About the Program

Digitalization is radically transforming our societies, creating new opportunities as well as regulatory challenges. There is a need to work towards a better understanding of these developments and define new global rules and standards that enable us to jointly shape our digital futures. 

The Challenge

Different assessments of economic and security policy issues in the digital realm continue to generate conflicts between Germany and the US. Yet in both countries, and in Europe more generally, digitalization is at the heart of the erosion of public trust in liberal democracy and the subsequent protest votes that have emboldened populist forces. From the growing automation of industries and investigations into Russian influence operations to the increasing market dominance of (American) technology companies, conflicts linked to technological change are playing an increasing role in public discussions.  

In this heated political climate, establishing joint rules for instance with regard to transatlantic data flows, becomes even harder. What is more, the US and Germany face a global environment in which authoritarian governments are advancing their own visions of how to regulate the digital sphere. As a consequence, countries such as South Africa or India no longer necessarily look to Germany, Europe, or the US for guidance on how to regulate new technologies.

The Program

Now in its second year, the Transatlantic Digital Debates aim to support transatlantic political discussion and enhance cooperation. The program engages 18 young professionals (nine from the US and nine from Germany) from the public sector, civil society, business, and academia who want to make a difference on these key challenges at the intersection of technology and policy. For the 2017 round, the fellows met for two sessions:

  • May 28–June 3, 2017: Berlin and Hamburg
  • November 4–11, 2017: Washington, DC and Austin

Through workshops and conversations with leading decision-makers and experts from various sectors, the fellows engaged in open and provocative discussions on the best approaches to shaping our rapidly changing digital societies and economies. In the capitals Washington, DC and Berlin, the focus was on interaction with policy-makers, while Austin and Hamburg offered opportunities to engage with the growing technology sectors on both sides of the Atlantic.

Discussions revolved around two main issue areas: innovation and regulation in the digital economy, and the relationship between cybersecurity and privacy. More specifically, there were discussions and exchanges with experts on emerging cybersecurity threats, the challenges that come with the increasing automation of our industries, and the growing use of algorithms, amongst others. These were embedded in broader policy debates tied to the 2017 German federal elections as well as the impact of policies being implemented by the Trump administration.

Above all, the program seeks to build trust among participants and establish a long-term network of individuals committed to shaping the future of digitalization. To this end, the project team aims to create a strong alumni community and engage former participants in future sessions. The project team also supports individual fellows and small groups of fellows in writing op-eds and blog posts on the issues discussed. Their writing as well as podcasts that reflect the discussions are shared through social media and external news outlets. 

Organizer and Funders

The Transatlantic Digital Debates are organized by the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin and New America in Washington, DC, with guidance from a diverse steering committee of experts from a range of stakeholder groups. The program is generously supported by the Transatlantic Program of the German Federal Government, with funding from the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. Additional support is provided by IBM, Microsoft, The Nunatak Group, and the Bertelsmann Foundation North America.