By Tim Starks
Former Rep. Mike Rogers and the Bipartisan Policy Center want to capture the spirit of 1997 as they develop a partnership to help industry and government short-circuit today’s most difficult feuds in cybersecurity and the digital economy.
The intent is to echo 1997’s Framework for Global Electronic Commerce, a government-private sector union from the Internet’s dial-up era. That alliance aimed to bolster online business while demonstrating a commitment from industry and the feds to tackle the technology’s emerging problems.
The new partnership, first shared with POLITICO, has been quietly working for four months to lay the groundwork. Its inaugural public event will be Wednesday, when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker will be among the speakers at the center. On Tuesday, the initiative is bringing in 40 leaders from industry for discussions, followed by a congressional dinner.
The goal is to eventually develop a new Framework for the Global Digital Economy by next year, the 10th anniversary of the earlier effort. At the outset, the initiative will address subjects such as cyber insurance, legal liability, a standard for attributing attacks and a unification of conflicting regulations.
It won’t be the first time someone has tried to get government and industry, particularly the tech sector, on the same page amid today’s bruising court battles over encryption and surveillance. But Rogers said he thinks their approach is different from others.
“The only thing we ask of everybody that comes in is to leave their advocacy position, your pre-established advocacy position, you’ve got to leave outside,” Rogers said. He figures his own background serving as House Intelligence chairman, when he advanced an agenda that tech companies didn’t always like, gives him credibility on that, since he is demonstrating that he is coming in open-minded during those meetings. Additionally, as a private citizen he has a broader agenda and a different perspective.
But the so-called Global Digital Challenge Initiative isn’t directly taking on the topic that generates the most headlines and friction these days – encryption. At least not yet.
And the initiative hasn’t yet been aggressive about reaching out to Silicon Valley or civil liberties advocates, focusing on sectors like finance and energy first. Nor has it included government officials in those closed-door meetings, in part because it wants industry to lead the way.
Both Rogers and BPC President Jason Grumet view encryption as a symptom of a larger challenge to align industry and government on a broader set of questions.
“The current incentive structure is that no good deed goes unpunished,” Grumet said. “There’s very little incentive for these private companies to extend themselves into the broader debate.” By addressing questions like the threat and legal liability first, it will create more incentive to participate, Grumet reasoned.
The 1997 initiative didn’t tackle encryption as directly as some would have liked, either. “That happens to be one of the most difficult issues the government and industry is wrestling with right now,” then-IBM CEO Louis Gerstner said at a 1997 news conference after a White House meeting on the framework, which he observed touched on encryption in some small ways.
The immediate agenda for Rogers and the BPC is to stop “the bleeding,” Grumet said. Its private workshops have led to a short-term agenda to do that, and the plan is to form industry task forces to delve deeper on those cyber topics.
Those include subjects like cyber insurance and figuring out how to give providers the missing actuarial data they need to form polices that can make it an effective tool. “Currently, it’s like a drunken monkey in a backroom with a dart, and we hope it turns out all right,” Rogers said.
In a connection to the 1997 effort, Tara Lemmey, CEO of LENS Ventures, will speak at Wednesday’s event. She also spoke at the 1997 news conference as head of an online advertising company, Narrowline.
Plans for the current venture include a mix of public and private events. In private, companies might share their checklists for what kinds of security practices they expect from vendors, Rogers said, while in public a “performative” aspect can sometimes deepen conflict. But public events also ensure engagement with people who want to get involved and might have good ideas.
“Democracy only works when you have combination of private generative experience and public engagement,” Grumet said. And the pair knows it won’t be easy. “We like hard problems,” Rogers said.