Passing a privacy law, studying online harm and bolstering the talent market top the list for members of Protocol's Braintrust.
Good afternoon! With Congress set to reconvene after Labor Day, we asked a group of policy experts what they thought the Hill should focus on when it comes to tech in the remaining months of the session. Questions or comments? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association
This fall, Congress should pass a comprehensive, bipartisan privacy bill. American tech companies are the envy of the world, thanks to a U.S. approach welcoming innovation and flexible but clear rules of the road. Federal privacy legislation would provide consumers, innovators and small businesses with a nationwide privacy framework — simplifying the confusing and conflicting patchwork of state laws. These laws are increasingly a barrier to American startups.
A national preemptive privacy law should be simple and clear. It should prevent shakedown lawsuits and protect consumers, not pad the pockets of trial lawyers. Legislation built with these principles in mind will support the American tradition of entrepreneurship, allowing innovators to continue building new and creative products and services.
We must get privacy legislation right. The American Data Privacy and Protection Act is a step forward, but it has exemptions leaving inconsistent state and local laws on the books. This will create compliance challenges for small companies, making it harder for them to grow and create jobs. Similarly, a new private right of action created by the draft legislation would produce a rush of lawsuits with little benefit for the American public.
I hope Congress will seize this opportunity to establish, in a law, clear rules for privacy that help both American businesses and consumers.
Resident senior fellow, internet governance at R Street Institute
While the obvious answer is probably the correct one — “pass an effective federal privacy law” — an under-the-radar action could prove to be quite important in the long run: taking a step toward establishing an international research center focused on the study of online harms without undermining data security and privacy. Section 5860 of the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act directs the State Department to initiate multilateral discussions with allies with the goal of creating such a center, consulting with key nongovernmental stakeholders including digital platforms, researchers and privacy advocates.
Independent research on digital platforms is important, and yet even those companies that are eager to help face both legal and practical obstacles in providing meaningful access. Future researcher access mandates, starting with the Digital Services Act in the European Union, will grow these challenges. And individual jurisdiction solutions, such as the code of conduct developed by the European Digital Media Observatory and George Washington University’s Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics, won’t help researchers in other regions, nor will it allow research efforts to reach a broader geographic scale.
One long-term solution is to create an international center for research on the information environment — a “CERN for the internet.” Initiating such a collaboration provides the U.S. with a rare opportunity for global leadership in internet policy. Yet the Senate NDAA doesn’t contain an equivalent of the House’s Section 5860. Including the House’s language in the final bill is among the simplest, and yet the most important, actions Congress can take on tech right now.
President and CEO of TechNet
Across America, businesses are struggling to hire the right talent. With nearly two open jobs for every American looking for work, roughly 70% of employers say they’re unable to find talent with the necessary skills. This loss in productivity could cost our global economy $18 trillion by 2025. Congress can take immediate action to help businesses fill vacancies by reforming our immigration policies, which have largely remained unchanged for decades.
One proposal would be to exempt STEM Ph.D. graduates of American universities from existing visa caps. This would ensure highly talented and motivated workers, inventors and entrepreneurs remain in the U.S. It could reduce STEM-related talent shortages by about 25% and add up to $233 billion to our economy this decade. Another proposal would create a visa for the founders of startups. At least 25 countries, including Australia, Germany, Canada and the U.K., have startup visas in place. A similar program in the U.S. would create thousands of new businesses and many more new jobs for American workers across the country. There is also a proposal that would recapture unused family and employment-based visas. This would create additional and immediate pathways for in-demand talent to come and stay in the U.S.
As Speaker Pelosi recently said, high-skilled immigration remains “one of the unfinished pieces” after the passage of the Chips and Science Act. We agree. Now is the time for Congress to come together and enact reforms that help businesses fill openings with the world’s best and brightest talent.
Vice president of U.S. Federal Affairs at Salesforce
Congress has achieved a great deal in the last few months. However, we still lack a comprehensive federal privacy bill that would protect internet users no matter where they are in the U.S. Congress has a bicameral, bipartisan bill under consideration and has the opportunity to finish this session on a high note — by finally giving consumers the control they want over their personal online data.
What should it include? Since 2018, Salesforce has advocated for a bill that includes four key concepts that would ensure success: clear corporate obligations, rights for individuals, meaningful transparency and control, and effective enforcement. Maintaining compliance, state by state, with varying privacy requirements is a difficult and costly task that adds complexity for individuals and businesses. By including these four tenants, businesses and consumers alike will be provided with the certainty they need to be successful and the ability to effectively comply with laws across state lines. A federal bill would also facilitate digital trust within the global marketplace, assisting organizations’ ability to compete in a global market where trust is paramount and key to delivering technologies that could produce significant economic and social benefits.
At its core, privacy is simple: It’s about people and their data. Now is the time for Congress to build upon the existing global standard and provide privacy protections across the country.
President and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council
The Chips and Science Act is a historic investment that will help the U.S. innovate and maintain a competitive edge. However, U.S. competitiveness will remain hindered if the 117th U.S. Congress doesn’t do more to level the global playing field for U.S. companies before it adjourns this year.
Currently, the United States ranks 27th out of 37 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries with respect to research and development incentives. Since the beginning of this year, the U.S. has become an even less attractive place to push forward new innovations due to a requirement that restricts companies from expensing research and development investments in the year that they occur. Two bipartisan companion measures, the American Innovation and Jobs Act in the U.S. Senate and the American Innovation and R&D Competitiveness Act of 2021 in the U.S. House of Representatives, would reverse this harmful trend and delay the requirement to repay research and development expenses over five years. Restoring the ability to expense these costs would create resources to increase salaries for U.S. workers, since nearly 70% of research and development spending is for wages and salaries, and alleviate supply chain costs.
If the U.S. Congress does not act and companies lose the ability to currently expense research and development expenses altogether, the U.S. will lose approximately 23,400 jobs each year between 2022 and 2026, undercutting the landmark gains promised by the Chips and Science Act.
Sarah Oh Lam
Senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute
Congress could clarify its intentions for $42 billion in broadband grants in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. While other actions, such as federal privacy legislation, would have broad impacts for tech firms, Congress has the immediate task to direct how 56 states and territories should spend a historic amount of broadband funds. What can be prevented, by the only people who can control the outcome, namely Congress, is unintended waste and dissipation of the money. Congress can explicitly 1) require grantees to report their results back to a national database with standardized data metrics and 2) direct the Commerce Department to approve state plans that focus solely on tech-neutral, cost-competitive broadband deployment rather than other values that will raise the price and lower the quantities of buildout. Lessons from broadband grants in the 2009 Recovery Act tell us that in five to 10 years we will not know how the $42 billion was spent, unless Congress explicitly tells the grantees to track the funds and publish results over time. I think we take it for granted that we will get data and evaluation metrics, but the thousands of people involved in BEAD will not report on their own successes or failures unless Congress tells them to. Broadband connectivity will power the future of technology in the metaverse, transportation, health, fintech and more, and Congress can help by managing its own funding and data collection efforts better.
Head of developer policy at GitHub
We should be bullish on AI as a complement for human labor and creativity, and an accelerant for innovations that will protect the planet. But we should also be concerned that the mix of federal taxation (exceeding $4 trillion, or nearly 20% of GDP) is not incentivizing this happy path. Instead, today taxation prizes capital investment and labor-substituting automation. Congress could fix this alignment problem by shifting away from taxing labor (below some large income threshold) and toward taxing goods with inelastic supply (particularly land) and bads we want less of (pollution, carbon emissions, perhaps even advertising).
Let's take the easy objection first: Radical public interest tax reform is not of interest to the tech community. Wrong twice. First, many of us are policy nerds, unable to avert our eyes from trillion-dollar bills scattered across the land. Second, tech is the commanding heights of the economy and critical infrastructure for all of society — what's truly most important for the tech community is identical to what's most important for humanity.
Now the harder objection: political infeasibility, nay, impossibility. But low expectations are part of the problem. Muddling through with the most systemic hand available (tax policy) not tilting the scale toward human progress is an unacceptable gamble with our future. The tech community at its best disrupts low expectations and delivers radical improvements at scale. Congress could do the same. Worst case, it could fund a blue ribbon commission to study the matter.
President and CEO at BSA | The Software Alliance
Tech policy isn’t just for tech companies. Digital transformation is integrating technology into businesses in every industry of every size and impacting workers across all walks of life. Employers in every U.S. district and state are leveraging enterprise software to maintain their businesses and grow. Small businesses are using cloud-based accounting and HR systems, farmers are producing more using less and manufacturers are reducing costs and increasing safety, to list just a few examples.
However, many American businesses are not yet getting the full benefits of digital transformation. The current lack of national technology laws can hinder the adoption of digital technology, as some companies are reluctant to adopt services without greater legal clarity. A unified federal privacy law, in particular, would allow businesses to take full advantage of new technologies and ensure that U.S. consumers have the best privacy protection.
Congress now has the best chance it’s ever had to pass federal comprehensive consumer data privacy legislation. Now is the time to take advantage of this opportunity. At BSA, we hope members of Congress will support the bipartisan American Data Privacy and Protection Act and continue to work with stakeholders to improve the bill so it can pass into law.
See who's who in the Protocol Braintrust and browse every previous edition by category here (Updated Sept. 1, 2022).
Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.
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