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 U.S.tech 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?