Emerging Technologies Washington Update

October 17, 2019

Pardon Our Dust

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This Week: House Subcommittees examine content moderation and Section 230, House Transportation and Infrastructure panel scrutinizes ridesharing, U.S. Postal Service exploring incorporating drones into mail delivery, new bills would require all new vehicles to be equipped with advanced alcohol detection technology.

Week in Review

Congress returned to Washington this week following a two-week recess and Monday’s federal holiday. Lawmakers are mourning the loss of House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who passed away this morning. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) becomes Acting Committee Chair. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also announced that the House Democratic drug pricing legislation considered this week in three committees of jurisdiction will be named for Cummings.

On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittees on Communications and Technology and Consumer Protection and Commerce convened a joint hearing focused on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (see below for details). Elsewhere, the New Democrat Coalition, which counts more than 100 House Democrats as members, announced this week that is endorsing H.R. 2013, Rep. Suzan DelBene’s Information Transparency and Personal Data Control Act. The bill directs the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to establish requirements for companies that collect and otherwise use sensitive personal information, including a requirement that they obtain consumer opt-in consent for usage of such data. Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary’s tech task force, helmed by Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), convened another closed meeting yesterday for a discussion focused on data privacy.

On Tuesday, the President again vetoed a resolution to terminate the national emergency he declared to send additional resources to the southern border; there was not enough support in Congress to override the veto earlier this year. Trump hosted Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the White House on Wednesday and in a joint press conference, said that the two leaders did not discuss if or how Italy plans to move forward with a digital service tax. The United States argues that such taxes, including the one enacted earlier this year in France, disproportionately impact American technology companies. The President said Wednesday that “if anybody’s going to tax those companies, it should be the U.S.A.,” rather than the European Union or individual nations.

Last Friday, President Trump announced that Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan will step down. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Joe Simons also said that Bureau of Competition Director Bruce Hoffman will leave the agency in November and that he will appoint Deputy Director Ian Conner to succeed Hoffman. The FTC also announced that effective October 1, its Technology Task Force has become a permanent division in the Bureau of Competition now known as the Technology Enforcement Division.

The FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) meets today as the FAA and industry wait for the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to finish reviewing a notice of proposed rulemaking for remote identification (ID) of drones. At the last DAC meeting, industry was tasked with making recommendations to encourage early equipage of remote ID technology before the rulemaking is complete. Today, the DAC received three new taskings related to facility maps, beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight challenges, and unmanned traffic management (UTM).

Looking Ahead

Tomorrow, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law will hold the third in its series of hearings on “Online Platforms and Market Power,” this one focused on “The Role of Data and Privacy in Competition.” The sessions was originally scheduled to take place in September but was postponed. The House Financial Services Committee Task Force on Artificial Intelligence will also hold a hearing tomorrow on cloud computing and financial data security.

With government spending authority set to expire on November 21, congressional leaders will focus their attention next week on FY21 appropriations, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) potentially bringing the first set of bills to the floor next week. National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conferees are also looking to bring their final negotiated package to both chambers for final approval.

House Subcommittees Examine Content Moderation and Section 230

Two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees convened a joint hearing on Wednesday on “Fostering a Healthier Internet to Protect Consumers,” which focused on content moderation and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Generally, members on both sides of the aisle showed a willingness to work together to modify Section 230, but stopped short of calling for its overall repeal.

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman and Google Global Head of Intellectual Property Policy Katherine Oyama discussed the critical role Section 230 plays in the industry. They also recognized some of the flaws that exist with the provision and the importance of Congress and industry working together to address evolving issues.

Chairman Pallone (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Walden (R-OR) both reiterated concerns with incorporating Section 230-like provisions into international trade agreements, including those currently under negotiation with Canada, Mexico, and Japan. Pallone expressed disappointment that US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer declined the Committee’s invitation to testify at the hearing. Alliance to Counter Crime Online Executive Director Gretchen Peters said that including such provision in trade agreements could potentially tie Congress’ hands when it comes to reforming Section 230 in the future; Ms. Oyama argued that there is no language in draft trade deals that binds Congress’ hands and noted that such agreements often include intellectual property protections even though lawmakers regularly debate copyright and patent reforms.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Scrutinizes Ridesharing

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit held a hearing Wednesday morning focused on “Examining the Future of Transportation Network Companies,” commonly known as ridesharing or ride hailing companies. Ahead of the hearing, full Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said in letters to the CEOs of Uber and Lyft that he plans to “pursue legislative solutions to address numerous issues plaguing the ride hailing industry,” including “conditions governing your partnerships with States and local governments and transit agencies, the labor impacts of your business model, and disturbing reports of public safety problems among those who use your platform.”

During the hearing, DeFazio indicated an interest in pursuing legislation that would require drivers on ride hailing platforms to undergo fingerprint background checks, noting that such a proposal would likely require the House Judiciary Committee to act. DeFazio also expressed strong reservations about news that the General Services Administration (GSA) plans to reimburse ride hailing companies directly for trips taken by federal government employees, though such a contract could be a mechanism through which the federal government could require background checks.

US Postal Service Exploring Incorporating Drones Into Mail Delivery

The US Postal Service (USPS) recently published a request for information (RFI) to investigate “the feasibility of utilizing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones as delivery vehicles for mail as an integrated part of its vehicle delivery fleet, as well as to provide image and other data collection services.” Responses are due by November 4, 2019.

In particular, USPS is interested in information to support leveraging drones for long driveway delivery, remote/difficult delivery points, a ride-sharing model through which customers can access a USPS drone fleet for business to customer delivery, and infrastructure as a service through which drone service providers can leverage USPS Post Offices and vehicles to perform services like utility inspections.

In a follow up document released last Friday, USPS provided additional information in response to questions from interested parties, adding that it expects to hold an industry day to include key technology demonstrations. It also clarified that its initial efforts will focus on systems with a gross maximum weight of 55 pounds, which is the maximum weight for operations under the FAA’s Part 107 regulations for commercial drone operations.

New Bill Would Require All New Vehicles to be Equipped with Advanced Alcohol Detection Technology

Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rick Scott (R-FL) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) introduced legislation this week that authorizes $5 million to fund research and development of advanced alcohol detection software capable of detecting whether a driver is impaired over the legal limit and preventing an impaired driver from starting a car. Concurrently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would launch a pilot program with a fleet of at least 2,500 vehicles equipped with such technology. Finally, the bill requires NHTSA to within two years finalize a rulemaking to mandate advanced alcohol detection software be installed in every new vehicle with manufacturers required to comply with the rule not more than two model years after its effective date.

The Senate bill is the Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone (RIDE) Act of 2019 and the House companion is the Honoring Abbas Family Legacy to Terminate (HALT) Drunk Driving Act. Dingell had previously introduced a version of the bill in the House earlier this year.