How to win government policy and influence the internet

  • In this blog post, we’re going to tell you about how and why Access Now participates in policy making in Washington D.C. We’re also going to tell you about a recent process to influence a federal agency’s (NTIA) policy on the future of the internet.
  • This blog post is for people who are curious about internet policy at the federal level, but may not be an expert.
  • If you’re looking for our official comments, click here.

Most people know about Access Now from one of our campaigns, the Digital Security Helpline, our newsletter about the state of human rights in the digital era (sign up here!), or from RightsCon. But you may not be aware that we also invest our time to participate in processes to influence law and policy. One of the more effective ways to influence federal policy is to help weigh in from the very beginning, offering specific advice and recommendations that officials can meaningfully implement.

The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) is a law that governs how agencies are supposed to make rules that substantively affect us all. It requires agencies to accept and respond to public comments for most actions that impact people. However, even when the APA doesn’t require an agency to accept public comments, many policy makers will request feedback anyway through a “request for comment.” This happens all the time. For example, we recently submitted comments to members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, who are considering how to set rules regarding internet-connected medical devices.

This week, we again submitted comments to an agency you may not have heard of. It’s called the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) and they were asking for advice in setting their international internet policy priorities. Relatively unknown outside of policy circles, the NTIA is an agency at the U.S. Department of Commerce that advises the administration about all areas regarding communications technologies (including the internet). With this expertise, the NTIA also has an office of international affairs that engages at global venues like the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

Because of NTIA’s influence in the United States and around the world, we decided it was important to respond when they requested public guidance on what they should prioritize at these international events.

In our response, we advised NTIA to focus on issues that impact human rights including internet shutdowns, censorship online, cyberattacks, the restriction of circumvention tools and technologies, data localization requirements, and efforts to undermine encryption. Action on many of these issues, both national and international, and the NTIA’s influence, could help us keep the internet more secure, free, and open.

We’re not the only organization that participates in these processes. Many of the organizations we work with every day to protect your rights also have experts who participate and submit comments. Occasionally we’ll team up to write comments together in solidarity. Here’s something you may not know, but you should. While many of the groups that participate in this process work for think-tanks or advocacy organizations, anyone can participate. The request for public comment is open to everyone — and that is regardless of citizenship. If you’d like to advise the U.S. government on its international internet and human rights priorities, you can read the instructions and answer their questions here. If you’d like some more guidance about this process, read our blog post here.

And yes, sometimes the government disappoints us. But frequently officials will listen to our advice and acknowledge the problems facing the international human rights community. That’s why we continue to engage with them, even when it seems like an administration is against us on many issues.

If you’d like to know more about what we’re asking the U.S. government to prioritize, you can read our official submission here.