With Holidays Approaching, Outlook for Dev Policies is Limited on Capitol Hill

November 2023 US Policy Update

Just a handful of legislative days remain on the Congressional calendar for 2023. While Congress did address its government funding fiasco, there are a handful of other hot-button issues it will be turning its attention to for the rest of the year. We anticipate Congress will be deeply engaged in negotiations over funding for Ukraine and Israel in their respective conflicts, border security, military promotions, and more. What’s absent on this list are key issue areas we’ve been tracking. Items such as the need for a new comprehensive privacy bill, clarity on who or what might regulate AI, and even reforms to our high skilled immigration programs to ensure the best and brightest can come to the United States to innovate and create jobs don’t appear to be high priorities for lawmakers before they jet home for the holidays. 

As we turn our attention to 2024, the window for action in Congress will continue to be tight. 2024 is an election year, meaning most (if not all) lawmakers in Congress will be turning their attention to fundraising and campaigning rather than real, meat and potatoes policy work. We remain hopeful the issues developers care about will be top of mind for lawmakers next year, even if only briefly. There is real, tangible bipartisan support for the need to overhaul our privacy regime, and businesses large and small know how important it is to attract the world’s best innovators to help drive economic growth. Election years in Congress have a tendency to be more partisan than usual and full of bombast and rhetoric. We stand ready to work with lawmakers to ensure devs, innovation, and economic growth are priorities in 2024.   

Open Source Liability is Coming

You might be surprised to learn that, as I write, the EU is finalizing rules that will make open-source creators and licensees liable for any user harm their software might cause. The focus for lawmakers is that, like cars and chainsaws, software is complex and can be inherently dangerous. Policymakers believe that consumers are at a disadvantage when things go horribly wrong: how can they prove someone sold them faulty software when they can’t hope to understand how apps work or how they’re created? The solution they’re adopting is to shift the onus to the software and app creators to prove their code didn’t do anything wrong. This will be burdensome but is at least possible if you write and market your own code. But what if you’re just part of a collaborative open source project, give away your app, or if there’s open source code in the product you put on the market? Who gets blamed when open source might be the heart of the problem?

My prediction, for what it’s worth, is that open source’s days outside academia and hobbyists are numbered. At some point, some government authority will require a single throat-to-choke when open source causes consumer harm. Someone, or some entity, will need to accept financial and legal responsibility for what the project does in consumer hands. No license can insulate them from that. Given that existing open source licenses don’t contemplate a private purchase, they’ll need to either wind down, release licensees from taking them commercial, or find a means to restrict consumer use (which may be hard with no one in control). Policy makers simply won’t allow a dangerous animal to wander around unchained, and a lack of owner won’t make the situation better.

Developers Alliance Joins Coalition Opposing U.S. Government’s Surprise Decision to Withdraw Its Support for Digital Trade Policies

The Developers Alliance joined fifteen other industry associations in a letter highlighting how the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) decision to withdraw its support for the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) foundational positions on digital trade policy will have profoundly harmful effects for small businesses and consumers. 

Said Geoffrey Lane, Head of U.S. Policy for the Developers Alliance:

“USTR’s decision is shortsighted and dangerous. The U.S. has a long history of being at the leading edge of tech policymaking both domestically and on a global scale. It’s critical that USTR signal its support for the WTO’s digital trade policies and make sure the voices of American innovators – especially small businesses – and consumers are heard abroad. The sweeping, unilateral decision USTR made must be rolled back. Decisions of this magnitude must be made through regular U.S. policymaking procedures, including consultation with stakeholders. We look forward to working with USTR to help it correct course.”

Developers Share Small Biz Experiences and Champion App Store Model on Capitol Hill

As Congress turned its attention away from leadership elections and back to policy discussions, a coalition of app developers and app advocates hosted a panel discussion on Capitol Hill to chat about what the app store means for small businesses. Among the presenters were Adri Ofman, COO of Visual Blasters; Chudi Iregbulem, founder and CEO of Beatmatch; and Maria Burns Ortiz, CEO of 7 Generations Games. The panelists were also joined by Representative Jay Obernolte (R-CA), who provided a keynote address sharing his experience as a game developer and small business owner. 

It’s against this backdrop that the panelists were unified in saying that the current app store model in the United States is working. Bills floating around Congress, like the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (S. 2033) and the Open App Markets Act that would upend the current app store model. These are solutions in search of a problem. The current app store model protects consumers, prevents bad actors from stealing intellectual property, and enables small businesses to reach consumers around the world. Most importantly? These platforms are creating an untold number of jobs and generating never before seen economic growth. The American Innovation and Choice Online Act and the Open App Markets Act will stifle innovation and drive much of the growth we’ve seen domestically and abroad. Before any knee-jerk decisions are made, Congress should hear from more Chudis, Adris, and Marias.   

Developers Alliance Joins Coalition Supporting “Creating Resources for Every American to Experiment with Artificial Intelligence Act”

The Developers Alliance joined 12 other organizations urging Members of Congress to cosponsor the “Creating Resources for Every American to Experiment with Artificial Intelligence Act” (CREATE AI Act, H.R. 5077). The legislation would create a shared national research infrastructure that provides AI researchers and students with access to the resources, data, and tools needed to develop safe and trustworthy AI. 

Said Geoffrey Lane, Head of U.S. Policy for the Developers Alliance:

“The CREATE AI Act is a commonsense approach to ensure smaller AI firms can compete both domestically and abroad. The bill would open up countless doors for small and mid-size developers to an arena that has traditionally been expensive and available to only the largest, most well-financed companies. Small businesses are the backbone of innovation, job creation, and economic growth. We urge Congress to pass this critical bill soon to help strengthen our small businesses and our AI ecosystem here in the United States.” 

Developers Alliance Is Encouraged by President Biden’s AI Executive Order

The Developers Alliance is encouraged by President Joe Biden’s sweeping Executive Order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence. The order helps provide rules of the road for AI developers. However, Congress must still act to pass smart legislation to provide further clarity. 

Said Geoffrey Lane, Head of U.S. Policy for the Developers Alliance:

“President Biden’s actions in the AI arena are welcome news. His robust executive order looks at AI from multiple angles, taking into account consumers, developers, policymakers and more. But this isn’t a substitute for Congressional action. Developers need Congress to act soon to help provide clear rules of the road for devs and consumers alike.

We’re encouraged to see the President emphasize the need for data privacy, an issue Congress has ignored for far too long. It’s also heartening to see the President lean in on high-skilled immigration. Absent reforms, there will not be enough bright minds in the United States working on critical technologies like AI. And make no mistake, this is a zero-sum game. If the world’s best and brightest don’t come here to work, they will end up working on key technologies for competitors abroad.” 

Hour of Code Seeks to Demystify Coding

Leaders – tech and otherwise – from around the world will take time during the week of December 4-10 to promote coding through Hour of Code. Hour of Code is part of CS Education Week, which is held annually in recognition of Admiral Grace Hopper, one of coding’s early pioneers. The Developers Alliance will use the week to highlight what STEM is, why it’s needed, how it can lift up underserved communities, and even what it means for economic growth. We at the Developers Alliance understand the critical role STEM plays in spurring innovation and growing our industry. Devs are quickly becoming the backbone of the global economy, and we’re thrilled to participate in this important initiative. Be sure to check out our blog and socials to learn more.  

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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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