Will the midterms impact tech?

By Sara Kassabian/ Published on November 13, 2018

There are few issues that garner bipartisan consensus among United States lawmakers these days, but a desire to regulate Silicon Valley has proponents on both sides of the aisle. Naturally, the priorities and means for regulation differ largely according to a lawmakers’ constituents and region, political priorities and political party.

But the passing of the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and other proposals indicate technology companies will continue facing scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers for their handling (and mishandling) of consumer data. In this blog post, we summarize some of the top headlines related to technology and security in U.S. politics today, as well as the implications of the midterm election results.

Who was elected and what does it mean?

The midterms confirmed the positions of some incumbent senators and congresspersons with a tough stance on the tech industry, and ushered in newcomers whose history and campaign stances promise an uphill battle. Wired published a great article that I recommend you read about how the election will impact big tech. Some of the representatives to watch include: 

  • Senator Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee): Blackburn was in the House before moving to a Senate seat in the new election. While in the House, Blackburn was supported by telecomm companies and has long opposed net neutrality. 

  • Senator Josh Hawley (Missouri): Hawley went after Alphabet, Google’s parent company, while attorney general of Missouri. Notably, his campaign was heavily backed by Peter Thiel, who is not a friend of Google. 

  • Now that the Democratic party has taken control of the House of Representatives, Senator Adam Schiff is expected to take on the role of chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Earlier in the year he called for more regulation of tech companies, including Facebook, while serving on the same committee. 

The Internet Bill of Rights lays groundwork for new laws

In October, Ro Khanna, a Democratic Congressman representing Silicon Valley, released his proposal for an “Internet Bill of Rights” consisting of 10 principles designed to inform net neutrality and data protection legislation moving forward. Some of the principles read as a direct response to the data privacy scandals of late (e.g., Cambridge Analytica, Verizon’s unlawful tracking of consumers, and the Equifax data breach) while others are designed in the spirit of Europe’s GDPR, and grant consumers more autonomy over how their personal data is collected and managed by businesses.

Now that Democrats have taken control of the House beginning in 2019, many of these principles will likely serve as the core of new laws designed to reign in the technology companies that have sucked up consumer data, at times unscrupulously. Striking a balance between maintaining the well-networked, personalized tech experience consumers expect with enhanced privacy and security measures is a challenge facing Congress and technology business in the coming years.

More reading: Kara Swisher’s Op-Ed announcing proposal (New York Times); “The Internet Bill of Rights is Just One of our Moral Obligations” (TechCrunch); Is an Internet Bill of Rights Necessary? (Information Week — featuring a quote from TrueVault CEO Jason Wang)

Meanwhile, in the Senate…

Right before the midterm elections, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden proposed a bill for the Consumer Data Protection Act, which takes enforcement of data protection to the next level. The bill advances beyond the data protection rules introduced in that state-level CCPA, and mirrors GDPR with many of its principles (i.e., consent for data collection and data minimization) but calls for even sharper penalties for executives of companies that violate consumer data laws. Experts posit that the bill is unlikely to pass, given its sharp teeth; executives found to be in violation would face jail time.

In conclusion

Elections don’t provide a crystal ball into the future, but based on the results of the midterms and some of the new legislation being proposed, we predict the 2019 House of Representatives will propose even stronger regulations for consumer data protection over the next two years.

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