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5 hot technology policy agenda items you need to watch

Kenneth Corbin | Jan. 6, 2012
From providing more spectrum space for wireless providers to battling online piracy to creating cybersecurity policy to protecting intellectual property, expect things to heat up in Washington this year.

The anti-piracy legislation has set in motion a heated battle between backers of the bills such as the movie and music industries and Web firms such Google and Facebook, who along with open Internet advocates argue that the inevitable result of expanded judicial oversight of the Web, especially when implemented at the behest of commercial interests such as Hollywood, will be a dragnet that will shutter legitimate websites. An alternative measure, dubbed the OPEN Act, which would place the disposition of copyright infringement claims against foreign sites under the purview of the U.S. International Trade Commission, has emerged in the House and Senate.

Both SOPA and the Protect IP Act have racked up significant bipartisan support, and are backed by powerful lobbies with deep pockets, including the Motion Picture Association of America, a leading proponent, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO.

In addition to Google and Facebook, with their relatively small but expanding presence in Washington, open Internet advocacy and consumer rights groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge have been working to galvanize opposition, raising warnings that the measures would lead to censorship of legitimate content and pose threats to the security of the domain name system. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has attached his name to a petition drive opposing the legislation. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt recently warned that the bill would effectively "criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself," rhetoric that supporters of the legislation have dismissed as overblown.

Smith provided a "myth v. fact" sheet that insists that under the bill the Justice Department -- and it alone -- would be able to secure an injunction against a site only after making its case before a judge, and that only foreign sites whose primary mission was the distribution of infringing content would be targeted, leaving sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube unaffected. Moreover, the bill's backers charge that Google has a vested interest in opposing the bill for profiting from the traffic (and attendant ad revenue) that the infringing sites generate.


3. Privacy: FTC Readies Framework, EU Takes Lead

Several lawmakers in both chambers have put forth bills that would establish new protections for consumer privacy online. But that's nothing new. Efforts to enact comprehensive privacy legislation have been a mainstay in tech policy discussions for several congresses. In the coming election-shortened session, and with industry players pressing their case that robust self-regulation can work, even staunch advocates for strong privacy legislation admit they're up against long odds.

"With the exception of a bipartisan proposal to protect children and teen privacy, legislation is unlikely," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and an often outspoken critic of Web companies' privacy practices. "This issue is too controversial and involves too many politically connected players."


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