Emerging Technologies Washington Update

July 11, 2019

Pardon Our Dust

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This Week: Senate Judiciary holds hearing on protecting children in a digital world, Senate Commerce advances blockchain, Internet of Things legislation, Office of Management and Budget launches AI request for information, connected care moves forward at FCC.

Week in Review

Returning to Washington after the July 4 recess with just a handful of legislative days remaining before the August recess, the Senate spent the balance of the week on judicial and executive branch nominations. In the meantime, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation held a hearing on NASA’s space exploration plans. The full Committee also advanced several pending nominations and bills (see below for additional details).

The House spent the majority of its floor time on its FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Elsewhere, the House Homeland Security Committee held another hearing Wednesday on facial recognition. During the hearing, Chairman Thompson (D-MS) said that Congress has not authorized Customs and Border Protection to use the technology to track US citizens and requested additional information from the agency on its policies.

House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Collins (R-GA) released draft principles on Wednesday for forthcoming legislation aimed at ensuring online data is considered a user’s personal property. “Congress should empower people to protect their data and their privacy as their own property. Once people have that ability, it is my hope and expectation that online service providers will respond by innovating new and better means of servicing consumers that don’t threaten to over-intrude on consumers’ data privacy in the first place,” said Collins. Rep. Schakowsky, who is leading efforts within the House Energy and Commerce Committee to produce draft comprehensive privacy legislation, confirmed this week that she does not plan on releasing a proposal before the August recess.

On Monday, the President spoke at the White House on his Administration’s environmental agenda, including investing in and exporting technologies such as carbon capture. On Tuesday, he hosted Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani for a bilateral meeting before signing an executive order on Wednesday aimed at improving kidney care in the United States.

Today, the FCC is holding a summit on implementation of SHAKEN/STIR, a caller ID authentication framework to combat illegal robocalls and caller ID spoofing, while the White House hosts a summit on social media. Senator Blackburn (R-TN) and Rep. Gaetz (R-FL) are expected to attend alongside conservative social media personalities.

Looking Ahead

Tomorrow, the House will vote to renew the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. Next week, the House plans to vote on legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 and on a three-year intelligence reauthorization, with healthcare bills on the agenda for the week of July 22. House leadership also plans to bring legislation related to Saudi arms sales and election security to the floor before the August recess, but will not hold votes on its remaining two FY20 appropriations bills – Homeland Security and Legislative Branch – before the August recess.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet considered any FY20 appropriations measures; Leader McConnell (R-KY) and Chairman Shelby (R-AL) are holding consideration while the White House and congressional leaders negotiate a budget deal to set spending caps. While those negotiations continue, McConnell is expected to continue to bring pending executive branch and judicial nominations to the floor. Notably, McConnell aims to confirm Mark Esper, the President’s nominee to serve as Secretary of Defense, before the August recess, though the White House has not yet sent the nomination to the Senate. Bipartisan congressional leaders have agreed in principle to hold a confirmation hearing next Tuesday, provided the Senate has formally received the nomination.

President Trump will host Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan at the White House on July 22 to discuss counterterrorism, defense, energy, and trade, among other issues of mutual interest.

Senate Judiciary Holds Hearing on Protecting Children in a Digital World

The Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing on Tuesday entitled “Protecting Innocence in a Digital World” to analyze existing protections for minors on the internet. The hearing came amid efforts led in large part by Senators Hawley (R-MO) and Markey (D-MA) to bolster children’s online privacy rules. In recent months, the Senators have introduced several measures aimed at addressing growing concerns around the topic, including legislation to amend the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

During the hearing, Committee members discussed a number of topics related to data minimization and security, as well as the role social media platforms play in the exploitation of children online. The majority of lawmakers expressed support for a national standard to incentivize technology companies to strengthen protections for children. Witnesses echoed these remarks and repeatedly called for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to increase enforcement actions and hold social media platforms more accountable for content disseminated on such sites. Several Committee members, including Chairman Graham (R-SC) and Senator Blumenthal (D-CT), and witnesses also discussed reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and questioned whether technology companies should receive blanket protections under this provision without being held accountable to certain standards. 

Senate Commerce Advances Blockchain, Internet of Things Legislation

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held an executive session during which it advanced by voice vote S. 553, the Blockchain Promotion Act, sponsored by Senators Young (R-IN) and Markey (D-MA). The bill directs the Department of Commerce to create a working group that would recommend a consensus-based definition of blockchain technology and make recommendations to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to study the potential impact of the technology on spectrum policy.

The Committee also advanced S. 1611, the Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things (DIGIT) Act, sponsored by Sens. Fischer (R-NE), Gardner (R-CO), and Schatz (D-HI), which creates a public-private working group tasked with making recommendations on how Congress can help facilitate the growth of connected Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. The Committee also approved S. 153, the Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act, and S. 1427, the Global Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing Act. Notably, Chairman Wicker pulled S. 1822, the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act, from the agenda, noting he is continuing to work across the aisle to advance the legislation.

The Committee also sent two nominations to the floor: Stephen Dickson’s nomination to be Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Michelle Schultz’s nomination to be a member of the Surface Transportation Board.

Office of Management and Budget Launches AI Request for Information

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) launched this week a 30-day request for information (RFI) aiming to identify needs for additional access to, or improvements in the quality of, Federal data and models that would improve artificial intelligence (AI) research and development. Within the RFI, OMB recognizes that expanded access to and use of these data sets and models – available largely through data.gov – could “stimulate new developments that would enhance the transparency and explainability of the AI application, and illuminate ways to ensure the robustness, security and safety of AI applications.” Data.gov is an open data site launched in May 2009 by the General Services Administration (GSA) Technology Transformation Service offering data, tools, and resources to conduct research, develop web and mobile applications, and design data visualizations, among other uses. 

The RFI aligns with President Trump’s February 2019 Executive Order on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence, which aims to advance AI research and development in order to “promote scientific discovery, economic competitiveness, and national security.” As a part of this initiative, the White House released last month an updated National AI R&D Strategic Plan outlining expectations for the overall portfolio of Federal AI R&D investments.

Connected Care Moves Forward at FCC

At its monthly Open Meeting convened yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took advanced efforts to establish a Connected Care Pilot Program that would focus on bringing telehealth opportunities to low-income patients and veterans. The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) seeks comment on a range of implementation issues, including eligibility, scope of projects to be approved for participation, and types of conditions for which funding could be used. The NPRM further proposes targeting support toward Tribal lands, rural areas, and veteran populations, given the identified health care disparities these interests face. The FCC, in launching the NPRM, recognized the significant opportunities that advances in healthcare technologies present in terms of delivering lifesaving care and substantial cost-savings. The initial comment deadline will be 30 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register.