Tech's 2015 wish list

The technology community has a wish list for the new 114th Congress. 

Many of the items — from patent reform to reining in the National Security Agency — are holdovers from past years. 

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The Republican takeover of the Senate will likely give patent reform a larger focus. And a series of hard deadlines next year will force Congress to confront items like NSA reform and a long-term update to the ban on taxing Internet access. 

Here are five items that lawmakers and tech advocates hope will move in the next Congress. 

 

1. Patent reform

Republicans are keyed to act on patent reform. Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (R-Utah), the chairman of the GOP's High-Tech Task Force, named it one of the most likely tech issues to move when Republicans take over the upper chamber. House Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFight breaks out between Jordan, Nadler over rules about showing video at Garland hearing The job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line MORE (R-Va.) also calls it a key priority. 

Legislation to rein in so-called patent trolls, who bring frivolous patent infringement lawsuits against developers, died in the Senate last year after Democratic leaders refused to bring it to the floor. Similar legislation passed the House. 

Some Democratic leaders like Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks 91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill Bipartisan senators press FBI, inspector general for changes following Nassar case MORE (Ill.) are hesitant about moving too fast, citing recent court decisions they say changed the landscape dramatically. But they will have less influence in the new GOP-controlled Congress. 

 

2. NSA reform

Technology companies and privacy advocates remain hopeful about National Security Agency reform and some are already gearing up for the fight. Legislation that would end the government's bulk collection of Americans' phone records died on a procedural vote late this year in the Senate.

Parts of the Patriot Act, though, are set to expire on June 1, a deadline that could give advocates leverage to tie reforms to a reauthorization.

Earlier this month, Google created a "Take Action" page, calling for supporters to demand reform in the next Congress. 

NSA legislation died this year as nearly every Republican in the Senate opposed a procedural vote to move the bill in the lame-duck session. The House passed a version meant to accomplish many of the same reforms, but many advocates and tech companies pulled their support, arguing that the final version watered down many provisions. 

Lara Flint, the chief counsel for national security on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said earlier this month that she believed any reform next year would be just as strong as the 2014 bill, which was sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThe Hill's Morning Report - Ins and outs: Powell renominated at Fed, Parnell drops Senate bid On The Money — Biden sticks with Powell despite pressure Welch to seek Senate seat in Vermont MORE (D-Vt.).

 

3. Internet Tax Freedom Act

A hard deadline to extend a ban on taxing Internet access could give senators the opportunity to finally remove the law’s expiration date.  

Congress approved a one-year extension to the Internet Tax Freedom Act this year as part of the larger omnibus spending bill to fund the government. The 1998 law has been reauthorized a number of times and leaders in both parties say it is time to extend it on the books long term.

The House approved a long-term extension in July and a majority of senators have cosponsored it. Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneParnell exit threatens to hurt Trump's political clout Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama McConnell, Schumer hunt for debt ceiling off-ramp MORE (R-S.D.), the likely chairman of the Commerce committee, and the Finance Committee's top Democrat, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats plow ahead as Manchin yo-yos Overnight Energy & Environment — House passes giant climate, social policy bill Senate confirms Park Service director after years of acting heads MORE (Ore.), have vowed to push the bill through, saying it is essential to maintaining the country's "economic competitiveness."

Some lawmakers this year attempted to tie an extension to a separate proposal that would allow states to collect online sales tax from purchases made anywhere in the country. The proposal was sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziLobbying world Cheney on same-sex marriage opposition: 'I was wrong' What Republicans should demand in exchange for raising the debt ceiling MORE (R-Wyo.), the incoming Budget chairman, but ran into resistance in the House. 

 

4. Electronic Communications Privacy Act

Hundreds of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including the vast majority of the House, have signed their names to legislation to update a nearly three-decades-old law governing the protection of online communications.

While the legislation had broad support from the technology and civil liberties community, it failed to make it to the floor this year.

The law currently allows law enforcement to access emails older than 180 days or those that have already been opened with a subpoena, rather than requiring a warrant. The update would end that and give electronic communications protections already in place for physical documents. 

 

5. Immigration reform

The technology sector has pushed Congress for years to enact immigration reform, specifically an increase on the cap for high-tech visas. But reform in the new Congress will be a tough sell even as the 2016 presidential election gets rolling. 

President Obama's executive action to defer deportations for millions of individuals inflamed tensions with Republicans, and Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFeehery: The next Republican wave is coming Rift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE (R-Ohio) has vowed to thwart the president's move. He has promised action first on border security in the new Congress. 

Democrats and industry advocates support comprehensive reform and have balked at a piecemeal approach suggested by Republicans. But Hatch still has confidence that increasing the number of high-skilled visas will be a priority. 

The Immigration Innovation Act, which he is pushing, had 26 cosponsors this year, and he vowed more in the new Congress. The proposal would more than double the cap on H-1B visas to between 115,000 and 300,000, depending on the economy.

Highlighting the uncertainty, however, Hatch said success depends on whether 'the president will continue his 'all or nothing' approach."