Emerging Technologies Washington Update

February 28, 2019

Pardon Our Dust

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This Week: House and Senate Committees discuss federal privacy framework while California moves ahead with CCPA implementation, FTC launches Tech Competition Task Force, OSTP officials discuss artificial intelligence Initiatives, Senate Commerce Subcommittee hears how emerging technologies can improve intermodal transportation

Week in Review

The House and Senate were both in session this week. On Tuesday, the House passed a resolution of disapproval to block the President’s emergency declaration to redirect funds to build a southern border wall. The measure passed 245-182 with support from 13 Republicans and appears on track to pass the Republican-controlled Senate as well, where Senators Collins (R-ME) and Udall (D-NM) will introduce a bipartisan resolution to terminate the declaration. The House is spending the balance of the week on legislation aimed at improving background checks for gun purchases that are unlikely to move in the Senate. The chamber also passed a number of bills on suspension this week, including a bill to improve access to STEM careers for veterans and another bill to increase penalties for unlawful or “pirate” broadcasts. Several House committees also heard this week from former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, including an all-day public session on Wednesday before the Judiciary Committee. Elsewhere, US Trade Representative Lighthizer testified before the Ways and Means Committee on the US-China trade relationship amid ongoing negotiations between the two countries.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate blocked the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which fell seven votes short of securing enough support to move forward. On Wednesday, the Senate voted 85-14 to confirm Michael Desmond as IRS Chief Counsel and Andrew Wheeler was confirmed today to be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 52-47. The Senate Judiciary Committee also advanced Aditya Bamzai’s and Travis LeBlanc’s nominations to be members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB).

A group of bipartisan, bicameral lawmakers introduced legislation this week to support the continued development of the blockchain industry by creating a working group within the Department of Commerce comprised of federal and private sector stakeholders to establish a common definition of blockchain. The working group would also be charged to recommend opportunities to leverage blockchain to promote new innovations. The bill is in part intended to avoid different definitions of blockchain that may inhibit industry growth as various states have embarked on their own regulations.

The President spent most of the week in Vietnam for a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The summit ended early and abruptly today as the two sides failed to reach an agreement on sanctions.

Looking Ahead

The House and Senate will both be in session next week, with House Democrats preparing to bring their voting rights legislation to the floor. Next Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will examine concentration and competition in the US economy during an Antitrust Subcommittee oversight hearing. The Senate Aging Committee will hold two hearings on drug pricing, the first of which will focus on the patient experience. The Senate Finance Committee has also held drug pricing hearings this Congress, most recently hearing this week from seven pharmaceutical executives. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations will also hold a hearing next Thursday on private sector data breaches.

In California, the Office of the Attorney General will hold its seventh and final public forum on California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) implementation on Tuesday at Stanford Law School. At the same time, the California Senate Judiciary Committee will hold an informational hearing primarily focused on drawing comparisons between the CCPA and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

House and Senate Committees Discuss Federal Privacy Framework While California Moves Ahead with CCPA Implementation

On Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection held a hearing on “Protecting Consumer Privacy in the Era of Big Data” that featured testimony from several consumer groups and industry associations. The Subcommittee generally agreed with the panel that Congress should enact a federal privacy framework that establishes appropriate consumer protections without stifling innovation. Full Committee Ranking Member Walden (R-OR) urged lawmakers to learn from both domestic and international privacy initiatives, citing the CCPA and the European Union’s GDPR. Several panelists and lawmakers alike cautioned against adopting a federal framework similar to the GDPR on the grounds that it has hindered economic growth and innovation in Europe. Still, Democrats emphasized the need for strong consumer protections and oversight of the technology industry.

The following day, the Senate Commerce Committee held a similar hearing entitled “Policy Principles for a Federal Data Privacy Framework in the United States” to discuss the development of a federal privacy framework. Notably, the panel of witnesses did not include any consumer groups, but instead consisted largely of industry associations. Chairman Wicker (R-MS) opened the hearing by underscoring the importance of developing a federal privacy framework that preempts state laws. He clarified that a national standard does not mean a weaker framework than existing efforts by states. Following his remarks, Ranking Member Cantwell (D-WA) expressed concern that federal preemption has become the priority for Republicans and industry instead of discussing protections against privacy violations.

Similar to previous hearings on data privacy, senators on both sides of the aisle agreed that a federal privacy law should consist of strong consumer protections and transparency policies. However, the Committee lacked consensus on how Congress should codify these larger goals. Democrats reiterated calls for increased Federal Trade Commission (FTC) authorities, while Republicans cautioned that unbridled regulatory power could hinder innovation and competition within the U.S. economy.

During the Senate Commerce hearing, Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) indicated there is a bipartisan effort within the Committee to develop a comprehensive law this Congress. In the meantime, lawmakers continue to introduce separate privacy bills. Earlier today, Senator Cortez Masto (D-NV), released the text of her Digital Accountability and Transparency to Advance (DATA) Privacy Act (S. 583). Among other provisions, the bill requires companies to obtain explicit consent from consumers before collecting sensitive information or using data beyond the context for which it’s collected.

Outside of Capitol Hill, California continues to move ahead with implementing its California Consumer Privacy Act. Before last Friday’s deadline to file legislation, several state lawmakers submitted bills to amend or expand the law. Notably, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Jackson (D) introduced legislation to expand the private right of action and remove a requirement for the Office of the Attorney General to provide businesses and individuals with legal counsel on CCPA compliance. Attorney General Becerra backs the proposal.

FTC Launches Tech Competition Task Force

On Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a new task force that will monitor competition in U.S. technology markets, investigate any potential anticompetitive conduct in those markets, and take enforcement actions when warranted. The task force, consisting of 17 full-time attorneys from the Bureau of Competition, will draw upon existing staff and expertise to enhance the Bureau’s focus on technology-related sectors of the economy.

“The role of technology in the economy and in our lives grows more important every day. As I’ve noted in the past, it makes sense for us to closely examine technology markets to ensure consumers benefit from free and fair competition. Our ongoing Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century are a crucial step to deepen our understanding of these markets and potential competitive issues. The Technology Task Force is the next step in that effort,” FTC Chairman Joe Simon said in a statement.

The task force will be led by Patricia Galvan, currently the Deputy Assistant Director of the Mergers III Division, and Krisha Cerilli, currently Counsel to the Director. It will be overseen by Bureau of Competition Director Bruce Hoffman, Deputy Director Gail Levine, and Associate Director for Digital Markets Daniel Francis.

OSTP Officials Discuss Artificial Intelligence Initiatives

This morning, Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Assistant Director for Artificial Intelligence (AI) Lynne Parker spoke at a Center for a New American Security (CNAS) event entitled “The White House: Accelerating America’s Leadership in Artificial Intelligence.” Kratsios kicked off the event with keynote remarks highlighting the Trump Administration’s commitment to supporting AI research and development, as well as maintaining American leadership in AI technology. He outlined measures in the White House’s February 11 Executive Order (EO) on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence, adding that the EO was the culmination of two years of ongoing Administration efforts and dialogue with various government agencies of jurisdiction.

Following his remarks, Kratsios joined Parker for a fireside chat moderated by CNAS. During the discussion, the White House officials shared that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will be releasing a notice for public comment within “coming months” soliciting stakeholder feedback on ways to improve government support for AI development. Simultaneously, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will be soliciting public input on how regulations can be developed to increase public trust, how government can better support AI research and development, and how best government can partner with industry to advance AI deployment. 

The event coincides with growing interest on AI in the halls of Congress. Earlier today, Reps. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) and Ro Khanna (D-CA) introduced a resolution calling for guidelines for the ethical development of artificial intelligence. The proposed text calls for AI development that protects workers, preserves privacy and uplifts women and minorities, among other goals.

Senate Commerce Subcommittee Hears How Emerging Technologies Can Improve Intermodal Transportation

On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety held a hearing entitled “Connecting America: Examining Intermodal Connections Across Our Surface Transportation Network.“ Lawmakers discussed methods to improve freight congestion, as well as provisions Congress should include in forthcoming surface transportation legislation with the FAST Act set to expire in 2020. Witnesses included trade association executives representing railroads, ports, and the agriculture industry. The panel underscored the need to strengthen federal grant programs that facilitate improvements to traditional infrastructure.

During the hearing, Subcommittee Chairwoman Fischer (R-NE) discussed with witnesses the importance of emerging technologies in the freight supply chain. The panel emphasized that new technologies can streamline supply chains and ensure safe data transfers, but added that the federal government should prepare existing infrastructure to integrate autonomous technologies, perhaps through grants and increased funding. Witnesses also encouraged Congress to create a multimodal freight office within the Department of Transportation to streamline information sharing and improve supply chain transparency.