At Atlassian, we believe that the future will be led by innovation and technology. Particularly now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can see just how integral the tech industry has become, interwoven into every facet of our lives. As technology becomes indispensable, it is inevitable and appropriate that governments take steps to mitigate the risk factors from this deep integration of digital technologies into our day-to-day lives.
However, as the past few years have shown, the pace of tech development can make it difficult for governments and policy makers to respond to evolving risks. This can create a situation where regulatory responses may be rushed and fail to take into account the impact on everyone who is touched by them.
We feel strongly that the conversation around tech regulation needs a consistent approach. It requires a guiding framework that takes into account the positive contributions the tech sector has made to society, as well as the legitimate concerns of citizens, businesses, and governments.
One of the Atlassian values is “open company, no bullshit”. Sharing and being open about our perspective is part of who we are. This is no different when it comes to government regulation and policy. If we are to encourage government to engage with us and the broader industry, we, too, have to be open with government about our perspective and approach.
This is why we have launched our guiding principles for tech policy that we believe should be considered and tested before passing laws. You can access those principles in the download below, and we delve into a little more detail on each of them below.
Questions that should be considered:
Is this measure aimed directly at clear objectives?
We believe it’s critical that the specific interests that proposed regulations intend to advance, and the problems they intend to solve, are clearly stated in a way that everyone can understand.
Define the playing field.
Do we have a clear understanding of the technology?
We know that technology has a steep learning curve and that many lawmakers and regulators aren’t technical experts. But engagement with the technical experts, whether independent or members of the industry, is key to understanding the technology being regulated and to formulating reasonable and effective laws.
Engage with the issue.
Does this measure use proportionate means and minimise unintended consequences?
Today’s digital economy involves many interdependent, highly technical and specialised areas and sectors. This means that regulatory responses, if not properly considered and tested, can cause disproportionate disruption to businesses and give rise to unintended and undesirable consequences. Instead, as the saying goes, regulation should be used as a scalpel and not a sledgehammer.
Treat the ailment, don’t kill the patient.
Has this measure been the product of meaningful consultation?
We believe it’s critical for policymakers to carefully consult with stakeholders and experts before creating policy. This sort of collaborative consultation is crucial to understanding how a particular technology operates and how best to respond to it. This can help to narrow down which regulatory measures will be effective and which ones are impractical or could impose a significant burden on developers or users. There are too many examples of regulation developed in an information and viewpoint vacuum, which generally leads to poor results.
Consult early, consult openly.
Does this measure provide transparency and create fair procedures?
In our view, nothing is more uncertain than a “black box” power that occurs out of the public eye. We know that there are often good reasons for secrecy when matters like national security are at stake, but this should never mean that oversight and fairness aren’t possible. Good regulation provides for transparency in government decision-making and allows stakeholders to meaningfully challenge those decisions through fair procedures and processes.
Let the light in.
Is this measure aimed at systemic actions and outcomes, rather than individual companies?
The so-called “techlash” has made it common practice to single out individual companies, or their specific technologies, in policy making. In our view, it’s important for regulation to encourage behaviours and certain desired outcomes across a regulated sector. This doesn’t mean that the enforcement of those laws won’t ultimately identify specific companies – only that regulations should not be created in a nearsighted manner to target only certain companies or trends of the moment.
Address behaviour, don’t punish success.
Is this measure mindful of global standards and seeking to enhance global interoperability?
The regulatory challenges raised by technology cross national borders. In a global digital economy, it is important for national regulation to be cognisant of comparable legislation in other markets and of any global standards for effectively tackling an issue. If the full picture isn’t taken into account, then there is a high risk that technology regulation will develop in a piecemeal and contradictory manner, increasing the burden on technology providers and damaging the customer experience.
Tech (and trust) is global.
Does this measure provide a consistent and reliable framework for business and investment?
We fully appreciate and support governments’ legitimate interest in protecting consumers and the public. But we believe that this can and should take place in a way that is measured, fair, and reliable. A process that fulfills these criteria, and these principles, can provide business stakeholders with the confidence to grow and invest in jobs, infrastructure, and better products and services for their customers. Conversely, a government approach to tech regulation that creates an unending series of uncertainties for business will have the polar opposite effect.
Build the foundation for shared success.
In the Atlassian style of agile development, these concepts are intended to be the start of the conversation, not the end. We have formulated these principles based on our own experiences and in collaboration with members of the tech sector, industry associations, and civil organisations. It is our sincere hope that the community will take up these principles, modify and improve them with their own ideas, and contribute them back to the common pool of knowledge. We have licensed our Principles under a Creative Commons license, so that others can adopt, modify, and build upon these ideas as the dialogue continues.
We at Atlassian will put these principles into practice in our public policy work and look forward to engaging with all stakeholders on how to improve the process and outcomes. If you or your organisation have suggestions or modifications to these principles, please don’t hesitate to publish your own derivative principles or contact our team at firstname.lastname@example.org to collaborate.
For recent examples of our public policy advocacy, see:
Atlassian’s submission to the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor in relation to Australia’s Assistance and Access Act (September 2019)
Atlassian’s submission to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee in relation to the Research and Development Tax Incentive (June 2020)
Atlassian’s submission to the House Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue in relation to the Tax Treatment of Employee Share Schemes (July 2020)
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