In his State of the Union speech, President Joe Biden outlined democracy’s fierce battle against authoritarian aggression, and promised that “freedom will always triumph over tyranny.” U.S. technology innovation plays a key role in America’s effort to advance freedom and promote democratic values. This stands in stark contrast to the regressive, closed-off, and oppressive worldview of techno-autocracies of China and Russia.
As Russia plows forward in its invasion of Ukraine, the stakes cannot be understated, nor can the need for U.S. lawmakers to get it right be more urgent. Pursuing laws that would undermine American innovation and offer a leg up to techno-autocracies would be a terrible mistake. Now more than ever, it’s vital for leaders to strengthen our domestic tech industry and sharpen America’s technological edge on the global stage.
Democracy is Under Attack by Authoritarian Regimes
Across multiple theaters, democracy and democratic values are under attack by authoritarian powers, including:
- On the battlefield: Authoritarian Russia launched an unprovoked war against its democratic neighbor, Ukraine, and is using the threat of nuclear weapons to try to suppress efforts by democracies across the globe to rally together to oppose its attacks on freedom.
- In cyberspace: Authoritarian regimes are abusing the Internet to thwart freedom. Russia launched cyberwarfare as a prerequisite for invading Ukraine. Belarus shut off the Internet to silence protesters. China censors its citizens.
- Across the globe: Freedom around the world declined in 2021 for the 16th consecutive year, according to an annual reportfrom Freedom House, which warns that countries including China and Russia “are actively collaborating with one another to spread new forms of repression and rebuff democratic pressure.”
America’s Tech Companies Aid the Cause of Democracy and Help Advance Democratic Values
America’s technology sector is a critical player in this global battle against China and other authoritarian regimes. While domestic technology companies have offices all across the globe, they advance America’s national security interests and stand up for democratic values. Examples include:
- American tech companies are helping the cause of freedom in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned the platforms of the world’s biggest tech companies into major battlefields. Some have barred Russian state-run media from selling ads on their platforms and removed disinformation campaignsand fake accounts from Russian state actors targeting Ukraine. Others have rolled out account privacy and security protections to protect users in the area. Others consulted with the European Union (EU) on how to counter Russian disinformation and temporarily disabled key features. And others disabled digital pay services. While U.S. companies don’t always get it right, we could not count on China’s large platforms to take similar actions in defense of democracy. In fact, we should bet on them equipping their government in its efforts to suppress freedom.
- American tech companies are also protecting us from cyberattacks. Even before the recent cyberattacks against Ukraine, cybersecurity was called “the issue of the decade.” Working with the U.S. government, America’s tech companies are pledging to spend billions more on cybersecurity to protect our interests. Some are developing programs to harden tech supply chains. Others are investing billions in cybersecurity and training for 100,000 Americans. Others are spending billions more in advanced protection tools, as well as helping government agencies upgrade security systems. And others are pledging to train 150,000 more people in cybersecurity skills over three years, including partnering with HBCUs to diversify the workforce.
- America’s companies are also investing billions of dollars in the race to gain the upper hand against China in the strategic technologies that will determine the future – including artificial intelligence, 5G, quantum computing, extended reality, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Many of these are considered “dual use” technologies, with commercial and military applications. China not only heavily subsidies its “national champion” companies, but under its military-civilian fusion program, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) forces all of its companies to share any technology breakthroughs with its military, and then uses these technologies to restrict freedoms and censor speech.
Voters Get the Dangers of Techno-Autocracies – and the Importance of a Strong U.S. Tech Industry
Survey research shows where voters stand on the values of techno-democracies versus techno-autocracies.
- An Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of the American Edge Project showed that voters believe that the Chinese and Russian models of the internet actively suppress freedom. Accordingly, they are concerned at the prospect of a tightly controlled Chinese or Russian version of the internet where minorities are persecuted, and political speech is policed. In a moment where the future of the internet is uncertain, voters look to U.S. tech companies to uphold American values.
- 88 percent agree that “the ability to speak freely on the internet is one of the freedoms that separate the U.S. from authoritarian countries like China, Russia, and Iran.”
- 87 percent agree that “authoritarian countries are afraid of freedom of expression, which is why they tightly restrict internet access.”
- In another Ipsos poll on U.S. and EU tech sector views, American (and European) voters agree that the way Chinese and Russian governments approach the rules governing technology is a threat. They are concerned about Chinese and Russian organizations launching political influence campaigns in Europe and are concerned about “foreign countries like China and Russia gaining a technological advantage over Europe.”
- An October 2020 Ipsos poll showed that voters are concerned that autocracies like China, Russia, and Iran represent a threat to American competitiveness and tech leadership. Concern about falling behind other countries technologically is very broad – 81 percent agree “it is dangerous for the U.S. to fall behind countries like China, Russia, and Iran when it comes to technology.”
The Dangers of Congress’s Anti-Innovation Legislation
Despite the high stakes in democracy’s battle against authoritarianism, some in Congress are pushing harmful legislation that would damage our tech industry, especially America’s largest, most innovative companies. Their bills would restrict the types of products certain companies can develop, dictate how they can compete, prevent them from acquiring cutting-edge technologies, and require them to share data with China and other authoritarian corporate competitors. One study estimated that the immediate cost of these bills would be approximately $300 billion, siphoning enormous amounts of capital away from future innovation.
A better path is to support American innovation, not undermine it. They must change course or America will risk becoming dependent on authoritarian regimes for our technology.
America is in a tough battle for global tech leadership as well as fortifying democracy. More and more, technological advancement is geopolitical power. Efforts to push anti-innovation legislation that is rushed and short-sighted could undo America’s global competitive edge in technology, endanger our national security, and hand China and other authoritarian regimes a permanent geopolitical advantage – to the detriment of the United States, democracy, and the entire free world.