In a new essay, Democracy First: The Need for a Transatlantic Agenda to Govern Technology, Stanford University Cyber Policy Center international policy director and former Member of European Parliament Marietje Schaake makes the case that, following a sharply divisive period in United States politics that has damaged the nation’s relationship with its European allies and diminished its role as a leader among democracies, it is time for a renewed effort to develop a transatlantic agenda on technology and its relationship to democracy. The essay imagines how various political and policy dynamics may evolve in the early days of the Biden administration.
Key points include:
- Governments need to hold themselves to account. Schaake faults US and European leaders for failing to take responsibility for the threats to democracy that unaccountable technology companies have generated: “These governments should have done more to ensure technology companies would develop services and business models without disrupting democracy or the rule of law.”
- Governments need to recognize the geopolitical implications of technology policy. Governance of technology affects all aspects of a nation’s competitiveness and the ability for democracies to compete amongst alternative systems, such as the Chinese authoritarian model: “A common technology policy agenda that advances human dignity, individual and collective rights, economic fairness, security and democratic principles has been neglected even as the geopolitical stakes have risen and China has emerged as an ambitious global player.”
- The EU and the US need to harmonize their respective technology policy goals in order to work together to advance democratic interests. Currently, the policy priorities look like a “jigsaw” puzzle- it is necessary to fit the pieces together: “Slowly but surely, American sentiment seems to be moving closer towards that of the EU, but just because the U.S. is moving in a similar direction, does not mean the choice to cooperate has been made. Implementation and enforcement continue to require improvements on both sides. Convergence can be spotted in the antitrust realm, where Google and Facebook, but also Amazon and Apple, have come under investigation for abuse of market power, mergers and acquisitions and illegitimate data use. In both the EU and the U.S. critics are looking for ways to address harms to the public interest and society stemming from monopolistic actors, beyond the necessary mitigation of harms to the market.”
Schaake notes that the EU embraced Biden’s proposal of a Summit for Democracy, and that technology policy should be a significant part of the agenda. The hope, she says, is that the new President will focus not just on rebuilding democracy at home, but will recognize the need to strengthen it globally. “Addressing both domestic harms and the geopolitical aspects of technology’s disruption supports a democracy first agenda,” she writes.
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.