emerging technologies are having on global democracy, national security, society, markets and economies, and racial and economic inequality -- alongside other impacts we have yet to imagine. The Cyber Policy Center welcomes feedback and collaboration towards informing the new administration, and to ensure facts and research guide technology policies.