Executive Briefing February 15, 2019


The Hill House panel to hold hearing on data privacy legislation
A House panel will hold a hearing later this month on data privacy legislation, set to take place one day before the Senate holds a hearing on the same topic. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) on Wednesday announced that the consumer protection subcommittee will hold the hearing on Feb. 26.  The committee has not yet announced witnesses for the hearing.  The Senate Commerce Committee is set to hold a similar hearing titled “Policy Principles for a Federal Data Privacy Framework in the United States” a day later on Feb. 27.

Axios Government watchdog says it’s time for privacy debate
The Government Accountability Office, which gives nonpartisan advice to Congress, said in a report released Wednesday that “this is an appropriate time for Congress to consider comprehensive internet privacy legislation.” The finding adds fuel to calls for a national privacy law, as state and foreign regulators crack down on data-hungry companies like Google and Facebook.

Engadget US government lays out strategy to speed up rural broadband deployment
The US government has unveiled a strategy called the American Broadband Initiative (ABI), which aims to speed up broadband deployment and bring faster, reliable internet access to tens of millions of Americans who don’t yet have it. More than federal 20 agencies are involved with the project, which follows President Donald Trump signing an order last month to promote rural broadband.

The Washington Post ‘These maps are bogus’: U.S. lawmakers tear into telecom execs over spotty rural coverage
Members of Congress are fed up with the state of cellphone coverage in the United States, and on Wednesday, they weren’t afraid to lodge their complaints personally — with the leaders of some of the country’s biggest wireless networks. As Sprint and T-Mobile went to Capitol Hill to defend their $26 billion proposed merger, lawmakers buttonholed T-Mobile’s chief executive, John Legere, and Sprint’s executive chairman, Marcelo Claure, on the frustrating inability to get a cell signal in many parts of the country, particularly in rural areas.

Reuters Senate Democrats press Trump for China IP, tech transfer commitments
Led by Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a group of seven U.S. Senate Democrats said in a letter to President Trump that any deal with Beijing must at a minimum commit China to “cease the predatory practices” identified in USTR’s Section 301 investigation, which formed the basis for U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods.

The Wall Street Journal Pentagon Drafts Artificial Intelligence to Fight Wildfires (paywall)
The Pentagon said it is using its push into artificial intelligence to analyze reams of data gathered by drones to improve how wildfires are fought. A program to monitor and fight wildfires in California and other parts of the country is one of two pilot projects the Pentagon unveiled on Tuesday. Defense officials said both efforts reflect the government’s new artificial-intelligence strategy that aims to work with academia and industry to fast-track adoption of advanced data-management techniques.

NextGov Amazon Proposes Facial Recognition Guidelines to Policymakers
Amazon offered Congress and other policymakers a set of guidelines regarding facial recognition technologies—of which it is one of the world’s foremost suppliers with its Rekognition software. In a blog post authored by Michael Punke, vice president of global public policy for Amazon Web Services, the company acknowledged potential pitfalls and misuses of facial recognition tech but argued for “open, honest and earnest dialogue” among users, tech companies and policymakers as opposed to outright banning or condemning it.

The New York Times Trump to Sign Executive Order Promoting Artificial Intelligence
President Trump is expected to sign an executive order on Monday meant to spur the development and regulation of artificial intelligence, technology that many experts believe will define the future of everything from consumer products to health care to warfare. A.I. experts across industry, academia, and government have long called on the Trump administration to make the development of artificial intelligence a major priority.

Fortune Tim Cook, Ginni Rometty Join Trump’s Panel on A.I. and Workforce Automation
Apple CEO Tim Cook and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty are joining President Donald Trump’s business advisory board to help come up with solutions to prepare millions of Americans for the shift toward automation and artificial intelligence in the workplace. One of the first orders of business for the group will be to create a national campaign to promote new education pathways to arm workers with the skills they’ll need to compete in the workplace of the future.


Geek Wire Microsoft wants Washington state to double down on infrastructure and privacy
Microsoft will press the Washington state legislature to prioritize privacy legislation and infrastructure improvements this year, according to a blog post penned by Brad Smith, the company’s president and legal chief. Microsoft published its legislative wishlist Monday, outlining the company’s policy goals in its home state for 2019.

Read Brad’s blog, Next Generation Washington: Our priorities for 2019, on Microsoft On The Issues.

The New York Times Amazon Pulls Out of Planned New York City Headquarters
Amazon canceled its plans to build an expansive corporate campus in New York City after facing an unexpectedly fierce backlash from some lawmakers and union leaders, who contended that a tech giant did not deserve nearly $3 billion in government incentives.

Reuters Pope discusses ethics of artificial intelligence with Microsoft chief
Microsoft President Brad Smith met Pope Francis on Wednesday to discuss the ethical use of artificial intelligence and ways to bridge the digital divide between rich and poor nations, the Vatican said. The head of the global tech giant and the 81-year-old Roman Catholic leader, who once said he is a “disaster” when it comes to technology, spoke for about 30 minutes in the pontiff’s residence. The pair discussed “artificial intelligence at the service of the common good and activities aimed at bridging the digital divide that still persists at the global level”, according to a statement.

WIRED Google and Microsoft Warn that AI May Do Dumb Things
Alphabet likes to position itself as a leader in AI research, but it was six months behind rival Microsoft in warning investors about the technology’s ethical risks. The AI disclosure in Google’s latest filing reads like a trimmed down version of much fuller language Microsoft put in its most recent annual SEC report, filed last August: “AI algorithms may be flawed. Datasets may be insufficient or contain biased information. Inappropriate or controversial data practices by Microsoft or others could impair the acceptance of AI solutions. These deficiencies could undermine the decisions, predictions, or analysis AI applications produce, subjecting us to competitive harm, legal liability, and brand or reputational harm.” Microsoft also has been investing deeply in AI for many years, and in 2016 it introduced an internal AI ethics board that has blocked some contracts seen as risking inappropriate use of the technology.

Fast Company This Is Microsoft’s AI Pipeline from Research to Reality
To seek the origins of Microsoft’s interest in artificial intelligence, you need to go way back–well before Amazon, Facebook, and Google were in business, let alone titans of AI. Bill Gates founded Microsoft’s research arm in 1991, and AI was an area of investigation from the start. Since then, Microsoft has gotten good at the tricky logistics of identifying what research to leverage in which products, encouraging far-flung employees to collaborate on that effort, and getting the results in front of everyone from worker bees to game enthusiasts.

CNET Lack of women inventors could hurt innovation, US patent office says
More women are filing patents, but they still have a long way to go in terms of representation among inventors, according to a report out Monday from the US Patent and Trademark Office. The report, titled Progress and Potential: A profile of women inventors on US patents, found that while the share of patents that include at least one woman listed as an inventor rose from 7 percent in the 1980s to 21 percent in 2016, women accounted for only 12 percent of inventors in 2016.

The New York Times Magazine The Secret History of Women in Coding
An in-depth look at the history of women in computer programming, from the 1950s through today.

CNBC Google’s top policy chief calls for ‘common rules of the road’ globally for tech regulation
Google’s top policy chief has called for “common rules of the road” globally when it comes to the regulation of technology, amid ongoing debate around the world on how to create legislation for the internet economy. Karan Bhatia, vice president of global public policy and government relations at Google, said that while a one size fits all approach to regulation would not work, he would welcome some “convergence” of regulation globally.

The Wall Street Journal Publishers Chafe at Apple’s Terms for Subscription News Service (paywall)
Apple’s plan to create a subscription service for news is running into resistance from major publishers over the tech giant’s proposed financial terms, complicating an initiative that is part of the company’s efforts to offset slowing iPhone sales. The New York Times and the Washington Post are among the major outlets that so far haven’t agreed to license their content to the service, in part because of concerns over the proposed terms, which haven’t been previously disclosed.



  • Blog on AI and deepfakes: Deepfakes are videos that have been constructed to make a person appear to say or do something that they never said or did. With artificial intelligence-based methods for creating deepfakes becoming increasingly sophisticated and accessible, deepfakes are raising a set of challenging policy, technology, and legal issues. (TechTank blog – Artificial intelligence, deepfakes, and the uncertain future of truth, Feb. 14, 2019)
  • Blog on the AI executive order: Michael Kratsios, the deputy assistant to the president for technology policy at the White House, has explained that America needs a national AI strategy. In a Wired op-ed, he argues “under the American AI Initiative, federal agencies will increase access to their resources to drive AI research by identifying high-priority federal data and models, improving public access to and the quality of federal AI data, and allocating high-performance and cloud computing resources to AI-related applications and R&D.” (TechTank blog – Assessing Trump’s artificial intelligence executive order, Feb. 12, 2019)

Information Technology & Innovation Foundation

  • Blog on data protection and ethical debate: Reasonable people can disagree about digital privacy issues. They can debate important questions, such as how to find the optimal balance between the costs of data protection regulation and their benefits. They can argue about which data types are more sensitive than others, and they can work together to answer thorny questions. But what reasonable people should not do is embrace moral absolutism, because doing so stops debate, reduces trust, and undermines collaboration. (ITIF blog – Where Ethics Meets Data Protection: An Open Letter to EDPS and CPDP, Feb. 11, 2019)

Note: Voices for Innovation regularly shares a range of opinion articles and press releases from organizations in and publications covering tech policy. These pieces are meant to educate our audience, not to endorse specific platforms or bills.