Here are the big tech issues that policy experts say America’s new government will likely confront.
Policy experts say tech companies are still in for a reckoning in Washington, even with the departure of Trump — the industry’s chief antagonist for the last four years. Perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than with Section 230, the liability shield that largely protects tech companies from lawsuits over their content moderation decisions.
For their part, companies including Google and Facebook have said they’ve hired thousands of human content moderators and ramped up artificial intelligence-based content filters.
With Democrats enjoying a slim margin in Congress, policy experts anticipate the conversation on Section 230 to drift away from Republican-driven legislation targeting perceived censorship. That’s particularly the case now following the Capitol riots earlier this month, which were facilitated by online misinformation about the 2020 election outcome, said Carl Szabo, general counsel at NetChoice, a tech trade group.
“I believe Democrats are going to be much, much more aggressive in pushing for reforms of Section 230 to force stricter moderation of content,” he said.
With Democrats in control of the House and nominally in the Senate, that provides an opening for the party to push for some of the more aggressive changes to competition law contemplated in the House antitrust report. While Republicans had expressed support for some proposals, such as giving the Federal Trade Commission more resources, they had balked at others, such as a bill that might prevent tech companies from both owning a digital platform and competing on it, as Amazon does with its e-commerce site.
One of the Trump Federal Communications Commission’s first actions in 2017 was to repeal the US government’s net neutrality regulations, which had prohibited internet service providers from blocking, slowing or selectively speeding up websites and apps. The move was widely opposed by tech companies, internet activists and consumer groups, while telecom providers welcomed the de-regulation.
Now, with control of Congress and the White House, Democrats have an opportunity to restore those rules — either by re-introducing them at the FCC, or by passing legislation to enshrine the regulations into law.
That could put an end to what had become a ping-pong match in Washington, with different FCCs enacting different rules each time the Oval Office changed hands.
“We might find a permanent solution for net neutrality,” said Chip Pickering, a former US congressman from Mississippi who now leads INCOMPAS, a telecom trade group. Pickering said a likely path would be for Congress to impose net neutrality obligations on providers including Comcast, Verizon and others without explicitly regulating them like the FCC does with legacy telephone service, a key fault line in past debates.
As the pandemic has driven many Americans to remote work and schooling, it’s highlighted how rural and low-income Americans don’t enjoy the same access to high-speed internet as those with more resources. Closing that digital divide has historically been a rallying cry for both Republicans and Democrats — making investments in broadband a potentially easy, bipartisan accomplishment, policy experts say.
The devastating breach of US government and corporate networks by suspected Russian hackers will be an enormous challenge for the Biden administration, as investigators continue to assess the damage.
It will be up to Biden to determine how the US will respond and there are numerous tools at his disposal for doing so, said Keith Alexander, retired general and former director of the National Security Agency. But any response would need to be carefully calibrated to avoid an escalation, he said.
“You can respond by indicting individuals and by diplomatic and economic measures, which they should do,” Alexander told CNN. “But any response in cyber in the physical space would probably develop into a bigger attack on us, and we’re not prepared to defend against that.”
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to say what the administration will do.
“We reserve the right to respond at a time and manner of our choosing to any cyberattack,” she said.
With the Biden administration’s executive actions last week, Silicon Valley appears hopeful for a more welcoming US immigration policy — one that supports the industry’s use of immigrant talent.
“We look forward to a permanent, bipartisan solution in the future,” the tech giant said.