Emerging Technologies Washington Update

March 14, 2019

Pardon Our Dust

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This Week: Senators unveil bipartisan bill aimed at improving privacy protection for children, Senate Judiciary Committee wades into federal privacy debate, House Subcommittee examines drones, urban air mobility, and the future of aviation, and European commission selects single protocol for vehicle connectivity instead of taking flexible approach

Week in Review

On Monday, the White House rolled out the President’s $4.7 trillion FY20 budget proposal, which includes $8.6 billion for a border wall and increases defense spending by $750 billion, or 5%. It also proposes a 9% cut to all non-defense programs, including a $845 billion cut to Medicare. Over the coming weeks, Cabinet secretaries and agency heads will testify in support of the request before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and the various authorizing committees, but Congress will craft and pass its own spending bills.

The President and Congress are marking St. Patrick’s Day today. This morning, the President welcomed Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to the White House before they attended the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon at the Capitol.

The Senate spent the early part of the week on executive branch and judicial nominations before taking up a resolution on Wednesday to withdraw US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The resolution passed 54-46 and is likely to result in the President’s first veto. Earlier today, the Senate also voted 59-41 to adopt a House-passed resolution to end the President’s emergency declaration to direct funds to build a border wall. That resolution is also expected to draw a veto that Congress does not have the votes to override, likely sending the issue to the courts. In the meantime, the House voted 420-0 this morning to approve a non-binding resolution to publicly release the Mueller report. Four Republican members voted present.

This week, Senators Portman (R-OH) and Heinrich (D-NM) officially launched the Senate Artificial Intelligence (AI) Caucus with Senators Schatz (D-HI), Gardner (R-CO), Peters (D-MI), and Ernst (R-IA) as founding members. The Caucus will foster dialogue between lawmakers and the executive branch, industry, and academia to develop “policy that balances AI’s risks and rewards to ensure the competitiveness of the U.S. economy, while maintaining important ethical standards.”

Senators Thune (R-SD) and Wyden (D-OR) and Reps. Cohen (D-TN) and Ratcliffe (R-TX) reintroduced The Digital Goods and Services Tax Fairness Act (S. 765 and H.R. 1725) on Wednesday to prevent digital goods and services such as movies, apps, and music from double or discriminatory taxation not applied to tangible goods.

Bipartisan, bicameral lawmakers introduced legislation this week aimed at alleviating the skills gap in the technology sector by providing federal grants to state tech associations and other industry intermediaries to develop apprenticeships. The Championing Apprenticeships for New Careers and Employees in Technology (CHANCE in Tech) Act (S. 777 and H.R. 1733) is sponsored by Senators Gardner (R-CO), Heinrich (D-NM), Markey (D-MA), and Moran (R-KS) and Reps. Moulton (D-MA) and Herrera Beutler (R-WA).

Looking Ahead

The House and Senate will both recess next week. Looking ahead, the Senate is expected to vote later this month on a $13.6 billion disaster aid package. Leader McConnell (R-KY) is also planning a messaging vote on a New Green Deal resolution. Appropriations and authorizing committees in both the House and the Senate will also hold FY20 budget hearings over the coming weeks to hear from Cabinet secretaries and agency heads on the President’s budget request and policy priorities.

Senators Unveil Bipartisan Bill Aimed at Improving Privacy Protection for Children

As lawmakers continue to discuss the components of a federal privacy bill, several members are introducing separate provisions that target specific issues within the scope of consumer privacy. This week, Senators Markey (D-MA) and Hawley (R-MO) introduced legislation to expand online privacy rules for children. The bill updates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and includes five key provisions that impact digital platforms: 

  • Prohibits the collection of personal and location information from children under 13 without parental consent
  • Prohibits the collection of personal and location information from 13 to 15-year-olds unless the platform receives user consent
  • Establishes an “Eraser Button” to allow parents and children to delete a child’s personal information
  • Outlines a “Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Minors” to limit the collection of personal information
  • Creates a Youth Privacy and Marketing Division at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to address children’s privacy and marketing practices targeted at minors

Both sponsors have historically taken hardline approaches to oversight of technology companies. Senator Markey, an original author of COPPA, indicated last Congress that he planned to introduce a bill that would update the existing law. Before being elected to the Senate in 2018, Senator Hawley gained recognition as Missouri Attorney General for investigating dominant digital platforms. “Big tech companies know too much about our kids…It’s time to hold them accountable. Congress needs to get serious about keeping our children’s information safe, and it begins with safeguarding their digital footprint online,” Hawley remarked in a press release. Already, the Markey-Hawley bill has gained support from stakeholders such as Color of Change, Common Sense Media, and the Campaign for Commercial-Free Children.

Senate Judiciary Committee Wades Into Federal Privacy Debate

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing entitled “GDPR & CCPA: Opt-ins, Consumer Control, and the Impact on Competition and Innovation” featuring two panel discussions consisting of company, think tank, and consumer advocacy organization representatives. Dialogue largely focused on developing a federal privacy framework that establishes adequate consumer data protections without stifling innovation or negatively impacting small- and medium-sized businesses. Notably, a number of Members, including Sen. Hawley (R-MO), harshly criticized tech platform business practices, raising concerns with the lack of transparency around the collection, use, and sharing of consumer data. In response, DuckDuckGo CEO and Founder Gabriel Weinberg and Mapbox Policy Lead Tom Lee argued that companies can responsibly use consumer data or not collect consumer data at all and still be profitable.

During the hearing, Members and witnesses alike shared thoughts on both the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), arguably the nation’s most comprehensive privacy law to date. During the first panel, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked witnesses to comment on how lawmakers can make a federal privacy framework stronger than CCPA. Californians for Consumer Privacy Chairman and CCPA champion Alastair Mactaggart explained that unlike the California law, a federal framework could include a whistleblower provision and strong FTC enforcement mechanisms. Google Senior Policy Counsel Will DeVries argued there are important fixes to be made to CCPA that can be translated to a federal framework. During the second panel, American Enterprise Institute Visiting Scholar Roslyn Layton cautioned against adopting a framework similar to GDPR, which she argued has hindered economic growth. Instead, Ms. Layton urged policymakers to support technology-based privacy solutions.

Congressional committees in both chambers are in the midst of a series of hearings that will undoubtedly inform efforts to introduce consumer privacy proposals in both the House and Senate. Sen. Blumenthal, along with Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Wicker (R-MS) and Senators Moran (R-KS) and Schatz (D-HI), have convened a working group to develop federal legislation, which they are expected to release in the coming months.

House Subcommittee Examines Drones, Urban Air Mobility, and the Future of Aviation

On Tuesday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation held a hearing to examine the future of aviation and technologies ranging from unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, to urban air mobility and supersonic flight. NASA and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) testified alongside representatives from these industries.

Subcommittee members on both sides of the aisle focused on the stalled Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rulemaking for remote identification of drones. While the FAA was not present to speak to the delay, Diana Cooper, representing UAS company PrecisionHawk, noted that industry and other stakeholders participated in an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) that delivered recommendations to the FAA in October 2017. Subcommittee Chairman Larsen (D-WA) was among those concerned about the delay and indicated he would follow up with the FAA.

Uber Elevate’s Dr. Eric Allison provided testimony on Uber’s plans to operate ride-sharing in the air, often called urban air mobility. Dr. Allison explained that industry needs a clear pathway to the certification and approvals necessary to operate in urban environments. He added that creating skyports in metropolitan areas is critical and would necessarily involve local real estate interests. He responded to a question on whether urban air mobility would be a luxury available only to the wealthy by stating Uber Elevate’s goal of making this transportation option both affordable and attractive to all urban commuters. Dr. Allison agreed with the importance of an unmanned traffic management (UTM) system, noting that Uber Elevate is participating in the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) with the City of San Diego.

European Commission Selects Single Protocol for Vehicle Connectivity Instead of Taking Flexible Approach

On March 13, the European Commission (EC) adopted a Delegated Act outlining regulations for Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) technology, which will establish rules for vehicle-to-infrastructure, vehicle, and pedestrians (V2X) communications. While there are competing protocols seeking to deliver these communications, the EC decided to select the Wi-Fi protocol over the C-V2X protocol designed to work with future 5G networks.

The Delegated Act includes a review provision that could be used to allow technologies like C-V2X to be incorporated into C-ITS at a later date, a provision Commissioner for Mobility and Transport Violeta Bulc noted in releasing the Delegated Act. In her statement, Commissioner Bulc described the decision as “giv[ing] vehicle manufacturers, road operators and others the long-awaited legal certainty needed to start large-scale deployment of C-ITS services across Europe, while remaining open to new technology and market developments.” A number of proponents of 5G technology, however, are concerned that the loss of flexibility in the protocol for developing C-ITS will have the effect of locking out other technologies from the transportation sector and noted that the decision at odds with recent budgetary developments by the European Parliament and Council to promote 5G infrastructure investments in the transportation and energy sector. As such, they have urged the European Parliament and Council to reject the proposal.

A two-month review process is now underway during which the European Parliament and the European Council have an opportunity to oppose the Delegated Act from taking effect.