SPONSORED:

Four major tech issues facing the Biden administration

Four major tech issues facing the Biden administration
© Getty Images

President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE will face a vastly different tech landscape in January than the one he interacted with just four years ago as vice president.

While he enjoys overwhelming support in the tech industry, a return to the rosy D.C.-Silicon Valley relationship of the Obama-era is unlikely anytime soon.

Here are some of the biggest tech policy issues facing Biden and how his administration may approach them.

ADVERTISEMENT


Content moderation

Biden has taken an unorthodox position on a law considered to be the bedrock of the modern internet, saying earlier this year that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act should be revoked “immediately.”

The 1996 law, which has come under increasing scrutiny ever since President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE targeted it with an executive order in May, gives internet companies immunity from lawsuits for content posted on their sites by third parties and allows them to make "good faith" efforts to moderate content.

While Biden’s stated position on the issue is not too different from Trump’s, the two are worlds apart in terms of their reasoning. Trump and Republicans maintain that the law is being used to censor conservative content on social media platforms, despite no evidence showing any ideological bent in moderation. Biden, meanwhile, argues that tech companies haven’t done enough to tackle misinformation on their platforms.

Trump’s executive order is likely to be defeated in courts. If not, Biden seems unlikely to follow through with his predecessor’s wishes.

In addition to the executive order, senators have introduced a flurry of bills with different approaches to overhauling the law.

While it’s not clear where exactly Biden would land on the issue, Silicon Valley appears hopeful that his remarks on the topic will be more substance-based than Trump’s rhetoric.

ADVERTISEMENT

“One of the things we look forward to is a more factual, fact based policy discussion about Section 230 and opportunities to really kind of dig deep,” Tiffany Moore, senior vice president at trade group the Consumer Technology Association, told The Hill.


Antitrust

Scrutiny surrounding the market power of America’s biggest tech companies has increased almost exponentially since Biden was last in office.

House Democrats released a report this fall spelling out alleged abuses of monopoly power by Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook, as well as potential legislative recourse.

But unless Democrats pull off the unexpected and win both Senate seats in Georgia’s runoff elections on Jan. 5, getting those suggested reforms through Congress may prove difficult given that Republicans refused to sign on to the blockbuster House report.

The Biden administration can turn to federal agencies such as the Department of Justice (DOJ) or Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to push through some of those antitrust changes, said Morgan Harper of the American Economic Liberties Project, an advocacy group focused on fighting monopolies and corporate power.

The DOJ filed a lawsuit against Google last month charging the company with illegally maintaining a monopoly on search and search advertising, teeing off a legal battle likely to take years.

The FTC is also reportedly set to bring charges against Facebook for antitrust violations by the end of the month.

Onlookers expect those efforts to move forward, with the potential for expansion.

“Staying the course would be the minimum expectation,” Harper said. “Hopefully those who are in charge of antitrust enforcement would view it as a priority to consider even broader investigations and lawsuits moving forward.”

While Biden may not intensify antitrust activity or back progressive proposals on the matter — he ran firmly to the right of anti-corporatist primary candidates like Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFormer Sanders press secretary: 'Principal concern' of Biden appointments should be policy DeVos knocks free college push as 'socialist takeover of higher education' The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Giuliani denies discussing preemptive pardon with Trump MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSchwarzenegger says he would 'absolutely' help Biden administration Disney chair says he would consider job in Biden administration if asked Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill MORE (D-Mass.) — he seems unlikely to blunt existing momentum.


Privacy

Federal data privacy legislation has been bogged down in Congress for years now, but there is hope that a new administration and increasing pressure coming from a new law in California could provide fresh momentum.

While congressional talks have fractured several times, there is broad consensus on what a privacy bill should contain, including protections for consumers like the ability to access, correct and erase the personal data companies have collected on them. Advocates say those protections are essential and should be a priority.

ADVERTISEMENT

“The United States is facing an unprecedented privacy and data justice crisis,” a memo sent to the Biden administration by 10 privacy and civil rights organizations including Public Citizen, Color of Change and the Electronic Privacy Information Center reads. “We urgently need a new approach to privacy and data protection.”

Democrats and Republicans differ, however, on whether a federal rule should override existing state rules — specifically California’s Consumer Privacy Act — and whether individuals should have the right to sue companies over violations.

Craig Albright, vice president of legislative strategy at the trade group BSA | The Software Alliance, suggested a deal could be made to make a strong enough federal law so that preemption would not be needed.

“Because the current Congress laid so much groundwork in terms of getting proposals out, the next Congress and the next administration will have a lot to work with,” he told The Hill. “We think that there's a deal to be had, that has strong enforcement that makes the bill worthy of preemption.”


Broadband

The coronavirus pandemic has made Americans more reliant than ever on the internet, and industry observers and advocates are hopeful that the Biden administration will make expanding and improving broadband a priority.

Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom, wrote in a letter to Biden and the incoming Congress that the “first 100 days of a new administration and new Congress are critical to charting a clear, bipartisan course for our nation’s policy agenda.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“Whatever the challenge – COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, climate change, healthcare, education, job creation, or national security – broadband can and must play an essential role in any plan to lift Americans up and move our nation forward.”

Biden laid out a plan to invest $20 billion in broadband infrastructure, a proposal that lines up neatly with some Democratic bills on the issue.

While getting Republican support for that kind of funding may be difficult, Jason Oxman, CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, told The Hill that a deal may be possible because broadband “has been bipartisan all along.”

Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, predicted that “you will see a general fund of monies appropriated to rural broadband.”

Another broadband-related issue where Biden’s position is clear is net neutrality. The president-elect has backed the Obama-era rules that allowed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to go after companies that discriminate against traffic.

The reinstatement of the rules that Trump’s FCC chair Ajit Pai rolled back is a near certainty, especially given the popularity of net neutrality.

“We just overwhelmingly won the debate on net neutrality,” said Evan Greer, deputy director at internet rights group Fight for the Future. “If there's one thing that people from across the political spectrum can agree on is that their cable companies shouldn't decide which websites they visit.”