Cameron Wilson, Director of the ACM Public Policy Office in Washington, looks at changes (made already or widely reported) in the new Congress and what they tell us about likely legislative action. (He co-writes the ACM U.S. Public Policy Blog, which is quite good.)
He mentions four hot areas. The first is regulation of peer-to-peer technologies. Once the Supreme Court’s decision in Grokster comes down, expect Congress to spring into action, to protect whichever side claims to be endangered by the decision. A likely focal point for this is the new Intellectual Property subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (The subcommittee will be chaired by Sen. Orrin Hatch, who has not been shy about regulating infotech in the name of copyright. He championed of the Induce Act.) This issue will start out being about P2P but could easily expand to regulate a wider class of technologies.
The second area is telecom. Sen. Ted Stevens is the new chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, and he seems eager to work on a big revision of the Telecom Act of 1996. This will be a battle royal involving many interest groups, and telecom policy wonks will be fully absorbed. Regulation of non-telecom infotech products seems likely to creep into the bill, given the technological convergence of telecom with the Internet.
The third area is privacy. The Real ID bill, which standardizes state driver’s licenses to create what is nearly a de facto national ID card, is controversial but seems likely to become law. The recent ChoicePoint privacy scandal may drive further privacy legislation. Congress is likely to do something about spyware as well.
The fourth area is security and reliability of systems. Many people on the Hill will want to weigh in on this issue, but it’s not clear what action will be taken. There are also questions over which committees have jurisdiction. Many of us hope that PITAC’s report on the sad state of cybersecurity research funding will trigger some action.
As someone famous said, it’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future. There will surely be surprises. About the only thing we can be sure of is that infotech policy will get even more attention in this Congress than in the last one.