Categories: Tech News

What a divided government could mean for technology policy

A day after Tuesday’s midterm elections, no political party can still claim control of either branch of Congress. As it stands, the House leans Republican, the Senate leans Democratic, and it could be days or weeks before the election dust settles.

Although the “red tide” predicted by many did not materialize, 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, the technology policy and how the Biden administration governs. .

“If we see a divided Congress, you’re probably going to have more gridlock on the Hill, and if Congress is fully controlled by one party and the presidency is controlled by the other, you can only imagine the headwinds in this current political environment,” he said. Stan Soloway, president and CEO of Celero Strategies and former Department of Defense acquisition official nextgov. “If both houses go, it becomes a nightmare to do anything.”

Soloway said a divided Congress likely prevents passage of any major technology legislation, such as a global privacy bill. Climate legislation would also be stymied. However, Soloway said federal IT modernization “remained nonpartisan,” one of the few areas of agreement for both parties, along with a desire to improve government service delivery. That could be good news for federal IT budgets, which have grown over the past five years under both Republican and Democratic presidents and congresses.

However, Soloway warned that a Republican-led House, with the power to appropriate funds, is likely to review and change 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 speaker if Republicans take control of the chamber, has also signaled that the House would repeal the spending spree of the IRS enacted by Democrats. Reduced funding to the IRS could slow its six-year IT modernization effort, which includes taxpayer service improvements and a major overhaul of its aging IT infrastructure, and could alter the way the agency regulates the cryptocurrency

McCarthy also pointed out that the Republican-led committees would investigate the Biden administration’s response to COVID-19, the Department of Justice, and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Soloway said the makeup of committee chairs in a House-flip will be key to how Congress handles 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 jockeys.”

Congress is losing cybersecurity expertise

Regardless of the races still in doubt, Congress will bring a wealth of experience in cybersecurity policy. If Democrats retain their majority in the House, the chamber will still lose Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., to retirement. With his key seat on the Armed Services Committee, as well as his leadership of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus and membership of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, Langevin was key in pushing a number of bipartisan provisions into the law, notably, the creation of the Office of the National Cyber ​​Director.

Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, working across the aisle with Democrats, were also instrumental in getting more authority and bigger budgets for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency . But both also leave Congress.

In the more likely event that Republicans take the House, and even if Katko’s replacement, who would lead the National Security Committee, similarly wants to strengthen CISA, the leadership may have other ideas. McCarthy has said he plans to prioritize addressing inflation, which could translate into a reduction in cybersecurity spending.

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

Another bright spot in last night’s midterms for cyber advocates in Congress comes with Rep. Elissa Slotkin’s win in Michigan’s District 8 race. Slotkin, a veteran congresswoman and former CIA analyst, has been active in both Democratic and bipartisan technology legislative initiatives. Bills he sponsored include the CISA Cyber ​​Exercises Act, which would establish more critical infrastructure attack oversight and preparedness, and the Robot Disclosure and Accountability Act of 2019, which would require companies to social networks improve the disclosure of non-human users and accounts.

Slotkin’s track record also shows his support for other technology initiatives introduced on the Hill, 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 FTC?

The Biden administration may rely more on federal agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, to use their rulemaking 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 stalemate in Congress would further underscore the importance of filling positions at key agencies. In addition, changes to committees such as 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 Republicans win, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., will likely head the committee. She has shared the FTC’s privacy goal, but said it should belong to Congress, not the agency.

“Does Congress clip their wings?” Soloway said, suggesting that a Republican-led Congress could curtail important policy decisions made by independent agencies.

If the House moves to Republican control, tech activists are hoping for a sign of meaningful tech reform.

“If Republicans take over key committees, they will try to slow down the FTC and grind its gears. So activists will need to keep the focus on the agency and demand that Lina Khan move forward in the face of fake opposition.” said Evan Greer, director of the online advocacy organization Fight for the Future, in comments sent to nextgov.

Where could the reform of article 230 be directed

The reform of article 230 has been defended in recent years by both political parties. The language is part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which exempts Internet services from being held liable for third-party content posted on their platform, and has been a hot technology issue as misinformation and disinformation on social platforms have become part of the electoral norm. Section 230 effectively removes the responsibility of major online platforms such as 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. Critics of Big Tech immunity, Democrats generally see the rule as preventing necessary moderation of problematic or offensive content from being shared online. Meanwhile, Republicans took aim at the provision as former President Donald Trump tried to pressure Congress to revise or repeal Section 230, claiming it allowed the spread of disinformation and unfair censorship of conservative material posted on social media platforms. Social Networks.

Given the continued presence of Trump-backed GOP candidates in many battleground states, Big Tech and censorship issues also came up in the 2022 midterms. An example of this comes 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 first year in Congress with unwavering fidelity to Trump’s campaign platforms, including targeting Section 230. This year, Boebert co-sponsored the Stop the Censorship Act, which would amend Section 230 by limiting a social media company’s immunity from “screening or blocking” content. considered offensive on their platform. It would especially differentiate the type of content that is “illegal” from “merely objectionable,” altering what Section 230 can regulate.

Although Boebert’s race has yet to be called, Republican control of the House appears likely. Greer noted that popular tech issues like data privacy and content moderation will intersect with other legislative issues, with big 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 who think changing Section 230 will lead to more free speech online. Democrats think changing Section 230 will make Big Tech platforms do better content moderation and design their platforms more sure. They’re both wrong.”

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