Updating Technology Policy: 3 Bills Moving in Washington

Updating Technology Policy: 3 Bills Moving in Washington

A new Congress was sworn into office on January 3rd. In between confirmation hearings of new cabinet members, we’ve heard a lot about an ambitious legislative agenda including tax reform, health care reform, and infrastructure investment.  But not all 535 members of the House and Senate are focused on these “heavy lifts.” Some are pushing bills that require less muscle and fanfare to enact. TECHPol is following several bipartisan, technology-related measures that Congress has already made progress on in the early days of the 115th Congress.

At the end of each Congress, there are multiple bills that don’t make it across the finish line. Some get close, but a variety of obstacles, including competing priorities and limited time, can leave them as unfinished business. When a new Congress convenes with a clean slate, it makes sense to revisit some of those battle-tested bills and try again. Three legislative efforts that TECHPol reported on last year have been resurrected since January 3rd.

Fraud Using Fake Phone Numbers — You’ve likely been a victim of a tactic called “spoofing.” Someone calls or texts you, and a fake phone number pops up on caller ID or your text message to entice you to answer. The person on the other end often has a fraudulent purpose for contacting you. It’s currently illegal to “spoof” a phone number for a domestic call in the United States. Legislation moving in the House and Senate would expand the prohibition to calls generated outside of the U.S. and to text messages. The House passed its version of anti-spoofing legislation (H.R. 423) on January 23 by a vote of 398-5. The next day, the Senate Commerce Committee favorably reported its version (S. 134), which now awaits a vote by the full Senate. Ultimately, both houses of Congress need to pass an identical version of the bill before it can be sent to the President to be signed into law.

More Broadband Capacity — The Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, John Thune (R-SD), has been working on legislation to ensure that as the demand for wireless connections grows, broadband availability keeps pace. The MOBILE Now Act (S. 19) seeks to free up government-owned spectrum for use by commercial wireless companies. The bill would also facilitate 5G infrastructure (5th generation wireless connection technology that is 30-50 times faster than 4G). This legislation is one of Chairman Thune’s top priorities, and it has already received the Committee’s approval. The House seems content to let the Senate lead on this issue and is waiting for the full Senate to vote.

Email Privacy — The Electronic Communications and Privacy Act (ECPA) has been criticized as antiquated, and most agree it needs to be updated. It was enacted in 1986, before widespread use of the internet and web-based email. Under current law, the government may conduct warrantless searches of emails older than 180 days that are housed on third-party servers. On February 6th, the House passed, by voice vote, the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 387) to require law enforcement to get warrants for searches of emails and other electronic communications. The road to passage is predicted to be bumpier in the Senate where some view the House bill as an impediment to effective law enforcement. One of those critics, who pursued changes to the bill to make exceptions for certain surveillance, is now the Attorney General and no longer in the Senate. There is hope that this change in Senate dynamics will improve prospects for passage.

As technology-related legislation moves through Congress, TECHPol will keep you updated.