Tech Policy

Congress tackled social media, cryptocurrency, and data privacy last week

Here’s what federal policymakers have been up to in the big, wide world of tech.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

Big Tech was once again in the hot seat on Capitol Hill last week as senators debated social media’s responsibility for taking down child pornography. Next door in the House, representatives sought more information from data brokers about what exactly they do with data and heard from crypto executives about regulation. Here’s our dispatch from last week’s intersection of tech and politics.

Social media immunity on the chopping block?: The Senate Judiciary Committee flooded news feeds last week when Senator Dianne Feinstein returned from an extended health-related absence, ending a stalemate on judicial nominations. But the committee also unanimously passed a bill aimed at limiting legal protection for social media companies when users post child pornography on their platforms, Chairman Dick Durbin’s Strengthening Transparency and Obligation to Protect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment Act (STOP CSAM).

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has long protected internet platforms, like social media sites, from liability for content posted by their users. If signed into law, the bill’s supporters say the STOP CSAM Act would make it easier for individuals to seek removal of content depicting child sexual abuse from social media platforms and create “an administrative process to address a provider’s failure to comply with a removal request.”

In committee on Wednesday, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican, joined the bill as a cosponsor, introducing an amendment adding a private right of action for victims to sue social media platforms for “knowingly hosting child sexual abuse material.”

Several other committee members, including Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, also spoke in favor of the bill.

“We have total agreement on this effort to hold the Big Tech companies and platforms responsible and cut through the Section 230 immunity that they now have,” Blumenthal, a Democrat, said. “I think it is the thrust of the future, and Big Tech ought to wake up and recognize they’re going to be held accountable, and ought to be, by the individuals who were harmed.”

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Regulating digital assets: In a joint hearing on Wednesday, the House Subcommittee on Digital Assets, Financial Technology, and Inclusion and the House Subcommittee on Commodity Markets, Digital Assets, and Rural Development heard testimony from crypto executives, legal advisors, and academics about how to best regulate digital assets, and address questions such as how to classify them and and whether the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) should do the regulating.

“There’s not a workable framework in place for digital asset issuers and intermediaries to be regulated effectively by the SEC or the CFTC,” French Hill, a Republican from Arkansas who chairs the Subcommittee on Digital Assets, Financial Technology, and Inclusion, said.

“If we fail to provide a functional framework for digital assets in this country, all we’re doing is forcing this activity to happen in an offshore exchange rather than in a nicely innovative, properly regulated US working environment,” Hill said.

Others, like Representative Stephen Lynch, a Democrat from Massachusetts, argued that the current regulatory frameworks are sufficient and called the creation of a carve-out for digital currencies in existing securities law “redundant and unnecessary.” Instead, he pointed to “exchanges, lenders, and wallet holders” as better subjects for inquiry.

“The problem is not regulatory ambiguity; it is mass noncompliance with existing law,” Lynch said.

Data details: A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is seeking information from data brokers about the type of information they collect about US consumers and what they do with it, CNBC reported Wednesday. In a letter sent to 20 companies, including Equifax, Oracle, and TransUnion, lawmakers are seeking responses regarding whether the companies consider some kinds of data to be off-limits, and how much money they make from selling data, among other questions, CNBC said.

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.