The White House on Thursday praised "bipartisan interest in Congress in passing legislation to protect privacy" — even as California lawmakers including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have sought to slow this Congress' main data protection bill.
The statement from President Joe Biden's administration came with a package of six proposals for tech policy reform aimed at competition, algorithms and safety on social platforms. The White House also advocated for an end to "special legal protections for large tech platforms" — hinting at a future push to limit the tech liability shield known as Section 230.
The move on privacy builds on Biden's call earlier in the year for legislation and protections for teens online. Since then, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has sent the American Data Privacy and Protection Act to the House floor — further than any prior modern comprehensive data legislation has gotten. The bill has support from many in the civil rights and consumer advocacy community, but California lawmakers including Pelosi have worried about the extent to which it would preempt their states' tough rules.
Last week, Pelosi told colleagues, "It is imperative that California continues offering and enforcing the nation’s strongest privacy rights," adding that states should be empowered "to address rapid changes in technology" in the future. She said she would work to address her home state's concerns. A rollback of the preemption provisions, however, might well doom any Republican support for the bill, which would be necessary to pass it in the Senate. Sen. Maria Cantwell, the chamber's top Democratic negotiator, also opposes the legislation.
In addition to the proposals around privacy, the White House suggested that most powerful tech companies shouldn't benefit from Section 230, which limits the liability of platforms of all sizes for content that users post. Both Democrats and Republicans have complained in recent years about the provision, suggesting that the administration might be willing to back a legislative push to amend it even if the GOP retakes control in the House next year. Recent efforts to amend Section 230, however, have collapsed because Democrats tend want to incentivize more content moderation and Republicans want less. Biden criticized Section 230 when campaigning in 2020, and the administration had previously suggested that there should be a fix to counter health misinformation, but it has pursued little action on the issue.
The White House on Thursday also reiterated a call for more competition in the tech sector, and said companies should be "prioritizing safety by design standards and practices for online platforms, products, and services" to protect kids and teens. The administration also urged an increase in transparency by social media companies about their algorithms.
Correction: An earlier version of this story cited Pelosi's statement to colleagues as occurring in August instead of September. This story was updated Sept. 8, 2022.