Tech Sparks Global Consensus, White House Official Says


Tech areas like cybersecurity, privacy and net neutrality are winners in the international community, a top tech official for the Obama administration said Wednesday.

“Domestic debates are driving surprising international consensus,” David Edelman, special assistant to the president for economic and technology policy at the National Economic Council, said at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies.

Edelman said that the core principles behind the net neutrality rules — ones that some industry lobbyists and Republicans fought so vehemently in the United States — were widely adopted in other major economies.

“Something was happening under our noses that I think wasn’t truly recognized in an international forum until this G20 [summit],” Edelman said. “The vast majority of G20 economies already had open internet protection on the books.”

The Federal Communications Commission finalized an open internet rule that was upheld by the courts this year. It reclassifies internet service providers as common carriers under the law, subjecting them to a similar regulatory structure as basic telephone service. Republicans and some industry executives say the rules are an overreach that will squelch broadband innovation.

Edelman disagrees. “As it turns out, the principles that were so controversial domestically were ones that had surprising international consensus,” he said, noting that Brazil, India and the European Union were all in the process of drafting open internet rules as policymakers in the United States debated the validity of the rules put forward by the FCC.

The agency’s net neutrality rules set out 400 pages of regulations, but the central aim was to prohibit blocking, throttling and paid prioritization on the internet to allow all competitors a level playing field. Those are the same tenets that foreign governments have used to keep their internet ecosystem open, Edelman said.

“This is a remarkable evolution in a debate that reflected and became a part of the global consensus, certainly well before any would have said the issue is resolved domestically,” he added.

The issue of privacy also reflects an area where, despite differences, the U.S. has been able to strike key agreements with allies because of domestic policy, Edelman said.

He cited the recently enacted Privacy Shield, a data-sharing agreement allowing companies operating in the EU to send personal data information to the U.S.

The previous agreement, Safe Harbor, was struck down by Europe’s high court because it said the U.S. didn’t have adequate protections from bulk surveillance by the federal government. Surveillance programs were already undergoing significant change inside the U.S.

“You could not have had privacy shield had there not been a period of tremendous change domestically,” Edelman said, citing key intelligence and surveillance reforms such as a presidential policy directive that increased transparency of the U.S. signals intelligence activities, the USA Freedom Act and the Judicial Redress Act.

“For all the political posturing that might exist on one side of the Atlantic or the other, the reality is that the U.S. did have a winning partner in the form of the European Commission, the U.S. was able to achieve an agreement,” Edelman said.

At the end of the day, Edelman said, the important takeaway is that the two sides signed an agreement that would save U.S. companies billions of dollars and improved privacy protections. “Those results speak, and those results matter,” he said.

Morning Consult