Bipartisan Legislation Promises Scrutiny of Tech: IoT, AI, UAVs, Blockchain, and More

Congressional interest in technology security and competitiveness could lead to regulation or standards with potentially far-reaching effect. Two senior members of the influential House Committee on Energy and Commerce – Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) – introduced legislation that targets critical technology areas and could portend a larger role for government action by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and others. This comes on top of numerous open government activities looking at the same tech.

In the “American Competitiveness of a More Productive Emerging Tech Economy Act” (H.R. 8132) (the COMPETE Act) Congress would require comprehensive studies by the FTC and the U.S. Department of Commerce (Commerce) of emerging tech. According to Rep. McMorris, the goal is to “maintain our global competitive edge, win the future, and beat China, it’s crucial that the U.S. lead on AI, quantum computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), and other emerging technologies.” Rep. Rush echoed these sentiments, remarking: “[a]s these technologies develop and become more prolific, it is imperative that the U.S. take the lead in appreciating both the benefits and risks associated with these technologies and ensure that we remain competitive on the world stage.”

The bill would kick off government action in the following areas:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)

  • Internet of Things technology and manufacturing

  • Quantum Computing

  • Blockchain Technology

  • New and Advanced Materials, including synthetically derived or enhanced natural properties

  • Unmanned Delivery Services

  • 3D Printing

  • Threat of online harms

The legislation directs the government to evaluate the market, investment, and security in these areas. The year-long studies to be completed by the FTC and Commerce would result in specific policy recommendations to Congress, which could include new regulatory mandates or an increased role for NIST and other agencies.

The studies would involve the identification of public-private partnerships promoting technology, industry standards for developing the technology, and risks among supply chains. Moreover, the studies also mandate the identification (and analysis) of the federal government’s regulatory purview of each of the technologies, to provide a landscape for policymakers to consider.

The comprehensive bill reveals how lawmakers are grappling with how to address emerging technologies – ranging from market innovation, trade, safety, national security, and regulatory frameworks – so that America does not lose ground to other countries with respect to developing and deploying these technologies.

Support for the bill

The 36-page bill notably includes other smaller bills previously introduced by other lawmakers, including, for example:

  • H.R. 6950 the Generating Artificial Intelligence Network Security (GAINS) Act (Rep. McMorris Rodgers (R-WA))

  • H.R. 2644 the SMART IoT Act (Rep. Latta (R-OH))

  • H.R. 6943 the Advancing Unmanned Delivery Services Act (Rep. Latta (R-OH))

  • H.R. 6919 the Advancing Quantum Computing Act (Rep. Griffith (R-VA))

  • H.R. 6939 the Advancing IoT Manufacturing Act (Rep. Hudson (R-NC))

  • H.R. 6928 the Advancing 3D Printing Act (Rep. Burgess (R-TX))

  • H.R. 6938 the Advancing Blockchain Act (Rep. Guthrie (R-KY))

  • H.R. 6937 the Countering Online Harms Act (Rep. Guthrie (R-KY)) [1]

The fact that the COMPETE Act is comprised of smaller bills previously introduced signals that the sponsors of the bill anticipate broad support for the package. There are currently 13 original cosponsors to the legislation (three Democrats), and the Republican cosponsors (who hold the minority in the House) hold influential perches on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. For example, the Ranking Member of the entire committee, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), is an original cosponsor of the bill, and other Republican Subcommittee Ranking Members who have cosponsored the bill include:

  • Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) (Subcommittee on Communications and Technology)

  • Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) (Consumer Protection and Commerce)

  • Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) (Energy)

  • Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) (Health)

  • Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) (Oversight and Investigations)

On the Democratic side of the aisle, the lead sponsor is Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL), who chairs the Energy Subcommittee and is the second senior-most Democrat on the overall committee. Look for the sponsors to seek additional Democratic support for the legislation in the coming weeks and months.

Who should care?

The widespread mandates in the bill to address a broad swath of emerging technologies should signal to those in the private sector working to develop and deploy next-gen tech that government oversight is afoot. It is imperative for private sector companies working on AI, quantum computing, and IoT to pay close attention to working groups formed by federal agencies to address these technologies and growing government concerns about “online harms” to national security and consumer users of technology.

There are indeed many ongoing activities related to each of the technologies identified, making it hard for the average company to track and predict government activity. This bill could be an opportunity streamline some of those workstreams, but it also poses the risk of duplication of efforts and could generate calls for specific legislation or regulation, as we have seen with the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. And, with an election coming up the leadership of relevant agencies could change, leading to different recommendations and findings.

So what happens next?

While the bill has bipartisan support, there is a lengthy road to final adoption. This past Friday, the Chairman of the committee, Frank Pallone (D-NJ), announced that the full committee would “virtually” markup the COMPETE Act on Wednesday, September 9, along with nearly 40 other bills. The bill therefore likely stands a good chance to be reported out of the Committee favorably, and for the prominent sponsors of the bill to push for inclusion of the package in other bipartisan must-pass bills. Whether that is possible, however, remains to be seen. With the specter of the looming election in less than 60 days, and the pressing COVID-19-related and government funding legislation that Congress must undertake in the next congressional work period before the election, this bill must have the buy-in of members in both parties and in both chambers. There are likely a laundry list of bills that fit that description with the limited amount of time left on the congressional calendar. Nevertheless, the fact that the bill is moving through the full committee is a signal that there will be future activity by lawmakers regarding emerging technologies. Wiley is similarly actively monitoring – and advising clients – on each of these emerging technologies and their regulatory frameworks and legislative activity.

[1] Notably, the Countering Online Harms Act, which mandates a study to “consider whether and how artificial intelligence may be used to identify, remove, or take any other appropriate action necessary to address” online harms, like manipulated content such as deepfakes, is likely to receive pointed attention in the coming weeks because of the spike of deepfakes in the run-up to the election.

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