Plenary Panel – Techlash and Internet Evolution
Brief session description:
Thursday, July 25, 2019 – The Internet has connected the world and made the flow of commerce and information more efficient. Unfortunately, its nearly frictionless and free global connectivity can lead to both good and bad outcomes. There is a growing backlash against technologies and technology businesses at this point in Internet evolution at which many of its dangerous drawbacks are being fully recognized. This event was created to tackle the issues underlying the current “techlash” and generate a discussion of regulatory changes in effect and being proposed and concerns emerging in its wake.
Moderator – Lee Rainie, director, Internet, Science and Technology Research, Pew Research Center
Julie Cohen, professor of law and technology, Georgetown University Law Center
Steve DelBianco, president and CEO, NetChoice
Karen Kornbluh, director, German Marshall Fund’s Digital Innovation Democracy Initiative
Maureen Ohlhausen, partner, Baker Botts, and former FTC chairman
Details of the session:
After a day of diagnosing the perils of the Internet, the closing plenary “Is the Techlash Justified?” explored what is driving the global pushback against major technology companies.
Preceding the panel was a keynote speech from Ambassador Robert Strayer, deputy assistant secretary for cyber and international communications and information policy for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, who outlined what his office is currently doing to ensure the Internet is not used maliciously and that users’ privacy is valued.
“We must stand up for our fundamental values and exercise our human rights on the Internet,” Stayer said.
But Strayer also warned that the Internet could be misused, saying that technological advancements also come with increased risks from those who seek to do harm. And it’s why Strayer advocated for the industry to have a clear regulatory environment to set the groundwork for a safer and more efficient Internet community.
During the panel discussion following Strayer’s remarks, Maureen Ohlhausen, partner at Baker Botts and former FTC commissioner, strongly advocated for user data to be private.
“Promises to a consumer about their data and how you will share it should be adhered to,” Ohlhausen said.
While many have dreams and aspirations to completely transform how the Internet is governed and maintained, there are some realities that cannot be changed.
Karen Kornbluh, senior fellow and director for the German Marshall Fund’s Digital Innovation Democracy Initiative, took a pragmatic approach to the topic, saying, “this is our new normal. Let’s talk about the real practical problems we face and how we can solve them.”
With that, Julie Cohen, professor of law and technology at the Georgetown University Law Center equated the laws and regulations put in place to the peace accords that were written after World War II. After having written these rules, the development of the world quickly made them obsolete and more laws were created and updated to keep up with the world around it.
“What some might call techlash, some might call a need to rebalance the laws we have,” Cohen said. “Before talking about should we regulate, the law is in the mix and it’s being used to produce a relationship between law and information technology.”
During the question-and-answer period that concluded the panel, a conversation arose regarding how the rise of hate speech on the Internet should be governed, and who gets to decide what is and is not hate speech.
“Companies need to do a better job of intercepting hate speech and not reporting it after,” said Steve DelBianco, president and CEO of NetChoice.
Not everyone on the panel seemed to agree that it is up to the companies to decide, as that would create a power struggle that could infringe on the First Amendment right to free speech. DelBianco pointed out that as of now there is no clear definition set out by the government that defines what would constitute hate speech.
What was agreed upon is that it will take multi-sector cooperation to govern the Internet. It will take tech companies, consumers and the government coming together to define what should and should not be allowed to create a more effective Internet.
This conversation is further complicated when it’s stretched outside the United States.
“Each government will insist upon ruling over its citizens,” DelBianco said.
Kornbluh pushed back, saying that it is still the duty of an American company to carry American values with them when doing business in foreign countries.
“The U.S. as a leader in the world should stand up for democracy,” Kornbluh said. “We should still stand for the free flow of information.”
While the debate will still be waged on how best to protect both innovations in the tech industry and the consumer’s best interest, a consensus seemed to be reached by the panelists that some regulation would be beneficial for everyone, if executed correctly.
– By Jack Haley
The multimedia reporting team for Imagining the Internet at IGF-USA 2019 included the following Elon University School of Communications students, staff and faculty:
Janna Anderson, Maeve Ashbrook, Elisabeth Bachmann, Bryan Baker, Paloma Camacho, Samantha Casamento, Colin Donohue, Abby Gibbs, Jack Haley, Hannah Massen, Grace Morris, Jack Norcross, Maria Ramirez, Brian Rea, Alexandra Roat, Baylor Rodman, Zach Skillings, Ted Thomas, Victoria Traxler, Julia Walter, Courtney Weiner, Mackenzie Wilkes and Cameron Wolfslayer