Joe Biden is now set to become the 46th President of the United States on January 20th after securing victory in this month’s election.
Perhaps understandably during a pandemic, tech policy wasn’t right at the top of the agenda during the election debate. But, as the dust settles, all eyes in our sector will be on what the next four years now have in store.
Biden had what IG described as a ‘catch all’ platform that balanced his appeal towards the progressive and centrist wings of his party. Within this, however, there are a few clear signs of what’s to come.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Democrats and Republicans agree on nothing in our hyper-polarized world. Yet, that’s not true. In fact, on some areas of tech policy there’s some level of agreement – includeSection 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This is the law that sets out that – mostly – social media platforms aren’t liable for what’s posted on them. It also allows companies complete discretion over flagging or taking down content.
This means that while there’s agreement that Section 230 is bad – Biden told the New York Times it ‘should be revoked, immediately should be revoked’ – it’s fair to say that different camps oppose it for different reasons. Yet, whether you feel that social media companies allow disinformation to spread or feel they silence conservative voices, you’re like to see the back of this law soon.
Social media firms will be lobbying to retain some form of legal liability shield and are probably already braced for overview and regulation.
Anti-trust and privacy legislation
It’s only a matter of weeks since the Trump Justice Department lodged an antitrust lawsuit against Google. That followed a House Judiciary Committee report on how to rein in Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook and, taken together, shows a general change in the mood towards a Silicon Valley that was once hailed as a great American success story.
While the likes of Elizabeth Warren have pushed hard to break up tech giants, it’s been widely assumed that Biden wouldn’t be as drastic. Yet, as NPR shows, it’s really not clear if a Biden-Harris regime would halt the Google lawsuit or not. NPR also made the case for European-style privacy legislation like GDPR to clamp down on the information tech companies can collect and store.
In any case, the specifics might matter less here than the sheer fact that, as with Section 230, politicians of both sides have an appetite to act.
The President-Elect’s campaign literature promised to boost broadband provision to every American. It stated: “At a time when so many jobs and businesses could be located anywhere, high-speed internet access should be a great economic equalizer for rural America, not another economic disadvantage. Just like rural electrification several generations ago, universal broadband is long overdue and critical to broadly shared economic success.”
The pandemic has merely served to make Americans even more reliant on their internet connections – and should add a sense of urgency to this work. In fact, it’s another matter that should attract some Republican support, especially given the party’s strong showing in rural areas.
The evolution towards the internet being more of a utility than a service should soon be complete.
In these three areas, therefore, we can see a broad consensus developing in American politics and get a flavor for what’s to come for the tech sector.