Emerging Technologies Washington Update

June 27, 2019

Pardon Our Dust

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This Week: Senators Warner and Hawley introduce the DASHBOARD Act, Senate Finance Committee leaders urge Mnuchin to stave off digital tax, House and Senate panels examine machine learning, artificial intelligence, Senate Commerce Committee convenes hearing on innovations in transportation.

Week in Review

The House voted 230-195 on Tuesday to pass a $4.5 emergency supplemental appropriations bill for the border after Democratic leadership added provisions to secure support from the Congressional Hispanic and Progressive Caucuses. On Wednesday, the Senate rejected the House-passed measure 37-55 before passing its own $4.6 billion bill 84-8. Leadership is now working to reconcile the differences between the two bills and produce a package that can secure enough support to send to the President for his signature before lawmakers leave for next week’s recess.

Elsewhere, the House voted 227-194 to pass its second FY20 minibus, a $383 billion spending package, before taking up and passing, 224-196, a $25 billion FY20 Financial Services-General Government spending bill. The Senate continues to consider, and is expected to pass today, its FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously passed H.R. 3375, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, unanimously on Tuesday, just weeks after the Senate passed its own legislation aimed at combating illegal robocalls, the TRACED Act.

On Tuesday, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet Ranking Member Brian Schatz (D-HI), alongside senior House Energy and Commerce Committee members Reps. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY), introduced the Supplementing the Pipeline for Efficient Control of The Resources for Users Making New Opportunities for Wireless (SPECTRUM NOW) Act, legislation aimed at accelerating the process to repurpose key spectrum for 5G by creating a pathway for agencies to modify operations on federally-held spectrum to make those frequencies available for commercial wireless broadband use.

President Trump is in Japan for the G-20 Summit and a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Looking Ahead

Tomorrow, the Senate will debate US policy towards Iran pursuant to a deal that secured a final vote on the NDAA. The House and Senate are scheduled to recess next week for the 4th of July. Looking ahead, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and House Financial Services Committees will convene hearings on Facebook’s proposed digital currency on July 16 and 17, respectively.

The Administration announced this week that the White House will host a Social Media Summit on July 11 that will focus on the “strategic challenges of today’s online environment.” No attendees have been announced, but according to the White House, guests will include “digital leaders.”

Senators Warner and Hawley Introduce the DASHBOARD Act

On Monday, Senators Warner (D-VA) and Hawley (R-MO) introduced the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight and Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act. The bill requires technology companies that collect and process consumer data to disclose the types of data collected, as well as a financial assessment of the data’s value to consumers and financial regulators. The bill also requires covered entities to file a report annually outlining the aggregate value of consumer data collected in addition to a list of third party contracts the company maintains that involve data collection processes. The DASHBOARD Act permits consumers to delete all or individual fields of data collected by covered entities.

In a press release on the bill, Senator Warner stated that “the overall lack of transparency and disclosure in this market have made it impossible for users to know what they’re giving up, who else their data is being shared with, or what it’s worth to the platform.” Senator Hawley remarked that “tech companies do their best to hide how much consumer data is worth and to whom it is sold. This bipartisan legislation gives consumers control of their data and will show them how much these ‘free’ services actually cost.” The lawmakers have also collaborated on a separate measure, the Do Not Track Act, which allows consumers to opt out of non-essential data collection activities by digital platforms.

Senate Finance Committee Leaders Urge Mnuchin to Stave Off Digital Tax

On Monday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin regarding the development of a digital services tax (DST) in France. The lawmakers urged Mnuchin to “convince the French government that it would be unwise and short-sighted to implement” a DST given ongoing negotiations between the United States, France, and other countries within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to address tax issues in the digital economy. The lawmakers referenced recent DST legislation that passed both the French General Assembly and Senate, which they criticized as a potential hindrance to ongoing international negotiations. “The DST would unfairly target certain U.S.-based multinational companies, apply retroactively to the beginning of this year, and potentially lead to significant double taxation,” Grassley and Wyden wrote.

House and Senate Panels Examine Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence

Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) remained hot button issues in Congress this week as House Science and Senate Commerce panels convened hearings on the societal implications of the technology. On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet Subcommittee hosted a hearing to examine how algorithmic decision-making and machine learning on internet platforms might be influencing the public. Witnesses representing the Center for Humane Technology, the AI Now Institute, Google, and Wolfram Research provided insight into ways technology companies use algorithms and machine learning to influence outcomes, and discussed whether algorithm transparency or algorithm explanation are appropriate policy responses. Several Subcommittee members called for greater transparency and accountability from internet companies with regard to the use of algorithms and content filtering practices. “While there must be a healthy dose of personal responsibility when users participate in seemingly free online services, companies should also provide greater transparency about how exactly the content we see is being filtered,” Subcommittee Chairman Thune (R-SD) argued in opening remarks.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House Science Committee hosted a hearing Wednesday on the societal and ethical implications of AI featuring witnesses representing NYU’s AI Now Institute, OpenAI, the Algorithmic Justice League, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Health Data Sciences Institute. Throughout the hearing, panelists raised concerns with potential gender, sex, and socioeconomic bias rooted in AI technology, adding that these underlying biases have the potential to both reinforce and exacerbate existing social and economic issues. Committee members and panelists alike underscored the need to prioritize consideration of the ethical implications of AI at every stage of research and development. “If the U.S. does not address AI ethics seriously and thoughtfully, we will lose the opportunity to become a leader in setting the international norms and standards for AI in the coming decades,” House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) stated in opening remarks.

Senate Commerce Committee Convenes Hearing on Innovations in Transportation

On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety held a hearing entitled “Examining Technological Innovations in Transportation.” Lawmakers dedicated the majority of time to discussing how Congress can expedite integrating emerging technologies into existing transportation systems, specifically the trucking sector. The Subcommittee agreed that Congress must continue to prioritize reauthorizing the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act and ensure resources are available to maintain and expand pilot projects and other improvement programs.

Senator Peters (D-MI), who championed the AV START Act last Congress, also noted that he and Senator Thune (R-SD) are working with colleagues in the House to reintroduce autonomous vehicles legislation this Congress. Senator Peters (D-MI) asked the panel why legislation is necessary to address autonomous vehicle technology rather than maintaining the status quo through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) existing authorities. The President and CEO of Intelligent Transportation Society of America noted the importance of ensuring a national standard for AVs as well as a single federal agency to regulate this industry. He added that localities should still be able to enforce certain laws related to speed limits and licensure. Senator Peters agreed and noted that legislation will assist industry to expedite the use of existing technologies.

Committee members also focused questioning on leveraging technology to alleviate congestion in surface transportation networks and how blockchain can create efficiencies and improve transportation systems more broadly. Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) announced plans to reintroduce the Used Car Safety Recall Repair Act, which prohibits a dealer from selling or leasing a used passenger motor vehicle until an identified defect in the motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment or noncompliance with a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard has been remedied. Chairwoman Fischer (R-NE) also advocated for lowering the age requirement for interstate commercial truck drivers as a potential solution to solving the country’s driver shortage.