States Wouldn't Be Pushing Inconsistent Tech Laws If Congress Wasn't So Corrupt

from the cycle-of-stupid dept

You might recall after the telecom lobby convinced Congress to obliterate both privacy and net neutrality rules (despite both having bipartisan public support), there was a lot of industry whining about the various state replacement efforts that popped up. For example when California popped up with its own net neutrality rules, AT&T whined incessantly about how a “discordant network of state laws” would harm puppies and innovation. Ignored, of course, is that states were simply rushing to fill the consumer protection void created by federal apathy, itself a direct result of lobbying (aka corruption).

The same thing happened with broadband privacy guard rails. In 2015, the FCC proposed some fairly basic broadband privacy rules largely focused on making sure what was being collected and sold would be transparent to consumers. But the telecom lobby was easily able to lobby the GOP-controlled Congress to use the Congressional Review Act to kill those rules before they could even take effect. And again, giants like AT&T whined about the discordant landscape of imperfect state legislative efforts that popped up in its wake, hoping you’d ignore that they helped create the problem by attacking even the most basic federal protections.

The same thing of course is now playing out in the broader tech sector as well. For years, the tech, healthcare, marketing, insurance, and telecom sectors have worked to uniformly battle any meaningful federal privacy protections on the federal level. Not just the bad proposals. All of them. And, unsurprisingly, after years of this, states have started filling the void with their own solutions, many of which are less than perfect. This, as we saw with telecom, is causing all manner of consternation and constipation at major tech companies:

“There’s little question state and local policy moves get the attention of both tech companies and Congress. David Edmonson, vice president for state policy and government relations at the trade group TechNet, said that the “impact of a 50-state patchwork” is among the group’s highest concerns.

The group, which is known for its state-level advocacy work, said it worries about the compliance costs and impact of patchwork regulation on small businesses ? although its membership is primarily midsize and large companies. It also fears the potential impact on consumers who may be confused about their rights or who remain completely uncovered because of where they live, according to Edmonson.”

“A 50-state patchwork of state-based privacy laws creates more problems than it solves both for consumers and the digital economy,” he said. “A single federal standard that applies to all 50 states is better for both consumers and businesses.”

AT&T and Comcast are both members of Technet, it should be noted, and are both particularly guilty of this practice of lobbying against all federal consumer protections, then whining incessantly about the resulting escalation in state proposals. So basically, large companies work tirelessly to fight pretty much any meaningful federal consumer protections, then complain via their proxy groups about the end result, namely an inconsistent patchwork of discordant state consumer protection rules. At no point is there any awareness that their own actions may have contributed to the outcome they’re now complaining about.

Yes, there’s some valid business concerns about having to comply with a massive patchwork of often inconsistent legislative solutions. And there’s certainly ample concerns with how many of these laws are written, as California’s often problematic privacy law can attest. And yes, there’s also plenty of valid concerns that legislating many of these problems is well beyond the core competency of many modern q-anon-era elected officials.

But what I’ve noticed missing from any of these conversations is how this is all largely a byproduct of Congressional corruption. Or, quite often, any mention that the very problem companies are complaining about (states passing discordant legislation) was the direct byproduct of their lobbying influence on federal lawmakers.

Congress is so broken and corrupt, even very popular proposals (see: net neutrality) can’t survive for long. And that’s particularly true of policy issues that see broad, cross-industry opposition like privacy. There’s an army of industries, all with near unlimited budgets, laser-focused on not just opposing bad federal privacy rules, but any federal privacy rules at all. It’s virtually impossible for activists, academics, and truly solution-focused, objective experts to combat efforts backed with those kinds of resources. Again, we can call that specific problem a lot of things, but it’s predominately a byproduct of corruption.

Those with the power and resources to truly dictate policy very much like the current unaccountable adtech paradigm that involves over-collecting data, selling access to it to any nitwit with a nickel, failing repeatedly to secure it, then occasionally getting a piddly wrist slap from underfunded and understaffed U.S. regulators as a modest cost of doing business.

If you look at the steady drumbeat of hacking, location data, and other scandals, that approach isn’t working out that well for the rest of us. And yet we still somehow can’t seem to get even a basic federal privacy law on the books (one that mandates some very basic transparency requirements, or erects some very clear but meaningful penalties for companies that refuse to secure their networks and servers). The primary reason for that is clearly corruption, but again, that’s often rarely mentioned in discourse.

At some point you’d think many of these large companies would realize that it would be better to concede on some issues and support basic, decent, federal solutions even if there’s a revenue hit. But because they know Congress is ethically malleable, they know they don’t have to do that.

So instead, as we saw in telecom, you’ll have a company like AT&T lobby to kill meaningful federal and state consumer protections (privacy, net neutrality), then try to push their own shitty federal proposals written by their lawyers. Proposals so filled with intentional loopholes as to be useless beyond one core function: supplanting better, stronger, consensus-driven federal and state legislative solutions. But whether it’s Facebook or AT&T, if they truly claim to want consistent federal guidelines, maybe, I don’t know, stop throwing millions of dollars at lawmakers who then fight tooth and nail against absolutely every effort to do that?

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Comments on “States Wouldn't Be Pushing Inconsistent Tech Laws If Congress Wasn't So Corrupt”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Good heavens! A patchwork of 50 different privacy laws! How very terrible for these companies. It is so very fortunate that they only operate in the United States, then, isn’t it? Think of how many different national laws they would have to follow, if they operated more widely!

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David says:

That's not the gist of the complaint

A fireman who is complaining about scattered embers is not calling for uniform conflagration.

The complaint is that a single point of bribes would be more convenient rather than having to follow up federal bribes with state bribes all over.

It makes one have second thoughts about the effectiveness of bribes, drawing into doubt the foundations of capitalism. So naturally bribing at the federal level some more in return for prohibiting the state level actors from falling out of line unless locally bribed makes good sense.

And selling that to the public is part of the job.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Sloppy article

The first opening paragraph was actually decent to read. It was informative and not a biased bunch of garbage that is usually on here. But then it fell apart, as most articles do. It fell apart because it was one page long and obviously fell short of its intended objective. Because the author isn’t a communications expert, no he’s just a so called journalist that didn’t really do much research into the topic. Just like most of the writers here on Techdirt who write one page falling short of anything that amounts to journalism.

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Term Limits

A new batch of legislators every 4 or 12 years would allow newcomers to campaign on policies, instead of branding.

I hear this, but it makes no sense. Some of the best legislators (Ron Wyden?) have been around for a long time, and some of the most batshit crazy ones are new.

Also, if you had such term limits that opens up many, many more avenues for corruption, including wink wink nudge nudge promises of lucrative jobs when your term limited out.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Term Limits

"A new batch of legislators every 4 or 12 years would allow newcomers to campaign on policies, instead of branding."

That sounds hopelessly naive to me. More like that would encourage more Marjorie Taylor Green-style nutters or rather than competent people, and ensure that the competent people would never be able to set consistent long term policy

Also, the branding will still be there, it’ll just be party branding instead of personal branding, and you really haven’t been paying attention if you don’t think that a lot of people are voting for the party brand and not policy already.

In other words, it’s your usual style of comment – sounds like there might be a point if you only consider it at face value, but dive into any detail with more than a second’s thought, and it actually achieves the opposite of what you claim to want.

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AJ (profile) says:

Lessig’s Point

IIRC this was Larry Lessig’s problem #1, or close to it at least. Make it so that politicians don’t have to spend much of their time fundraising for their re-elections and they might spend it on understanding the actual problems and how to solve them (maybe, if we’re lucky, once the existing job-holders are out or at least no longer feeling beholden to their buddies!).

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Bruce C. says:

Here's a thought...

Part of the reason states aren’t as uniformly influenced by this issue is the smaller constituencies in state government. If each House district was about 300-400k population instead of the current 600k, it would a) be more expensive to lobby that many congress-critters and b) congressional elections would swing on smaller vote differences — a 10,000 vote swing on a particular issue is a lot riskier when there are 200k voters than when there are 350k or so.

Expand the house to 800 members? The size hasn’t changed since 1920 even though the pop is getting near triple what it was.

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

"the "impact of a 50-state patchwork" is among the group’s highest concerns. "

"A 50-state patchwork of state-based privacy laws creates more problems than it solves both for consumers and the digital economy," he said. "A single federal standard that applies to all 50 states is better for both consumers and businesses."

We tried having that and part of your membership purchased the votes to make sure the law never lived.
States are finally done with the feds putting donations ahead of citizens, ohh boo hoo we caused a problem that is big enough that now states are acting, because they know the feds are a bunch of corrupt fscks, in the interest of citizens and suddenly y’all whine & complain.

All of these "horrible horrible" things befalling your industry…

Enjoy the death of 50 cuts, hopefully you’ll get lucky and it’ll only be state level… imagine the pain if they go to smaller levels of government each with different rules just to spite you.

To borrow a trap from Saw…
Enjoy your nap in the dumpster full of used needles you created.

Anonymous Coward says:

and the truth hurts, so i wonder how long before there’s something said/done in retaliation?
and just as bad, the country’s courts are equally corrupt with web services etc now being forced to hand over customer details, just because they’ve been ordered to! it wont be long before the Internet is under total control of the entertainment industries and no one without permission and will ing to pay the fees will be able to use it, all because everything of authority in the USA is corrupt and will do anything for money! changing the law is a small thing in comparison but that’s being done on a similarly daily basis, all to protect an industry that is shit scared of the present, let alone the future!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Shoots foot, complains about foot pain

"A 50-state patchwork of state-based privacy laws creates more problems than it solves both for consumers and the digital economy," he said. "A single federal standard that applies to all 50 states is better for both consumers and businesses."

Why yes it would be, unfortunately someone bought off enough politicians to kill that federal standard and states had to step in and take up the slack. You want to complain about a ’50-state patchwork of privacy-based laws’ then your first target should be the companies that pushed to kill that law and the politicians who voted to do so, although given two of those companies are in your membership roster that might be a titch awkward.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Shoots foot, complains about foot pain

Oh they’ll be complaining no matter what so long as there are any regulations(or at least ones that they didn’t write) but it’s still worthwhile pointing out how grossly dishonest it is for them to complain about having to deal with dozens of state-level regulations when they were the ones responsible for killing the single federal set.

As for passing ISP friendly laws at a state level they have and will continue to do so but it takes more effort as they can’t just buy off a few politicians but have to get enough per state, increasing how much work it takes to corrupt the system and forcing them to spend more as well and while neither of those stop them they do at least seem to make it somewhat more difficult hence the whining.

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