Emerging Technologies Washington Update

June 20, 2019

Pardon Our Dust

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This Week: Senate Commerce Subcommittee convenes drone security hearing, Hawley introduces plan to amend Section 230, Senate Commerce Committee discusses surface transportation reauthorization, USTR holds hearings on proposed tariffs on Chinese products, Congressman Collins appointed Co-Chair of Congressional Internet Caucus, FCC to vote on 2.5GHz spectrum at its July open meeting.

Week in Review

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in Washington today for separate meetings with the President, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) that will primarily focus on the proposed US-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement.

With just a handful of legislative days remaining before the July 4 recess, the Senate continued to process pending judicial and executive branch nominations this week, including Sean Cairncross’ nomination to be CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. In the meantime, the President announced on Tuesday that Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan would withdraw his nomination to serve in that role in a permanent capacity and that Army Secretary Mark Esper would replace him as Acting Secretary.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the House voted 226-203 on Wednesday to pass its first FY20 minibus, a package of appropriations bills. It then turned to a second minibus comprised of the Commerce-Justice-Science, Agriculture-Rural Development-FDA, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bills, as well as nearly 300 amendments. Lawmakers will vote later today on amendments to the Commerce-Justice-Science division.

Before leaving Washington last week, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) cosponsored Senator Josh Hawley’s (R-MO) Do Not Track Act, which previously drew support from Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Nearly two dozen Senate Democrats also introduced a bill led by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) to prohibit the distribution of 3D printer plans for printing firearms.

23 House Democrats also wrote to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan this week to express concerns about Customs and Border Protection using facial recognition technology. The lawmakers specifically cited reports of false matches and algorithmic bias, as recently discussed during a pair of House Oversight Committee hearings on ensuring transparency in government use of the technology.

This week, Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Thomas Suozzi (D-NY) and Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced companion bills to compel states to require vehicles operating through a ride-hailing platform to display an illuminated sign displaying the company’s logo, as well as to adhere to specific vehicle inspection requirements. H.R. 3262 also requires ride-hailing platforms to implement a system by which riders can electronically verify a driver’s identity, including placing a machine-readable code or label in the vehicle’s window that a rider can scan using her or her mobile phone or other device.

This morning, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) announced a bipartisan deal on legislation to combat illegal robocalls. The Communications and Technology Subcommittee will markup the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act next week.

Reps. Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Yvette Clarke (D-NY) introduced the TOWER Infrastructure Deployment Act this week, a bill aimed at building a workforce equipped to support deployment of new communications technologies. At the outset, the legislation establishes a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) advisory council to examine industry needs as it transitions to technologies including 5G, next-generation broadband, and next-generation television.

The FCC also announced this week that it is seeking nominations for a new Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force in accordance with the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. The Task Force will advise the FCC and Department of Agriculture on steps that should be taken to expand access to broadband for agricultural purposes. Nominations are due by July 17.

Looking Ahead

With one week remaining before the July 4 recess – and the August recess just around the corner – congressional leaders continue to negotiate towards a budget agreement. The House will resume consideration of its second FY20 minibus next week, but has postponed any consideration of its FY20 Homeland Security funding bill until after the recess. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has also teed up the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for floor consideration, as well as several privileged Arms Sales Resolutions of Disapproval.

Senate Commerce Subcommittee Convenes Drone Security Hearing

On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Security Subcommittee convened a hearing entitled “Drone Security: Enhancing Innovation and Mitigating Supply Chain Risks.” Representatives from the  Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Massachusetts Port Authority, National Defense University, and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) shared their perspectives on security considerations related to US drone integration efforts. Much of the discussion focused on issues related to privacy and cybersecurity, with several members of the Subcommittee raising concerns with national security threats posed by the use of Chinese-manufactured UAS. Additionally, Subcommittee Members pressed the FAA witness on ongoing delays of the remote identification rulemaking process, reflecting lawmakers’ dissatisfaction with the current timeline.

In her opening remarks, FAA Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Security and Hazardous Materials Angela Stubblefield characterized remote identification as a crucial stepping-stone for unmanned traffic management (UTM) development and deployment, adding that the technology will ultimately enable expanded safe and secure low altitude UAS operations. Despite these references, Ranking Member Markey (D-MA) and Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) raised concerns the delayed FAA UAS remote identification rulemaking process, referencing the July 2018 deadline for publication of a remote ID rule established in the 2016 FAA extension. The most recent Unified Agenda suggests that the FAA plans to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking this September.

Hawley Introduces Plan to Amend Section 230

On Wednesday, Senator Hawley (R-MO) introduced the Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, the first substantial action in the 116th Congress aimed at updating the Communications Decency Act (CDA). “There’s a growing list of evidence that shows big tech companies making editorial decisions to censor viewpoints they disagree with. Even worse, the entire process is shrouded in secrecy because these companies refuse to make their protocols public,” Hawley stated. The Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act removes the automatic immunity under Section 230 of the CDA for large technology companies. The bill defines covered entities as companies with more than 30 million active monthly users in the US, more than 300 million active monthly users worldwide, or that have more than $500 million in global annual revenue. The bill allows covered entities to earn immunity by conducting external audits, proving to the FTC through clear evidence that their algorithms and content-removal practices are politically neutral. Companies would also be required to reapply for immunity every two years.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who co-authored Section 230 and has remained a staunch opponent to calls for reforming the provision, criticized the legislation. “Senator Hawley has written a bill to deputize the federal government as the Speech Police in flagrant violation of the First Amendment,” Wyden tweeted on Wednesday.  “CDA 230 lets private companies take down inappropriate third-party posts without incurring liability. It’s designed to protect companies from floods of lawsuits, the sort that kill innovation in its infancy.” The bill has also garnered criticism from several trade associations within the technology industry.

Senate Commerce Committee Discusses Surface Transportation Reauthorization

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing entitled “FAST Act Reauthorization: Transportation & Safety Issues”. The witnesses featured senior officials from the Department of Transportation modal agencies including the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Witnesses and committee members alike expressed a common concern with improving safety in transportation while simultaneously promoting innovation. Both Chairman Wicker (R-MS) and Ranking Member Cantwell (D-WA) joined colleagues in expressing support for bipartisan action on a long-term reauthorization of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

Lawmakers also discussed issues related to the safety of autonomous vehicles (AVs). Senator Schatz (D-HI) asked Acting NHTSA Administrator Heidi King explain why the Administration has not mandated auto manufacturers to adopt new autonomous technologies that have the potential to improve roadway safety, such as lane departure warnings and automatic emergency braking. Ms. King explained that mandated technologies require rigorous test procedures for standardization, and that implementing this would eliminate the learning period in which manufacturer competition improves the technologies. Senator Blackburn (R-TN) also expressed interest in learning more about NHTSA’s efforts to promote AV standards. Public safety was the top priority for all members, although the Committee failed to reach consensus as to whether stronger safety regulations or deregulation to promote innovation would be best to protect the public.

USTR Holds Hearings on Proposed Tariffs on Chinese Products

This week, the US Trade Representative’s Office launched a two-week long series of hearings on proposed tariffs on Chinese-made goods under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act. The newly proposed measure – which would apply to roughly $300 billion in goods – would impose 25 percent tariffs on a wide range of commodities, including Chinese-made 5G equipment and cellphones. The proposed tariffs have generated strong push back from a range of tech industry representatives, who argue the provisions would stifle innovation and harm business.  “[The proposed tariffs] would cause direct, additional harm to U.S. consumers, cost U.S. jobs, and undermine U.S. technology companies in the intense competition for global leadership,” ITI argued in comments filed with USTR.

A number of technology industry stakeholders will testify during the hearings, including representatives from Roku, VeriFone, Fitbit, and Sony Interactive Entertainment as well as a number of tech trade associations. The fate of the tariffs remains unclear as President Trump prepares to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a G-20 meeting in Japan at the end of the month.

Congressman Collins Appointed Co-Chair of Congressional Internet Caucus

On Tuesday, Rep. Eshoo (D-CA) announced that House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Collins (R-GA) will serve as the Republican co-chair of the Congressional Internet Caucus, succeeding former Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA), who he also succeeded as the top Republican on House Judiciary. Collins joins Rep. Eshoo and Senators Thune (R-SD) and Leahy (D-VT) in leading the bicameral caucus, which aims to provide a neutral forum for analysis and debate of  current technology policy issues. Previously, the Congressional Internet Caucus has hosted seminars discussing the impact of consumer data privacy laws in the U.S. and the EU, as well as briefings on blockchain technology and online sales tax. “I’m thrilled to have [Rep. Collins] join me as the new Co-Chair of the Congressional Internet Caucus. We’re committed to ensuring Members of Congress and their staff are educated about the promise and potential of the internet,” Rep. Eshoo tweeted.

FCC to Vote on 2.5GHz Spectrum at its July Open Meeting

On June 19, the Federal Communications Commission announced the agenda for its upcoming July 10 Open Meeting.  Among the items the Commission will consider is a Report and Order that addresses changes to the regulatory framework governing the 2.5 GHz band (2496-2690 MHz), which the Commission notes is “the single largest band of contiguous spectrum below 3 gigahertz.”  Over the last twenty years this spectrum, designated for uses that include educational broadband service, has been underutilized.  The Commission’s vote in July will switch this spectrum from its current specific uses to flexible use licensed spectrum that can be used to promote the availability of 5G and other high-speed, mobile broadband services.  To promote mobile broadband services on Tribal lands, the Order adopts a Tribal priority window to enable Tribal nations an opportunity to obtain 2.5 GHz licenses to provide service on rural Tribal lands. Following the closure of the Tribal priority window there will be a system of competitive bidding for the remaining available spectrum.