Top tech policy issues for 2014

The tech industry has a lot of policy work to do in 2014, both in playing offense and defense. Here are three key issues:

NSA and President Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence:

We know disclosures about national-security related surveillance programs will continue. The question in 2014 is what will lawmakers, and the tech industry, do about it.

First, we should hear soon what the president thinks of the Review Group on Intelligence’s 46 reform proposals. Second, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have two different approaches to surveillance reforms that will need to be reconciled if there will be progress in Congress. Third, the tech industry will continue to face the question of whether it should ratchet up its battle by fighting the administration more in court and by appealing directly to its user base for help.

Immigration reform: 

Six months. That may be all that advocates for comprehensive immigration reform have before the 2014 mid term elections take over the dialogue in Washington. It’s a tall order for a complex problem. The House has shown it won’t take up the Senate bill and will likely continue to pursue a piecemeal approach that could then lead lawmakers from both chambers to the negotiating table. Or it could lead nowhere.

For the tech industry, which has sunk considerable time and money into the legislative effort, the question will be whether to risk supporting a GOP-backed immigration bill that has a lot of visa goodies tech wants, maybe something for the so-called “Dream Act” kids, and nothing for the other estimated 11 million people who are in the country illegally. Or, should they hold out for a bigger, more comprehensive package, even if it slides into another congress?

Patent Reform:  

The House has passed its package of patent litigation reforms so the patent show shifts to the Senate. The big issue is something called a “covered business method” review. The question of whether there should be this additional review divides the industry with the patent-rich firms hating it and the patent-poor ones loving it. Currently, covered business method review is not in the House bill but Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, is a big proponent of the review so expect a fight over it in the Senate.


Privacy: Look to the Federal Trade Commission and congressional leaders to pursue ways to protect consumers’  online privacy. Expect more controversial bills from Sacramento that the tech industry will likely have to work to modify.

FCC: The FCC Chair Tom Wheeler has taken on controversial issues, such as possibly permitting cellphone use on planes and pushing the cell phone industry to unlock devices. Will he also push the carriers to introduce a “kill switch” making mobile devices inoperable if stolen, as I wrote about Tuesday? The FCC is paying attention to the issue and is working with the industry trade group, CTIA-The Wireless Industry, on a mobile device registry. But advocates for the kill switch, which includes federal, state and local officials, are clamoring to take away the financial incentive for thieves by making the devices useless.

Above: President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File).


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