A tech policy agenda for an uncertain political future

The tech industry must educate politicians on data-driven innovation, digital trade, IP rights, strong encryption, and education technology

President Obama

President Obama said he remembers, as a child, having a "sense of wonder" about the U.S. space program.

Credit: Pete Souza

With more than a dozen legitimate candidates for president, and 469 congressional seats up for grabs, America's political future is highly uncertain. But amidst all of this, there is one nearly certain political prediction: little will happen this year on Capitol Hill. This reality was recently affirmed by President Obama, who delivered a State of the Union address devoid of specific legislative requests.

This is not a bold prediction, but it is an important one for the dynamic tech industry, and it has both good and bad implications. On the positive side, we will step back from some recent efforts to advance tech regulations that involve significant government overreach. At the same time, there are several pressing industry needs that will struggle to get attention.

Our view of the situation is clear: the current political reality is not a reason to rest, but rather an opportunity to press forward on a focused set of important issues. There is still the possibility of progress in 2016 -- particularly in the short congressional session following elections -- and even more importantly, our efforts now will lay the essential groundwork for future success.

In the year ahead, we encourage the technology industry to press the Administration, Congress, and candidates on several core policies that will enable businesses to drive innovation, advance consumer interests, and fuel U.S. economic growth and job creation.

Foster data-driven innovation

Data has rapidly become the centerpiece of so much of our technological innovation. But public policy has not kept pace. As they consider a range of tech and economic policies, leaders in Washington must focus on the social and economic value of the IoT (Internet of things) and data-driven innovation. These intertwined elements will play a major role in the future of the global economy. With policies that optimize the economic and social value of data, America will remain the world leader -- but our ability to innovate will be threatened by policies that place unnecessary limits on data collection and use.

Advance and protect digital trade

The world has become highly interconnected and increased digital trade is advancing U.S. exports in growing overseas markets, supporting American businesses, and benefiting workers. To help ensure that this progress continues, the new U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework must be finalized and new trade agreements should build upon the data flow provisions in the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). SIIA has endorsed TPP because cross-border data flows underpin global value chains, and are therefore critical for all types of U.S. businesses.

Preserve intellectual property rights

Patent litigation reform has a long and bumpy history on Capitol Hill. And while encouraging progress stalled in 2015, pressure on policymakers must be maintained because the defects in the current legal process harm American businesses' incentive and ability to invent. Patent litigation abuse saps millions of dollars and man-hours from U.S. companies -- resources that should be going towards innovation and economic progress.

Technology and digital content companies rely significantly on copyright law to protect their investment as they create and distribute innovative products. In its review of copyright law, Congress should not weaken copyright or contract law.

Maintain strong encryption

Misguided. That's the best way to describe the argument that America will be safer if companies weaken data encryption. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Strong encryption is the bedrock of a secure Internet. It enables needed security and confidentiality for transactions and assures individuals that their data is protected. Efforts to weaken encryption or create encryption workarounds will not simply allow access for the good guys -- they will potentially allow access for individuals and organizations worldwide that seek to do us harm.

Promote digital learning

Most political leaders recognize the value of digital learning, but that doesn't mean there aren't important areas of debate. For one, there are proposals to replace innovative digital instructional materials from private entities with OER (open educational resources). While there is a role for OER in education, these proposals could force schools to use only government-funded materials and undermine their ability to choose the best materials for their students. At the same time, leaders must provide adequate funding for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Block Grant. For America to remain globally competitive, equitable access to technology and digital learning is mission critical.

While we cannot expect tremendous legislative action in 2016, the tech industry must use this time to educate the Administration, Congress, and candidates, and press the importance of data-driven innovation, digital trade, intellectual property rights, strong encryption, and education technology. Our efforts now will help ensure that consumers reap the full benefits of technology and that American businesses are able to continue driving innovation and economic progress in this global economy.

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