Amid a global pandemic – and with 87 percent of Americans saying that the internet has been important or essential to them during the coronavirus outbreak – it’s more critical than ever to protect America’s technological advantage against threats from foreign interests to our privacy, national security, and a free and open internet. It’s equally critical that we actively ensure the integrity of our electoral process through the promotion of our own tech sector, especially as we see foreign entities crack down on a free and open internet in the midst of controversial elections. We must prop up American technological advancement, rather than impede it with regulations that disadvantage it against countries that not only embrace different values but threaten our global interests.
Foreign interests are increasingly moving aggressively into global markets through platforms that collect and misuse user data and eschew privacy. These same interests are making large investments in technological research and development, intensifying the battle for global tech dominance, and threatening the strength of the United States’ national security.
Take, for instance, a Chinese technology company, which recently attempted to embed itself into a key network and potentially jeopardize Western intelligence-sharing. Also, look at India, where government officials in late 2019 maintained the longest Internet blackout ever in a democracy as a political tool. And countries like Turkey, Bahrain, Iran and Saudi Arabia join China in the practice of arresting individuals for things they have posted on social media – usually speech that is critical toward the government and its leaders. These examples are just the latest in a growing and dangerous trend by foreign interests attempting to undermine an open and accessible internet.
Positive public sentiment supporting limitations on foreign technology is not surprising, as over 50 percent of Americans are also concerned about the possibility of interference on U.S. elections in the fall. National security officials have long been noting that Russia, China, and Iran pose credible threats to U.S. election security in the 2020 presidential election, heightening concerns about election integrity in conjunction with foreign exploitation of the internet.
There are, however, quiet but encouraging signs that Washington is inching toward a more serious national security footing when it comes to American technology. Aside from the most recent examples, Congress, amid growing concerns of Chinese investment in the U.S. tech sector, passed a bipartisan bill named the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018 (FIRRMA) to strengthen the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States’ (CFIUS) ability to block foreign investment in critical technology.
The Pentagon maintains close watch on global tech incursions into our society and recommends a national cyber-security strategy that promotes “American prosperity by nurturing a secure, thriving digital economy and fostering strong domestic innovation.” It’s vital for policymakers to heed this counsel as they develop plans to strengthen critical infrastructure in the coming years. Other key imperatives include increasing national intelligence collection by the Intelligence Community (IC) – with a focus on protecting our vital technology against some of the nations who are attacking us – as well as increasing the capability and authorities of US Cyber Command to respond in a proportional manner to the efforts of our adversaries.
Policy updates in the near term will have outsized influence according to the Department of Homeland Security. They forecast that “the next decade of technological development will play a critical role in defining the national security posture and competitive position of the U.S.”