One would think that if there is any aspect of Internet policy that libertarians could agree on, it would be that the government should not be in control of basic internet infrastructure. So why are Tech Freedom and a few other so-called “liberty” groups making a big fuss about the plan to complete the privatization of ICANN? The IANA transition, as it has become known, would set the domain name system root, IP addressing and Internet protocol parameter registries free of direct governmental control, and make those aspects of the Internet transnational and self-governing.

Yet, the same groups that have informed us that net neutrality is the end of Internet freedom because it would have a government agency indirectly regulating discriminatory practices by private sector ISPs, are now trying to tell us that retaining direct U.S. government regulation of the content of the domain name system root, and indirect control of the domain name industry and IP addressing via a contract with ICANN, is essential to the maintenance of global Internet freedom. It’s insane.

One mundane explanation is that TechFreedom, which is known for responding eagerly to anyone offering them a check, has found some funding source that doesn’t like the IANA transition and has, in the spirit of a true political entrepreneur, taken up the challenge of trying to twist, turn and spin freedom rhetoric into some rationalization for opposing the transition. But that doesn’t explain the opposition of Senators Cruz and other conservatives who feign a concern for Internet freedom. No, I think this split represents something bigger. At bottom, it’s a debate about the role of nation-states in Internet governance and the state’s role in preserving freedom.

In this regard it would be good to review my May 2016 blog post at the Internet Governance Project, which smashes the myths being asserted about the US government’s role in ICANN. In it, I show that NTIA’s control of ICANN has never been used to protect Internet freedom, but has been used multiple times to limit or attack it. I show that the US control of the DNS root was never put into place to “protect Internet freedom,” but was established for other reasons, and that the US explicitly rejected putting a free expression clause in ICANN’s constitution. I show that the new ICANN Articles of Incorporation created as part of the transition contain good mission limitations and protections against content regulation by ICANN. Finally, I argued that in the real world of international relations (as opposed to the unilateralist fantasies of conservative nationalists) the privileged US role is a magnet for other governments, inviting them to push for control, rather than a bulwark against it.

Another libertarian tech policy analyst, Eli Dourado, has also argued that going ahead with the IANA transition is a ‘no-brainer.’

Assistant Secretary of Commerce Larry Strickling’s speech at the US Internet Governance Forum last month goes through the FUD being advanced by TechFreedom and the nationalist Republicans one by one. Among other points, he contends that if the U.S. tries to retain control, Internet infrastructure will become increasingly politicized as rival states, such as China, Russia and Iran, argue for a sovereignty-based model and try to get internet infrastructure in the hands of intergovernmental organizations:

Privatizing the domain name system has been a goal of Democratic and Republican administrations since 1997. Prior to our 2014 announcement to complete the privatization, some governments used NTIA’s continued stewardship of the IANA functions to justify their demands that the United Nations, the International Telecommunication Union or some other body of governments take control over the domain name system. Failing to follow through on the transition or unilaterally extending the contract will only embolden authoritarian regimes to intensify their advocacy for government-led or intergovernmental management of the Internet via the United Nations.

The TechFreedom “coalition letter” raises no new arguments or issues – it is a nakedly political appeal for Congress to intervene to stop the transition, based mainly on partisan hatred of the Obama administration. But I think this debate is highly significant nevertheless. It’s not about rational policy argumentation, it’s about the diverging political identity of people who say they are pro-freedom.

What is really happening here is a rift between nationalist conservativism of the sort represented by the Heritage Foundation and the nativists in the Tea Party, on the one hand, and true free market libertarians, on the other. The root of this difference is a radically different conception of the role of the nation-state in the modern world. Real libertarians see national borders as, at best, administrative necessary evils, and at worst as unjustifiable obstacles to society and commerce. A truly classical liberal ethic is founded on individual rights and a commitment to free and open markets and free political institutions everywhere, and thus is universalist and globalist in outlook. They see the economy and society as increasingly globalized, and understand that the institution of the state has to evolve in new directions if basic liberal and democratic values are to be institutionalized in that environment.

The nationalist Republican conservatives, on the other hand, want to strengthen the state. They are hemmed in by a patriotic and exceptionalist view of its role. Insofar as they are motivated by liberal impulses at all – and of course many parts of their political base are not – it is based on a conception of freedom situated entirely on national-level institutions. As such, it implies walling the world off or, worse, dominating the world as a pre-eminent nation-state. The rise of Trump and the ease with which he took over the Republican Party ought to be a signal to the real libertarians that the Republican Party is no longer viable as a lesser-of-two-evils home for true liberals. The base of the Republican Party, the coalition of constituencies and worldviews of which it is composed, is splitting into two camps with irreconcilable differences over fundamental issues. Good riddance to the nationalists, I say. This split poses a tremendous opportunity for libertarians to finally free themselves of the social conservatism, nationalistic militarists, nativists and theocrats that have dragged them down in the GOP.

Juma book cover

“The quickest way to find out who your enemies are is to try doing something new.” Thus begins Innovation and Its Enemies, an ambitious new book by Calestous Juma that will go down as one of the decade’s most important works on innovation policy.

Juma, who is affiliated with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, has written a book that is rich in history and insights about the social and economic forces and factors that have, again and again, lead various groups and individuals to oppose technological change. Juma’s extensive research documents how “technological controversies often arise from tensions between the need to innovate and the pressure to maintain continuity, social order, and stability” (p. 5) and how this tension is “one of today’s biggest policy challenges.” (p. 8)

What Juma does better than any other technology policy scholar to date is that he identifies how these tensions develop out of deep-seated psychological biases that eventually come to affect attitudes about innovations among individuals, groups, corporations, and governments. “Public perceptions about the benefits and risks of new technologies cannot be fully understood without paying attention to intuitive aspects of human psychology,” he correctly observes. (p. 24) Continue reading →

This week, my Mercatus Center colleague Andrea Castillo and I filed comments with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in a proceeding entitled, “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence.” For more background on this proceeding and the accompanying workshops that OSTP has hosted on this issue, see this White House site.

In our comments, Andrea and I make the case for prudence, patience, and a continuing embrace of “permissionless innovation” as the appropriate policy framework for artificial intelligence (AI) technologies at this nascent stage of their development. Down below, I have pasted our full comments, which were limited to just 2,000 words as required by the OSTP. But we plan on releasing a much longer report on these issues in coming months. You can find the full version of filing that includes footnotes here.

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In a terrific little essay on “Local Economic Revival and The Unpredictability of Technological Innovation,” Michael Mandel, the chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute, makes several important points regarding the fundamental folly for future forecasting efforts as it pertains to new innovations. He notes, for example:

There are plenty of candidates for the “next big thing,” ranging from the Internet of Things to additive manufacturing to artificial organ factories to autonomous cars to space commerce to Elon Musk’s hyperloop. Each of these has the potential to revolutionize an industry, and to create many thousands or even millions of jobs in the process–not just for the highly-educated, but a whole range of workers.

Yet the problem–and the beauty–is that technological innovation is fundamentally unpredictable, even at close range. Consider this: The two most important innovations of the past decade, economically, have been the smartphone and fracking. The smartphone transformed the way that we communicate and hydraulic fracturing has driven down the price of energy, not to mention shifting the geopolitical balance of power.

But few saw the smartphone and fracking revolutions coming, he notes. The pundits and the press were too focused on technologies of the past. Continue reading →

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton’s campaign released a tech and innovation agenda. The document covers many tech subjects, including cybersecurity, copyright, and and tech workforce investments, but I’ll narrow my comments to the areas I have the most expertise in: broadband infrastructure and Internet regulation. These roughly match up, respectively, to the second and fourth sections of the five-section document.

On the whole, the broadband infrastructure and Internet regulation sections list good, useful priorities. The biggest exception is Hillary’s strong endorsement of the Title II rules for the Internet, which, as I explained in the National Review last week, is a heavy-handed regulatory regime that is ripe for abuse and will be enforced by a politicized agency.

Her tech agenda doesn’t mention a Communications Act rewrite but I’d argue it’s implied in her proposed reforms. Further, her statements last year at an event suggest she supports significant telecom reforms. In early 2015, Clinton spoke to tech journalist Kara Swisher (HT Doug Brake) and it was pretty clear Clinton viewed Title II as an imperfect and likely temporary effort to enforce neutrality norms. In fact, Clinton said she prefers “a modern, 21st-century telecom technology act” to replace Title II and the rest of the 1934 Communications Act. Continue reading →

I’m pleased to announce the publication of my latest law review article, “Guns, Limbs, and Toys: What Future for 3D Printing?” The article, which appears in Vol. 17 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, was co-authored with Adam Marcus. Here’s the abstract:

We stand on the cusp of the next great industrial revolution thanks to technological innovations and developments that could significantly enhance the welfare of people across the world. This article will focus on how one of those modern inventions–3D printing–could offer the public significant benefits, but not without some serious economic, social, and legal disruptions along the way. We begin by explaining what 3D printing is and how it works. We also discuss specific applications of this technology and its potential benefits. We then turn to the policy frameworks that could govern 3D printing technologies and itemize a few of the major public policy issues that are either already being discussed, or which could become pertinent in the future. We offer some general guidance for policymakers who might be pondering the governance of 3D printing technologies going forward. Contra to the many other articles and position papers that have already been penned about 3D printing policy, which only selectively defend permissionless innovation in narrow circumstances, we endorse it as the default rule across all categories of 3D printing applications.

More specifically, we do a deep dive into 3 primary public policy “fault lines” for 3D printing: firearms, medical devices, and intellectual property concerns. Read the whole thing for more details.

Elizabeth_WarrenThe folks over at RegBlog are running a series of essays on “Rooting Out Regulatory Capture,” a problem that I’ve spent a fair amount of time discussing here and elsewhere in the past. (See, most notably, my compendium on, “Regulatory Capture: What the Experts Have Found.”) The first major contribution in the RegBlog series is from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and it is entitled, “Corporate Capture of the Rulemaking Process.”

Sen. Warren makes many interesting points about the dangers of regulatory capture, but the heart of her argument about how to deal with the problem can basically be summarized as ‘Let’s Build a Better Breed of Bureaucrat and Give Them More Money.’  In her own words, she says we should “limit opportunities for ‘cultural’ capture'” of government officials and also “give agencies the money that they need to do their jobs.”

It may sound good in theory, but I’m always a bit perplexed by that argument because the implicit claims here are that:

(a) the regulatory officials of the past were somehow less noble-minded and more open to corruption than some hypothetical better breed of bureaucrat that is out there waiting to be found and put into office; and

(b) that the regulatory agencies of the past were somehow starved for resources and lacked “the money that they need to do their jobs.”

Neither of these assumptions is true and yet those arguments seem to animate most of the reform proposals set forth by progressive politicians and scholars for how to deal with the problem of capture. Continue reading →

The FCC’s transaction reviews have received substantial scholarly criticism lately. The FCC has increasingly used its license transaction reviews as an opportunity to engage in ad hoc merger reviews that substitute for formal rulemaking. FCC transaction conditions since 2000 have ranged from requiring AOL-Time Warner to make future instant messaging services interoperable, to price controls for broadband for low-income families, to mandating merging parties to donate $1 million to public safety initiatives.

In the last few months alone,

  • Randy May and Seth Cooper of the Free State Foundation wrote a piece that the transaction reviews contravene rule of law norms.
  • T. Randolph Beard et al. at the Phoenix Center published a research paper about how the FCC’s informal bargaining during mergers has become much more active and politically motivated in recent years.
  • Derek Bambauer, law professor at the University of Arizona, published a law review article that criticized the use of informal agency actions to pressure companies to act in certain ways. These secretive pressures “cloak what is in reality state action in the guise of private choice.”

This week, in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, my colleague Christopher Koopman and I added to this recent scholarship on the FCC’s controversial transaction reviews. Continue reading →

In theory, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) exists to save lives and improve health outcomes. All too often, however, that goal is hindered by the agency’s highly bureaucratic, top-down, command-and-control orientation toward drug and medical device approval.

Today’s case in point involves families of children with diabetes, many of whom are increasingly frustrated with the FDA’s foot-dragging when it comes to approval of medical devices that could help their kids. Writing today in The Wall Street Journal, Kate Linebaugh discusses how “Tech-Savvy Families Use Home-Built Diabetes Device” to help their kids when FDA regulations limit the availability of commercial options. She documents how families of diabetic children are taking matters into their own hands and creating their own home-crafted insulin pumps, which can automatically dose the proper amount of proper amount of the hormone in response to their child’s blood-sugar levels. Families are building, calibrating, and troubleshooting these devices on their own. And the movement is growing. Linebaugh reports that:

More than 50 people have soldered, tinkered and written software to make such devices for themselves or their children. The systems—known in the industry as artificial pancreases or closed loop systems—have been studied for decades, but improvements to sensor technology for real-time glucose monitoring have made them possible.

The Food and Drug Administration has made approving such devices a priority and several companies are working on them. But the yearslong process of commercial development and regulatory approval is longer than many patients want, and some are technologically savvy enough to do it on their own.

Linebaugh notes that this particular home-built medical project (known as OpenAPS), was created by Dana Lewis, a 27-year-old with Type 1 diabetes in Seattle. Linebaugh says that: Continue reading →

DM coverOn May 3rd, I’m excited to be participating in a discussion with Yale University bioethicist Wendell Wallach at the Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center in Washington, DC. (RSVP here.) Wallach and I will be discussing issues we write about in our new books, both of which focus on possible governance models for emerging technologies and the question of how much preemptive control society should exercise over new innovations.

Wallach’s latest book is entitled, A Dangerous Master: How to Keep Technology from Slipping beyond Our Control. And, as I’ve noted here recently, the greatly expanded second edition of my latest book, Permissionless Innovation: The Continuing Case for Comprehensive Technological Freedom, has just been released.

Of all the books of technological criticism or skepticism that I’ve read in recent years—and I have read stacks of them!—A Dangerous Master is by far the most thoughtful and interesting. I have grown accustomed to major works of technological criticism being caustic, angry affairs. Most of them are just dripping with dystopian dread and a sense of utter exasperation and outright disgust at the pace of modern technological change.

Although he is certainly concerned about a wide variety of modern technologies—drones, robotics, nanotech, and more—Wallach isn’t a purveyor of the politics of panic. There are some moments in the book when he resorts to some hyperbolic rhetoric, such as when he frets about an impending “techstorm” and the potential, as the book’s title suggests, for technology to become a “dangerous master” of humanity. For the most part, however, his approach is deeper and more dispassionate than what is found in the leading tracts of other modern techno-critics.

Continue reading →