Emerging Technologies Washington Update

January 31, 2019

Pardon Our Dust

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Week in Review

Last Friday, the President announced that he would sign a three-week continuing resolution to reopen the government through February 15 while a bicameral, bipartisan committee negotiates a homeland security spending package. The House and Senate both passed the bill shortly following the President’s announcement and federal employees returned to work this week. The conference committee convened for the first time yesterday, though it remains to be seen if it will be able to find consensus on an approach that the President will sign.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee postponed until next week a vote on Bill Barr’s nomination to serve as the next Attorney General while Democrats push for additional information on his stance on the Mueller investigation. Leadership is anticipating a floor vote the week of February 11. On the floor, Senators took up a Middle East policy bill that stalled amid the shutdown and votes today on an amendment offered by Leader McConnell (R-KY) expressing disapproval for withdrawing troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

FCC Chairman Pai swore in Geoffrey Starks on Wednesday as the Commission’s fifth member, bringing it to capacity. Starks, a Democrat, fills the seat vacated by former Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. The FCC also moved up its February open meeting to February 14, which will ensure it takes place in case of another shutdown.

Elsewhere, the President nominated former DocuSign CEO Keith Krach last week to be Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, the position responsible for serving as the ombudsperson for the EU-US Privacy Shield. European officials have been pushing the Administration to appoint a permanent replacement for since the previous Undersecretary resigned over two years ago.

This week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced a new Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics Team in response to increasing congressional demand for information on emerging technologies issues like artificial intelligence and quantum computing. GAO also plans to double the size of its team working on science and technology issues in the coming years.

Looking Ahead

After postponing the State of the Union address during the shutdown, Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) extended, and the President accepted, an invitation to address the nation next Tuesday evening. Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams will give the Democratic response and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra will deliver the Democrats’ response in Spanish.

Becerra’s office also announced this week that it will hold a seventh forum on March 5 as the state contemplates a rulemaking to implement the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Two more forums are on the schedule for next week.

Next week, the Senate will complete consideration of its Middle East policy bill. In the coming weeks, leadership plans to bring up a bipartisan lands package that would, among other things, permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as well as the Barr nomination and Andrew Wheeler’s nomination to serve as EPA administrator once out of committee.

Vice President Pence will travel to Poland and Germany next month to represent the United States at the Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East and the Munich Security Conference, respectively.

State, Federal Policymakers Maintain Focus on Consumer Privacy

California Attorney General Becerra’s office continued its series of public forums last week soliciting feedback on regulations to be developed under the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). The fourth of seven total sessions took place January 25 in Los Angeles. The forum largely drew attorneys and cybersecurity consultants representing industry stakeholders, who shared comments on the CCPA and forthcoming regulations. Several attendees underscored the need for greater clarity around existing definitions and provisions in order to avoid unintended consequences of the CCPA as written. Still, others lauded the law for establishing strong safeguards to protect consumer data. The Attorney General’s office reiterated requests for stakeholders to submit written comments and proposed regulatory language for its consideration. Forums will resume next week, with the next session scheduled for February 5 in Sacramento.

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-CA-35) held a press conference this week alongside Assemblymen Chad Mayes (R-CA-42) and James Gallagher (R-CA-03) announcing plans to introduce a package of consumer privacy measures. Cunningham underscored that privacy is not a partisan issues and encouraged Democrats to join the group’s efforts to protect consumers against companies “who are buying and selling consumer data to the highest bidder.” Among the package of bills to be introduced, the Own Your Own Data Act would mandate consumer control over personal data and force companies to delete data upon request. The Future of Eavesdropping Act would prevent companies from storing recordings of private conversations made through so-called smart speaker. Members of the California legislature are expected to introduce a number of measures in the coming weeks proposing technical corrections to the CCPA, as well as carving out specific sectors from requirements established under the law.

In Washington, lawmakers in both the House and Senate are continuing discussions around a federal consumer privacy framework. This week, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) shared that she is working with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) on privacy legislation to be introduced this Congress during remarks at the Symantec PrivacyCon 2019 conference. While the legislation would establish federal consumer privacy standards, she argued that Congress should not block CCPA rollout, adding that “as California goes, so does the nation.” Reps. Dave Schweikert (R-AZ) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI) also gave keynote remarks. Rep. Schweikert focused on the possibility of leveraging technology to address consumer privacy concerns, specifically citing the potential use of tokenization and blockchain technology to enable consumers to track their data. Rep. Dingell reiterated the need to draft national privacy regulations and encouraged lawmakers to consider the unintended consequences of GDPR, adding that any federal framework should be mindful not to negatively impact organizations like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

The event also featured a panel discussion amongst representatives of State Attorneys General from DC, Vermont, New Mexico, and Virginia. Panelists largely agreed that without a federal consumer privacy framework, state AGs will continue to act to protect consumers. When asked to comment on the DC AG’s ongoing lawsuit filed in December 2018 against Facebook in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, DC Attorney General Karl Racine explained that his office has had extensive conversations with a number of states that are simultaneously investigating the company’s data sharing practices. He expects that some other states will choose to file lawsuits against the company, while others will choose instead to participate in longer-term discussions on potential resolutions.

Net Neutrality Back on the Agenda for 2019

On February 1, a three-judge panel in the D.C. Circuit will hear oral arguments in the latest court case involving net neutrality (Mozilla v. FCC). While an opinion on this round in the legal battle will likely not be decided until the summer, with additional appeals likely to follow that decision, Congress has indicated its intention to re-engage on these issues in the 116th

On January 31, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology announced a February 7 hearing in which it will examine the effects of the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality regulations. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Pallone (D-NJ) called the hearing is intended as “an important opportunity to hear what the repeal of net neutrality means for the American people, and what has happened since the FCC’s repeal went into effect.” During remarks at this year’s State of the Net conference, Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) stated that he believes that net neutrality represents “one of the preeminent digital rights issues we face today” and explained he plans to continue his efforts to restore the net neutrality rules. During a separate panel discussion at the event, Subcommittee Ranking Member Bob Latta (R-OH) added “there’s room for consensus on net neutrality issues.”

In the meantime, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released an updated report this week on the net neutrality debate and access to broadband networks. Read more here.   

Senate Commerce Committee Schedules First Hearing of the New Congress

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee announced it will hold its first hearing of the new Congress next Wednesday, February 6 to discuss emerging technologies, access to spectrum, and the regulatory framework necessary to maintain U.S. leadership in next generation capabilities. The hearing, entitled “Winning the Race to 5G and the Next Era of Technology Innovation in the United States,” will include witnesses from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, CTIA, and the Competitive Carriers Association.

Chairman Wicker (R-MS) noted in an adjoining press release that “expanding broadband service and fostering innovation are top priorities of mine, and I look forward to continuing the committee’s efforts to close the digital divide in our nation and maintain U.S. leadership in 5G technology.”