May 2023 US Policy Update
Section 230 Lives to See Another Day…For Now
The Supreme Court rejected lawsuits seeking to hold Google and Twitter liable for the content hosted on their platforms. In short, the high court punted, declining to overturn Section 230. This was the first time the Supreme Court dealt with cases related to Section 230. The issue will now head back to Congress. Given that the Supreme Court declined to act, expect efforts on Capitol Hill to reform the provision to ramp up in the coming months.
Section 230 is a provision in the Communications Decency Act which was signed into law in 1996. It was created in response to a court case that made internet companies responsible for everything their users posted. It was designed to choose between two evolutionary forks for the internet: one where user-generated content created liability for internet companies, and thus would be suppressed, and one where only users were responsible for their content, enabling internet companies to let user content proliferate.
Nearly everyone in Congress agrees that Section 230 should, at a minimum, be reformed, if not overturned entirely. However, like most things in Washington, Democrats and Republicans are coming at the issue from different angles. Republicans say the law is enabling platforms to censor conservative voices online. Democrats argue that the law is protecting bad actors online. The Developers Alliance believes Section 230 is working as intended and should not be overhauled. It’s protecting developers by enabling them to continue to do what they do best – create new and transformative products without the burdens of serving as the internet thought police. An overhaul of the law would toss the internet on its head meaning that even the smallest firms would face huge legal bills. The Alliance filed two briefs with the Supreme Court reiterating our support for Section 230. You can find those briefs here.
For areas of the economy that already have laws and regulations governing the human systems involved, adding an addendum that focuses on AI in that specific domain is good regulatory practice. Regulation of AI systems should be an add-on to domain-specific regulation of the human systems that currently perform similar functions.
Good AI regulation should be largely at the domain-specific level; adding specific AI requirements to existing domain regulation. At the aggregate level, regulation should focus solely on the characteristics that make AI unique; its reliance on data and the issues that it creates, and its unsettling of the personal liability framework that underpins current law. Under no circumstances should artificial general intelligence (AGI) be incorporated into any of these frameworks, but the debate on artificial thinking beings is well worth pursuing far in advance of these technologies arriving on the scene.
The Biden Administration, on May 23 issued its roadmap for federal investments in AI research and development. The roadmap builds on the 2019 investments the Trump White House made in AI, as well as signaling this administration’s desire to work with international partners to increase AI R&D. The roadmap also included a request for information on the development of a National Artificial Intelligence Strategy “that will chart a path for the United States to harness the benefits and mitigate the risks of AI.” Comments are due by 5 p.m., July 7, 2023.
On May 16, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled “Oversight of A.I.: Rules for Artificial Intelligence.” The hearing was largely an exercise in identifying how and when to regulate AI. Senators in both parties expressed a number of concerns related to AI, including job displacement, misinformation and disinformation, content moderation, and compensation for content creators to name just a few areas. Each witness called for additional regulatory oversight of AI. The call was especially eye-opening because two of the witnesses were Sam Altman (CEO of OpenAI) and Christina Montgomery (Chief Privacy and Trust Officer at IBM). Altman pointed to licensing, testing requirements, independent audits, nutritional labels, or even an entirely new regulatory regime as steps the federal government and other entities could take to ensure the safe deployment of AI. For her part, Montgomery urged Congress to adopt risk-based rules to regulate the AI marketplace. Montgomery also said this era of AI cannot be another era of “moving fast and breaking things.”
The Developers Alliance anticipates more AI hearings on Capitol Hill in the coming months. The AI ecosystem has captivated policymakers in Washington, with various factions all expressing ideas on how, when, and who to regulate in this arena. We remain hopeful that policymakers will consult with stakeholders in the AI arena before issuing new regulations. Any new regulations should address AI inputs and not outcomes.
The Developers Alliance, along with 17 other leading industry associations, recently signed a letter calling on Congress to raise the debt limit. Raising the debt limit enables the federal government to pay its debt. The letter read in part:
“This is a Main Street issue – not a Wall Street issue. A historic default on our nation’s debt would result in serious harm and unprecedented consequences for Americans across the country, impacting everything from car and home loans to student debt to the interest we pay on our credit cards.
Congress has raised the debt limit nearly 80 times since 1960, and this time should be no different. A default has the potential to devastate our economy and will likely lead to a downgrade of our nation’s credit rating, which would raise the debt costs for millions of Americans and businesses, many of whom are already struggling with inflation.
We urge Congress to come together and secure a bipartisan agreement that protects the full faith and credit of the United States and pays our obligations without further delay.”
White House, House Republicans Reach Debt Limit Deal
With just days remaining before the U.S. faced a calamitous default, President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) reached a deal to raise the debt limit. The deal easily passed the House of Representatives and Senate, though a group of hardline progressives and conservative Republicans in both chambers voted against the measure. Progressives argued that the bill hurts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients by tightening work requirements, as well as loosening some environmental protections. Conservative Republicans opposed the legislation saying it didn’t do enough to cut spending.
A default on the nation’s debt would be catastrophic. Default would raise interest rates across the board, including for entrepreneurs hoping to secure loans to start or grow their firms. The agreement runs through January 1, 2025.