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Mr. McLaughlin goes to Washington

I gave a talk in Washington DC a few weeks ago, and had a strange realization – with a change of political administration, I know a whole lot more folks than I used to in my nation’s capital. Two old friends showed up to my talk, both people I know from Berkman Center events and ongoing debates over domestic and international internet policy. As I fielded increasingly thorny questions from the two of them, I realized that their questions had an edge to them. They weren’t the theoretical questions I’m used to getting in an academic context – they were the sorts of practical policy questions that come from people who are making policy decisions every day. It’s a surprise for me to have friends working on issues I care about in government, a pleasant one, and it’s forcing me to sharpen my thinking so I can offer advice that has a chance of actually being implemented.

With this in mind, I’m thrilled to learn that my friend Andrew McLaughlin is heading to the White House, where the New York Times reports he’ll be serving as deputy Chief Technology Officer, reporting to Aneesh Chopra, Virgina’s former secretary of technology. Andrew has been at Google for the past several years, as Google’s head of public policy and government affairs. In explaining what he did for Google, Andrew often described himself as “Google’s secretary of state” – as Google tried to figure out how to react to Chinese demands to censor content or Thailand’s decision to block access to YouTube, he was the guy on the ground negotiating with authorities in other countries. As David Weinberger notes in a post about Andrew’s new role, “You may disagree with his policy recommendations on, say, Google’s presence in China or how to handle Turkey’s desire to block YouTube videos that mock Mustafa Kemal Ataturk but if you have a chance to hear Andrew talk about such issues, you will come away impressed by his knowledge, his seriousness, his vision, and his empathy.”

I’d echo that. I’d also point out that the Obama administration is gaining someone who understands the Internet in a deep, profound way. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching classes with Andrew and helping design policy prescriptions with him – we’ve written educational articles together that still get used at Berkman despite their age, primarily because Andrew’s descriptions of the “internet elves” (ICANN, IETF, IANA and others) is a hugely useful introduction to anyone trying to figure out how the net is actually governed. Before Google, Andrew was the founding CFO of ICANN, the internet body responsible for the domain name system. In a city known for people who think the internet is a series of tubes, it’s good to know we’ve got someone in a position of authority who deeply understands how the net actually works and who is personally committed to an open, generative internet.