Beltway Voices: A Conversation with Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA)

Few members of Congress understand innovation and American competitiveness better than Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA). First elected to Congress in 1992, Representative Eshoo represents a large swath of Silicon Valley. Her work in Congress has focused on internet deployment, privacy, cybersecurity for small businesses, digital equity, and STEM education among many other areas. She has authored more than 50 bills that have been signed into law. 

Representative Eshoo has served on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee since 1995. In 2011 she was elected by her peers to serve as ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology – the first woman in the subcommittee’s history to hold a leadership position. She is also a member of the Artificial Intelligence Caucus, Autonomous Vehicle Caucus, High Tech Caucus, Privacy Caucus, and STEM Education Caucus. She is steeped in the issues developers are paying close attention to, and can speak on a variety of topics.  

As part of our Beltway Voices series we caught up with Representative Eshoo to discuss issues developers are tracking.

Developers are paying close attention to the privacy deliberations in Congress. Our own research indicates that more than 7 in 10 developers believe privacy regulations have helped the app ecosystem. Consumer trust is a critical component to growth in our industry, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. Trust is best gained when there are clear privacy rules of the road. California has its own privacy law that developers are already complying with, but many remain worried that a patchwork of state privacy laws will be expensive and confusing to comply with. Can you share with us your role in these deliberations? There seems to be a consensus that something must be done, but as with everything in Washington, the devil is always in the details.

Too often our private information online is stolen, abused, profited from, and grossly mishandled because our country lacks a comprehensive privacy law. Both American and foreign companies abuse our data and compromise the privacy of Americans, our personal safety, and our national security.

We need a federal privacy law to protect the privacy and data of all Americans, ensure that those protections can be fully enforced, and allow for states to increase protections when necessary to keep up with innovation and changes in technology. The Online Privacy Act (OPA), legislation I wrote with Rep. Lofgren, has been called the most comprehensive privacy bill by academicians in multiple Congresses. 

From the founding of America, states have been championed as the “laboratories of democracy.” They have the flexibility and autonomy to experiment with public policy and respond to the needs of their citizens quicker than the federal government. It’s critical for states to retain the ability to legislate on such an important consumer issue in the absence of federal action. Technology advances daily, and changes in public policy will require additional legislative and regulatory action, two areas where the federal government is not known to be timely and decisive. Setting a federal law as a ceiling and fully preempting every state’s ability to respond to changing circumstances places the rights and protections of all Americans at risk. 

We must also recognize that the world we live in today is not the same as the one before the Dobbs decision of the Supreme Court that threatened basic human rights and access to healthcare for millions of Americans. Protecting the privacy of people seeking healthcare and ensuring they have autonomy over their bodies is an issue we cannot compromise on. Healthcare is a right and individuals must be able to seek routine healthcare or gender-affirming care without fear of prosecution.

End-to-end encryption has been an important piece of the consumer trust developers are seeking. Our industry has long said that any backdoor – even those for “good guys” – is not technically feasible and a threat to data security and consumer privacy. What is your response?

As a former member of the House Intelligence Committee and former Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, the issue of privacy preserving technologies, including end-to-end encryption, is something I have studied very closely and take very seriously. They are fundamental to preserving privacy rights and protections of Americans.

Law enforcement officials have argued that companies should not encrypt messaging services and should provide a “backdoor” to access certain information for investigatory purposes. I have consistently opposed such efforts because there is no such thing as a “backdoor” that only law enforcement can access. If a backdoor is created, it can be exploited by any individual or organization that wishes to access the device and information. Once access is available, others will exploit it, including foreign adversaries.

In 2019, I wrote to the Attorney General urging him to stop pressuring companies to circumvent encryption and weaken their cybersecurity standards. My comprehensive privacy bill, the Online Privacy Act, encourages the adoption of privacy-preserving computing techniques that allow for the transfer of data and communications without compromising an individual’s privacy and security. These techniques are critical to ensuring people can live their lives without unwanted surveillance or interference.

Every day, officials in the White House, Department of Justice, and Congress use end-to-end encrypted messaging apps like Signal and WhatsApp to protect their unclassified communications. If senior government officials in Washington, D.C. have opted to secure their communications with end-to-end encryption, the conversations of millions of law-abiding Americans using services like Instagram and Facebook Messenger should enjoy the same protection. 

The artificial intelligence debate is growing by the day. Regulators are attempting to figure out what role they will play in the arena, not to mention which agency will carry out the lion’s share of the work. As the debate heats up, what are you doing to ensure your colleagues understand the entire AI ecosystem and the beneficial role it can play in society? How should Congress engage on regulating AI?

I’m the Co-Chair of the bipartisan House Artificial Intelligence (AI) Caucus with Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). Our goal for the AI Caucus is to educate Members of Congress on what AI is, how it is developed and deployed, and the consequences of using AI, both good and bad. AI has become ubiquitous in our lives, providing significant benefits for people and communities across the country. It also poses serious risks to society that must be considered and addressed. 

The development and deployment of AI, especially frontier and large language models, requires significant resources, something only a few large corporations currently have access to. In 2021, I authored a bill to establish the National AI Research Resource (NAIRR) Task Force to write a roadmap for an AI research cyberinfrastructure that brings together computational resources, data, testbeds, algorithms, software, services, networks, and expertise to democratize the AI research and development (R&D) landscape in the United States.

The Task Force issued its final report in January, and I’m working to authorize its recommendations and establish a permanent NAIRR. A NAIRR would broaden the range of researchers involved in AI, providing a diversity of perspectives to the development and deployment, and tap into a wealth of talent that is eager to contribute to R&D of AI. It will also open up new opportunities for progress across all scientific fields and disciplines, including in critical areas such as AI auditing, testing and evaluation, trustworthy AI, bias mitigation, and AI safety. Increased access and a diversity of perspectives can, in turn, lead to new ideas that would not otherwise materialize and set the conditions for developing AI systems that are inclusive by design.

Responsible developers work hard to ensure the internet is a safe space for users. They regularly remove misinformation, disinformation, and other harmful content. They are leaning heavily on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to ensure they can carry out this work without fear of legal liability. Both Democrats and Republicans say the law should be reformed, but for different reasons. Democrats say Section 230 is not doing enough to stop heinous acts like child exploitation. Republicans, on the other hand, say Section 230 is enabling platforms to censor conservative voices. What are your thoughts on the issue? What, if anything, will Congress do?

Section 230 provides immunity to platforms for content published on their sites and for the decisions they make whether to take or leave up content someone else has published. At the time when Congress enacted Section 230, it recognized the extraordinary potential of the internet to change people’s lives, revolutionize how people controlled information, and offer a forum of diverse political discourse, cultural development, and intellectual activity. Congress wanted to promote the continued development of the internet, preserve the free market of the internet, and encourage the development of technologies that maximize user control over information.

Much of what Congress foresaw in 1996 came true. The internet created tremendous opportunity for people around the world, opened up new avenues for discussion and learning, and allowed entrepreneurship to thrive. Unfortunately, Congress failed to anticipate how the internet would develop and appreciate how companies would exploit it for profit at the expense of consumers. The advent of social media has brought families and friends together, birthed revolutions, and allowed generations of people to express themselves as they wish. It has also brought misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, mental health issues, and threatened American democracy.

While some have called for an outright repeal of Section 230, I think that narrow amendments to Section 230 are needed when social media platforms algorithms are the cause of specific harms. I’ve introduced the Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act to hold large social media platforms accountable for algorithmic amplification of radicalizing content that leads to offline violence.

It is well documented that our nation’s STEM education is lagging. What are you doing to ensure students are equipped with in-demand skills that today’s app ecosystem requires?

Our nation should be first in the world in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Our educators should have the knowledge and capabilities to effectively teach students who may one day be employed in the ever-growing STEM field. As a Representative of many constituents with jobs in these sectors and as a member of the STEM Education Caucus, these matters are very important to me. I strongly support innovative efforts to bolster STEM education infrastructure for America’s students and believe our country should be leading the world in these fields.

I’m the Co-Chair of the Internet Caucus with Rep. Michael McCaul, and I cofounded the Congressional App Challenge in 2014, a yearly event sponsored by the Internet Caucus for middle school and high school students across the country to develop and create internet applications. The purpose of the challenge is to encourage students to code and inspire them to pursue careers in computer science.

I’ve also supported numerous bills that provided resources for STEM opportunities and education, including the 21st Century STEM for Girls and Underrepresented Minorites Act, the Computer Science for All Act, the STEM Opportunities Act, the Rural STEM Education Act, and the STEM Opportunities Act

Our membership is politically engaged. Tech industry regulations are top of mind for developers, and three-quarters of this group say policymakers’ tech positions affect their vote. You represent many developers in Congress. What input from developers would help guide your policy approach?

It’s important for me to hear from my constituents about how public policy is affecting them. I represent a diverse constituency. Some of the largest, wealthiest companies in the world are located in my district, as well as many of their employees. I also represent thousands of small companies and startups. They each have different perspectives on public policy choices and how they will be affected by them. Developers play a key role in these enterprises and I need to hear from them. They have a unique point of view that’s important for me to understand before I make decisions on issues affecting their lives and livelihoods.

I have represented Silicon Valley for over 30 years, and I’m honored to represent the greatest Congressional District in our country. I’ve seen hundreds of companies rise and fall and watched as startups have grown into world-class companies and changed the world. Each of these companies and the people who work for them are critical to the prosperity of our Congressional District and our country.

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By Geoff Lane

Policy Counsel & Head of US Policy Geoff Lane serves as the Developer Alliance’s head of U.S. policy. In this role he oversees the organization’s federal legislative and regulatory agenda as well as state-level efforts. Prior to joining the Developers Alliance in 2022, Geoff worked with senior Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives. Since his time on Capitol Hill, he has held senior roles at various technology trade associations (including a previous stint at the Developers Alliance). At each stop he led efforts at the intersection of innovation and policy. He has worked on critical policy issues including privacy, encryption, patent reform, workforce development, corporate tax, tax nexus, and research and development. Geoff holds a B.A. from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. When he is not working, you can find him booing all of his favorite Philadelphia sports teams. Geoff is based in Washington, D.C.

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