Bridging the internet-cyber gap: Digital policy lessons for the next administration

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The fallout from the Edward Snowden leaks about National Security Agency activities has been felt across the international policy community, in increased pressure for national data localization laws requiring that data about individuals within a country be kept in that country, for restrictions on transfers of data from the European Union, and for shifting internet governance away from the loose collection of organizations involved today toward intergovernmental bodies such as the United Nations.

As acting secretary of the United States Department of Commerce and the head of the cross-agency Internet-Cyber Group, Cameron Kerry helped the Obama administration navigate difficult questions regarding privacy and control in cyberspace. And as he writes in this new paper, “the Obama administration has learned a lot from the [Snowden] experience, taking a number steps to restore trust and bolster its policymaking in the digital arena.”

The purpose of this paper is to identify those lessons learned and to offer guidance for the next president and administration to ensure they approach the digital policy sphere appropriately—and comprehensively. Kerry’s advice involves avoiding some of the failures of the last seven-plus years and building on their successes.

The most essential lesson, from which Kerry derives many other suggestions, is the premise that “a persistent divide between national security issues and economic ones does not reflect today’s networked and information-driven world.” He outlines several steps to help prevent a future administration from prioritizing “hard security” considerations to the detriment of other essential considerations. He applies the maxim “operations is policy,” arguing that how the government goes about making policy and who makes the policy go a long way toward determining the policy outcome. He concludes by reviewing likely digital policy challenges that will face the next administration and illustrating how his recommendations can ensure they are ably overcome.