Emerging Technologies Washington Update

March 5, 2020

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This Week: House passes Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act, House Energy and Commerce holds hearing on sale of fake products as bipartisan Judiciary Committee leaders introduce SAFE SHOP Act, emerging tech in Senate THUD hearing on DOT budget request for FY2021, Graham and Blumenthal introduce Section 230 reform legislation.

Week in Review

The House and Senate were both in session this week. The Senate took up S.2657, the American Energy Innovation Act (AEIA), a package of more than 50 energy-related bills reported by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 2019. On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism held a hearing on Dangerous Partners: Big Tech and Beijing. Yesterday, the Senate passed legislation calling on the administration to develop a 5G security strategy. The House passed a similar measure earlier this year.

The House on Wednesday passed an $8.3 billion emergency coronavirus package with a 415-2 vote. The two nays were from Reps. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Ken Buck (R-CO). Today, the Senate approved the package in a 96-1 vote. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against it.

The President added several Cabinet and other officials to the coronavirus task force this week and attended a meeting on Monday with pharmaceutical executives to discuss the outbreak. The President and Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the task force, met with airline CEOs on Wednesday to discuss the implications for travel.

Earl Comstock, who served as director of policy and strategic planning at the Commerce Department for three years, resigned Friday. Comstock was at the center of debates concerning how to repurpose airwaves for commercial 5G services and also helped lead the Trump administration’s efforts to impose export restrictions on Huawei Technologies. In addition, he was a key point person on trade, especially with respect to the Commerce Department’s Section 232 investigations into the national security impacts of automotive, steel, and aluminum imports.

The FAA received over 50,000 comments in response to its notice of proposed rulemaking for remote identification of drones ahead of Monday’s deadline. The FAA also closed out a comment period this Wednesday on a Notice of Policy for type certification of drones.

Coronavirus continues to negatively impact the technology industry. Domestically, tech giants like Facebook and Google have canceled their annual conferences, and abroad, international events such as the Mobile World Congress and the World ATM Congress have been called off. Now, the virus may be threatening South by Southwest. The event, which takes place annually in Austin, is scheduled to start on March 13th, but Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and others have pulled out, throwing the event’s fate into question.

Looking Ahead

Senior administration officials will continue to make the rounds on Capitol Hill next week to answer questions from lawmakers on the FY21 budget. The FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) process is also moving forward, with the House Armed Services Committee looking towards a late April markup. The Senate will also continue consideration of its comprehensive energy bill.

Vice President Pence is scheduled to meet with cruise line executives Saturday in Florida on the coronavirus outbreak. On Monday, President Trump was scheduled to speak at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Orlando while the White House Office of Management and Budget continues to review two Health and Human Services health data sharing rules. HIMSS announced today that the event will be cancelled due to coronavirus, however.

Graham, Blumenthal Introduce Section 230 Reform Legislation

On Thursday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), along with Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senators Josh Hawley (R-MO), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Doug Jones (D-AL), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), introduced a bill designed to stop the spread of online child sexual abuse imagery. The bill, titled the EARN IT Act, takes aim at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and would create incentives for technology companies to go after child exploitation happening on their platforms.

Most importantly, the bill would force companies to “earn” Section 230 immunity as it pertains to child sexual abuse material. Companies would be able to earn immunity by following a set of best practices established by a new National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention, which would be made up of leaders from the DOJ, DHS, FTC, and 16 representatives from the public appointed by Congress. In addition to following the guidelines established by the Commission, companies would have to go through a Congressional review process before being certified as compliant. Finally, the bill would bolster child sexual abuse material statutes in order to allow survivors to pursue civil recourse against companies that do not comply. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s press release on the bill can be found here. The Committee will hold a hearing on the bill next Wednesday.

House Passes Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act

On March 3, the House approved by unanimous consent legislation on broadband mapping.  The bill must still pass the Senate and be signed by the President. Its purpose is to ensure the FCC collects granular information about where broadband does and does not exist in order to better target communities for federal funding.

The bill requires the FCC to deliver new rules for data collection and “establish a process to verify the accuracy of such data, and more.” Currently the FCC builds its coverage maps using data that is self-reported by carriers, which is sometimes criticized for alleged inaccuracies and shortcomings. 

The bill includes initiatives from two bipartisan House efforts to improve broadband mapping and the accuracy of data collected, including H.R. 4229, the “Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act” or the “Broadband DATA Act,” introduced by Energy and Commerce Reps. Bob Latta (R-OH) and Dave Loebsack (D-IA), and H.R. 4227, the “Mapping Accuracy Promotion Services Act” or the “MAPS Act”, introduced by Energy and Commerce Reps. Billy Long (R-MO) and Donald McEachin (D-VA). 

House Energy and Commerce Holds Hearing on Sale of Fake Products as Bipartisan Judiciary Committee Leaders Introduce SAFE SHOP Act

On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Consumer Protection held a hearing titled “Buyer Beware: Fake and Unsafe Products on Online Marketplaces.” The panel included representatives from large online marketplaces, consumer protection groups, and online retailers. Members focused their questions on issues relating to counterfeit products, fake reviews, and government policy, but touched on a myriad of topics ranging from seller verification and firearms sales, to artificial intelligence and customs.

Notably, Chairwoman Schakowsky (D-IL) during her opening statement called Section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act a “law badly in need of reform.” Additionally, a number of members engaged in tense exchanges with witnesses regarding safety concerns related to counterfeit products on their websites and the ways in which online marketplaces address the issue.

The hearing coincided with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-GA), and Reps. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Martha Roby (R-AL) introducing the Stopping Harmful Offers on Platforms by Screening Against Fakes in E-Commerce (SHOP SAFE) Act. The bill would amend the Trademark Act of 1946 in order to provide some liability for online ecommerce platforms that sell counterfeit products through third party sellers. Platforms would only receive immunity in exchange for engaging in best practices for screening vendors, penalizing offenders, and providing consumers with the most accurate information they can regarding the products on their sites.

Emerging Tech in Senate THUD Hearing on DOT Budget Request for FY2021

Emerging technologies were a topic of conversation during Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao’s March 4 appearance before the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies to discuss DOT’s budget request for FY2021.

Senator Hoeven (R-ND) thanked the Secretary for past visits to Fargo to learn about developments in unmanned aviation and invited her back to visit the Grand Sky UAS Research and Development Park. Senator Capito (R-WV) asked for the Department’s comment about progress with respect to the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADDS) research program and Secretary Chao noted that while deployment next year might be unrealistic, the Department has already made significant progress in terms of field operational testing prototypes, engaging with fleet operators to deploy the technology, and updating guidelines.  Senator Manchin (D-WV) raised the Hyperloop One high speed transportation project and inquired about the status of the Department of Transportation’s recently created Non-Traditional & Emerging Transportation Technology Council (NETT). Secretary Chao said NETT was established because new technologies were transcending DOT’s modal administrative organization structure and stated that the Council will prove crucial to facilitating coordination among the Department’s sub-units.