Attacking Our Leading Tech Innovators for Political Gain Comes at Our Own Peril
China’s move to invest more than $143 billion into its chip industry should be a warning to every American that we should be supporting – not attacking – our leading tech innovators.
The tech sector serves as the engine of our national security and competitive advantage in the world. Thirteen of the top 19 technology innovators in the world are American. This is no accident.
For decades, the US created an environment promoting and fostering innovation, until our politics became more divided and we lost track of the fact that our tech companies are substantially more than “likes” and “shares.” These innovators are the foundation of our economy, a key to our future, and a first line of defense for the American internet.
The tension over the tech advantage was obvious as President Joe Biden made clear that the United States would “continue to compete vigorously,” while China pushed back on restrictions imposed last month by the US on China’s access to semiconductor technology that can be used to deliver hypersonic missiles or potentially crack the US military’s most advanced codes.
The Chinese government argues that “fighting … technology wars and pushing for decoupling violates market economy principles [and] undermine[s] the rules of international trade. China opposed the ‘politicization and weaponization’ of economic, trade, scientific and technology exchanges.”
The Brookings Institute offers a stark forecast by noting that “future technological breakthroughs will deliver both economic and military advantages to the country that develops and deploys them first” and that “Whoever leads in the development and deployment of emerging technologies (for example, AI, next generation telecommunications, clean energy, semiconductors, biotechnology, and quantum computing) will enjoy the pull of power. The technology leader also will have an edge in rule-setting, as well as in the national security applications of these emerging technologies.”
Legislating as Political Statement
Yet, disagreements over social media have some in Congress legislating by anecdote to score quick political points rather than sound policy. Bills in both the House and Senate seek to impose overreaching government restrictions on America’s technology leaders.
Legislating as a political statement is dangerous, and legislation such as the Senate’s American Innovation and Choice Online Act only weakens our nation by stifling innovation rather than supporting it.
Passing heavy-handed regulations at home will hamper the success of America’s tech industry on the global stage where they compete with Chinese firms.
Our technological advantage in the world extends well beyond China, as evidenced by US restrictions on tech exports to Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Not only has our government used these tools to our advantage, but American innovative companies stepped up to expose the atrocities and propaganda of the Russians and helped Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky get messages to the rest of the world, thereby helping thwart what likely would have been a rapid Russian victory.
Technology shines light into the darkest corners of Ukraine and gives voice to the voiceless.
Take for example images and descriptions of civilians’ and children’s injuries shared with the world on social media by a hospital press secretary and her colleagues. Journalists and ordinary Ukrainians follow the practice, posting videos, images, and information of the horrors of war on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Telegram.
The posts provide evidence of Russia’s brutality and possible war crimes to dispel Russian propaganda to the contrary. These posts have led to calls for global condemnation and sanctions.
In addition to providing channels for communication, Meta added safety features in Ukraine and Russia, allowing users in those countries to lock their Facebook profiles. This blocks the ability to view and search friends lists. The company has also taken extensive steps to fight the spread of misinformation related to the conflict; and implemented more transparency and restrictions around state-controlled media outlets.
Russia’s invasion also presented a danger for people outside of Ukraine. Government-backed actors from China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia, and various unattributed groups, were behind phishing and malware campaigns that used the war as a lure.
Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) noted the activity and helped inform Ukraine, neighboring countries in Europe, and others of the activity.
Google’s Project Shield provides free unlimited protection against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, a digital attack used as a form of censorship by taking websites offline. Google expanded Project Shield to protect the websites of more than 200 Ukrainian government entities, news outlets, and other organizations. TAG also worked to uncover and remove four information operations tied to the Internet Research Agency.
In addition to taking steps to help fight the battle, US tech companies are providing tools to help users access resources and support people in need.
For example, using tools created by Meta, people raised more than $40 million across Facebook and Instagram for nonprofits supporting humanitarian relief in Ukraine, in addition to the $15 million Meta pledged to support those in need as a result of Russia’s invasion.
At the outset of the conflict, Google Fellows dropped everything to code into existence a web connecting Ukrainian refugees with assistance, matching 10,000 refugees with accommodations.
Congress should applaud and encourage these American innovators, not hamper and limit their efforts with onerous regulation. We have had our political disputes over social media, but the world has changed.
Americans – and those who represent us in Congress – must wake up to the reality that technology is our advantage and attacking our leading tech innovators for political gain comes at our own peril.
Barbara Comstock (@BarbaraComstock) is a former state and congressional representative from Virginia and a senior adviser at Baker Donelson.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Defense Post.
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