CivTech Scotland wants to procure what no one knows exists

Here’s a tale of two organizations. When it comes to banking, I can walk up to an ATM anywhere in the world, slide in a card, hit a couple of buttons, and walk away with cash, often in less than 20-30 seconds. It’s magical, but so quotidian that we easily forget the vast technical infrastructure that powers this experience.

Now, try to walk into a government agency to get service done. You often need to get a ticket and wait, often for an hour or more. During a recent trip to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles, I ended up getting sent to four different lines, all of which were independent, and because of a computer malfunction, the whole place was being run by people pointing and shouting.

The dichotomy between those two experiences is, fundamentally, a difference in procurement.

Before you run to get coffee (or whiskey, for that matter), let me say this: procurement is the sort of extremely boring but absolutely vital task that is both the barrier but also the opportunity for making the DMV and other government services more like the ATM. New initiatives around the world are trying to rebuild procurement from the ground up, with entrepreneurship at their core. One initiative I’ve spent time with recently is CivTech, based in Scotland.

CivTech, a component of the digital directorate of the Scottish government, is a sort of two-sided marketplace connecting startup founders with government agencies. Agencies sponsor challenges, and startups compete to be the best at solving that challenge, potentially winning hundreds of thousands of dollars and a reference customer. Those startups are organized into batches, with the program launching its third batch shortly (applications are due July 2nd).

Alexander Holt, head of CivTech, is an energetic true believer that startup innovation can transform government services. For him, the key question for public agencies is “how do you procure what you don’t know exists?”

In the classical model of procurement, an agency drafts a Request for Proposals (RFP) that spells out exactly what the agency is looking for from vendors. Then, whoever bids lowest on the RFP will usually get the contract. The disconnect is that agencies rarely know what solutions they need, and Holt says that often leads to disaster. “We are writing specs that we don’t understand, and we are looking at the solution, not looking at the problem,” he said.

Holt wants to completely change that process. Instead of presenting a solution and asking for implementations, he wants agencies to present problems and keep an “open mind” about what a solution might look like. His message to agencies is “don’t give us a solution you think you need, but give us a problem you think you have.”

Then — and this is a major difference from traditional procurement — he encourages agencies to select several teams (usually three) to build pilot projects that could solve the problem. The idea is to get a better sense of what solutions exist, and also learn how the companies function. “You get an understanding of their capacity and more importantly, their culture, and that is really important,” Holt explained.

After a few weeks of building, the agency can choose to work with one company, and help them launch their product. The model is fast, since startups are iterating rapidly in competition with each other, but also cheap. As Holt said, “The other benefit for the challenge sponsor is that the amount of time that the companies are putting in versus what you’re paying them is 10 times cheaper,” than conventional procurement models.

CivTech wants to educate the next generation of civic entrepreneurs

For startups participating in the program, CivTech hopes it can provide them with legitimacy and a first customer for their business. By the end of the program, “you have a first reference client, which is the government, that allows you to keep your equity 100% and your IP 100%,” Holt said. Plus, the program connects its startups to citizens to accelerate the innovation feedback loop.

While the team has a bold vision, the program had humble beginnings. The first cohort launched in June 2016 within days of Brexit, which radically redefined the future of the United Kingdom and Scotland along with it. The program also faced its own procurement challenge around finding a home, eventually signing a lease for its first batch less than an hour before launch.

The program has grown rapidly since its inception. It had just 6 challenges during its first batch, but this time around has 10 challenges from a diverse set of agencies, including Scotland’s health service and illicit trade agencies.

Transforming procurement and therefore government won’t happen overnight, but a change in mentality is the key to imprinting entrepreneurship and startup culture on bureaucrats. Holt said that his message is always consistent: “show me the law, not the rule.” Laws are much more flexible than we think, and changing procurement doesn’t start in the legislature, but in the acquisition office of every public agency.

European and Indian regulators team up to defend net neutrality

Representatives of Europe’s BEREC (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) and India’s TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) met up yesterday to sign a join statement to promote an open internet.

This short document describes a set of rules to guarantee net neutrality. Those are some basic rules, such as equal treatment of internet traffic, a case-by-case assessment of zero-rating practices and more.

Both the European Union and India have implemented regulation to ensure net neutrality already. But they now want to go further and work together on the same set of rules. Net neutrality is always evolving and rules need to be updated regularly. This collaboration should contribute to a unification of net neutrality.

Even more important than the statement itself, the timing of this announcement is interesting. The FCC officially repealed net neutrality in the U.S. on Monday. While other regulators can’t do anything about what’s happening in the U.S., they can make sure net neutrality remains intact in their own country.

There’s a risk that the FCC decision triggers a domino effect. Telecom companies in other countries could lobby regulators to end net neutrality (the U.S. has done it, so why not us?).

As ARCEP president Sébastien Soriano told me a few months ago, it’s time to show that there’s another way. And the best way to do it is by forming a group of countries and regulators who share the same principles. With India and the European Union, a good chunk of the world population is now clearly defending net neutrality.

Other countries could now join this alliance and prove that net neutrality is important for innovation, competition and end customers.

NXP-Qualcomm $44b deal to clear China as Trump authorizes $50b tariffs

The U.S.-China trade battle enters an important new phase. The South China Morning Post is reporting that China’s Ministry of Commerce will clear Qualcomm’s pending $44 billion acquisition of NXP Semiconductors. One independent source also conveyed the same news to TechCrunch, although there has been no official word from Qualcomm, NXP, or China at time of publication.

That acquisition was expected to close months ago, but the Chinese government repeatedly delayed its assent to the deal as part of its on-going fight with the Trump administration over the future of bilateral trade. China’s ministry remained the last competition authority worldwide pending to approve the deal, and presumably it will close rapidly now that antitrust review has been completed.

The news of the approval broke just as the Wall Street Journal reported that the White House has authorized $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods. The final list of goods that will be subject to the tariffs has not been released, although TechCrunch has done a data analysis on the last set of tariffs that focused on aluminum and steel imports. Direct news from the White House is expected Friday.

There has been a studied response and counter-response between the two countries over trade the past year, as both Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping sought high ground over the spat. The most recent set of issues has concerned ZTE, which was offered a reprieve by President Trump only to have its fate brought to Congress for a decision this week.

In my analysis on ZTE’s potential death sentence, I wrote this afternoon that:

Ironically — and to be clear on this view, I am not getting this from sources, but rather pointing out a unique strategy vector here — it might well be Qualcomm that uses its DC policy shop to try to save ZTE. Those lobbyists protected Qualcomm from a takeover by Broadcom earlier this year, and it could try to make the case to Congress that it will be irreparably damaged if legislators don’t back off their threats.

The timing of the approval for Qualcomm could come with an understanding that it help ZTE with its Congressional woes. Qualcomm has already agreed to form a strategic partnership with Baidu in the interim around AI and deep learning, which one source said to me was part of a package of concessions offered to placate Beijing.

Without a doubt, the news will prove a rare bit of relief for Qualcomm, which has been buffeted by challenges over the past year, including its hostile takeover battle with Broadcom and ongoing patent lawsuits with some of its biggest customers like Apple. Shareholders are likely to be enthusiastic with the outcome, and the stock was up 3% in after hours trading following the news.

The acquisition of NXP is expected to provide a new set of technologies and patents for Qualcomm, particularly in strategic growth spaces like automotive, where Qualcomm has been weak on its product side.

What to expect now that net neutrality is finally dead: A whole lot of nothing

Today is the day that, after months of delays, the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality finally takes effect. But if you’re expecting broadband providers to suddenly feast on their customers and institute every now-legal impediment they can on free expression, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. What comes next isn’t internet hell but legal purgatory.

First, the technical aspect of things: Restoring Internet Freedom, the FCC rule that officially does away with 2015’s Open Internet Order, was proposed last April, finalized in November, passed in December, entered into the Federal Register in February, approved by the Office of Management and Budget in May — and today, finally takes effect. Chairman Ajit Pai put a cap on it with an opinion piece retreading the same tired arguments from the last two years.

But the official rulemaking process is only part of the story. It’s worth noting that basically from the moment Pai took over, the 2015 rules he opposed so strenuously were plainly not going to be enforced. Although the exact shape of the rules to come was not clear at that time, Pai’s stated deregulatory, pro-industry agenda (for some these are dirty words, for others a proud cause) assured broadband providers that they were safe from the previous rules.

And as that process has continued, it and the FCC have opened themselves up to lawsuits and legal challenges. Some allege improper conduct in the public comment portion of rulemaking; some allege the rule itself is technically incorrect; some tilt quixotically at undoing the rule in order to undermine its support in advance of the midterm elections.

Not only that, but many states have begun the process of establishing their own net neutrality rules, some even stronger than the 2015 ones being taken out of play. These will lead to numerous local conflicts, as the FCC claims its authority preempts that of states, while states claim the FCC has abdicated that authority by changing the statue under which it enforces the rules. (This is largely untested legal ground.)

All together this makes for an incredibly fraught situation for broadband providers. They are perhaps under the closest scrutiny ever; their past misdeeds haunt them even as they make pious promises of dedication to a free and open internet.

While no doubt they will attempt to get away with a few raids on the customer cookie jar via relatively innocuous (but frog-in-pot dangerous) practices like zero rating, serious larceny is almost certainly not on their minds, at least for the next couple years.

Following the highly visible and unpopular passage of a rule that unshackles them from serious regulatory oversight, any dramatic changes to their offerings or business deals will be seen as a breach of their newly acquired principles.

Not only that, but the kinder, softer federal rules may not be the ones they have to worry about. When states pass their own laws, it’s likely (or at least possible) that they will stay in effect during the inevitable legal challenge. It’s no good to try something shady but now legal under federal rules if by doing so you find yourself in violation of 20 individual state laws.

Something you can expect is a bit of PR from the FCC and broadband companies soon talking about how the new rules took effect and nothing bad happened. Sure — but they probably won’t mention the bad stuff that happened long before: the retraction of the broadband privacy rule, the relegation of abuses by broadband providers to the slow-to-act FTC, the endless favors given to telecoms and media companies like Sinclair, the total withdrawal of oversight in practices like zero rating that could easily morph into something worse, the mystifying reticence to address serious issues surrounding the rulemaking.

As has been true for the last year or so, the best thing consumers can do is be vigilant and voice their opinions. Ordinary users are the first to be affected by new policies and it may be something as simple as a new line item on your broadband bill that catches providers red-handed trying to slip something under the radar.

And as the year wears on net neutrality will likely emerge as a political issue; it’s divided along partisan lines despite being a clearly nonpartisan issue, but smart lawmakers see the writing on the wall and are cautiously aligning themselves with what they see is likely to ultimately be the winning side. The midterm elections will be a thriller no matter what, but net neutrality is just one more issue to throw on the table when deciding between people or parties.

In short the day many feared has arrived but in fact there’s nothing to fear from it. For now it’s a rubber stamp that will have little if any practical effect, since most companies will have been operating as if the new rules were in effect for some time now, and even so have opted not to invite disaster with consumer-hostile practices.

This is a battle that has been playing out for decades, and it isn’t going to end like this — the fight will continue for years and in retrospect it will be clear that this was just another chapter in the story. Just remember not to stop paying attention — in the end, that’s the way they’ll get you.

Geoffrey Starks nominated as FCC Commissioner to fill Democratic gap left by Clyburn

The President has officially named Geoffrey Starks as his pick to fill the FCC Commissioner role left open by Mignon Clyburn’s departure. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai confirmed the news, rumored over the past few weeks, in a statement.

“I congratulate Geoffrey Starks on his forthcoming nomination to serve as a Commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission,” said Pai. “He has a distinguished record of public service, including in the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, and I wish him all the best during the confirmation process.”

Starks isn’t exactly a well known figure, but in public service that’s actually something of a compliment. He has worked in the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau for three years and is currently one of several assistant bureau chiefs. Previously he was at the Justice Department, which makes sense, as the Enforcement Bureau’s responsibility is “to investigate and respond quickly to potential unlawful conduct.”

It’s unclear as yet what his position is on the various measures currently being addressed by the FCC, from net neutrality to the revamping of media regulations.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly settled on Starks as long as a couple months ago, the interim no doubt being spent on due diligence, cultivating endorsements, and so on. The Senate will have to confirm Starks, but there’s no timeline on that yet. Commissioners generally serve five-year terms.

The FCC is kept at an uneven split between the two parties, ideally 3:2 in favor of the current administration. At the moment it has three Republican Commissioners and one Democrat, Commissioner Clyburn having left just a few weeks ago.

I’ve asked the FCC for more information on Starks and no doubt his nomination will trigger considerable scrutiny by press and politicians alike.

Google reportedly backing out of military contract after public backlash

A controversial Google contract with the U.S. military will not be renewed next year after internal and public outcry against it, Gizmodo reports. The program itself was not particularly distasteful or lucrative, but served as a foot in the door for the company to pursue more government work that may very well have been both.

Project Maven, as the program was known, essentially had Google working with the military to perform image analysis on sensitive footage like that from drones flying over conflict areas.

A small but vocal group of employees has repeatedly called the company out for violating its familiar (but now deprecated) “Don’t be evil” motto by essentially taking a direct part in warfare. Thousands of employees signed a petition to end the work, and several even resigned in protest.

But more damaging than the loss of a few squeaky wheels has been the overall optics for Google. When it represented the contract as minor, and that it was essentially aiding in the administration of open source software, the obvious question from the public was “so why not stop?”

The obvious answer is that it isn’t minor, and that there’s more to it than just a bit of innocuous support work. In fact, as reportage over the last few months has revealed, Maven seems to have been something like a pilot project intended to act as a wedge by which to gain access to other government contracts.

Part of the goal was getting the company’s security clearance fast tracked and thus gaining access to data by which it could improve its military-related offerings. And promises to Pentagon representatives detailed far more than facilitation of garden variety AI work.

Gizmodo’s sources say that Diane Greene, CEO of Google Cloud, told employees today at a meeting that the backlash was too much and that the company’s priorities as regards military work have changed. They must have changed recently, since discussions have been ongoing right up until the end of 2017. I’ve asked Google for comment on the issue.

Whether the expiration of Project Maven will represent a larger change to Google’s military and government ambitions remains to be seen; some managers are surely saying to themselves right now that it would be a shame to have that security clearance go to waste.

Spotify backs off ‘hateful conduct’ policy amid backlash

Less than a month after announcing its “hateful content” and “hateful conduct” policy, Spotify is backing down from one half of the equation. Following staunch criticism, the company has issued updates to its guidelines, noting that the roll out arrived in contrast to the company’s own longstanding policies.

In a news release the company acknowledged that the initial implementation was “too vague,” creating confusion around precisely what shape it would ultimately take.

“We created concern that an allegation might affect artists’ chances of landing on a Spotify playlist and negatively impact their future,” the service writes. “Some artists even worried that mistakes made in their youth would be used against them.”

The “hateful conduct” aspect focused on issues involving artists’ personal lives, and Spotify also appeared to make a point to single out two musicians — R. Kelly and XXXTentacion — in the process. CEO Daniel Ek apologized for that latter bit earlier this week and noted that the policy is continuing to evolve, as rumors surfaced that XXXTentacion’s music would be added back into curated playlists.

The company also clarified the “hateful content” part of the equation, while noting that it would continue to bar songs that fit the bill. “As we’ve done before, we will remove content that violates that standard,” Spotify explains. “We’re not talking about offensive, explicit, or vulgar content – we’re talking about hate speech.”

Spotify also promised to continue working with artists and advocates in order to continually shape the policy.

Facebook’s policy on white supremacy plays right into a racist agenda

In an ongoing series over at Motherboard, we’re learning quite a bit about how Facebook polices hate speech and hate organizations on its platform. Historically, the company has been far less than transparent about its often inconsistent censorship practices, even as white supremacist content — and plenty of other forms of hate targeted at marginalized groups — runs rampant on the platform.

Now we know more about why. For one, according to a series of internal slides on white supremacy, Facebook walks a fine line that arguably doesn’t exist at all. According to these post-Charlottesville training documents, the company opted to officially differentiate between white nationalism and white supremacy, allowing the former and forbidding the latter.

White nationalism gets the green light

Facebook appears to take the distinction between white nationalism and white supremacy seriously, but many white nationalists don’t, opting only for the slightly more benign term to soften their image. This is a well-documented phenomenon, as anyone who has spent time in these online circles can attest. It’s also the first sentence in the Anti Defamation League (ADL) entry on white nationalism:

“White nationalism is a term that originated among white supremacists as a euphemism for white supremacy.

“Eventually, some white supremacists tried to distinguish it further by using it to refer to a form of white supremacy that emphasizes defining a country or region by white racial identity and which seeks to promote the interests of whites exclusively, typically at the expense of people of other backgrounds.”

As Motherboard reports, Facebook notes “overlaps with white nationalism/separatism” as a challenge in its relevant training notes section for white supremacy, adding that “Media reports also use the terms interchangeably (for example referring to David Duke as white supremacist even though he doesn’t explicitly identify himself as one).”

Facebook’s own articulation of white supremacy offers considerable concessions:

“Although there doesn’t seem to be total agreement among academics on whether white supremacy always implies racial hatred, the fact that it is based on a racist premise is widely acknowledged.” [original emphasis]

Most of Facebook’s slides on hate speech and hate groups read like an embarrassingly simplistic Cliff’s Notes, lacking nuance and revealing the company’s apparently slapdash approach to the issue of racial hate. Tellingly, some portions of Facebook’s training text copy Wikipedia’s own language verbatim.

Here are the first few sentences of the Wikipedia entry on white supremacy:

“White supremacy or white supremacism is a racist ideology based upon the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races and that therefore white people should be dominant over other races.

White supremacy has roots in scientific racism and it often relies on pseudoscientific arguments. Like most similar movements such as neo-Nazism, white supremacists typically oppose members of other races as well as Jews.”

Facebook’s training note on white supremacy, with differences bolded:

White supremacy or white supremacism is a racist ideology based upon the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races and that therefore white people should be dominant over other races. White supremacy has roots in scientific racism and it often relies on pseudoscientific arguments. Like most similar movements such as neo-Nazism, white supremacists typically oppose people of color, Jews and non-Protestants.

Facebook slides recreated by Motherboard

Bafflingly, Facebook also notes that “White nationalism and calling for an exclusively white state is not a violation for our policy unless it explicitly excludes other PCs [protected characteristics]” which by definition, a white state does.

According to slides recreated by Motherboard, Facebook asserts that “we don’t allow praise, support and representation of white supremacy as an ideology” but stipulates that it does “allow praise, support and representation” for both white nationalism and white separatism. [Again, emphasis theirs]

Facebook further clarifies:

“By the same token, we allow to call for the creation of white ethno-states (e.g. “The US should be a white-only nation”).

White supremacy vs. white nationalism

By failing to recognize the political motivations behind white nationalism as an identity, Facebook legitimates white nationalism as something meaningfully distinct from white supremacy. While not all white nationalists call for the dream of a white ethnostate to be achieved through racial domination — and arguably the two could be studied distinctly from a purely academic perspective — they have far more in common than they have differences. Even with such thin sourcing, Facebook has devoted a surprising amount of language to differentiating the two.

In grappling with this question after Charlottesville, the Associated Press offered this clarification for its own coverage:

“For many people the terms can be used almost interchangeably. Both terms describe groups that favor whites and support discrimination by race.”

The AP also mentions the “subtle difference” that white supremacists believe whites to be superior.

For white nationalists, that attitude at times appears more implicit than explicit but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. From my own reading and considerable hours spent immersed online in white nationalist groups and forums, there is massive observable ideological overlap between the two groups. The instances in which white supremacists and white nationalists truly espouse wholly distinct ideologies are rare.

Further, it’s impossible to ignore that violence against non-whites is a central thread running throughout white nationalism, whether stated or implied. Imagining a white ethnostate that does not directly come about at the cost of the safety, wellbeing and financial security of racial minorities is pure fantasy — a fantasy Facebook is apparently content to entertain in pretending that the “white state” would not “explicitly exclude” anyone based on the protected characteristic of race.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) defines white nationalism in similarly broad strokes, tying it directly to white supremacy and stating that “white nationalist groups espouse white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of nonwhites.”

The SPLC, an organization devoted to studying hate, explains the expedient fallacy of the white ethnostate as a nonviolent goal:

“These racist aspirations are most commonly articulated as the desire to form a white ethnostate — a calculated idiom favored by white nationalists in order to obscure the inherent violence of such a radical project. Appeals for the white ethnostate are often disingenuously couched in proclamations of love for members of their own race, rather than hatred for others.”

Apparently, Facebook ignored most dissenting definitions linking white nationalist goals directly to white supremacy. Naively or not, the company bought into white supremacy’s slightly more palatable public-facing image in shaping its policy platforms. In sourcing its policies, Facebook was apparently content to pick and choose which points supported its decision to allow white nationalism on its platform while supposedly casting out white supremacy.

“White nationalist groups espouse white separatism and white supremacy,” the Wikipedia page that Facebook drew from states. “Critics argue that the term ‘white nationalism’ and ideas such as white pride exist solely to provide a sanitized public face for white supremacy, and that most white nationalist groups promote racial violence.”

Sadly, for anyone who has watched many virulent strains of racism flourish and even organize on Facebook, the company’s shoddily crafted internal guidance on white supremacy comes as little surprise. Nor does the fact that the company failed to dedicate even a sliver of its considerable resources to understanding the nuance of white supremacist movements, aims and language.

We reached out to Facebook to see if these alarmingly reductive policies on racial hate have evolved in recent months (these materials are less than a year old), but the company only pointed us to the broad public-facing  “Community Standards.” Any further detail on the actual implementation of policies around hate remains opaque.

Though it may have learned some harsh lessons in 2018, for Facebook, opacity is always the best policy.

Brexit blow for UK’s hopes of helping set AI rules in Europe

The UK’s hopes of retaining an influential role for its data protection agency in shaping European Union regulations post-Brexit — including helping to set any new Europe-wide rules around artificial intelligence — look well and truly dashed.

In a speech at the weekend in front of the International Federation for European Law, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, shot down the notion of anything other than a so-called ‘adequacy decision’ being on the table for the UK after it exits the bloc.

If granted, an adequacy decision is an EU mechanism for enabling citizens’ personal data to more easily flow from the bloc to third countries — as the UK will be after Brexit.

Such decisions are only granted by the European Commission after a review of a third country’s privacy standards that’s intended to determine that they offer essentially equivalent protections as EU rules.

But the mechanism does not allow for the third country to be involved, in any shape or form, in discussions around forming and shaping the EU’s rules themselves. So, in the UK’s case, the country would be going from having a seat at the rule-making table to being shut out of the process entirely — at time when the EU is really setting the global agenda on digital regulations.

“The United Kingdom decided to leave our harmonised system of decision-making and enforcement. It must respect the fact that the European Union will continue to work on the basis of this system, which has allowed us to build a single market, and which allows us to deepen our single market in response to new challenges,” said Barnier in Lisbon on Saturday.

“And, as indicated in the European Council guidelines, the UK must understand that the only possibility for the EU to protect personal data is through an adequacy decision. It is one thing to be inside the Union, and another to be outside.”

“Brexit is not, and never will be, in the interest of EU businesses,” he added. “And it will especially run counter to the interests of our businesses if we abandon our decision-making autonomy. This autonomy allows us to set standards for the whole of the EU, but also to see these standards being replicated around the world. This is the normative power of the Union, or what is often called ‘the Brussels effect’.

“And we cannot, and will not, share this decision-making autonomy with a third country, including a former Member State who does not want to be part of the same legal ecosystem as us.”

Earlier this month the UK’s Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, told MPs on the UK parliament’s committee for exiting the European Union that a bespoke data agreement that gave the ICO a continued role after Brexit would be a far superior option to an adequacy agreement — pointing out that the UK stands to lose influence at a time when the EU is setting global privacy standards via the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into full force last Friday.

“At this time when the GDPR is in its infancy, participating in shaping and interpreting the law I think is really important. And the group of regulators that sit around the table at the EU are the most influential blocs of regulators — and if we’re outside of that group and we’re an observer we’re not going to have the kind of effect that we need to have with big tech companies. Because that’s all going to be decided by that group of regulators,” she warned.

“The European Data Protection Board will set the weather when it comes to standards for artificial intelligence, for technologies, for regulating big tech. So we will be a less influential regulator, we will continue to regulate the law and protect UK citizens as we do now, but we won’t be at the leading edge of interpreting the GDPR — and we won’t be bringing British values to that table if we’re not at the table.”

She also pointed out that without a bespoke arrangement to accommodate the ICO her office would also be shut out of participating in the GDPR’s one-stop shop, which allows EU data protection agencies to work together and co-ordinate regulatory actions, and which she said “would bring huge advantages to both sides and also to British businesses”.

Huge advantages that the UK stands to lose as a result of Brexit.

With the ICO being excluded from participating in GDPR’s one-stop shop mechanism, it also means UK businesses will have to choose an alternative data protection agency within the EU to act as their lead regulator after Brexit — putting yet another burden on startups as they will need to build new relationships with a regulator in the EU.

The Irish Data Protection Commission seems the likely candidate for UK companies to look to after Brexit, when the ICO is on the side lines of GDPR, given shared language and proximity. (And Ireland’s DPC has been ramping up its headcount in anticipation of handling more investigations as a result of the new regulation.)

But UK businesses would clearly prefer to be able to continue working with their domestic regulator. Unfortunately, though, Brexit closes the door on that option.

We’ve reached out to the ICO for comment and will update this story with any response.

The UK government has committed to aligning the country with GDPR regardless of Brexit — as it seeks to avoid the economic threat of EU-UK data flows being cut off if it’s not judged to be providing adequate data protection.

Looking ahead that also essentially means the UK will need to keep its regulatory regime aligned with the EU’s in perpetuity — or risk being deemed inadequate, with, once again, the risk of data flows being cut of (or at very least businesses scrambling to put in place alternative legal arrangements to authorize their data flows, and saddled with the expense of doing so, as happened when Safe Harbor was struck down in 2015).

So, thanks to Brexit, it will be the rest of Europe setting the agenda on regulating AI — with the UK bound to follow.

SPACE Administration would streamline federal oversight of commercial launches

As part of an ongoing effort to improve the regulatory conditions weathered by companies doing business in space, the Commerce Department has proposed to unify several offices under a new banner: the Space Policy Advancing Commercial Enterprise Administration.

The Trump administration offered hints, but few hard details, on how it aims to streamline federal oversight of space in a statement issued this week. Space Policy Directive 1 had to do with pursuing missions to the moon and Mars, and Directive 2 is more about housekeeping.

Part of that housekeeping directs Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Jr to “transmit a plan to create a ‘one-stop shop’ within the Department of Commerce for administering and regulating commercial space flight activities,” and he seems to have been eager to comply.

“At my department alone, there are six bureaus involved in the space industry. A unified departmental office for business needs will enable better coordination of space-related activities,” Ross wrote. “When companies seek guidance on launching satellites, the Space Administration will be able to address an array of space activities, including remote sensing, economic development, data-purchase policies, GPS, spectrum policy, trade promotion, standards and technology and space-traffic management.”

Some of these changes have been talked about for a while, so this shouldn’t come as a shock to the offices affected. In fact, they may be pleased to hear it. Space regulation is a mire of interdepartmental memos and red tape, and U.S. leadership in the launch and satellite industry has arguably been in spite of it, not because of it.

Unifying a few offices is a start, but it will take more than administrative shuffling to clear out the regulatory cobwebs. This new administration alone will need to be permanently established by Congress, funded, and oversight assigned. And the work of synchronizing, deduplicating, and otherwise improving our space policy across all the various branches of government will be the work of many years, not a season.