Meet the Fellows: Collin Anderson

Less than a decade ago, the Internet was heralded as an unambiguously positive force, as witnessed in transformative events such as the Arab Spring protests against Middle Eastern dictatorships. Today, it would be hard to find this utopian vision amid countless stories of foreign interference in elections, recruitment of terrorists over social media, massive data breaches, and political disinformation campaigns. Tech companies, which were once beloved and beyond reproach, now find themselves increasingly challenged before a skeptical Congress for their failure to act according to their place in American society.

As someone with a computer science background based in Washington, D.C., I had the fortune of being in the right place at the right time. My core role within civil society has been to lower barriers for non-technical constituencies to engage in policy discussions that have technical implications.  

While the need for such expertise has only increased, the nature of these policy discussions has also evolved. The change in administration, which has been slow to staff positions and communicated its disinterest toward non-economic policy issues, has changed the equation. Advocates could once push for a policy with the White House and federal agencies, and based on the merits of the argument and priorities it was plausible that some action would be taken. This model of advocacy too often completely ignored Congress, and few digital rights organizations have had sustained engagement with the legislative branch.

This disconnect is to everyone’s detriment. The integrity of our government necessitates an informed Congress that is able to critically interrogate complex technical issues, especially where self-interested stakeholders and the arcane nature of the issues creates barriers against scrutiny. Congress will soon consider legislation and oversight on issues related technology and the areas of foreign policy, national security, and regulation (for example, cyber sanctions, electoral security, surveillance export controls, foreign cybersecurity products, and hacking back). The decisions made during this Congress will have long lasting implications for public trust and the health of the Internet.

An early internship in the State Department was a formative experience – being in Foggy Bottom provided a first lesson into how the federal government is not a monolithic institution, even State itself had its own diverse politics. This short tenure taught me how personalities, roles, and incentives shape outcomes, which made me a more effective advocate thereafter.

A decade later, it’s time for another experience – one that I anticipate will set my professional trajectory in a similar manner. I look forward to bringing in my experiences, technical skillset, and networks to support Congress's important oversight and legislative role in defending the country and protecting vision of the Internet as a force for progress.