The U.S. COVID-19 Crisis Continues, “Big Tech” Under Fire, And A Plethora Of Future-Tech Investment Legislation.

While the crisis continues, Section 230, AI, TikTok, and more all come under fire. It isn’t all bad news however as… Congress looks toward the future? The May-June 2020 Developers Alliance US Policy Update.

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As states around the country begin to move into reopening (and some even re-closing), we’re beginning to assess what the ‘new normal’ is and how business and policymaking will move forward in these changing times. That being said, I do not envy the future kids who get to study this year in the history books…because it’s going to be a doozy. Potential silver linings: “The current crisis has accelerated the adoption of remote work by at least 10 years.

The White House

Trump vs Tech

President Trump fanned the flames against social media over the last few weeks as companies began to speak out against the president’s content that they felt violated their user agreement. In short, Twitter placed disclaimers on a number of the president’s tweets (alongside other members of congress for similar) and Snapchat removed President Trump’s account from their ‘discover’ section. In retribution, the White House released an executive order requesting a review of online censorship. The order has already been met with lawsuits from the tech community alleging that President Trump is infringing upon citizen’s First Amendment rights; more lawsuits from additional parties on this matter are expected in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Presidential hopeful Fmr. Vice President Joe Biden has penned an open letter to Facebook asking them to fix their disinformation policing around elections.

Some Good News

The White House American Workforce Policy Advisory board has called for “unprecedented investment in digital infrastructure.” While their efforts began pre-COVID-19, it has chosen the pandemic to ramp up their efforts in light of the current economic hardship the country faces. The program seeks to ramp up occupational training and licensing for technology-related fields. We are hesitantly excited, but any investment is a positive move.

COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium

The White House has additionally launched a public-private COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium. The consortium has an impressive list of participants from industry, academia, and government that include Microsoft, IBM, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Intel, NVIDIA, Department of Energy National Laboratories, Duke University, NASA, the National Science Foundation, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, as well as more.

Michael Kratsios, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, stated “America is coming together to fight COVID-19, and that means unleashing the full capacity of our world-class supercomputers to rapidly advance scientific research for treatments and a vaccine. We thank the private sector and academic leaders who are joining the federal government as part of the Trump Administration’s whole-of-America response.”

The announcement can be found here.

Non-COVID-19 Legislation

Section 230 Drama

A group of tech-critical Republican Senators has asked the Federal Communications Commission to “clearly define” what the parameters of Section 230 are, including evaluating legal precedent and what a “good faith effort” under the law includes. It is no surprise that there is a large base in support of Section 230 revisions, however, what those revisions look like is something we hope to remain active on.

Read more on our latest Section 230 analysis and what the EO means for developers here.

The EARN IT Act Earns Derision And Debate

The hotly debated anti-encryption EARN IT Act is still under discussion, especially in light of broader ongoing tech reforms. It’s recently passed out of the committee stage in the Senate, however, is unlikely to go anywhere else soon.

Our take on this and similar bills is available here.

Bills, Bills, Bills…

House Republicans sitting in the Energy & Commerce Committee released a fifteen bill agenda promoting American competitiveness and growth in the technology sector. While the agenda is advantageous and unlikely to pass due to the broad lack of bipartisan support, the release indicates that Congress is taking growth in all facets of the tech space seriously. The proposed bills include:

  • The Generating Artificial Intelligence Networking Security (GAINS) Act, led by Rep. McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), ensures the United States develops and implements strategies for artificial intelligence that preserves our values and leadership. Identifies risks to the supply chain and creates a plan for mitigating those risks;

  • The Advancing Blockchain Act, led by Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), promotes the use of blockchain technology to our economy. Identifies and mitigates risks to the supply chain;

  • The Advancing 3D Printing Act, led by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), assesses how to ensure American leadership in 3D printing technology. Identifies and mitigates risks to the supply chain;

  • The Advancing Quantum Computing Act, led by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), identifies how quantum computing can benefit our economy. Identifies and mitigates risks to the supply chain;

  • The Smart IoT Act, introduced last May by Rep. Bob Latta(R-OH), promotes an IoT strategy at the federal level that streamlines development and adoption;

  • The Advancing Unmanned Delivery Services Act, led by Rep. Bob Latta(R-OH), analyzes the many benefits that contactless delivery has for various segments and sectors of our country;

  • The Advancing Facial Recognition Act, led by Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA), ensures the development of facial recognition technology balances both our leadership role and consumer protections
    . Identifies and mitigates risks to the supply chain;

  • The Advancing IOT Manufacturing Act, led by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), encourages states to adopt model codes for the manufacturing of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Identifies and mitigates risks to the supply chain;

  • The Advancing New and Advanced Materials Act, led by Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN), promotes a national strategy on the adoption of new and advanced materials in U.S. manufacturing. Identifies and mitigates risks to the supply chain;

  • The Showing How Isolationism Effects Long-term Development (SHIELD) Act, led by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), assesses how international data localization laws impact each country’s economy, our economy, and cross-border commerce;

  • The Telling Everyone the Location Of Data Leaving the U.S. (TELL) Act, led by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), requires disclosure whether China has access to our data transmissions;

  • The Internet Application Integrity and Disclosure (Internet Application I.D.) Act, led by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), requires the disclosure of app-makers originating from China.

  • The Advancing Gig Economy Act, led by Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT), analyzes how we can preserve and foster growth in our gig economy;

  • The Advancing Tech Startups Act, led by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), promotes a national strategy for encouraging more tech-focused startups and small businesses in all parts of our country.

  • The Countering Online Harms Act, led by Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), assesses how we can use AI to fight online harms, such as misinformation, deep fakes, illegal content, and more.

The National COVID-19 Emergency Continues

Consumer Data Protection Bill Seeks To Provide Privacy Protection During Pandemic

On May 7th, Sen. Wicker (R-MS), in conjunction with Sens. John Thune (R-SD), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), introduced the COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act of 2020. The bill was proposed in an effort to protect the privacy of consumers’ personal health information, proximity data, device data, and geolocation data during the coronavirus public health crisis. Specifically, the bill will:

  • Require companies under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission to obtain affirmative express consent from individuals to collect, process, or transfer their personal health, geolocation, or proximity information for the purposes of tracking the spread of COVID-19.

  • Direct companies to disclose to consumers at the point of collection how their data will be handled, to whom it will be transferred, and how long it will be retained.

  • Establish clear definitions about what constitutes aggregate and de-identified data to ensure companies adopt certain technical and legal safeguards to protect consumer data from being re-identified.

  • Require companies to allow individuals to opt-out of the collection, processing, or transfer of their personal health, geolocation, or proximity information.

  • Direct companies to provide transparency reports to the public describing their data collection activities related to COVID-19.

  • Establish data minimization and data security requirements for any personally identifiable information collected by a covered entity.

  • Require companies to delete or de-identify all personally identifiable information when it is no longer being used for the COVID-19 public health emergency.

  • Authorize state attorneys general to enforce the Act.

PPP Update

On June 5th the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020 was passed. The bipartisan bill was passed in an effort to change provisions related to the forgiveness of loans made to small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program implemented in response to COVID-19. Among other provisions, the bill:

  • Establishes a minimum maturity of five years for a PPP loan with a remaining balance after forgiveness.

  • Extends the covered period during which a loan recipient may use such funds for certain expenses while remaining eligible for forgiveness.

  • Raises the non-payroll portion of a forgivable covered loan amount from the current 25% up to 40%.

  • Extends the period in which an employer may rehire or eliminate a reduction in employment, salary, or wages that would otherwise reduce the forgivable amount of a paycheck protection loan.

    • The forgivable amount must be determined without regard to a reduction in the number of employees if the recipient is (1) unable to rehire former employees and is unable to hire similarly qualified employees, or (2) unable to return to the same level of business activity due to compliance with federal requirements or guidance related to COVID-19.

  • Revises the deferral period for paycheck protection loans, allowing recipients to defer payments until they receive compensation for forgiven amounts. Recipients who do not apply for forgiveness shall have 10 months from the program’s expiration to begin making payments.

More Stimulus Bills?

The House passed an “aspirational” stimulus bill in recent weeks. The vote was unsurprisingly divided along party lines, as it was crafted by Democrats without consulting Republicans. It was therefore seen as dead on arrival by the time it landed in the Senate. There is a consensus amongst both parties that there should be another bill, however, the content and timing are still being discussed.

Connectivity During Lockdown

On May 5th, Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020. The bill establishes and provides funding for the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which supports schools and libraries in purchasing equipment such as Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, and routers during the COVID-19 crisis. The bill, which prioritizes those in grades K-12 without internet access, was proposed so that students, staff, or patrons at these schools or libraries may become internet-c
onnected. A companion bill establishing a $4 billion FCC fund to ensure this happens was proposed on May 12th by Sens. Markey (D-MA), Van Hollen (D-MD), Bennett (D-CO), and Hassan (D-NH).

WHO Proposes COVID Technology Pool

The World Health Organization has backed a proposal to establish a COVID-19 “technology pool” for any future vaccines, therapeutics, or intellectual property related to addressing the pandemic. The repository will be voluntary and is set to be officially launched on May 29.

The Last Nail in the Coffin for the Open Floor Plan Office

Finally, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently stated that “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months,” indicating that the workplace you once knew will have been forever changed by the pandemic. Many companies within the tech sphere have announced they are allowing employees to work remotely either through the end of the year or indefinitely. Known for their open floor layouts, tech companies and startups alike tout the office style as a friendly money saver that promotes collaboration and creativity. Already known to anyone who has ever worked in one, they are also a nightmare to anyone concerned about germs or the ability to concentrate. Tech realizes in order to function (and remain competitive) they must once again adapt — especially when making their existing offices socially-distancing friendly is next to impossible. The move to remote work is a welcome change by most, however a struggle for many who enjoyed the social and professional perks of in-person contact. Further, it has opened the discussion on whether employee pay should be determined by their role or chosen locale, given the increase in popularity of the digital nomad lifestyle.

AI During The Pandemic

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Declares Cooperation and COVID-19 Data Sharing Among G7

On May 28th the G-7 Science and Technology Ministers held a meeting to discuss a joint response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in an effort to Protect Human Health, and Promote Social and Economic Recovery. The event, led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, resulted in a declaration that encourages enhanced cooperation and data sharing on shared COVID-19 research priority areas. Further, it promotes strengthening the use of high-performance computing for COVID-19 response, a Global Partnership on AI, and efforts to enhance broadband access.

Facial Recognition AIs Adapt To The (COVID) Times

Facial Recognition tools are adapting to address the fact that we’re all wearing face masks. This includes your workplace potentially seeing if you’re wearing a mask or social distancing as you’re told to. This has sparked civil liberties concerns regarding surveillance by both the government and private companies. Tensions are already high this month with regards to surveillance in the wake of the Trump Administration giving the Drug Enforcement Agency authority to conduct surveillance on individuals involved in the George Floyd protests. Some members of Congress have reached out to AI companies and the Department of Homeland Security seeking clarification on how facial recognition technology has been aiding law enforcement given the current tensions surrounding police brutality.

COVID Bots Look To Disrupt American COVID-19 Progress

Do you know where your public health information is coming from? I hope so because COVID has a serious bot issue. A Carnegie Mellon research study has found that nearly half of the Twitter accounts sharing information related to the COVID-19 pandemic are in fact, not actual users, but instead bots. The research study concluded, “Of the top 50 influential retweeters, 82% are bots, they found. Of the top 1,000 retweeters, 62% are bots.”

The study also found that the bots seem to be designed to “sow discord” and spread misinformation, aiming to disrupt American progress toward controlling the novel coronavirus pandemic. Kathleen Carley, a professor in the School of Computer Science’s Institute for Software Research, Director of the Center for Computational Analysis of Social and Organizational Systems (CASOS), as well as the Center for Informed Democracy & Social – Cybersecurity (IDeaS) stated, “We do know that it looks like it’s a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks, but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that.”

Privacy In The Time Of COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic took up most of the air in the room this year, federal privacy legislation has taken a back seat. It’s extremely unlikely to have a federal bill passed before the fall elections, especially as many members do not feel a sense of urgency for given the current climate. Further, given that 2020 began the implementation of the California Consumer Privacy Act, many are looking to the rollout and impact of the bill before enacting broader, and potentially superseding, legislation.

Public Health Emergency Privacy Act Emerges

While a broad-based privacy bill is unlikely, Congress is still considering more targeted bills on areas that are more pertinent to privacy specifically in light of health data privacy issues following COVID-19. Sens. Blumenthal (D-CT) and Warner (D-VA) introduced the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act. The bill, meant to be targeted towards contact tracing apps, places strict limits on what and by whom data collected for public health purposes can be used, implements data minimization procedures for that info, and requires opt-in consent for any efforts.

The Complicated Status Of State Contact Tracing Apps

The State’s contact tracing apps are already violating the privacy policies which they have set for themselves… indicating it may be a long road ahead in the privacy debate with this new (and
hotly contested) technology.


It’s All About Protecting The Kids… Right?

In May, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Invest in Child Safety Act. The bill provides funding and increased enforcement for a variety of avenues to prevent child sexual abuse materials (“CSAM”). Further, the bill “require(s) tech companies to increase the time that they hold evidence of CSAM, in a secure database, to enable law enforcement agencies to prosecute older cases.” The bill is seen as a democratic response to the Republican’s EARN IT Act. The EARN IT Act is largely not supported by the tech community given that it seeks to create a back door for law enforcement in encrypted systems and leave tech companies liable for any CSAM material that is shared on their platforms. In promoting the Invest in Child Safety Act, Sen. Wyden stated that “If you weaken strong encryption, all that filth would just move to dark web platforms and you’d make it easier for really bad guys to harm children.” Both bills have been supported by child advocate groups.

TikTok Named In COPPA Complaint

A group of privacy and consumer advocates filed a complaint against TikTok with the FTC accusing them once again of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, due to their mishandling of children’s data. TikTok previously received a $5.7 million fine in early 2019 for COPPA violations.

It’s not just TikTok getting the flack though; Sen.Hawley (R-MO) is also going after newly popular app Zynn for similar offenses. Separately, Google has removed Zynn from it’s Play Store due to alleged plagiarism violations.


Microtargeted Advertising

How developers are impacting elections has never been hotter than this campaign cycle. One of the many ways politicians are hoping to get a grasp on targeted ads is via the Protecting Democracy from Disinformation Act, introduced by Rep. David Cicilline. The bill “tightly restricts the use of personal, online consumer data that is often used to ‘microtarget’ voters with misleading ads.” The legislation would place the Federal Election Commission in charge of enforcing the new disclosure requirements for which violations would come with criminal penalties.

Video Game Platforms Are Platforms, Too

Twitch has announced a new Safety Advisory Council to assist in guidance on policies and policy updates. Among other topics, the council plans to work on improvements as to platform safety, content moderation, and protection of the interests of marginalized groups in an effort to improve the user experience on the Twitch platform.

Visa Problems

H1-B visas, long used and abused by Silicon Valley, are under scrutiny given the impact of the economy of COVID-19. The Trump administration has made well known their intent to suspend immigration visas during this time. H-1B visas were notably not suspended under the president’s order late last month, however, recommendations have been made to the Department of Labor to adjust the salary requirements associated with H1-B visas, thus those who utilize the H1-B program should pay close attention to this area in the coming months.

All Of This And Patent Trolls Are Still On The Rise?

Finally, it’s been reported that since the COVID-induced economic downturn this year that reports of patent trolls have been on the rise.

Have you and your company been impacted? If so, we’d like to hear from you!

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By Sarah Richard

Developers Alliance Policy Counsel & Head of US Policy

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