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The new revolving door: Silicon Valley and Washington

By Laurie Bennett

September 15, 2012 at 6:01am

Google blocked an offensive video from being seen in several countries this week, as anti-American protests spread.

Last year, Facebook and Twitter played central roles in the Arab spring.

International entanglements for U.S.-based internet companies certainly aren’t limited to Islamic countries. Google has banged heads with China’s censors and European authorities concerned about privacy.

At what point do these global companies with hundreds of millions of users establish their own internal state departments?

The biggest players have ramped up their government relations operations in recent years, as they focus more on lobbying Washington and expanding markets abroad.

While they haven’t yet built their own diplomatic corps, they have begun bringing in people with national and international experience.

Erskine Bowles, chief of staff during the Clinton administration, is a director of Facebook.

Al Gore, former vice president and U.S. senator, is a senior adviser to Google. Former Rep. Susan Molinari now heads Google’s office in D.C., where former Rep. Dick Gephardt works as an outside lobbyist for the company. Among the issues lobbied in the last quarter by Gephardt’s firm: international internet regulations.

Google also reported lobbying on a bill called the “Global Online Freedom Act of 2011,” introduced last year by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). The proposed legislation would prevent U.S. businesses “from cooperating with repressive governments in transforming the Internet into a tool of censorship and surveillance.”

In light of current events, a couple of hires from the State Department are of special interest.

Jared Cohen, founder of Google Ideas, is a former policy planning staffer with the State Department. (His seemingly impossible set of responsibilities, as described by State in 2008, included “counter-terrorism, counter-radicalization, youth and education, public diplomacy, Muslim world outreach, and the Maghreb.”)

Katie Jacobs Stanton, who served as special adviser to the office of innovation at State and White House director of citizen participation, is now head of international strategy at Twitter.

Here are a couple of recent tweets from Stanton:

Stanton tweet 1
Stanton tweet 2

Before working in Washington, Stanton had been product management leader of Google Finance. She also worked on election-related initiatives at Google, had a fellowship with the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, volunteered in Kenya and taught in Japan.

Kara Swisher reported last month that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was trying to lure her away.

No surprise there. We suspect that the State Department wouldn’t mind having her back, either.

Just as there’s a revolving door between government regulators and Wall Street, expect to see increasing traffic between the White House, the State Department and Silicon Valley.

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