Trump administration wants larger role in shaping international data laws

White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Rob Joyce says laws being put in place are leading to a "Balkanization" of the internet.
Rob Joyce, former White House cybersecurity coordinator and now NSA director of cybersecurity, in 2017.

The Trump administration plans to take an increased role in shaping rules surrounding internet governance over the next year in the wake of various international security and privacy laws being enacted, according to White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Rob Joyce.

Joyce, who spoke Monday at a Washington, D.C., cybersecurity conference, described how the “fragmentation of the internet” had created challenges for the U.S. government as well as multinational American businesses.

Companies, Joyce explained, now face data storage compliance requirements while operating abroad in some countries, like China. In June 2017, the Communist Party of China issued legislation that calls on foreign companies doing business in China to use domestic data centers and also provide confidential records when requested by Chinese government officials.

“While we’re all concerned about cybercrime and how our internet works, we’re also really concerned about other countries around the world really creating this convoluted patchwork of laws and regulations that impact our ability to move data,” Joyce, who also serves as a special assistant to the president, said at the ICIT Winter Summit.


Previously, the U.S. government followed a “hands-off approach” which allowed both foreign governments and private companies to institute their own guiding policies and procedures.

However, Joyce said the various laws being put in place are leading to a “Balkanization” of the internet, in which individual countries are building their own internet infrastructure and creating their own domestic rules.

“If we go to the lowest common denominator, where everyone builds their walled garden and data has to be localized and data is exploited by totalitarian regimes, then it really cuts against the core of the fundamental internet that the U.S. envisioned and pushed out,” Joyce said.

While a planned response by the U.S. government may take shape in various forms — from multilateral international partnerships to others types of business agreements — one possible option involves legislation.

A May 2017 Department of Justice proposal sent to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley could alleviate some of the issues concerning foreign data storage laws that conflict with U.S. interests. The proposal seeks to codify U.S. law enforcement’s ability to “obtain electronic data under a provider’s custody or control, even if the data is stored abroad.”


In addition, it provides the government with new authorities to “implement international agreements to resolve potential conflicting legal obligations arising from cross-border requests for the production of electronic data.”

Joyce said the White House is revisiting this proposal by working with several congressional offices to help create mechanisms for how the U.S. can request and provide access to data stored by “communications service providers,” the bill specifies. Such a solution may take cues from a proposed U.S.-UK data sharing agreement that’s been in the works since at least 2015.

A Senate Judiciary Committee spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment regarding the proposal’s status.

A larger debate surrounding whether the U.S. government should be allowed to use warrants to obtain digital evidence stored abroad originally is set to go in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, U.S. v. Microsoft Corporation, focuses on whether the U.S. government can compel Microsoft to turn over data that is stored in data centers located in Ireland.

Even with so many unanswered questions standing in their way, the White House is hoping to lead the international conversation moving forward into the new year.


“We are at a point where I think we need U.S. leadership to correct some of these faults that are happening,” Joyce said. “If unchecked, we’re going to see this become a huge global problem in the coming years … [in 2018] you’re going to see us emphasizing leadership, trying to drive down bad ideas, the bad changes that seem to be getting a little bit of momentum around the world, especially in the totalitarian world, which seem to shape for us what was intended to be a free and open internet.”

Chris Bing

Written by Chris Bing

Christopher J. Bing is a cybersecurity reporter for CyberScoop. He has written about security, technology and policy for the American City Business Journals, DC Inno, International Policy Digest and The Daily Caller. Chris became interested in journalism as a result of growing up in Venezuela and watching the country shift from a democracy to a dictatorship between 1991 and 2009. Chris is an alumnus of St. Marys College of Maryland, a small liberal arts school based in Southern Maryland. He's a fan of Premier League football, authentic Laotian food and his dog, Sam.

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