Who Are These Guys? Politicians Who Impact Tech -- Part 2
A select group of lawmakers are shaping tech policy, boosting airwaves, bolstering national security in the face of rising cyber-threats, and fighting digital piracy.
"Who Are These Guys? Politicians Who Impact Tech" is a two-part series examining lawmakers who influence technology policy, national interests, and consumers. Part 1 examined key figures with interests in privacy and antitrust, while this article focuses on heavy-hitters in the areas of spectrum regulation, national security and piracy.
Americans elect 535 people to write and amend federal laws, and a handful of those lawmakers focus on technology matters, either as part of a committee assignment or advocating on behalf of constituents. These four lawmakers tackle complicated tech issues head on, generating media attention in the process for drafting or sponsoring significant legislation on airwave allocation, cyber-security and piracy.
The Consummate Politician
Name: Sen, Harry Reid (D., Nev.), Senate Majority Leader
Key Initiatives: Spectrum/Debt Ceiling, Cyber-attacks
The Democratic leader of the Senate advocated for spectrum auctions as part of a plan to lower the debt ceiling in 2011, pleasing U.S. carriers like Verizon and AT&T as well as the FCC. Limited spectrum is a mounting concern for the communications industry as more technology goes wireless, and Reid's support seemed a friendly gesture, but not without political implications.
Spectrum auctions have potential to generate millions for the cash strapped government, but political infighting stalled Reid's plan this summer. The congressional "super committee" reached political paralysis over multiple issues this fall, spectrum auctions were temporarily shelved and the legislation postponed.
Reid also worked on a bill to protect consumer data and regulate how the Department of Homeland Security uses and stores data as it scans for potential cyber-threats, annoying Republicans by setting ground rules for the government watchdog.
But Reid also proved he's willing to stand against tech companies, joining a group of senators last spring to petition Apple, RIM, and Google to remove smartphone apps that provided the locations of DUI checkpoints and speed traps.
"Giving drunk drivers a free tool to evade checkpoints, putting innocent families and children at risk, is a matter of public concern," said the senators in their letter. "We hope that you will give our request to remove these applications from your store immediate consideration."
Reid's ongoing support of spectrum auctions, which could help carriers as they build new LTE networks and generate money for the government in a tough economy. The ongoing race for 4G technology among the top four U.S. wireless carriers likely means Reid will play a major role in the future, perhaps as a conduit between the federal government, regulators and the tech industry. (Lorien Crow)
The Internet Cop
Name: Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas)
Key Initiatives: author of The Protecting Children from Internet Pornography Act, and anti-piracy bill SOPA
In addition to being a staunch supporter of the failed anti-piracy SOPA measure, aimed at ensuring copyright protection but assailed as too restrictive, Smith is now spearheading The Protecting Children from Internet Pornography Act, or H.R. 1981, which would require Internet providers to store and monitor personal information linked with IP addresses to help law enforcement track down child pornographers.
The bill sparked intense reaction, fueling the ongoing debate over how much online data the U.S. government should have access to. H.R. 1981's opponents say such oversight paints every U.S. Internet user as guilty before committing a crime, and they express concern over how to protect such vast amounts of stored personal data in the event of a cyber security breach.
Republicans like Smith, however, feel harnessing the power of the Internet to monitor criminals benefits Americans more than harms them, empowering law enforcement with advanced new tools to catch deviants.
Smith's dedication to advocate for the rights of government and police to access personal data from those suspected of committing a crime will likely continue, and with recent cases over GPS tracking making their way to the Supreme Court, Smith's name could very well be associated with those emerging issues. (Lorien Crow)
Name: Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), Chairman, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Key Initiatives: Reviewing Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp to determine their possible connection to the Chinese government, backer of the Cyber-Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011
Rep. Mike Rogers is building a name as the champion for cyber security, with a special focus on protecting the U.S. from threats to Internet security originating in China.
Rogers headed an investigation into Huawei Technolgies and the ZTE Corp., companies suspected of espionage. The committee's investigation pointed to the U.S. government's increased attention on China's potential economic spying.
"American businesses are under attack. Right now, countless hackers in China -- many sponsored by the government -- are actively trying to steal valuable intellectual property from U.S. Fortune 500 companies. Every day, China, Russia, Iran and others are blatantly stealing reams of information from U.S.-owned computers," Rogers wrote in a Politico op-ed, highlighting his campaign to protect the U.S. from online foreign threats.
In addition to honing in on Chinese cyber-security threats, Rogers endorsed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011, which requires companies to provide confidential information about potential security threats. This act helps the government hunt down hackers, but raises concerns about government surveillance.
Rogers firmly supports measures to stop hackers, including increased government surveillance. He is likely to support new legislation introduced expanding the government's access to Internet user data. (Kate Knibbs)
The Consumer/Voter Advocate
Name: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.)
Key Initiatives: authored the Personal Data Protection and Breach Accountability Act of 2011, and supported efforts for carriers to more clearly Define 4G
Blumenthal routinely advocates for transparency and accountability from wireless carriers, sometimes blurring the line between typical political party stances if it means standing up for U.S. consumers.
Last fall, he and a group of Democratic senators proposed the "Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act," requiring U.S. carriers to disclose details about services and products marketed as "4G," including guaranteed minimum data speeds. The term, a buzzword in the technology world, is often confusing to consumers, and Blumenthal and his colleagues lobbied for clear definitions to better educate consumers. The bill also mandated the Federal Communications Commission to evaluate 4G service from the top ten wireless carriers in the U.S.
Carriers didn't take kindly to the possibility for increased regulation, and worried more government oversight would slow the process of bringing new 4G technology to the public.
But Blumenthal advocated for the consumer, saying that as people "become more reliant on Internet capabilities from their mobile devices, it is essential that they have the most accurate and useful information about the products and plans they are purchasing."
Blumenthal also presented the "Personal Data Protection and Breach Accountability Act of 2011," intended to place the responsibility for better online data protection on companies that collect and store the data. The Senator criticized Sony for its handling of a security breach that compromised personal data from 77 million customers, calling the hack the "poster child of why we need this law."
The Connecticut senator is likely to surface when confused consumers need answers about technology, or when their rights are in danger of being compromised by big business. Blumenthal is supportive of the tech industry as a whole, however, and will likely advocate for increased understanding between corporations and the public. (Lorien Crow) ♦
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