Lack of Tech Smarts in Washington

(Yahoo!Finance) - Big Tech has never faced as much intense scrutiny from lawmakers as it does today. And Congress seems poised for fresh action.

The “Facebook Files” – leaked internal documents that put the company in a damaging light – continue to spur bipartisan outrage, with around 50 stories (and counting) documenting not just the myriad harms caused by Facebook’s (FB) platform, but that the company themselves knew about it.

This week executives from YouTube, Snapchat (SNAP), and TikTok were questioned by lawmakers about their platforms' impact on children. Notably, a YouTube executive refused to commit to release the company's internal research as parent company, Alphabet (GOOG) remains in the crosshairs of regulators like the Federal Trade Commission.

But new laws alone aren’t enough if regulators and lawmakers aren’t savvy enough to enforce what's on the books. 

That’s the warning from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Regulation "isn't sufficient if we don't have people who are tech savvy actually implementing the legislation,” said Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley and previously taught economics at Stanford while working as an intellectual property lawyer.

Tech companies in Khanna's district, like Sunnyvale and Cupertino (where Apple's headquarters is), "have run circles around the [European Union’s data protection laws] because Europe has no clue on the enforcement of a lot of these regulations that they have,” he said.

He warns that expertise is also lacking in the U.S. and more staffing is needed at places like the FTC and the Securities and Exchange Commission, “with people who actually understand technology, so that tech companies don't run circles around regulations that are passed.”

Khanna is currently pushing a bill called the Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act that would allow people with certain tech expertises to join the government ranks for a set period of time and allow regulators to rotate between federal agencies.

Supporters say it would allow more tech expertise to come in and out of government. The bill passed the House of Representatives last month and currently awaits action in the Senate.

Khanna has bemoaned the lack of technological literacy in Washington in the past and partly as a result has been skeptical of attempts to break up big tech companies simply because the task is so complex, preferring to move “with surgical precision and not with a sledgehammer.”

Khanna noted he's currently working on another bill to enforce regulations on advertising and on products sold to minors that “I believe that could have very bipartisan support.”

By Ben Werschkul · Senior Producer and Writer

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.


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