President Biden’s inauguration last week prompts the beginning of a new chapter for technology policy, as Biden inherits a plethora of complex, enduring issues. The last few months surfaced the uncertainty of our cybersecurity with the devastating SolarWinds attack, division over what role social media plays in censorship, and continued pressure regarding ongoing U.S.-China tech competition. These events have left the policy realm with more questions than answers—questions which the Biden administration will have to address both urgently and wisely, all in the midst of a lingering pandemic.
Biden inherits a fractured political culture unified by few things, one of them being a deep distrust in tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. While Democrats fear the role social media platforms play in spreading disinformation or hateful speech, Republicans fear that conservative speech is being unfairly censored. After the recent abhorrent attack on the Capitol, qualms on both sides of the aisle must be accounted for in any further evaluation of Section 230, legislation which provides legal immunity to interactive internet services; it states that they are not to be considered publishers and thus cannot be sued for third-party content. The overall dissatisfaction with Big Tech’s unchecked power could be a powerful opportunity for the Biden administration to bring about bipartisan reform, especially in light of Biden’s inaugural address, where he promised to also be a president for those who did not support him.
Unity and cooperation in the tech realm is paramount for Biden, as the strategic tech competition with China demands a comprehensive, coherent national strategy in the first several days of his presidency. If the U.S. wants a shot at turning the tide, the new administration must counter China’s ambitious R&D spending in a meaningful way, investing in infrastructure and innovation to secure U.S. advantage. The powers that be cannot make the progress necessary to counter this threat without a unified plan for developing competitors in 5G, vehicle automation, and semiconductors, as well as dedicating resources to AI and quantum computing. Biden must act quickly, decisively, and competitively; self-sufficiency in these key emerging technologies will be non-negotiable for the U.S. to sustain itself economically and militarily.
Chatter surrounding the Biden administration’s plans indicates he hopes to revitalize cyberdefense and commit to the tech competition he inherits. Yet, there still remain questions about whether Biden will roll back any of Trump’s tech black-listing efforts, or whether Biden will follow through on revoking section 230– issues weighing on conservatives who hope to see a firm stance on China and less censorship. Further, as the EU hopes to partner with Biden on today’s global issues, it will be interesting to see how the Biden administration responds and what this may entail for future tech innovation. With a stated agenda to unify and heal, the Biden administration should harness any current bipartisan energy to create a consistent, sustainable, and ethical way forward for American tech leadership.