Joe Biden took office in the middle of a pandemic and focused his administration’s attention on the response to COVID-19. However, other policy priorities are likely to come onto policymakers’ agendas as the pandemic (hopefully) recedes.
As we look ahead to the next several months, we believe that close attention should be paid to the possibility that tech policy could become an area of focus for lawmakers and regulators alike.
Broadly, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and other COVID-19 response efforts have put technology issues (other than cybersecurity) on the back burner. Biden’s approach to fiscal recovery post-COVID-19 will continue to shape the policy landscape. The fiscal recovery package was an opportunity to start off the year in a bipartisan fashion. But the administration’s decision to use a partisan process to pass the bill— budget reconciliation—suggests we may be headed for a period of continuing polarization. And the events around the Capitol riots on January 6 have made bipartisan collaboration even less likely.
Both Republicans and Democrats agree that the existing framework for the regulation of Big Tech, particularly social media companies, is outdated. However, they come from different perspectives.
Conservatives fear that social media companies are trying to control the flow of information and manipulate the content that people see, while progressives believe that they foster an environment that is too friendly to far-right groups. These divergent views suggest that the path ahead on policy action in this area is likely to be increasingly contentious.
This begs the question, then, if there are any tech-related issues that could generate bipartisan agreement. A few possibilities include:
- Stricter enforcement of antitrust laws, including by increasing funding to the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.
- Additional attention paid to the intersection between technology and U.S.-China relations. China’s so-called “military-civil fusion” (MCF) efforts, which were put under scrutiny during the Trump administration, are likely to be an ongoing target of U.S. attention.
- A focus on cybersecurity issues, which have garnered significant attention in light of the recent SolarWinds attack.
Overall, however, we do not anticipate a high level of lawmaking activity during the next two years. What we will see is increased regulatory activity from progressive appointees and an ongoing conversation about the role of tech in society. This includes possible Congressional hearings that will shape the public perception of technology companies regardless of political affiliation.
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