Looking to catch up on the critical issues affecting the Internet’s infrastructure without the exhaustive research? i2Coalition Co-Founder and Executive Director Christian Dawson
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Christian Dawson: It is January 2019. Well, actually it’s not. We’re having this conversation in December of 2018, but you’ll be reading this at the beginning of next year. I am joined today by Monica Sanders, i2Coalition Policy Director. We are reviewing 2018 and looking forward to 2019. 2018 was one heck of a year. So we’ll spend a little bit of time reflecting on what a year it’s been and to talk a little bit about what we can expect in the new year. Monica has joined us at i2Coalition relatively recently, as Director of Policy. Monica, you started with us in April of 2018, correct?
Monica Sanders: Yes, April of 2018. Indeed it was an eventful year.
Christian: Eight months. Wow. That seems like such a long time ago. Do you feel like you’re fully integrated now?
Monica: For the most part I feel fully integrated. There are things about our ICANN multistakeholder work that you and I will be working together on, but in terms of U.S. policy, I am ready for a busy 2019.
Christian: I think we’re all going to have a busy 2019, whether that is for good or ill. As many of you know, as I often candidly put it, we are here to teach legislators and regulators how the Internet works. We want to avoid any policymaker or legislator doing something that might unintentionally mess it up.
Monica: That’s right. As we’re talking about this and reflecting on the year, there’s a hearing going on. We don’t need to get into the specifics of this public hearing, but during it a member asked someone from the tech community, “Does Google know what I’m doing on FaceTime?”. So let’s pause for a moment on that. That gives you a snapshot of what legislators know about devices and the Internet of Things, versus the Internet versus apps. The tech community person then very calmly explained that Apple owns iPhones and FaceTime; therefore, Google would not be monitoring that.
Christian: It also belies a lack of understanding around encryption and the way that privacy has dealt with on the Internet writ large. As much as we have been trying over the past five years explaining to legislators how the Internet works, it is complex and we still have a lot of work to do. I’d like to queue up our listeners on the types of things that we can expect in 2019. This is a broad question, right? As we said, 2019 will be busy just as 2018 was. Let’s narrow that and talk about what i2Coalition is going to focus on in next year.
Monica: The thing that we should be focusing on next year is an issue that’s been a central issue for the i2Coalition since its inception, intermediary liability. We need to continue helping policymakers understand that when there is content that is problematic, or criminal, or just offensive, whatever the law says it may or may not be, discerning who is actually responsible for managing and removing that content. This is something that we’ll need to address and be sure the distinction is made between Internet infrastructure owners, other intermediaries, content creators, and content providers. That was something that the i2Coalition initially dealt with in SESTA/FOSTA. It appeared in the opioid discussions throughout this year. It’s coming up again now in the context of access. That is the accessing of different products that many different platforms have. It will come up again in 2019 in a number of different measures. We have to be on the lookout for where those terms may get used in different pieces of legislation.
Christian: That’s extremely important. You used the word platform. Do you expect that there’ll be a conversation around legislative differences between a platform and infrastructure?
Monica: We have to make a conversation about the distinction between platform and infrastructure. What has happened throughout 2018, is we’ve all watched the hearings between the emperors and empresses of the Internet, as the broader public has defined them. We’ve seen Facebook, we’ve seen Google, we’ve seen Amazon testify before Congress and each of those companies
Christian: That has been a struggle throughout i2Coalition history. Those large companies, many of which provide both platform and infrastructure, are an important part of the Internet. However, there is a dramatic lack of understanding about not only the difference between platform and infrastructure, but also how many small businesses are important components of the Internet’s infrastructure. In 2019 how will we continue these discussions?
Monica: Reflecting back, because of the midterm results, we will now have a more diverse House of Representatives. Many of those members won their seat for the first time through leveraging social media or other types of digital campaigns. As end users, they have a better understanding of the digital economy and the Internet ecosystem than some of their colleagues do. This makes them more open to the conversation. Some of them have strong opinions about a few of our member companies already, but they’re not unwilling to learn more about them. One of the ways we can continue those discussions is by breaking down those components of the ecosystem with these new members. I think it will be a great entree into having further discussions.
Christian: That’s a good point. You mentioned the United States Congress. I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge that at i2Coalition, our focus is to be the singular voice of the Internet infrastructure. We are also a reflection of our specific members and most of our members are based in either North America or Europe. Though the principles we advocate for apply globally, most of our work happens in North America and Europe. Let’s continue talking about the United States Congress. Afterward, we’ll focus on other legislative areas and what we can expect from those. That said what are there other things that we can expect from Congress in 2019?
Monica: I would expect hope that the conversation about encryption will pick up again. Right now there is a debate, here in December 2018 and projecting out into 2019 between Apple and the law enforcement community. Up until this point, the intelligence community and the military community, which may have had different perspectives on encryption are starting to speak. Looking into 2019 we’ll see what those voices do to alter the conversation. We will also see what legislators and committee heads will have to say about that. This is an opportunity for us to provide education on encryption. Some of our colleagues have talked about it from a civil society point of view. What we have to uniquely offer is a business point of view. i2Coalition member companies are filled with fantastic engineers and early Internet ecosystem adopters, who can give a more technical description of what encryption is and how it works. It will be beneficial for legislators to hear these voices.
Christian: Next I have the same question, but with the focus of the governmental agencies that the i2Coalition regularly interfaces with on behalf of Internet infrastructure companies. We have deep connections at the NTIA, the USTR, the FCC, and at the FTC. What should we have our eye on, as far as the alphabet soup of governmental agencies goes?
Monica: Privacy and trade, then privacy and trade. The NTIA had an open comment period for the work they’re doing with NIST on a privacy framework. That framework is akin to the cybersecurity framework we saw a couple of years back, which i2Coalition worked on. They have the buy-in from the economic council. I’m hearing little whispers that as the National Security Council sorts itself out, it will want to have some say in that as well as encryption. There are opportunities to work with the agencies on what these frameworks and potential draft regulations or policy directives to Congress will look like. We’re also on the verge of a trade deal that has some great language in terms of managing the digital economy. It is particularly favorable towards intermediary liability. There is Section 230 language in parts of the “new NAFTA”, as its being called at the moment, that we will want to continue advocating for with the agencies.
Christian: Great. In closing out my questions on the United States, is there anything in particular we should keep our eye on regarding the White House itself? Often it has a voice that sits outside some of the agencies that work for it.
Monica: As we had the conversation about opioids in 2018, the White House tweeted in and out about it. We want to keep our eye on that. In terms of White House policy that we know about, there are many initiatives and conversations about access. It began with the rural broadband initiative, but it was expanded to a discussion about Internet access and Internet jobs. This puts us right back in a place where we’re using the term “Internet” broadly. This is despite the fact that there are allies of the i2Coalition in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. We want to make sure that this is parsed out and having a conversation about what our community can contribute to those conversations. It’s a mix of good and evil, so to speak. We want to monitorfor tweets and that sort of thing, and we also want to continue to have a productive conversation with the White House.
Christian: Great. Let’s pivot our conversation to across the Atlantic and talk about what effect European policy movements, specifically regarding privacy regulation, are going to have the Internet’s infrastructure in 2019.
Monica: In 2018, GDPR was the big topic of conversation. It’s the conversation du jour. Many companies, as many of who are i2Coalition members, are multinationals. They have large presences both in the U.S. and the E.U. How do we comply with whom is it compatible? How do we evolve and avoid conflicts of law? That’s the conversation that’s happening in Europe now that GDPR is in place. We’re looking at all kinds of effects, from unnecessary website takedowns to companies just being confused, to civil society saying it doesn’t go far enough. One way of looking at it is as the model of what messy privacy legislation could look like. It could be a good of example of what we don’t want to do in our federal privacy legislation. In the U.S., California has something that looks in places like GDPR. That bill is going to be going into effect in 2020. Companies are asking, “Is this the way we’re going to go? California’s analogue to GDPR, is that our compliance model when it comes to privacy or will something else happen?”. The Europeans are leading the discussion on this.
Christian: It sounds like there is a lot to do with transatlantic dialog surrounding privacy. No matter whether you’re on the European side or the North American side of the Atlantic, nobody is escaping this important subject.
Monica: No, and I would say the same is true with encryption. Many people are talking about the recently passed data laws in Australia. We must not overlook however that our friends in the UK, should they decide to stay in the European Union or connected to it in some way, are renewing their own interest in bulk collection. That will play a huge role in how we look at access to data and encryption globally. These laws and practices are being discussed by governments all over the globe. There are also copyright issues that are still to be decided in the EU. These could have a big impact on how our companies do business, not just there, but everywhere. There is a lot of work to do with our friends on the other side of the Atlantic as well as the people who are just down the street from us.
Christian: Yes, there are still nuanced issues stemming from ramifications of GDPR around WHOIS, additionally how data is collected, handled, and published when you buy a domain name. The i2Coalition and the community at large are still working to address these. So I think that subject is probably not going away anytime soon in 2019 either.
Monica: No, I would agree on either side of the U.S. political aisle. That conversation and different attempts at legislation or directives have popped up on two instances in 2018. Some members of the U.S. Congress may be looking to do some legislation. Hopefully, we’ll have the opportunity to advocate and educate around what WHOIS is and isn’t. Then we’ll be here to help them to craft something that law enforcement, civil society, and businesses can effectively use.
Christian: I want to point out is that everything that we have discussed here directly affects the businesses that operate the Internet infrastructure. These policies and laws affect your company’s bottom line. The i2Coalition is here in order to make sure that these companies voices are heard when change is thrust upon the Internet through legislation and regulation. I think that the i2Coalition policy platform is better positioned in 2019 under your leadership Monica than it has ever been before. We’re going to continue being a positive agent for change and a positive actor for our members who work to build a better Internet for everybody. I want to thank you for that. I’m excited for 2019. Do you have any final words about what we can look forward to next year?
Monica: I am looking forward to working with our members further. The i2Coalition members I’ve had the opportunity to engage, meet, and work with have been wonderful. Many have already come to me with ideas event and initiative ideas for 2019. I’m looking forward to that increased engagement from the membership. That is where the value comes through for both the members as well as the policymakers and legislators we’ll work with. I look forward to seeing many more of them in the coming year.
Christian: Thank you, Monica.
Monica: You’re welcome. Thank you.