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Tech Prom Keynotes: Brad Burnham and Sen. Ron Wyden

Keynotes from Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) highlighted this year’s CDT Annual Dinner celebrating Internet innovation. Burnham’s speech, “The Freedom to Innovate,” can be found here. The prepared text of the Sen. Wyden’s speech is posted below. (Please note that the Senator’s delivered remarks differed from the following text.)The video of Brunham’s remarks appears after the text of Sen. Wyden’s speech.

It’s good to be here at the Tech Prom. Unfortunately even though it’s prom, I had to come stag. Fortunately, I have more than a little experience going it alone.

I’m thrilled to be here and have the chance to wax poetic about the role of the domain name system and DNSSEC and their role in the next round of the online copyright battles.

Seriously, this speech I am about to give is going to beat the heck out of anything you could have done at SXSW tonight.

But let’s take a look at all that you are not missing. For instance today there was a lengthy panel discussion entitled the “last 100 years of awesomeness.” Yeah. Not as awesome as DNSSEC. Was Gigi Sohn there? No? Lame!

I guess it would be interesting to attend the panel entitled “Beyond dance, dance, revolution,” if only to know what the revolution holds.

Actually, it looks like there is one semi-useful course at South-by this year – it appears to be a remedial panel for politicians – called, “How to misuse the Internet and make people love you.”

So you’re not missing anything, folks, beyond tacos, barbecue, beer, and… uh… a cellphone reception. But, it is really good to be here tonight and to see so many friendly and familiar faces. And I have no intention of discussing DNSSEC, so you can stop digging for your keys.

Actually, I can’t say it’s all good.

In fact, it’s little disconcerting. Seeing so many familiar faces in one room has me a little worried that you are about to spring some sort of “lifetime achievement” award on me. Obviously that would be a great honor, but one – I’m not that old. And two – we have a lot yet to achieve.

David’s introduction reminded me we have accomplished a lot together in what – I would like to argue – is a short amount of time. (Seriously, I’ve been trying to fix the nation’s health care system for over 30 years, 17 years of work on Internet policy is nothing.)

However, thanks to many of the people sitting in this room, our list of accomplishments over those 17 years has added up to a lot.

Although, at the time, I’m not sure we thought we were doing anything extraordinary.

When we were writing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – for example – none of us said to ourselves “Hey, someday, thanks to us, the world will be able to express itself 140 characters at a time.” We didn’t envision Facebook or YouTube or The Huffington Post. And if we had, I’m sure a few people would have accused us of losing our marbles.

Rather, we saw this relatively new medium and said to ourselves, “How do we encourage innovation?” Or in many senses, “How do we get out of the way of innovation?”

As many of you know, that collaboration ensured that websites, ISPs and other services weren’t faced with the legal liability that would crush new ideas before they had a chance to be realized.

From there we passed measures to ensure that discriminatory taxes wouldn’t discourage people from getting online.

Once folks started to get online, a lot of us toiled to ensure consumers don’t face bandwidth discrimination based upon the content they download.

Then we passed laws like the Electronic Signatures Act to make it easier to conduct business online and we fought for principles like net neutrality to ensure unfettered access to the Internet.

And, of course, most recently, a bunch of us successfully fought what many said would be a losing battle to stop the advancement of PIPA and SOPA.

I don’t bring up PIPA/SOPA to gloat. I know there are thoughtful, well-meaning people in this room who were on both sides of that debate and I did not enjoy playing the role that I did.

I bring the issue up to support the main point that I want to leave you with tonight, which is this:

If we want the U.S. to keep moving forward, we need to keep asking ourselves “How do we encourage innovation?”

Encouraging innovation means embracing the Internet. Of course, that’s scary because the Internet is a powerful force. In just the last year, the Internet has helped incite democratic revolutions. It re-branded the formerly beloved Susan G Komen Foundation as one of most disliked charitable organizations in the country and it forced the U.S. Congress to drop legislation that everyone assumed was on a glide path to becoming law.

But, as each of those examples illustrates, disregarding or even attempting to pull the plug on the Internet doesn’t work.

As the Internet has increasingly made it easier to be inclusive and transparent, it has become increasingly unacceptable to govern in a way that is not.

Initially the PIPA/SOPA debate was framed as a struggle between two industries: one hurt by the Internet and those making money online. But, in the end, many viewed the issue differently. Many saw PIPA/SOPA as an example of Congress ignoring the public’s concerns to look out for the interests of the well-connected. To its detriment, Congress did little to dispel this view.

But not only is that not how the Internet works, it’s not how innovation works. Innovation is not the product of protecting one industry, person or idea over another. Innovation is the product of giving everyone an opportunity to both try and fail.

Government doesn’t promote innovation by stepping in to protect old business models from the innovators. Rather government promotes innovation by giving the innovators a chance to succeed even when it means allowing incumbents to fail.

Because for our country to keep moving forward those incumbents need to become innovators too. And if Congress wants its approval ratings to improve, the American people need to know that their government is operating in the interests of everyone – not just a few.

Let me illustrate my point.

On the one hand, thanks to the work of many in this room, the United States leads the world in the development, deployment, and advancement of information technology. The Internet economy that American firms create and expand is a central driver of economic growth and job creation in this country and others like ours.

On the other hand, you have China, which governs itself to preserve the existing power of its political and economic elite. As a result, China doesn’t innovate to compete. Instead it mainly resorts to state-sponsored economic espionage, economic blackmail, and commercial protectionism. They knock off the rest of the world’s products, but they aren’t innovating anything new.

Which do we want to be?

If our goal is to get Congress to promote innovation – to welcome new entrants rather than crowd them out, then there are a couple of common sense things it can do.

First, it shouldn’t advance legislation that isn’t well known and understood.

For example, if you don’t want the country to be suspicious of your Internet legislation, then don’t spring it on senators at the last minute. Don’t bypass the committee process and avoid opportunities for debate and expert opinion.

If you don’t want people to be suspicious of your legislation, then you shouldn’t legislate in secret.

The American people are suspicious of what they don’t know and understand. And when you take the time to actually engage in the democratic process, you not only eliminate suspicion by fostering understanding, you discover ideas that might make your policy better.

Secondly, if the United States doesn’t want the online community to organize against international trade agreements regulating the Internet, then the United States shouldn’t cut the online community out of the process. Just like any other negotiation, if you want all parties to agree to the ultimate deal, you need to include all parties in the process. In other words, you don’t get to be surprised that the public doesn’t support your deal after you’ve spent years excluding the public.

Give the public and all those who care about the Internet an opportunity to weigh in. Keeping the discussions secret just breeds distrust and misinformation.

Third, government can give more priority to making sure the legal regime is keeping pace with technology. Of course Congress will never move at Internet speed. But it can make clear that promoting the Internet’s open nature is a core policy value. And it can update rules for issues like privacy and government access to data in the “cloud” to reflect current technology. The legal regime needs to adapt sensibly to the realities of the 21st century Internet.

And, given its approval ratings, Congress should consider innovating a little itself. Congress should do a better job of embracing technology so that the public has more of a chance to understand and participate in the legislative process.

But, let’s face it, too many Members of Congress look to social media as little more than a place to paste press releases. This is a missed opportunity.

In fact, if you think about it, Congress’s failure to more fully utilize social media is counter-intuitive.

Politics is, after all, interactive. It’s social. Let’s encourage politicians – those that are holding office and those new-entrants that wish to hold office – to consider bypassing the pollsters, the fundraisers, the media consultants and all those middlemen.

For too long, the only currency that mattered in Washington was money and its influence. Now it is clear that a new currency is emerging that is based on networks, openness, and trust. This currency holds the potential for challenging the status-quo in Washington and offering a new relationship between citizens and their elected leaders. The ‘Net will increasingly show itself to be the great equalizer in politics, and I can’t wait.

Right now, there are two groups of people. Ones that recognize that the ‘Net is changing the economic and political order of things, and those that don’t. Incumbents – whether they are politicians, business people, or lobbyists – would be wise to keep their heads out of the sand. Embrace the change, or this change will bury you.

Someone recently lauded Representative Issa and me for putting a draft bill online and inviting comments before the bill was formally introduced. We didn’t think that crowd sourcing was all that innovative; we just thought it was a little more democratic. That’s democratic with a small d, of course.

It is in the spirit of that type of transparency that I and others are striving to advance legislation like the OPEN Act to combat the unfair digital imports that infringe on American intellectual property. Under the leadership of Chairman Baucus, I am planning hearings in the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Trade to be sure the U.S. is advancing global free-trade disciplines on digital goods and services. And, after hearings and a good public vetting, several colleagues and I aim to push legislation that prevents discriminatory taxes on digital goods and services and the mobile services that are increasingly the gateway to the Internet.

I will conclude by first giving my thanks to everyone at CDT for inviting me here tonight and for their help on so many issues over the years. CDT has played a key role again and again in helping policymakers think through complex technology policy questions and in explaining why these issues matter. I look forward to working with CDT to move from “e-government” to “we-government.”

Secondly, I’ll leave you by stressing that innovation is the progeny of a government that encourages a broad competition for good ideas. When we promote innovation, we promote our future. Put another way, in the immortal words of one online innovator, “don’t put up a firewall, when we could have it all.” (And you thought all of the good music was in Austin.)

Thank you.

Speech of Brad Burnham: