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Thursday, March 23, 2023

What a divided government could mean for tech policy

A day after Tuesday’s midterm elections, no political party can claim control of either branch of Congress. As it is, the House is leaning Republican, the Senate is leaning Democrat, and it could be days or weeks before the electoral dust settles.

Although the “red wave” predicted by many did not come to fruition, a change in control of at least the House seems likely, and changes in one or both chambers will have significant ramifications for federal cybersecurity, technology policy, and security. how the Biden administration governs. .

“If we see a divided Congress, there will probably be more gridlock in Congress, and if Congress is totally controlled by one party and the presidency by the other, one can only imagine the head butting in this current political environment. Stan Soloway, president and CEO of Celero Strategies and a former Defense Department procurement official, said Nextgov. “If both Houses leave, it becomes a nightmare to do anything.”

Soloway said a divided Congress would likely prevent any major tech legislation, such as a blanket privacy bill, from being passed. Climate legislation would also be hampered. However, Soloway said federal IT modernization “remains nonpartisan,” one of the few areas of agreement for both sides, along with a desire to improve government service delivery. That could be good news for federal IT budgets, which have increased over the last five years under both Republican and Democratic presidents and congresses.

However, Soloway warned that a Republican-led House, with the power to allocate funds, is likely to review and modify funding levels on everything from US military aid to Ukraine to the Technology Modernization Fund. .

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is in line to become president if Republicans take control of the chamber, also signaled that the House would repeal the IRS spending influx enacted by the Democrats. Reducing funding at the IRS could set back its six-year IT modernization effort, which includes taxpayer service improvements and a major overhaul of its aging IT infrastructure, and could alter how the agency regulates cryptocurrencies. .

McCarthy has also noted that Republican-led committees I would investigate the COVID-19 response of the Biden administration, the Department of Justice, and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Soloway said the composition of committee chairs in a House-flip will be key to how Congress conducts oversight.

“Regardless of what happens, look at the committee chairs because that’s where the power is,” Soloway said. “There will be a lot of jockeying.”

Congress loses cybersecurity expertise

Regardless of the races still in question, Congress will lose important cybersecurity policy expertise. If Democrats maintain a majority in the House, the chamber will still lose Rep. Jim Langevin, DR.I., to retirement. With his key position on the Armed Services Committee, as well as his leadership of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus and membership of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, Langevin was instrumental in pushing through a number of bipartisan provisions in the law, most notably creating from the office of the national cyber director.

Rep. John Katko, RN.Y., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, working across the aisle from Democrats, were also instrumental in getting more authorities and larger budgets for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. But both also leave Congress.

In the more likely event that Republicans take the House and even if Katko’s replacement—who would head the Homeland Security Committee—similarly wants to endorse CISA, leaders may have other ideas. McCarthy has said that he plans to prioritize tackling inflation, which could translate into reduced spending on cybersecurity.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, DN.H., chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Oversight of Homeland Security Spending and Government Affairs, won her race Tuesday against Republican challenger Donald Bolduc. Hassan has been an outspoken advocate for strengthening federal cybersecurity policies, and if Democrats maintain control of the Senate, she could be an influential figure in the future cyber-policy debate.

Another bright spot in last night’s midterms for congressional cyber advocates comes with Rep. Elissa Slotkin’s victory in the Michigan 8th District race. Slotkin, a veteran congresswoman and former CIA analyst, has been active in both Democratic and bipartisan tech legislative initiatives. Bills he sponsored include the CISA Cyber ​​Exercise Act, which would establish greater oversight into attacks on critical infrastructure and preparedness, and the Bots Accountability and Disclosure Act of 2019, which would require social media companies improve disclosures about non-human accounts and users.

Slotkin’s track record also shows his support for other technology initiatives introduced in Congress, with his co-sponsorship of bills focused on rural STEM education, election technology research, and improving community broadband mapping.

What would this mean for the FCC and the FTC?

The Biden administration may come to rely more heavily on federal agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, to use their regulatory authority during a divided Congress. For example, the FTC is currently considering a proposed rule on data privacy, but the details of the agency’s plan are unclear at this time.

A deadlock in Congress would further emphasize the importance of filling key agency positions. Additionally, changes to committees like the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the FTC and FCC, could change legislative efforts and oversight. The committee is currently chaired by Rep. Frank Pallone, DN.J., but if the Republicans win, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, will likely head the committee. She has shared the FTC’s goal of privacy, but said she should belong to Congress, not the agency.

“Is Congress clipping its wings?” Soloway said, suggesting that a Republican-led Congress could curtail major policy decisions made by independent agencies.

Should the House go into Republican control, tech activists hope for significant tech reform.

“If Republicans take over key committees, they will try to rein in the FTC and throw sand in its gears. Therefore, activists will need to keep their eyes on the agency and demand that Lina Khan move forward on the phony opposition,” said Evan Greer, director of the online advocacy organization Fight for the Future, in comments sent to Nextgov.

Where Section 230 Reform Could Head

Section 230 reform has been championed in recent years by both political parties. The language is a part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that absolves Internet services from being held responsible for third-party content posted on their platform, and has been a red-hot technological issue as misinformation and misinformation on social platforms has become part of the electoral norm. Section 230 effectively removes liability from the major online platforms, namely Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, for the rhetoric and materials shared on their websites.

While both political parties have issues with Section 230, they differ in how they intend to address them. Critical of Big Tech’s immunity, Democrats generally feel the rule prevents necessary moderation of problematic or offensive content being shared online. Republicans, meanwhile, criticized the provision when former President Donald Trump tried to corner Congress into reviewing or repealing Section 230, claiming it allowed the spread of disinformation and unfair censorship of conservative materials posted on social media platforms.

Given the continued presence of Trump-backed Republican candidates in many battleground states, Big Tech and censorship issues also came to the fore in the 2022 midterm elections. An example of this came from the campaign of Rep. Lauren Boebert, R -Co., who is working to fend off Democratic challenger Adam Frisch for the state’s District 3 House seat.

Boebert marked his freshman term in Congress with a consistent allegiance to Trump campaign platforms, including targeting Section 230. This year, Boebert co-sponsored the Stop Censorship Act, which would amend Section 230 by limiting the immunity of a social media company to “filter or block” content deemed offensive on its platform. He would particularly differentiate the type of content that is “illicit” from “merely objectionable”, altering what article 230 can regulate.

While Boebert’s race has yet to be called, Republican control of the House looks likely. Greer noted that popular tech issues like data privacy and content moderation will intersect with other legislative issues, with broad implications for Americans.

“My biggest concern is that then there will be a lot of pressure on committee chairs to ‘find common ground’ between Democrats and Republicans on Section 230,” Greer said. “Republicans think that changing Section 230 will lead to more free speech online. Democrats believe changing Section 230 will make Big Tech platforms better at moderating content and designing their platforms more securely. They are both wrong.

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