Thursday, July 25, 2024

House privacy talks implode in spectacular fashion

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Happy Friday! House and Senate committee leaders appear to be competing to see who can cancel legislative markups in the most dramatic fashion. Who’s winning? Let me know (and send news tips) here: cristiano.lima@washpost.com.

A quick programming note: We’ll be back to our regular Tuesday through Thursday schedule next week.

House privacy talks implode in spectacular fashion

For years, attempts by Congress to rein in Silicon Valley have largely fizzled out with a whimper. But on Thursday, House efforts to pass a long-sought national privacy bill collapsed with a bang.

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The House Energy and Commerce Committee scrapped a major markup slated to consider privacy and children’s online safety legislation mere minutes before it was set to begin, stunning and aggravating members on both sides of the aisle.

The abrupt cancellation — triggered by resistance from House GOP leadership — deals a near-fatal blow to the prospect that lawmakers might agree on the bills this year.

Lawmakers were set to vote on two major bipartisan bills, the American Privacy Rights Act and the Kids Online Safety Act, that together would require companies to collect only as much data as they need to offer specific products and to take steps to prevent potential harm to minors.

Members of the committee have been working on those issues for several years and repeatedly secured broad bipartisan support for their efforts, particularly the data privacy negotiations.

In the last Congress, the Energy and Commerce Committee advanced a largely similar data privacy bill in a near unanimous vote, the first time a committee had ever greenlit such a measure. The latest iteration of their privacy legislation and the children’s safety bill — which both have supporters in the Democratic-led Senate — cleared a subcommittee vote just last month.

But that support began to unravel in recent days as House GOP leadership pushed back against the privacy legislation, with House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) criticizing the measure for giving consumers a right to sue companies for violations, among other issues. Other Republicans, like Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.), said Thursday they would have opposed the privacy bill.

“This bill has become so poisonous and the structure is just so difficult that you really need to scrap this bill and start over, which is a very difficult task to take on, but we stand ready to help them do that,” said a GOP leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private negotiations.

Democratic committee leaders excoriated top Republicans for blowing up the plans.

“I’m beside myself. I really am. I’m so furious. I’m furious. We had an opportunity … to pass the bill,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who has played a lead role in privacy negotiations.

“It’s outrageous that Republican Leadership would interfere with the Committee’s bipartisan regular order process,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D- N.J.) said in a statement.

Pallone commended Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who canceled the session amid pressure, “for her dedication to giving Americans back control of their data.”

The cancellation was a seemingly game-time decision, with aides informing attendees of the call less than five minutes before the markup was set to begin. Outside the hearing room, the Tech Brief and other outlets inadvertently informed some lawmakers of the news, to their dismay.

“I figured it was going to be messy, but I didn’t think it was going to be canceled,” said Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), one of the few members who opposed the committee’s privacy legislation in the last Congress. Eshoo added that this bill was “not ready for prime time.”

McMorris Rodgers appeared to take umbrage at House leadership’s decision to intervene before the committee even marked up the bills, telling reporters on Thursday: “This is not how the House is supposed to operate.”

McMorris Rodgers said leadership had expressed concerns about both the privacy and the children’s online safety bill, known as KOSA, but she said they hoped to “regroup” and try to schedule a new markup date “as soon as possible.”

“I know at the beginning of the week we had the votes,” she added.

According to multiple reports, Scalise and Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) took the unusual step of holding a call with Energy and Commerce members to air out grievances about the privacy bill on the eve of the markup — without McMorris Rodgers.

One senior congressional aide familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks, said House leadership took “unprecedented steps to publicly flog one of their most prominent and powerful chairs” ahead of the markup.

Johnson tweeted Thursday that he is “committed to working to build consensus in the House on a data privacy bill.”

The GOP leadership aide said their staffs attempted for months to work with the committee on the bill, but they were “unwilling to engage” on potential changes. A GOP committee aide called those remarks “inaccurate,” saying they “have been engaging for over a year.” The committee aide said that scrapping the bill now would be “wasting the best opportunity we’ve had to act” and giving in to “big tech and other corporate special interests.”

The biggest problem now for lawmakers is that the main negotiating points House leadership is trying to reopen — over whether a federal law should preempt state measures and give consumers the right to sue — took years to hash out.

And even if enough members of the House get on the same page on those issues, significantly revamping the privacy bill at this stage could threaten their negotiations with the Senate. Those have been fraught for years but made a major breakthrough earlier this year.

The FCC wants to make it easier to unlock cellphones (The Verge)

FCC chair asks telecoms to detail efforts to block fraudulent AI political robocalls (Reuters)

Amazon delays launch of Project Kuiper broadband satellites (Bloomberg)

News nonprofit sues ChatGPT maker OpenAI and Microsoft for ‘exploitative’ copyright infringement (Associated Press)

Cellphone outage in Europe leaves many U.S. travelers disconnected (New York Times)

Meta starts testing user-created AI chatbots on Instagram (TechCrunch)

ACLU challenges Section 702 surveillance in neo-Nazi’s prosecution (The Verge)

Microsoft tells more clients Russian hackers viewed emails (Bloomberg)

Uber, Lyft agree to minimum wage, other benefits for drivers in Massachusetts (Wall Street Journal)

The majority of Gen Z describe themselves as video content creators (Taylor Lorenz)

See how Nvidia became one of the world’s most valuable companies (Gerrit De Vynck and Rachel Lerman)

That’s all for today — thank you so much for joining us! Make sure to tell others to subscribe to Tech Brief. Get in touch with Cristiano (via email or social media) and Will (via email or social media) for tips, feedback or greetings!





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