Andrew McLaughlin, deputy chief technology officer for Internet policy at the White House, worked as a top policy expert for Google before joining the administration of President Barack Obama. McLaughlin talked about transparency and democracy in his keynote.
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U.S. government leaders believe that a wide-open Internet promotes growth, innovation and democracy, according to Andrew McLaughlin, the deputy chief technology officer of Internet policy for the White House. He talked about openness, transparency, innovation and democracy during his closing remarks at the IGF-USA conference July 21 at the Georgetown Law Center in Washington, D.C.
He said President Barack Obama and the leaders of the federal government want to keep the Internet transparent and decentralized because they believe openness spurs creativity and discussion online.
“We’ve been trying to advance those policies,” McLaughlin said. “Openness is a normative value, which is to say a good in and of itself, but also an important network value. It helps everyone connected to the network understand what’s going on in the network.”
McLaughlin drew a strong distinction between the regulatory model developed for telephone services and the policies being established for the Internet, warning that the latter communications entity is definitely not simply a successor to the former. He said the public-switched telephone network was a closed system that was centralized, tightly controlled based on proprietary technologies and vertically integrated.
In contrast, he said, the Internet is an open, decentralized network that’s built around layers where power really rests in the edge of network, rather than its core. McLaughlin said the government needs to find a way to take advantage of this “ever more cheaper, ever more powerful technology” to help promote transparency.
“Transparency can be loosey-goosey term,” he said. “It can be related to openness in one sense. (It also) means the thing you put in is same thing that comes out at the other end. I think transparency in the network needs to come with transparency in policy making.”
McLaughlin said the first memorandum President Obama signed on his first day of office centered on the transparency of government, and one clear example of governmental openness is the digitizing of the Federal Register.
“We took the Federal Register and started publishing it in XML format, and when we did this, within about 24 hours a group of people at Princeton threw up a simple online application that allows you to type in search terms, and you can get e-mail or an RSS feed that pops up in your inbox any time something is published in the Federal Register that you’re interested in,”McLaughlin said. “That’s great because it’s 70,000 pages a year. It’s inscrutable. Now it’s all freely available.”
So yes, the Internet inherently spurs innovation, creation, growth and global dialogues. But it can’t be a staid resource. McLaughlin said its continued positive evolution is integral to its future success.
“We all have an interest in keeping the Internet global,” McLaughlin said. “The Internet should be open, and the Internet should be decentralized. It is and should be treated as a layered stack.
“The Internet governance work we are doing needs to recognize that and treat each of those layers differently. The Internet needs to evolve. We need to be open to that kind evolution and not let the Internet be hardened into its current structure. It’s breathtaking that in my lifetime this communications network has opened possibilities, enabled change and presented encouraging new horizons for the culture and for the practice and performance of democracy.”