January 21, 2021
Pending tech summits, forthcoming appointments and IT investment are among the clues tech leaders believe could be indicative of the new administration's tech agenda.
Good afternoon! Some of tech's thorniest issues will surely be on the legislative docket in the next four years, so we asked the Braintrust to consider which moves early in President Biden's term might be most indicative of how the biggest issues will be handled. For more on the new administration's tech policy, check out a replay of Protocol's virtual event on the first 100 days here.
Executive Director at Technology CEO Council
People are policy. Watch whom they nominate.
The leaders chosen for the FCC, FTC, DOJ Antitrust division, Commerce, State and the many critical jobs within the EOP will speak volumes about how the Biden administration intends to engage the technology sector.
Smart money says the new team understands that tech is not monolithic, necessitating different strategies. Where technology is part of the solution — health care, education, climate, smart infrastructure and economic recovery — they will look to partner with industry leaders. Where tech is seen as the problem — insufficient competition, inadequate consumer protection, driving disinformation and inequality — they'll look for ways government can step in and demand change.
Nicol Turner Lee
Senior Fellow, Governance Studies and Director, Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings Institution
President Biden and Vice President Harris have centered racial equity as core to any future policymaking, and the tech industry will not be absolved from this. The tech industry should expect some re-examination of Section 230 to determine its viability against contemporary free speech expressions, and whether it should be reevaluated to quell future recruitment and organizing efforts by extremists.
The creation of a new advisory committee tasked with examining the role of platforms in increased hate speech, misinformation and disinformation should signal to tech companies that a new reckoning is coming.
Conversations will abound on more transparent content moderation strategies and policing of vitriol on tech platforms. Some investigation into the role of social media platforms in enabling the recent coup d'état by domestic extremist movements may be considered, particularly given their indemnification under Section 230. It could also be the case that an advisory committee, if formed, proposes a caveat to the Communications Decency Act that forbids platforms from emboldening white supremacist and extremist content that explicitly or implicitly suggests violence against racial and ethnic groups.
The algorithms powering tech platforms may be further scrutinized by the White House and Democrats in Congress. While the previous administration was more focused on the governance of artificial intelligence, Biden's team may signal a deeper dive into algorithmic bias and amplification as related to the upward trends of hate speech. Going forward, the tech industry should expect the Biden administration to exercise greater scrutiny over their practices and products through a racial equity lens.
President and CEO at BSA | The Software Alliance
Technology will play a critical role in boosting our economic recovery as well as in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We're keeping a close eye on several things at the beginning of the Biden administration, from the president's choices to lead various agencies and departments, to his executive orders, to foreign policy resets, to topics that he calls out in his remarks.
In his economic stimulus speech last week, President Biden talked about inclusive economic growth as a priority in 2021. The benefits of technology need to be available to more Americans, including disadvantaged communities and communities of color. They need access to technology (including high-speed internet connections as well as equipment) and training. The Biden team has signaled they're planning an economic recovery package, and we are looking forward to working with the administration to include funding for these programs.
The relationship between the U.S. and EU has several tech policy friction points; at the same time, they have shared values and strategic interests that are aligned. We're looking to see how the Biden administration will seek to solve existing issues like data transfers and get in front of emerging issues like artificial intelligence. Both sides of the Atlantic are eager to improve relations and fostering a more harmonious tech policy environment is key to that effort. President Biden has said he would like to convene an international summit in 2021, and we are looking to see how tech policy will feature on the agenda.
President and CEO at Information Technology Industry Council
The Biden-Harris administration brings hope during a historic period of unease brought about by an unprecedented global health pandemic, civil unrest and economic hardship. Here's what the tech industry is watching with great hope in the new administration.
First sign of hope: Science is back. By giving the presidential science advisor a seat on his Cabinet and by building a team that reflects the diversity of American communities, President Biden has already signaled his commitment to relying on science and digital technology to meaningfully advance the nation.
Second sign of hope: technology's role in COVID-19 recovery. The Biden-Harris American Rescue Plan highlights that tech will play a critical role in vaccine distribution, as well as providing the workforce and services that keep businesses, workers and students connected. The plan also includes modernizations to federal information technology and cybersecurity. And naming an immigrant as Secretary of Homeland Security signals a restoration of America as the destination of choice of the best and the brightest from around the world.
Third sign of hope: building back better through IT modernization. Building the digital infrastructure necessary to close the digital divide is essential to get all Americans connected as our work, education and daily lives move online. The whole-of-government approach to climate change will support clean and energy-efficient technologies to address climate change. These investments in technology infrastructure, tools and people are essential to ensure economic recovery, and deliver modern and secure citizen services and critical networks.
The United States turned the page on Jan. 20. With great hope for the future, we are committed to working with the Biden-Harris administration to promote these policies to advance the U.S. economic recovery and growth.
Matthew T. Cornelius
Executive Director at Alliance for Digital Innovation
President Biden's American Rescue Plan has already sent a very large, bright signal about his tech priorities — he wants to invest unprecedented sums in modernizing legacy IT systems, bolstering America's cyber defenses and driving the government to adopt innovative commercial capabilities. For instance, the $9 billion requested for the Technology Modernization Fund is three times larger than was ever envisioned six years ago when it was first conceived. Now that's a statement!
With his plan, President Biden is clearly stating that our ability to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and revitalize the American economy will be dependent upon immediately and dramatically improving our technology infrastructure and delivering faster, more effective digital services to Americans in need.
Beyond the rescue package, technology leaders are also closely watching the early appointments President Biden will make. After all, personnel is policy. So far, the signs are quite positive. Nominees such Tony Blinken for Secretary of State, Alejandro Mayorkas at the Department of Homeland Security and Gina Raimondo at the Department of Commerce indicate that President Biden is not only recruiting seasoned government executives for critical Cabinet-level posts, but is prioritizing leaders with deep backgrounds in how modern technologies enhance government operations and enable agencies to improve citizen service delivery. Soon attention will turn to other significant, sub-Cabinet appointments such as the administrator of the General Services, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the federal chief information officer for indications as to what kind of tech and cyber expertise Biden will prioritize for these critical policy and operational positions.
Industry should be thrilled with these initial positive indicators on the technology front. We should expect continued engagement and opportunities for partnership to flourish — especially as our most innovative commercial companies step up to the plate, collaborate with the Biden administration and help our country build back better.
President and CEO at Consumer Technology Association
Last week, CES 2021 wrapped its live programming. I was proud to welcome Brian Deese, the incoming director of the National Economic Council under the Biden administration, for a fireside chat. Deese explained that investing "here at home to build our competitive strength" will be a focus of the administration. Participation in public events such as CES is an encouraging early sign of an administration focused on American technology competitiveness and innovation.
A Biden administration can allow our nation's tech industry — our crown-jewel companies — to thrive, ensuring the United States is the world's best place to start and grow a business. The tech industry should look for the incoming administration to stabilize our trade policy — including removing costly tariffs — rebuild trade relationships with our allies and renew global leadership in forums such as the World Trade Organization and the [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development].
The past year has shown the critical importance of rural and urban broadband infrastructure. The new administration should encourage the rapid rollout of 5G technology to ensure the U.S. wins the global race to implement this transformative technology. In addition to 5G, the administration should promote U.S. leadership in other key technologies of the future such as artificial intelligence and self-driving, advocating for targeted rules and avoiding top-down mandates that would inhibit innovation.
The tech industry should look for immediate actions from the administration to position the U.S. as the global innovation leader – this year and in the years to come.
See who's who in Protocol's Braintrust (updated Jan. 20, 2020).
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Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.
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