There is only one country in the world that has a standing meeting with the United States of America – Ireland. And there is only one European country with every major global tech company based within its borders – also Ireland.
While the Taoiseach typically meets with the US president each year to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, this year must be different. This St Patrick’s Day, we need to ensure that the meeting is not just a photo op.
Ireland must bring more than shamrocks to the White House this year – we must bring a global technology policy to guide the world through the next generation of the web, Internet 3.0.
Right now, when it comes to the rules of engagement for technology companies and consumers, no one knows who is leading. Some countries are trying to take steps in the right direction, but only piecemeal and on a national level.
Take, for example, the United Kingdom’s Online Safety Bill. The bill has been debated back and forth in Parliament since 2019, and the British government has the right intention. The bill would fight the spread of harmful and illegal content on social media – something every country and every technology company should be able to get behind.
Meanwhile, the EU Commission is sweeping in its Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act with far reaching objectives, and the US is exploring similar rules, pushing small pieces of regulation forward, most recently with some provisions in its competitiveness bill.
But it is simply not enough. It is not enough for the US or any single European nation to make these changes alone. We do not need countries acting independently for incremental change, we need a collaborative effort for a dramatic shift and universal change.
Technology has made our global economy more interconnected than ever, and technology companies are operating across continents and connecting individuals like never before.
A patchwork quilt of rules and regulations might work in the short term, but it would create worse outcomes for individuals and the technology companies themselves over the long term.
The current approach is a critical mistake, and Ireland is missing out on a massive opportunity. While Ireland is a small country, we have an incredible amount of soft power in the technology space because of the companies that are headquartered here.
This, combined with our experience and intellectual capital, means we are uniquely positioned to step up and put an action plan together for a set of international rules and guidelines before March 17. Ireland has everything it would take to jumpstart this process.
Doing so would create a clear regulatory environment for companies, which would allow them to focus their energies on innovative new products and services rather than navigating legal complexities.
And it would lay the foundation for the societal change so many people around the world are seeking. Technology is the most important arrow in our quiver in the fight to uplift those currently marginalised in our societies.
With the right foundation in place, we can ensure more equitable access to education, healthcare, and jobs whether you live in a major city or a rural village.
Working toward this type of international standard is not unprecedented. When phone companies began operating internationally, industry leaders and policymakers got together and set clear and consistent rules so that you could seamlessly place a call to a friend or family member anywhere in the world using the country code system. The same has occurred with web search and web addresses.
Like with the regulations that give consumers the right to own their phone numbers even if they switch providers, establishing a universal policy for data portability would give consumers the power over their own information.
This power belongs with consumers so that they can transfer it freely between platforms at will, rather than with platforms that could lock up consumers’ personal information.
Additionally, digital object architecture, how computers talk to each other, should also be open and fair to ensure the free flow of information between systems. This kind of interoperability across different systems can level the playing field and spark competition for developers, which consumers will reap the benefits of with increased innovation and lower costs.
The first step for Ireland in setting these international technology rules that keep pace with Internet 3.0 is getting a team of government and private partners together.
Next, we need to commit to hiring tech talent at commercial rates for governmental tech policy positions. The best and brightest in the space, the ones who can get this done are not going to get on board at a civil servant rate if they have commercial options.
If the Office of Data Protection got the sign-off to hire at commercial rates, it would help push forward immediate policies and go a long way to securing Ireland and the West’s future as leaders in Internet 3.0.
Reflecting on my 30 years in the technology, media, and telecommunications industries, I can tell you that this point in history is by far the most critical to securing the future of the internet.
Although we have all read so much criticism of Big Tech over the past few years, with the recent events unfolding in Ukraine, we have seen the immense power of the internet to share information and connect people. I implore the Irish government to work with technology leaders. We have on week until St Patrick’s Day. Let’s get it done.
David McCourt is the Chairman of Granahan McCourt and Chairman of National Broadband Ireland. He is the inaugural Economist in Residence at USC’s Annenberg school and the author of bestselling book, Total Rethink.