Posts with «legislative branch» label

New York State passes a right-to-repair bill

New York has just passed the digital fair repair act (Assembly Bill A7006B), making it one of just a few states in the US to do so. The bill, which was introduced in April 2021, passed the senate on June 1st and passed assembly today. It's now headed to the governor for signing (or veto), and will take effect a year after it becomes law.

The act, titled "Digital Fair Repair Act," will require OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to "make diagnostic and repair information for digital electronic parts and equipment available to independent repair providers and consumers if such parts and repair information are also available to OEM authorized repair providers." That means companies can no longer dictate where you can bring your devices to get them repaired by limiting the access to components or diagnostic information.

If a part is no longer available to the OEM, it will not need to make the same part available to everyone. For things that require security-related locks or authorizations, the OEM has to, "on fair and reasonable terms," supply the tools or documentation needed to access or reset such devices "through appropriate secure release systems."

The amended version of the bill also states that the proposed requirements will apply to "products with a value over ten dollars" and that OEMs or authorized repair providers don't have to make available any parts, tools or documentation if the intended use is for modification of the products. It also excludes public safety communications equipment and "home appliances with digital electronics embedded within them" from the act. Given the way companies have been trending towards making smart fridges, washing machines and more, this could potentially be an enormous loophole or at the very least exclude a large number of products.

Massachusetts previously passed its own Digital Right to Repair Act, which covered parts or machines containing microprocessors. The state has recently expanded that to include connected automobiles. Meanwhile, the California state Senate introduced its own right to repair bill in February, which appears to have bipartisan support. 

Gatik is bringing its self-driving box trucks to Kansas

Autonomous vehicle startup Gatik says it will start using its self-driving box trucks in Kansas as it expands to more territories. Governor Laura Kelly last week signed a bill that makes it legal for self-driving vehicles to run on public roads under certain circumstances.

Following a similar effort in Arkansas, Gatik says it and its partner Walmart worked with legislators and stakeholders to "develop and propose legislation that prioritizes the safe and structured introduction of autonomous vehicles in the state." Before Gatik's trucks hit Kansas roads, the company says it will provide training to first responders and law enforcement.

Gatik claims that, since it started commercial operations three years ago, it has maintained a clean safety record in Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Ontario, Canada. It still has a safety driver at the wheel in some jurisdictions. Last August, Walmart started making fully driverless deliveries with Gatik trucks in Arkansas, albeit on a fixed loop.

Bipartisan bill would expand US data collection transparency requirements

A bipartisan group of legislators today introduced bills in the House and Senate that would expand transparency requirements when it comes to government surveillance of US citizens, adding email, text, location and cloud data to the existing reporting framework. Currently, the US government is required to alert Americans who have been targeted by wiretaps and bank record subpoenas, but this doesn't apply to digital or cloud data. The Government Surveillance Transparency Act aims to adjust the parameters of this rule, expanding it to cover more common, modern forms of digital communication and data storage.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, Montana Republican Steve Daines, New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker and Utah Republican Mike Lee, while a companion bill in the House of Representatives is backed by California Democrat Ted Lieu and Ohio Republican Warren Davidson. They argue that hundreds of thousands of criminal surveillance orders from US authorities go unreported each year, keeping Americans in the dark about the broad scope of government monitoring programs.

The bill also addresses the government's use of gag orders to halt technology companies from informing their customers of surveillance campaigns. While many tech companies have tried voluntarily reporting government subpoenas and data requests to their customers, authorities have used gag orders to keep these campaigns secret, according to the legislators.

“When the government obtains someone’s emails or other digital information, users have a right to know,” Wyden said in a press release. “Our bill ensures that no investigation will be compromised, but makes sure the government can’t hide surveillance forever by misusing sealing and gag orders to prevent the American people from understanding the enormous scale of government surveillance, as well as ensuring that the targets eventually learn their personal information has been searched.”

Alongside reforms to notification requirements and the gag-order process, the legislation would force authorities to publish online general information about every surveillance order they complete. It also would require law enforcement to notify the courts if they search the wrong person, house or device in the scope of an investigation, and also if a company shares unauthorized information.

Congressional bills would ban tech mergers over $5 billion

Senator Elizabeth Warren has long made clear that she's no fan of Big Tech, and her latest legislation proves it. She and House Representative Mondaire Jones have introduced legislation in their respective congressional chambers that would effectively ban large technology mergers. The Prohibiting Anticompetitive Mergers Act (PAMA) would make it illegal to pursue "prohibited mergers," including those worth more than $5 billion or which provide market shares beyond 25 percent for employers and 33 percent for sellers.

The bills would also give antitrust regulators more power to halt and review mergers. They would have authority to reject mergers outright, without requiring court orders. They would likewise bar mergers from companies with track records of antitrust violations or other instances of "corporate crime" in the past decade. Officials would have to gauge the impact of these acquisition on labor forces, and wouldn't be allowed to negotiate with the companies to secure "remedies" for clearing mergers.

Crucially, PAMA would formalize procedures for reviewing past mergers and breaking up "harmful deals" that allegedly hurt competition. The Federal Trade Commission has signalled a willingness to split up tech giants like Meta despite approving mergers years earlier. PAMA might make it easier to unwind those acquisitions and force brands like Instagram and WhatsApp to operate as separate businesses.

The act isn't strictly focused on tech, but Warren made clear that industry was a target. She cautioned the FTC on Amazon's proposed buyout of MGM Studios, and challenged Lockheed Martin's since-abandoned attempt to buy Aerojet Rocketdyne.

If it becomes law, PAMA would ban the Amazon-MGM union (worth over $8.4 billion), Microsoft's Activision deal ($68.7 billion) and relatively modest acquisitions like Google's planned buyout of Mandiant ($5.4 billion). Tech firms would largely have to focus on acquiring 'small' companies, and would largely have to forego deals meant to expand market share or otherwise cement dominance in a given market.

However, there are obstacles that might prevent PAMA from reaching President Biden's desk. Both the Senate and House bills have no Republican cosponsors — they're either Democrats or left-leaning independents like Senator Bernie Sanders. That's enough to clear the House, but the Senate bill could fail if it doesn't obtain total support from sitting Democrats. As such, this may represent more of a declaration of Democrats' intentions than a fundamental change in regulatory policies.

Senate committee advances FCC nominee Gigi Sohn

The Senate will vote on the nominations of Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission and Alvaro Bedoya to the Federal Trade Commission, respectively. The Senate Commerce Committee moved forward their nominations, though the 14-14 tie means there will be an additional procedural step for each before a full Senate vote.

Democrats and Republicans each have 50 senators though Vice President Kamala Harris has a tie-breaker vote. Should Sohn and Bedoya be confirmed as commissioners, the Democrats will hold a majority in both the FCC and FTC.

The committee delayed a vote on the nominations after Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) suffered a stroke in January. Luján, whose vote was needed for Democrats to move the nominations forward, has since returned to work.

President Biden nominated Sohn at the same time he put forward Jessica Rosenworcel as FCC chair in October. While the Senate approved Rosenworcel's permanent appointment in December, Sohn's appointment has taken longer. As such, the FCC has been deadlocked at 2-2 along party lines, leaving Rosenworcel unable to, among other things, advance a net neutrality policy.

Opposition to the nomination of Sohn, a longtime advocate for net neutrality, has come from a number of quarters, including the Directors Guild of America. The group urged senators to vote down Sohn's nomination due to her "hostility towards copyright law." Sohn was previously on the board of Locast, a defunct service that rebroadcast over-the-air TV broadcast signals via the internet. She said she'd recuse herself from issues concerning retransmission consent and broadcast copyright.

In confirmation hearings, Republicans portrayed Sohn as an extreme partisan. She hit back at those assertions, arguing that she had been subject to "unrelenting, unfair and outright false criticism and scrutiny."

The FTC, meanwhile, is in the process of reviewing some significant proposed mergers. According to reports, those include Amazon's planned buyout of MGM and Microsoft's bid to acquire Activision Blizzard. Reports suggest the FTC is mulling an antitrust challenge to block the Amazon-MGM deal, though it would need a majority vote to proceed with a lawsuit.

Canada uses Emergencies Act to reign in 'Freedom Convoy' crowdfunds

Following weeks of occupation that have paralyzed the nation’s capital and other cities throughout the country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act to respond to the “Freedom Convoy” protests. The act grants the federal government additional temporary powers to deal with critical situations and has never been used since its creation in 1988. In a press conference Trudeau said he would use the Emergencies Act to reign in the protests through several methods — among which is an expansion of Canada’s money-laundering laws to cover crowdfunding platforms and cryptocurrency transactions.

Starting today, Canada will require that crowdfunding companies register with the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) and report suspicious payments. The government has also empowered banks to freeze funds they believe are being directed to "Freedom Convoy".

“We’re not using the Emergencies Act to call in the military,” Trudeau said. His father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, famously invoked the War Measures Act, the precursor to the Emergencies Act, to call in the Canadian Forces during the October Crisis in 1970.

The Guardiandescribed convoy members' "trucks and cars [...] laying on their horns and snarling traffic" at all hours. Protesters have also been forcing their way into businesses while maskless despite mandates to the contrary. Outside of protesting in Ottawa and other cities throughout the country, the protestors have blocked critical border crossings between the US and Canada. The decision to invoke the Emergency Act comes shortly after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested 11 people linked to the protest and seized their cache of guns and other weapons, according to the New York Times.

Funding for the protest has come from a variety of sources, including GoFundMe. Before the company suspended the Freedom Convoy’s campaign, it had raised more than $10 million CAD (approximately $7.88 million USD). GoFundMe refunded all donors after the company determined the campaign violated its terms of service. Since then, supporters of the Freedom Convoy have turned to other crowdfunding platforms, including GiveSendGo. On Sunday, the site was hacked and personal information of those who contributed to the campaign was leaked online. Analysis by extremism researcher Amarnath Amarasingam indicated that 56 percent of the donors who contributed to the campaign came from the US.

Once invoked, the Emergencies Act takes effect right away. However, the government must go to Parliament within seven days to obtain support for the action from both the House of Commons and Senate of Canada. If either body votes against the motion, the state of emergency is revoked. Trudeau’s ruling Liberal Party does not control the majority of seats in the House of Commons and will need to obtain the support of at least one of the country’s other federal parties to pass the motion. The Emergencies Act also cannot be extended indefinitely.

Canada expanding anti-money laundering laws to capture crowdfunding platforms and crypto transactions. Freeland: "As of today, all crowdfunding platforms and the payment service systems they use must register with FINTRAC and they must report large and suspicious transactions."

— Justin Ling (@Justin_Ling) February 14, 2022

“I know people are frustrated. I hear it. You have the right to voice your frustration, even your anger at government policies,” Trudeau said. “But blocking streets and critical infrastructure, and depriving your neighbors of their freedom, is a totally different matter. It’s time to stop.”

In the more than two weeks since the “Freedom Convoy” descended on Ottawa, Canada’s capital city has been blocked by trucks and cars that have made life for residents difficult. Those involved in the movement claim to be protesting vaccine passports and mandates, but there’s those complaints have in many cases commingled with broadly anti-government sentiments.

James Bauder, the founder of Canada Unity, one of the organizations at the center of the protests, has said on Facebook that Justin Trudeau should be tried for treason. On its website, Canada Unity published a “memorandum of understanding” that demanded the Canadian government rescind all vaccine mandates or “RESIGN their lawful positions of authority immediately.” In a video he posted to social media, Bauder said it was his hope the MoU would persuade Canada's voting oversight agency to trigger an election — a power it constitutionally does not have. On February 8th, the group “withdrew” the document, stating at the time it did not want “any unintended interpretations to continue.”

House passes bill that would put billions toward US chip production

On Friday, the US House of Representatives passed the America COMPETES Act of 2022 almost entirely along party lines. Among other measures, the sprawling 2,900-page bill allocates $52 billion in grants to subsidize semiconductor manufacturing. It also authorizes nearly $300 billion for research and development.

If enacted, the legislation would represent the most comprehensive attempt by the US to match China’s recent technological and industrial dominance. However, as The New York Times points out, it is unlikely to pass in its current iteration. Much of that comes down to ideological differences between how Democrats and Republicans think the federal government can best position the country to compete against China.

Republicans say the legislation includes too many extraneous provisions to address climate change. For instance, it earmarks $8 billion in contributions to the Green Climate Fund, an initiative created by Paris Agreement to help developing countries deal with the crisis. Republicans also say the bill doesn’t do enough to hold China accountable.

However, Democrats and Republicans broadly agree the federal government should spend more money to support local chip production. When Intel announced it was building a $20 billion semiconductor fabrication plant in Ohio last month, the company noted it could eventually invest as much as $100 billion in the facility over the next decade if Congress approves additional support for the industry. According to a recent report from Bloomberg, President Biden sees the lack of domestic chip production as a security issue. Global chip shortages have also played a significant part in fueling inflation in recent months.

With the bill’s passing, it’s now up to the House and Senate to negotiate a compromise. The legislation must pass both chambers before President Biden can sign it into law. The president urged Congress to move quickly. “I look forward to the House and Senate quickly coming together to find a path forward and putting a bill on my desk as soon as possible for my signature,” President Biden said in a statement. “America can’t afford to wait.”

Democratic lawmakers take another stab at AI bias legislation

Democrats in Congress on Thursday renewed a push to hold tech companies accountable for bias in their algorithms. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with House representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY) introduced an updated version of a bill that would require audits of AI systems used in areas such as finance, healthcare, housing, education and more. First introduced by Wyden in 2019, the Algorithmic Accountability Act has never passed the committee level in either the House or Senate.

“If someone decides not to rent you a house because of the color of your skin, that’s flat-out illegal discrimination. Using a flawed algorithm or software that results in discrimination and bias is just as bad. Our bill will pull back the curtain on the secret algorithms that can decide whether Americans get to see a doctor, rent a house or get into a school,” said Wyden in a press release.

A wave of studies found evidence of racial and gender bias in AI tools and automated systems used in everything from approving mortgages and credit cards to prescribing pain medication. Civil rights groups in recent years have lobbied Congress to hold companies accountable for flawed and biased algorithms.

The bill would require companies to perform an audit of their AI systems and report their findings to the Federal Trade Commission. It would also require the FTC to force companies to make high-profile AI decision making public. Under the bill, the FTC would create a public database where consumers can review critical decisions that have been automated by companies.

The legislation would require companies that use AI tools in “critical decision making” to evaluate the outcomes of such tools and regularly report their findings to the FTC. According to an analysis of the bill released by Wyden’s office, this includes any decisions by businesses that are related to the “cost, terms, or availability of education and vocational training, employment, essential utilities, family planning, financial services, healthcare, housing or lodging, legal services, or any other service, program, or opportunity that has a comparably legal or similarly significant effect on a consumer’s life as determined by the Commission through rulemaking.”

The bill has been endorsed by a handful of civil liberties and digital rights groups, including EPIC, Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), Fight for the Future, and others. “Color Of Change commends Sens. Wyden and Booker and Rep. Clarke for advancing racial justice equities in tech regulation. We hope Congress will pass this instrumental legislation,” said Arisha Hatch, Vice President of Color Of Change, in a statement.

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill will next need to be reviewed and voted on by their relevant committees in Congress. The date for this vote has yet to be scheduled.

Engadget has reached out to the bill’s co-sponsors for further details on the legislation and its next steps in Congress, and will update when we hear back.

The EARN IT Act is back, and not much has changed

The EARN IT Act is a piece of legislation, first introduced in 2020 by Republican Senator Lindsay Graham and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. Its sponsors, of which there are many, say that the bill will tackle the proliferation of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) posted online. Its critics say that the bill uses an emotive subject as cover to force tech companies to further erode online privacy protections and curtail freedom of speech. Much like FOSTA/SESTA before it, the bill’s key target is further weakening the legal protections of Section 230 Communications Decency Act, better known as the “26 words that created the internet.”

Originally tabled March 5th, 2020, the bill received plenty of bipartisan support in the Senate and was passed to committee soon after. It did not, however, receive a full vote at the time, likely due to the fact that COVID-19 massively disrupted the legislative process. It has now been reintroduced in largely the same form as before, and is being discussed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, February 3rd, 2022.

Broadly speaking, the bill seeks to launch a new national commission, led by a committee of senior law enforcement officials. This body would develop a series of so-called best practices to prevent online platforms distributing CSAM. Any platform that did not adopt these best practices would subsequently lose their immunity provided to them by Section 230. It also places a lot of power to regulate internet providers directly in the hands of state legislatures.

As Engadget explained at the start of 2020, Section 230 gives internet infrastructure providers broad legal immunity from the actions of their users. If you write something that is defamatory on your Facebook page, it’ll be you, not Mark Zuckerberg, who has to answer for it. It’s this protection from liability that has allowed a wide variety of internet businesses to flourish.

Now imagine what would happen if every online platform was on the hook for everything its users wrote. The ability to write pretty much anything online would disappear within weeks, with only the wealthiest platforms (Facebook) able to survive. Everything that wasn’t instantly shut down would be subject to even more overzealous moderation than what’s currently in use.

Think about it this way: Imagine if Yelp was itself legally liable to every restaurant which received a bad review on its service. It would either have to shut down, purge every bad review in its database, rendering it useless, or get sued into oblivion in very short order.

One of the bill’s more troubling moves is to outsource the key decision-making power to a politically-chosen body. The committee would involve the Attorney General, Secretary of Homeland Security and appointees with a background in law enforcement. There is an understandable concern that such a group would be unrepresentative in terms of the broader debate around this issue, and unaccountable for the decisions that it reaches.

This lack of accountability and the fact that the bill repeats many of the same mistakes that marked the passage of FOSTA/SESTA, advocacy groups are worried. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), for instance, believe that the law’s broad scope could be used to erode basic online freedoms at the whims of politicians. At the time the bill was initially introduced, the Attorney General was William Barr, a prominent critic of encryption. Barr said, many times, that tech companies “can” and “must” put back doors into their products. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said that such a move would enable “law enforcement agencies, from the FBI down to the local police, to scan every message sent online.” The fact that the new text explicitly nods that the use of encryption could be a reason to lose liability protection makes this even more troubling. And even if that clause is watered-down, the broad-brush power handed to the committee overall means it just takes a change in leadership and encryption is gone for good.

Part of the broader context around Section 230 is the myth, intentionally propagated by some lawmakers and journalists, that online platforms are censoring conservative voices. Time and again, prominent figures on the right decry outfits like Facebook when it takes down content that violates its terms of service. They say that it’s partisan censorship, despite the fact that Facebook has in fact bent overbackwards to accommodate and keep prominent right-wing figures on its site. The attacks on S230 are to be seen as both a political cudgel to ensure major platforms continue to carve out exceptions for prominent Republicans, and as a way of censoring huge swathes of internet speech.

More than HALF A MILLION people signed this petition to lawmakers opposing the EARN IT Act last Congress https://t.co/ugZHxEINIk

Why would you reintroduce this bill without fixing any of the glaring problems that have been pointed out by human rights and security experts?

— Evan Greer (@evan_greer) February 1, 2022

No discussion of Section 230 can exist without talking about the harms created by the passing of FOSTA/SESTA. That bill had a similar aim of weakening the protections of Section 230, passed under the aegis of preventing sex trafficking. Once signed into law in 2018, a number of websites dealing with sex, sex work and sexual education were forced offline. Democrats in 2019 were sufficiently concerned by the fallout from the bill that they unsuccessfully attempted to pass a bill that would study the impact of FOSTA/SESTA on vulnerable individuals.

Freedom Network, a body that works to prevent trafficking, and provide support to its victims, spoke out against EARN IT at the end of 2020. It, along with a number of other groups, backed a letter (.PDF) saying that the bill was flawed and wouldn’t succeed in its supposed aims. It said that the bill would repeat the mistakes of FOSTA/SESTA, explaining that “instead of narrowly targeting sex trafficking which used digital platforms, the law de-platformed and erased the existence of many, including sex workers, harm reduction workers and sex educators.” It added that the bill could cause disproportionate harm to LGBTQ communities who would be starved of vital educational material and access to a broader community.

Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, wrote to Graham and Dianne Feinstein in June 2020 to lodge its own opposition to the bill. It said that “the EARN IT Act not only jeopardizes privacy and threatens the right to free expression but also fails to effectively protect children from online exploitation.”

Since the bill has reemerged, these same criticisms have been leveled against it, given that little has changed about its construction. The Center for Democracy and Technology said on Tuesday that its changes “in some cases, makes things worse.” It remains to be seen, however, if these criticisms will get through to the politicians who will begin debating the bill in earnest later today.

US lawmakers want to make sure pandemic telehealth coverage doesn't lapse

The pandemic pushed US lawmakers to provide provisions to expand medical coverage for telehealth in 2020, speeding up a process that would otherwise have taken years. Since then, there have been efforts to make the change permanent, through things like the Telehealth Expansion Act of 2021. But there is an interim period that could present some uncertainty over whether people can get crucial telehealth services while permanent legislation is drawn up. Today, a bipartisan group of 45 lawmakers, led by Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), said they're "calling for the extension of expanded coverage of telehealth services to be included in must-pass legislation in February."

The group published a letter addressing Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as their minority counterparts and notable signees include Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). 

The letter states "While Congress prepares to enact permanent telehealth legislation, we urge you to include an extension of the pandemic telehealth authorities in must-pass government funding legislation in February." 

Currently, pandemic telehealth decision-makers have temporary authority, and that's tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration. As stated in today's letter, the emergency declaration is renewed in three-month increments. "Without more definitive knowledge about the duration of the pandemic and Medicare’s long-term coverage of telehealth, many organizations have been hesitant to fully invest in telehealth."

In addition to providing more confidence to providers that investing in telehealth will be a sound long-term investment, adding an extension to telehealth coverage while making it permanent will also "reassure patients that their care will not end abruptly."

The lawmakers called for "An extension to maintain expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services for a set period of time," which the letter said "would provide much-needed certainty to health care providers and patients." They believe an extension would also allow additional time for studies to be conducted on the impact of telehealth, which "could help inform Congress's next steps on permanent telehealth legislation and appropriate program integrity and beneficiary protections."

Therefore, the group is also asking to ensure that "an extension not include unnecessary statutory barriers in accessing telehealth services during this data collection and analysis period," which could prevent people from getting essential care.