WASHINGTON D.C. — Celebrating yesterday’s Republican victories, presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, “Just because we have a two-party system doesn’t mean we have to be in perpetual conflict.” TechFreedom President Berin Szoka offered the following comment on what Republican victories might mean for tech policy:
Republicans won in deep-blue states like Maryland by promising the kind of post-partisan compromise that President Obama ran on back in 2008. Tech policy is the obvious area for the party to look for winning issues where consensus can be reached and where the GOP will actually get attention for doing so.
If the party of “No” wants to shed that label, the best place to start would be passing commonsense privacy reforms with broad support. A strong bipartisan majority in the House already supports a requirement that law enforcement get a warrant before accessing emails stored in the cloud. A similarly bipartisan fix for location privacy is also gathering momentum. The harder reform also has a much higher profile: reining in the NSA. 80 Democrats and 72 Republicans have co-sponsored legislation that would bar blanket NSA surveillance. In each case, the main thing lacking is for Republican leadership to make passage a priority. Standing up against Big Brother isn’t just consistent with Republican values, it’s the surest way for the party to grow its base.
The real test will be how Republicans handle net neutrality, especially if the FCC applies Title II’s 1930s-era monopoly regulations to the Internet — breaking with Clinton’s “Hands off the Net” approach. The New Democrats of the 1990s opposed Title II and so did 74 House Democrats when the FCC floated the idea in 2010. Rebuilding that coalition against Title II will require a compromise that finally ends the decade-long debate over the FCC’s authority. It was no less a Republican stalwart than Jim Demint who introduced a compromise bill developed by a bipartisan group of telecom scholars back in 2005.
The Digital Age Communications Act (DACA) would give the FCC the broad authority it has long sought to police all forms of Internet traffic — but constrain that authority by requiring the FCC to prove that regulation would actually make consumers better off. DACA could be combined with the net neutrality rules proposed by the FCC in a deal that prevents the FCC from using either Title II or Section 706 to regulate the Internet. Add in pro-deployment reforms that remove remaining regulatory barriers, and Republicans could finally shift the net neutrality conversation from regulation to competition. In short, Republicans could claim both victory and pragmatism on the issue that has bitterly divided the tech world for nearly a decade.
Szoka is available for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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