US Capitol
Apr 25, 2019

Emerging Technologies Washington Update

This Week: Congressional committees to examine robocalls, IoT, consumer privacy next week, Merkley, Kennedy introduce bill to protect air passenger privacy, GAO Official discusses artificial intelligence, OSTP Director touts science and technology accomplishments.

Week in Review

The House and Senate are wrapping up a two week recess. As they prepare to return to Washington next week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Nadler (D-NY) has subpoenaed the Department of Justice to release the unredacted Mueller report. He also subpoenaed former White House Counsel Don McGahn this week to testify publicly on May 27 and provide documents related to the report.

On Monday, the White House announced that the government will not reissue exemptions to sanctions for several countries that import oil from Iran when the waivers expire on May 2, an “action intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero and deny the regime its principal source of revenue.” The President met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Tuesday in the Oval Office to discuss alleged anti-conservative bias on the social media platform. Coinciding with National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, they also discussed the role tech companies play in illegal online opioid sales amid calls from some lawmakers to further amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to roll back liability protections for online platforms when it comes to those types of sales.

On Tuesday, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an air carrier certificate to Wing Aviation, the first such certificate awarded for drone delivery operations. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 directs the FAA to update its rules to authorize drone deliveries, but in the meantime, drone operators seeking to deliver goods for compensation or hire must go through the same certification process as manned charter aircraft operators, including obtaining exemption authority from some operational requirements and obtaining an airworthiness certificate for the unmanned aircraft. The Secretary also announced this week that the FAA’s commercial space office will be reorganized as the agency prepares to implement a new proposed rule to overhaul the launch and reentry licensing process (find more information on the proposed rule here).

Gail Slater, a senior adviser to the President on technology, telecommunications, and cybersecurity policy, will leave the White House to join Fox Corporation in Washington, the company announced on Wednesday.

In California, the Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee held a hearing on Tuesday on a number of bills to amend the California Privacy and Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). A bill offered by Assemblymember Wicks that carried several provisions championed by privacy advocates was pulled from the agenda.

Looking Ahead

Both the House and the Senate return to Washington next week. Throughout the week, the appropriations and authorizing committees will continue to hear from department and agency heads on the President’s FY20 budget proposal. On Monday, the Senate will take up William Cooper’s nomination to be General Counsel of the Department of Energy. On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee will hold a hearing on Medicare for All legislation offered by Rep. Jayapal (D-WA), while the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health will hold another in a series of hearings to date on drug pricing, this one focused on Medicare Parts B and D. The President, Speaker Pelosi (D-CA), and Senate Minority Leader Schumer (D-NY) are also scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss infrastructure, while the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a members’ day hearing on Wednesday during which all representatives are invited to discuss their infrastructure and surface transportation reauthorization priorities.

On May 1, Attorney General Bill Barr will testify about the Department of Justice investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Majority Leader Hoyer (D-MD) expects the House to take up legislation this month related to climate change, disaster relief, and retirement savings, as well as the Equality Act and potentially bills to address prescription drug pricing and Dreamers. Looking further ahead, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to hold a FCC oversight hearing next monthly, tentatively on May 15.

Merkley, Kennedy Introduce Bill to Protect Air Passenger Privacy

This week, Senators Merkley (D-OR) and Kennedy (R-LA) formally introduced the Passenger Privacy Protection Act of 2019, legislation aimed at protecting passenger privacy in the air by prohibiting air carriers from embedding cameras or microphones within in-flight entertainment systems. The Senators had previously announced that they planned to offer legislation in response to reports that planes were being equipped with such systems and used without passengers’ knowledge. Last month, they wrote to the CEOs of eight US airlines asking for information on whether or not their companies currently use, or ever used, cameras or sensors to monitor passengers. This week, coinciding with their new legislation, Merkley and Kennedy sent a similar letter to CEOs of approximately a dozen international carriers asking the same questions.

Congressional Committees to Examine Robocalls, IoT, Consumer Privacy Next Week

As Congress returns to Washington next week, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Security will hold a hearing on security challenges associated with the Internet of Things (IoT) and ways to incentivize incorporating cybersecurity into connected devices and the networks on which they rely, as well as the development of a secure 5G network. Witnesses will include representatives from the Consumer Technology Association, the US Chamber of Commerce, Rapid7, US Telecom - The Broadband Association, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The Subcommittee, led by Chairman Sullivan (R-AK) and Ranking Member Markey (D-MA), is new this Congress and is tasked with overseeing security issues across the Committee’s broad portfolio.

In addition to examining IoT technology, Senate Commerce announced a May 1 hearing on consumer perspectives related to a federal privacy framework. The Committee will examine consumers’ expectations for data privacy and, more specifically, how those expectations may vary based on the type of information collected and processed by businesses. Additionally, witnesses will be asked to comment on how best to provide consumers with meaningful tools and resources to make more informed privacy decisions about the products and services they use both online and offline. The panel will also discuss more broadly data privacy rights, controls, and protections that should be available to consumers. Witnesses will include representatives from the Republic of Ireland, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Future of Privacy Forum, and Common Sense Media. The hearing comes amid ongoing negotiations between Committee leadership over a draft federal consumer privacy proposal.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will discuss legislative proposals to curb robocalls. The hearing follows a similar session earlier this month in the Senate Commerce Committee during which the panel discussed the FCC’s February report on illegal robocalls, the first such report of its kind. The Committee also advanced the TRACED Act, bipartisan legislation championed by Senators Thune (R-SD) and Markey (D-MA) aimed at cracking down on illegal robocalls, by voice vote. Reps. Kustoff (R-TN) and Posey (R-FL) have introduced a companion bill in the House, but other lawmakers, including House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Pallone (D-NJ) and Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) have also offered proposals.

GAO Official Discusses Federal Artificial Intelligence Policy

U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Center for Strategic Foresight Director Stephen Sanford joined a panel discussion this week hosted by Government Executive entitled “Artificial Intelligence (AI): The Race is Now.” Sanford joined representatives from data storage company Pure Storage and information technology companies Red River and Cisco Systems to discuss the shifts in federal AI strategy and adoption.

During the discussion, Sanford emphasized that lawmakers and regulators must consider the long-term benefits and consequences of using AI technology when developing any forthcoming federal AI policy, adding that policymakers must work to ensure that any legislative or regulatory framework around AI technologies does not inadvertently hamper innovation. Sanford went on to underscore the importance of considering the impact of AI on our nation’s workforce and education system, and the need to adapt accordingly. Concluding the discussion, Sanford encouraged any stakeholders interested in leveraging AI technology to develop a comprehensive understanding of the policies and restrictions around use of data powering the AI functions. He specifically urged interested companies to take into account an underlying biases in the data.

OSTP Director Touts Science & Technology Accomplishments

This week, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier published an op-ed outlining the Administration’s accomplishments related to science and technology since President Trump took office in January 2017. In the piece, Dr. Droegemeier cites the Administration’s support for and investment in U.S. space exploration, artificial intelligence, marine biology, cancer research, and STEM education. 

Looking forward, Dr. Droegemeier emphasized the need to strengthen partnerships across the “uniquely American R&D system” to include expanded collaboration with colleges and universities, Federal and National labs, private companies, non-profits, and Federal agencies. The Director also underscored the impact of science and technology on the evolving workforce, stating that the Administration has placed a strong emphasis on lifelong learning and nontraditional education pathways. He explained that the Administration “remain[s] focused on helping individuals from all walks of life embrace technology and adapt successfully to the changing world,” adding that “in order for the United States to lead in S&T, we must draw upon the talents of all Americans.”


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