Tech Policy for the 21st Century: Ten Guiding Principles

By Matthew Nicaud
April 20, 2021

The mission of the Mississippi Technology Institute is to provide a principled analysis of public policy issues with a focus on technological issues.

In the principles contained below, MTI seeks to provide the foundational elements of sound technology policy. Good policies will always follow good principles, and policies will always become flawed when they depart from good principles. MTI seeks to further advance its mission by declaring the key principles that guide its vision, purpose, and actions.

  1. The free market, not the government, is the gatekeeper of technological innovation.

There is no greater force for technological innovation than the free market at work. With this in mind, it is imperative to recognize that the government is not in a feasible position to effectively act as the gatekeeper of technological innovation. If all innovations must answer to government regulators, there is less potential that innovations will reach their full potential.

On the other hand, the government is not in a position to effectively determine which innovations should be favored and privileged. Since the government’s authority and revenue comes from the people, it makes little sense for government to favor certain innovations if the people themselves have not already given that innovation a thumbs up in the free market.

2. It is not the government’s responsibility to solve every problem that arises from technology.

Personal responsibility under the rule of law is essential for a free society. Without personal responsibility, individuals are relegated to the control of a nanny state. It is essential to recognize that technology is a powerful tool with much potential for good, but individuals are ultimately responsible for how they use technology. The more powerful technological tools are, the greater their capacity for good or for evil.  If a government were responsible for removing every technological avenue that could potentially be used in bad faith, we’d have very little technological advancement.

When a new business uses technology to create an innovative concept, the government should not require that the business prove its technology's merit to regulators. The burden of proof lies on the government to objectively demonstrate the harm brought about by a new innovation.

3. Technology is an essential tool for economic prosperity that facilitates new opportunities and expands horizons.

In the dynamic and fast-paced economy of the 21st century, it is essential that businesses are able to adapt to the needs of customers in effective and innovative ways. This can be done using technology. In many ways, technology has become the key to expanded economic prosperity. From a public policy perspective, it is essential that governments ensure that this creative economic activity is welcomed so that existing businesses can grow, and new businesses can launch.

When businesses can harness the power of technology, their economic horizons expand. This often leads to greater profits, more employees, and better services. It’s good economic practice for government to actively remove regulatory obstacles that hinder the implementation of new technologies for existing businesses.

4. The regulation of technology should be informed by objective analysis that reflects the dynamic nature of innovation.

Technological advancement proceeds at an incredibly fast pace. In light of this, objective analysis must inform the regulation of technology. There is little potential for the growth of technology if regulators are subjectively determining the extent of government regulation without the input of subject-matter experts and data analysis.

The assumption that all products and innovations are inherently unsafe until government regulators prove otherwise, presupposes the government is always informed enough to make such determinations. This is simply not the case.  Until informed experience and good data demonstrate otherwise, government should exercise a light touch when it comes to new technologies.

5. Technology policy is a tool that should be implemented with public accountability and fiscal responsibility.

Despite the great potential behind emerging technologies, no government policy is exempt from the safeguards of public accountability and fiscal responsibility. Every technological public policy must be reviewed from the perspective of a well-reasoned analysis that starts with principles rather than pragmatism.

No matter how much potential a technological policy may carry, it is not to be exempted from the necessity of cost-benefit analysis. No technology is priceless. From electric cars to solar panels, there are countless developing technologies that have considerable implications on a public policy level. In a day in which many technologies and their corresponding policies are heavily influenced by shifting social or political factors, it is essential that public policy is grounded in a carefully measured understanding of the key issues.

Additionally, it is fundamental that the power of technology be harnessed to facilitate greater government accountability. While technology cannot replace the accountability that the people properly have over the government, it is a critical tool that can assist them in their efforts. Rather than technology being used by the government to monitor the people, technology should be used by the people to monitor the government.

6. Government should not interfere in the free market or free trade by giving special privileges to particular technologies or technology companies.

The free market is not free to the extent that government intervenes. In light of the dynamic nature of economies and markets, government should not give preference or privilege to certain economic players in the technological sector. Although certain policies may only be applicable to certain players, no government action should give preference to a particular technology through redistributive policies. No specific business or technology should be given redistributed dollars that come from the pockets of taxpayers.

Regardless of the perceived economic potential, technology companies shouldn’t be subsidized with taxpayer funds. Technologies should be economically sustainable enough to self-fund by garnering consumer adoption. To use taxpayer dollars is to go outside of the free market and artificially hold up certain technologies. This threatens competition and gives an unbalanced advantage to the politically connected.

7. Although impactful, technological advancement is not sufficient to build and preserve a society.

The defining element of a society is its core values. A strong society must be grounded in the core values of its families, churches, and communities. Technology is a tool to live out those core values in a practical way. In the American context, these core values include a recognition of the God-given basis of freedom, the foundation of the nuclear family as the basic social unit, and an adherence to an objective standard of right and wrong.  

Technology by itself is not a force that can cause any meaningful societal improvement. Societal improvement is driven by the practical application of the core values of individuals who strive toward a positive goal. Neither big business nor big government can adequately institute these values.

8. The use and development of technology should be informed by moral principles that uphold the dignity of the individual and the sacredness of civil liberties.

Technology is an incredibly powerful tool. Like all tools, it can be used for good or evil. The proper use of technology should be informed by a moral compass that is grounded in the principle that the rule of law must be informed by moral order and stability.

Given that all individuals have an inherent dignity that is to be honored and respected, technology policy should seek to stop those who use technology for the violation of personal rights. Criminal actors must be discouraged through the enforcement of policies that protect life, liberty, and property. Additionally, any individual who seeks to use technology to exploit others does not provide any lasting benefit to society by these actions, regardless of the economic gains that might come about. 

As such, technology in itself is amoral.  It is the individuals who use technology that are the moral agents, and it is their actions that have moral consequences. It is the responsibility of civil leaders to acknowledge this distinction and address abuses that come from the immoral use of technology by individuals and institutions.

9. Technology policy should not be used by government as a tool to create or sustain an atmosphere of surveillance, “cancel culture,” intimidation, and censorship.

In recent years, technology has become embedded in our daily lives. Almost every individual action utilizes technology in some way. Thus, there is a real threat from governments and groups wishing to use technology to deprive their fellow citizens of freedom.

Technology policy should not be used as a means to advance governmental control. Additionally, technology policy should not enable the systematic control of ideas by providing unequal protections to the technology sector due its economic resources, academic prowess, social influence, and political capital. 

10. At the same time, technological development should be subordinated to the government’s duty to protect liberty from foreign and domestic threats to national security.

Technological advancement is a lesser good as compared to the protection and promotion of individual liberty. The highest duty of the American government is to uphold the order and stability necessary to advance freedom and the core values that have made our nation great. Thus, if a technological development poses a risk to our national defense and security (such as certain kinds of drone technology), this development must be properly managed until an acceptable alternative is found. 

In addition, if a violation of individual rights is required in order for technological development to advance, such development should be halted.

Matthew Nicaud is the Tech Policy Specialist at the Mississippi Technology Institute, a division of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. The website for the Mississippi Technology Institute can be found here:


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