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TikTok broke the tech law impasse. Can this success be repeated?| GuyWhoKnowsThings


The rapid passage this week of legislation to force sale or ban of TikTok It was the first time a federal technology law was passed in years.

And after a deadlock over dozens of bills to rein in the business practices and power of tech giants, it seemed like some momentum was building for more regulation.

In February, the Senate revived and passed an online law child safety bill. This month, lawmakers introduced a sweeping privacy bill with the greatest bipartisan support yet. Top lawmakers promise sweeping legislation to protect users of artificial intelligence.

But tech law experts say the only Speed ​​of approval of TikTok legislation. An unusual unified effort that lasted seven weeks from start to finish is highly unlikely to be repeated. Lawmakers continue to wrangle over the details of legislative proposals, and congressional leaders have failed to build on their momentum. Silicon Valley's powerful lobby armies have waged wars simultaneously, paralyzing efforts. And conditions for any push are likely to worsen before the November elections, when lawmakers will try not to cause trouble.

The TikTok bill, pushed by the Biden administration and intelligence concerns that the app's Chinese parent company, ByteDance, poses a national security threat, created a rare moment of bipartisan movement, experts said. The House also combined the bill with a Must-have $95.3 billion aid package for Ukraine and Israel to prompt the Senate to approve it.

“TikTok was unique,” ​​said Stewart Verdery, a former Senate Republican leadership staffer and now executive director of the lobby group Monument Advocacy. “It was a perfect storm for being an incredibly popular product in the US, being rejected by both parties for its harm to children and having a unique national security issue.”

For years, federal lawmakers have made reining in Big Tech a primary argument for voters, vowing to crack down on companies like X, Amazon, Google, Snap, TikTok and Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, for crimes including the spread of electoral disinformation. , antitrust and child safety issues. Many of the issues have bipartisan support.

Lawmakers have held contentious hearings on Capitol Hill questioning tech executives, including Meta's Mark Zuckerberg, who has testified eight times on issues including privacy, child safety, misinformation and antitrust. In January, relatives of children who were victims of child sexual abuse materials attended a hearing holding photographs of their loved ones, while Zuckerberg and the CEOs of X, Snap, Discord and TikTok faced angry lawmakers.

But the last time Congress passed a technology law was in 2018, an anti-sex trafficking bill that created legal liability for online platforms that knowingly host illegal content. The law was passed after hearings with sex trafficking victims and their family members who described in great detail their experiences of online exploitation.

Over the past decade, more than a dozen privacy laws have been proposed along with bills to hold online platforms accountable for the spread of misinformation. Other bills have focused on child safety and youth well-being online, targeting algorithms used by apps like Instagram that can direct young users toward dangerous content that has led to eating disorders and other harm. After an exhaustive investigation into the monopoly power of Amazon, Apple, Google and Meta, lawmakers drafted bills to limit the power of big tech companies.

None of the proposals have been approved.

Jessica González, co-executive director of the consumer interest group Free Press, attributed the lack of movement in part to lobbying. Amazon, Meta and Google parent Alphabet are among the major companies lobbying federal officials. Their armies of lobbyists, made up primarily of former members and staff of Congress, often argue over the technical details of bills, warning that broadly worded laws could impede their business and harm the U.S. economy, she said.

“We are up against wealthy industries that have a lot of influence and donate a lot of money to campaigns,” Ms. González said.

Perhaps an even bigger factor for the push: Time is running out this year as the 2024 elections approach. After Congress breaks in late May and then through much of August and October, there will be little desire to push for new tech legislation as many members return home to campaign in the fall.

While voters are concerned about the power of technology companies, they are divided along partisan lines over the specific problems the industry represents. Some Republican voters believe tech companies have a liberal bias and are stifling the speech of conservative politicians. Democrats are more concerned about election misinformation and holding companies accountable for spreading falsehoods.

Wes Anderson, a partner at OnMessage Public Strategies, a Republican political polling and consulting firm, said none of the technology issues are a priority for voters. According to focus group studies, they are concerned about the dangers of AI, but few rank it among their top concerns, Anderson said.

Gene Kimmelman, a former top Justice Department official, believes political divisions will slow the push for new legislation. “Before the election, things will be much more politicized and Republicans would not want to give victories to the Biden administration.”


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