Some technology vendors and advocacy groups see new opportunities in the U.S. Congress in 2007, with issues such as patent reform and data protection getting fresh life under a Democratic-controlled legislature.
Democrats took control of the Senate and the House of Representatives in November's election, and many technology advocates say they expect Democrats will focus on some issues on the backburner in the past Republican Congress. Some tech vendors praised Republicans for their focus on free trade and Internet tax moratoriums, but others say the Republican Congress failed to act on several important issues.
"We're excited about the new Congress," said Jack Krumholtz, managing director of federal government affairs and associate general counsel at Microsoft Corp. "We think there's an opportunity to get some things done."
Here's a list of tech-related issues likely to come up in Congress in 2007:
Privacy and data breach notification
Advocacy groups such as the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) have long called for comprehensive legislation to protect personal privacy, including rules for organizations handling personal data and limits on government surveillance. In November 2005, after a rash of data breaches, Microsoft joined privacy advocates in calling for legislation, including a baseline data protection standard and giving individuals control over how their personal data is used.
Krumholtz and Leslie Harris, CDT's executive director, both said they hope the Democratic Congress will take a new look at privacy legislation. In addition, Democrats are likely to investigate the Bush administration's surveillance programs, such as monitoring phone calls and Internet conversations, and its use of data mining to assess risks posed by individual travellers.
"There has been basically no oversight," Harris said of the Republican Congress.
Part of comprehensive privacy legislation would be a data breach notification provision, Krumholtz added. After a series of high-profile data breaches in early 2005, members of Congress introduced about a dozen bills requiring organizations with data breaches to notify affected customers, but the issue was held up partly because several congressional committees claimed jurisdiction.
Cybersecurity vendors and many other tech companies will renew the call for data breach notification legislation in 2007. "Clearly, the data breach concerns have only gotten more acute over the last year," Krumholtz said.
Many large tech companies, including Microsoft, Dell Inc. and eBay Inc., have long called for patent reform. Some of those companies have asked Congress to make it more difficult for so-called patent "trolls" to win huge patent awards or get injunctions, forcing large companies to shut down entire product lines because of one infringing component.
Tech companies complain about people who buy up patents just to collect license fees, but many small inventors own patents and don't have the means to bring the patented products to market.