Is technology sector legislation in a holding pattern?
Apparently not, based on what U.S. federal lawmakers had to say at CES this week. Despite a big whiff on antitrust bills in the last session of Congress, representatives in the Senate and House, as well as Biden Administration officials, plan an ambitious slate — just not one based on anti-competitive business practices.
What regulatory pressure is being applied came from the Federal Trade Commission, which introduced a rule Thursday that would block companies from limiting their employees’ ability to jump to a rival.
For now, Congressional members are shifting their legislative focus, based on the CES panels Friday and Saturday. But bills must be passed into law — no sure bet the past two decades — while keeping pace with blur-fast changes in tech.
Affordable broadband, cybersecurity in the development of health-care systems, and technology competition with China head the to-do list in 2023, Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said during a panel on Congressional tech priorities late Friday at CES.
“This has been glory days of funding, with the federal infrastructure bill that includes funding for electric vehicles, the chips bill, and the inflation reduction act, and its impact on energy industry,” Warner added.
Warner, a former tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist who is author of bipartisan legislation to strengthen U.S. competitiveness with China by investing billions of dollars in domestic semiconductor manufacturing. He also helped secure $65 billion to expand broadband access and affordability as part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
But he acknowledged what didn’t happen in 2022. “We have failed miserably in putting guard rails on social media, going back to Russian influence in our elections,” Warner said.
“We have done nothing regarding privacy, advertising oversight. It’s been goose eggs,” he added. “We have to look to what [more aggressive] Europe and California [regulators] are doing. We need to address privacy, Section 230 [of the Communications Decency Act, which provides website platforms immunity from third-party content], self-preference [of app stores]. The country is expecting that. There is lots of good out of social media, but there is a dark underbelly.”
Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., a former computer programmer who moderated the panel, hammered home the importance of cybersecurity with broadband, and its impact on telemedicine and remote work. She is pushing legislation that would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to review and update medical device cybersecurity guidelines to protect them from hacking and cyber attacks.
A Congressional panel on tech and innovation policy, scheduled for early Saturday, was canceled as the House went deep into Saturday morning to elect Republican Kevin McCarthy of California as Speaker of the House.
Immersive technologies such as artificial intelligence and the metaverse that are dominating the spotlight at CES this week underscore the reliance on personal data in an era where there has been no substantial tech privacy-rights legislation in the U.S. for more than 20 years.
Warner said AI, quantum computing and other technologies may require a level of federal investment a la the chips bill. “Our failure to pass national privacy legislation and default to our European and state friends is a real challenge, and a real mistake. My hope is there still is a bipartisan effort in this area.”
Indeed, the increasingly data-dependent economy has put a premium on the interdependence of AI, cloud computing and cybersecurity, Efram Slen, vice president and head of index research at Nasdaq, told MarketWatch.
“With how much data is being put out there, it is essential to ensure the management and security of it,” Slen said. A chink in the process, he warned, could exacerbate the risk of compromised information and hacks.
What is more, the creation of unregulated metaverse, where people enter digital worlds to share experiences and potentially shop, pose new legal challenges, according to Meridith Rojas, chief brand officer at online marketing platform Captiv8.
“The metaverse requires some sort of oversight in this wild, wild west,” Rojas told MarketWatch. “Governance has not been put into play at all.”
What little federal oversight that has occurred the past year has come from the FTC, which is suing Facebook parent company Meta Platforms Inc.
in federal court to block its acquisition of fitness app maker Within.
Late Thursday, the FTC proposed a rule that would ban so-called noncompete agreements that prevent workers from leaving for a competitor or starting a competing business for months or years after their employment.