Prospects for Cooperation Between Tech and Trump Complicated by Executive Orders

In the wake of President Trump’s sweeping executive order restricting entry to the US to refugees and immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries and with a nascent anti-Trump movement beginning to coalesce, tech industry executives are struggling to navigate an increasingly politicized environment, in which efforts to engage the new administration are colliding with the demands of politically active users and widespread dismay within Silicon Valley over the administration’s policies.  

Reflecting the potential impact of social media to harness popular discontent and underscoring the politically fraught position many tech CEO’s now find themselves in, the hashtag #DeleteUber began trending over the weekend after the ride-hailing app was criticized for undercutting New York City taxi drivers staging a work stoppage to protest the immigration order. Seizing on the popular backlash against Uber was the company’s chief competitor Lyft, whose co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer announced a $1m donation to the ACLU and issued the following statement sharply criticizing the executive order:

“This weekend, Trump closed the country’s borders to refugees, immigrants, and even documented residents from around the world based on their country of origin. Banning people of a particular faith or creed, race or identity, sexuality or ethnicity, from entering the U.S. is antithetical to both Lyft’s and our nation’s core values. We stand firmly against these actions, and will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community.”

And Lyft was not alone. Twitter, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, and Airbnb all released statements over the weekend, ranging from judicious to vociferous. Among the more strongly-worded repudiations was Aaron Levie of the cloud company Box, who took to Twitter to write, “On every level – moral, humanitarian, economic, logical, etc – this ban is wrong and completely antithetical to the principles of America.”

Meanwhile, Google co-founder Sergei Brin was spotted at a protest at San Fransisco International Airport less than a month after Mr. Brin’s co-founder and current Alphabet CEO Larry Page was among a group of tech executives invited to Trump Tower to meet with then President-elect Trump. And while Trump’s meeting with the tech leaders was seen by many as little more than a charm offensive aimed at paving the way for future cooperation with Washington, a new report by Adam Segal of the Council on Foreign Relations provides some context for why such cooperation is necessary.

“The Silicon Valley-Washington rift has real implications for U.S. cybersecurity and foreign policy,” writes Segal, adding, “An ugly fight between the two sides makes it more difficult to share cyber threat information, counter online extremism, foster global technology standards, promote technological innovation, and maintain an open internet.”

As the report explains, the divide between Washington and U.S. tech firms began in earnest over three years ago with the Snowden revelations, which forced global platforms to reckon with an outraged public demanding greater security and privacy protections. Most notably, these new economic and reputational incentives informed Apple’s decision to make end-to-end encryption standard across the company’s products, prompting a protracted fight with law enforcement after authorities were initially unable to access the contents of a cell phone belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers.

But if debates over encryption, privacy, and net neutrality created the rift between Silicon Valley and Washington, last week’s immigration order left a gaping chasm between the two.

Aside from the obvious constitutional concerns, the immigration restrictions are particularly worrisome for tech companies that recruit some of their top talent from abroad.

On Wednesday Twitter joined Lyft and others, donating over $1m to the ACLU to help fight the immigration order, while the messaging platform Viber announced it would provide free international calls to the seven countries affected by the executive order. Also on Wednesday, the Hill cited several cybersecurity researchers who are declining to work with law enforcement until the immigration order is revoked.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that an open letter expressing concern over Trump’s immigration policies was circulating through Silicon Valley and beyond, including among CEOs on Wall Street and in the manufacturing, energy, and consumer goods sectors.

Whether or not the combined weight of an overwhelming majority of the tech community is enough to sway the administration’s thinking on immigration (or anything for that matter) remains to be seen. Regardless, critical issues like stepping up cyberdefense, curbing data localization, and protecting a free and open Internet will require some degree of cooperation between Tech and Trump, a prospect that, at the moment, is difficult to imagine.

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New Paper on Cyber Sovereignty v. Distributed Internet Governance

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On November 30, 2016, Laura DeNardis, Gordon Goldstein, and Ambassador David A. Gross presented their new paper, “The Rising Geopolitics of Internet Governance: Cyber Sovereignty v. Distributed Governance at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs (SIPS) on November 30, 2016. The paper was part of the Columbia SIPS Tech & Policy Initiative and the panel discussion was moderated by Columbia SIPA Dean Merit Janow.

 Internet governance is at a crossroads. The 21st century has given rise to two incommensurable visions for the global Internet and how it is governed. One envisions a universal network that generally supports the free flow of information and whose governance is distributed across the private sector, governments and new global institutions in an approach that has historically been described as “multistakeholder” governance. This vision has materialized, albeit imperfectly, in how the Internet and its coordination has historically progressed and is an approach advocated by the United States government and many other countries. This is the model of Internet governance that has dominated throughout the past decade. The competing vision advocates for greater multilateral and top-down administration of the Internet in the name of social order, national cyber sovereignty, and tighter control of information flows. China and other countries interested in greater administrative control over the flow of information have been vocal proponents of a more multilateral approach to Internet governance. These visions are often debated using the language of abstract theoretical constructs but they involve actual policy choices that have arisen in particular historical contexts and whose future will have tangible effects on American foreign policy interests, American values of freedom of expression and innovation, the global digital economy, and the stability and resiliency of Internet infrastructure itself. This paper provides some historical context to the rise of distributed Internet governance, describes some of the key geopolitical conflicts that involve incommensurability between the ideology of national sovereignty and the technical topology and transnational characteristics of private Internet infrastructure, and argues for the preservation of private-sector-led multistakeholder governance rather than a shift to greater government control.

 

Dr. Sargsyan Ph.D. Dissertation on Information Intermediary Privacy

Picture, T. SargsyanCongratulations to Tatevik Sargsyan, who today successfully defended her dissertation “Exploring Multistakeholderism Through the Evolution of Information Intermediaries’ Privacy Policies.” Her dissertation committee was chaired by Dr. Laura DeNardis; committee members included Dr. Kathryn Montgomery, Dr. Derrick Cogburn, and Dr. Declan Fahy. The external reader was digital privacy expert Dr. Michael Zimmer of the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.

 

Google Policy Fellowship Awarded to Ph.D. Candidate OlgaKhrustaleva for Internet Censorship Research

img_0335We are delighted to announce that SOC Ph.D. candidate Olga Khrustaleva has been awarded a competitive Google Policy Fellowship to study the Internet censorship experiences of journalists and activists across Latin America. She is working with Derechos Digitales (Digital Rights), a nonprofit organization based in Santiago, Chile that focuses on digital human rights. Part of the project will involve a survey (in Spanish and Portuguese) of journalists and activists who have experienced some form of Internet censorship, included DDoS attacks, threats, or legal action. This experience will help inform her ongoing dissertation work on Internet development in Cuba.