Why we should expect tighter US tech regulation – and how the EU will benefit

There is a growing consensus among US Democrats and Republicans that the tech industry needs regulation to mitigate the risk of foreign interference in domestic politics. Such efforts would strongly benefit EU countries.

Silicon Valley’s time without Washington interference may be coming to an end. Thanks to a series of scandals, policymakers of all political stripes are voicing support for new regulations to prevent foreign political interference and monitor censorship. If Congress acts, the EU stands to benefit. Depending on the outcome, a new regulatory regime could both bolster the European Union’s (EU) attempts to stamp out Russian political interference and facilitate its efforts to break up Internet monopolies.

The 2016 US presidential elections and foreign interference

The driving force behind new regulations, especially among the Left, remains the effort to prevent foreign political interference after the 2016 presidential election. Fake news articles with suspicious origins began proliferating across Facebook in early 2016, leading to scandals like “Pizzagate,” in which a gunman charged into a D.C. pizzeria to find a supposed Clinton-sponsored child prostitution ring. Recently, Members of Congress expressed outrage after discovering that Russia-linked Facebook accounts had purchased $100,000 worth of advertisements, many designed to exploit white voters’ fears of Islam and the Black Lives Matter movement. On 20 September, Democrats in the House and Senate wrote a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requesting that it “develop new guidance” on how to prevent illicit foreign spending in US elections.

Conservatives increasingly critical of Silicon Valley

Politicians and commentators on the Right, meanwhile, increasingly accuse tech companies of anti-conservative bias. The firing of James Damore, an ex-Google engineer who wrote a controversial memo about women in the technology sector, provoked accusatory Op-Eds from the Washington Examiner, National Review, and other conservative outlets. He is now represented by a member of the Republican National Committee (NRC) in his complaint before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  Hoover Institution Fellow Jeremy Carl wrote that “The evidence of Silicon Valley’s hostility to the Right is everywhere. Prominent conservatives from Michelle Malkin to William Jacobson to Dennis Prager… have seen themselves banned from major Internet platforms or had their content censored or demonetized”. Some, including the ex-White House advisor Steve Bannon, have gone so far as to assert that technology companies should be regulated with the same level of rigour as public utilities, given their central role in civic life.

Positive developments for EU tech regulation efforts

Left and Right may have different views on why tech sector regulation is needed, but both seem to agree that the government should increase its involvement, which will likely lead to increased reporting requirements and public oversight.

The EU would benefit from both outcomes. European countries, especially former Soviet territories, have been attempting to prevent Russian political interference for years. In 2015, the European Council outlined a new security strategy to combat “hybrid warfare,” which encompasses Russian information warfare. Cooperative information-sharing remains one of the best methods against hybrid warfare, so if new regulations lead to increased U.S.-European cooperation, they will almost certainly bolster European efforts to keep Russia at bay. In one small step in that direction, the US, UK, Finland, Sweden, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania signed a memorandum of understanding earlier this year to establish a European Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats.

Meanwhile, increased reporting requirements and public information-sharing could also facilitate European attempts to break tech monopolies. The European Union has pursued several monopoly lawsuits against American-based tech companies in the past decade, especially against Google. In 2017, the European Union fined Google $2.7 billion for displaying search results in a way that treated its own shopping outlets preferentially.

Several other cases remain ongoing, including a case focused on Google’s Android system. If US politicians determine that regulating tech companies requires collecting more information and tech operations and sharing it with allies, then this would make EU’s efforts to regulate and reign in American tech substantially easier.

About Author

Chris Wickham

Chris Wickham produces nuclear policy analysis for a U.S. Congressional Agency. Previously, he completed fellowships with the Fulbright program in Madrid and Teach for China in rural Yunnan, China. He holds a M.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, where he's currently pursuing a second M.S. in Mathematics and Statistics.