On July 20, 2018, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) published comments it received from a wide array of tech and telecom companies, trade groups, civil society, academia, and others regarding its “international Internet policy priorities for 2018 and beyond.”  NTIA’s Office of International Affairs (“OIA”) had requested comments and recommendations from interested stakeholders in four broad categories: (1) free flow of information and jurisdiction; (2) the multistakeholder approach to Internet governance; (3) privacy and security; and (4) emerging technologies and trends.  NTIA plans to harness the comments it received to help it identify “priority” issues, and to leverage its resources and expertise to effectively address stakeholders’ interests.  

Free Flow of Information and Jurisdiction

Commentators uniformly expressed concern about limitations of cross-border flows of information, given the numerous economic and policy advantages to digital trade.  Many stakeholders rejected the idea of data localization requirements, which they argued restrict the flow of data unnecessarily while particularly burdening smaller entities that do not have the resources to operate in every country in which their online services may be offered.

In addition, tech companies and civil society organizations called attention to the increased global demand for moderating online content.  Such commentators pointed out that, although well-intentioned, proposals to regulate content such as hate speech and terrorist propaganda may end up having serious consequences for many forms of lawful speech.

Multistakeholder Approach to Internet Governance

Many tech companies and trade groups generally expressed support for a global, multistakeholder approach to Internet governance, particularly when that approach encourages participation in decisionmaking by users themselves and groups that own and operate the Internet infrastructure.  Such commentators therefore encouraged NTIA to continue the IANA Stewardship Transition, which they say will foster such a multistakeholder approach to Internet governance.

Privacy and Cybersecurity

NTIA’s request for comments came shortly after the General Data Protection Regulation’s (“GDPR”) May 25th deadline, and as a result the GDPR was a hot topic for several stakeholders.  Although civil society organizations generally did not endorse the GDPR as a gold-star model for other countries that wish to regulate the online collection, use, and sharing of personal data, many did call attention to the escalating need to address Internet users’ privacy concerns, particularly in the era of Big Data and the Internet of Things.

Industry stakeholders expressed skepticism about the viability of the GDPR in other jurisdictions, and were particularly concerned with the notion that the “right to be forgotten” may be adopted in jurisdictions beyond Europe.  In lieu of GDPR becoming a baseline for international privacy protections, industry stakeholders instead proposed that NTIA encourage collaborative, multi-stakeholder processes for determining ways to protect data without stifling innovation.

With respect to cybersecurity, many tech companies found common ground with civil society groups in rejecting the idea of providing “backdoors” to encryption in order to enable government access – which several tech companies and trade associations said would unavoidably weaken encryption’s ability to effectively protect user data.  Stakeholders largely advocated for strong, end-to-end encryption as a means to promote cybersecurity.

Emerging Technologies and Trends

Several commentators identified artificial intelligence (“AI”) and machine learning (“ML”) as emerging technologies that NTIA should be on the lookout for.  The Internet of Things (“IoT”) was also flagged as an evolving trend, given the ever-increasing number of formerly “offline” products suddenly having a connected component.  Stakeholders encouraged the promotion of responsible, ethical development of such technologies, which should include consideration of economic and human rights implications.