Georgia outcomes open extra paths for tech regulation and laws
The Georgian election results, which give the Democrats control of the Senate, mean the future government of Biden can fill important seats in the agencies that regulate the technology.
Why it matters: This gives Democrats an opportunity to put the technology policy conversation into action and move forward with legislation on issues such as privacy and competition.
At the agencies: Without new new chairs, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission – the agencies dealing with technology and telecommunications issues – would face a deadlock as current FTC chair Joe Simons is expected to step down. Democratic control of the Senate eliminates this scenario.
- Democrats will take the reins when the FTC negotiates its antitrust lawsuit against Facebook and embarks on a full review of data collection practices on social media and streaming companies.
- FTC Democrats Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and Rohit Chopra have in the past urged the agency to punish Facebook and YouTube more severely for data breaches.
- At the FCC, a democratic majority will be able to pass new rules for net neutrality and reform subsidy programs to close the digital divide.
- “The agencies and government will be full, and that’s no small matter,” said former FCC advisor Gigi Sohn, who is now a distinguished associate at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy. “The agencies will act bravely.”
Yes but: It will likely take months for there to be democratic majorities in any agency.
On the hill: The change in Senate party control also improves the prospects for advancement in technical legislation on antitrust reform, privacy and changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects online platforms from liability for user-provided content.
- While both parties have pondered changes to Section 230, Republican complaints about anti-conservative prejudice from social media companies have led many of them to advocate a full repeal of the law, while the Democrats have pushed for largely less sweeping revisions.
- “I think the opportunities for meaningful, but not insane, reforms of Section 230 are possible now that the Democrats are in charge,” Democratic Senator Brian Schatz told Axios. “And I have no doubt that both the Judiciary Committee and the new Attorney General will examine the new antitrust law or new interpretations of the existing law very carefully.”
- There is already a bipartisan agreement in the House on some changes to antitrust law, led by an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee.
- A Republican House adviser told Axios, “I think more could possibly be done … The concern of Republicans is that the Democrats are going too far beyond the scope of targeted antitrust enforcement.”
- “We walked through brick walls and now there are holes in there,” said a Democratic adviser about the demand for antitrust legislation. “I would assume that we will get as big as possible.”
Data protection legislation:
- Democratic scrutiny of Congress means there may be new ways to go beyond the two sticking points that have hindered efforts to get a federal data protection law – individuals can complain of data breaches and prevent state rules.
- “All of these things are now much more likely because the Democrats are holding the hammer in both houses,” said Sohn.
What’s next: The Democrats will begin by pooling support for key committee positions, making agency selections, and setting agendas.
Our thought bubble: This will be a moment of decision for Democrats, who are no longer blocked by a Republican majority, as to which technology policies to push to the finish line.