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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

States are passing more tech laws when one party holds the keys

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Thursday! Don’t let the “h” fool you. That was indeed your host on Good Morning America today— a cool first! 

Below: The Pentagon awards a long-awaited contract to major tech firms, and a state sues TikTok. First:

States are passing more tech laws when one party holds the keys

A vast majority of states that have passed rules to regulate tech platforms in recent years did so when one party held control of the government, according to a new analysis shared with The Technology 202. 

The findings shed light on how state legislators have been able to outpace federal policymakers in setting rules of the road for the internet, particularly around data privacy, children’s safety and social media regulation. 

And they show that while states are stepping in more to regulate issues that Congress has not, in most cases they are doing so largely along partisan lines, raising questions about how effective efforts under divided rule may be in the future. 

According to the report by the University of North Carolina’s Center on Technology Policy, states passed 23 of the 28 laws regulating tech platforms in the past two years when either Democrats or Republicans controlled both state legislatures and the governor’s mansion, known as a “trifecta.” The analysis looked at state-level regulations across data privacy, online competition, content moderation, children’s safety and digital taxation. 

The trend held true for both parties, with 13 new laws being based under unified Democratic rule and 10 making it into the books under Republican control. Researchers said they also found that a majority of those legislative efforts were led by sponsors of just one party. 

Researchers said the findings could foreshadow a big year for state-level policymaking on tech issues, with “trifectas” on the rise. 

Thirty-eight states are slated to have government “trifectas” after the midterm elections, up from 37 earlier this year, according to the report. That’s set to be the highest rate in the last two decades, according to Ballotpedia. Republicans will hold 21 “trifectas” to Democrats’ 17.

“Given the stakes and political realities, states are likely to be the epicenter of technology policymaking in the months ahead,” UNC’s J. Scott Babwah Brennen and Matt Perault wrote. 

In an interview, Brennen said states are also structurally set up for “faster legislative passage and experimentation,” which has translated to more tech laws at the state than federal level.

“State governments have infrastructure and motivation to legislate and litigate in this area,” added Perault, who previously served as Facebook’s head of global policy development. 

The findings may not bode well for the upcoming prospects of tech legislation in Washington, where lawmakers are headed for two more years of divided rule. 

So far this Congress with Democrats controlling the Senate, House and White House, lawmakers have yet to pass any major proposals on data privacy, children’s online safety, tech antitrust issues or content moderation, despite some bipartisan momentum.  

The prospects are only likely to dim with Republicans taking the House and Democrats retaining the Senate, creating split power between the two chambers, Perault argued. 

“It would be odd if the prospects were higher in divided government than they were in unified government … particularly with a contentious 2024 election coming up,” he said. 

According to the report, state officials are likely to push for a flurry of new tech bills, particularly around data privacy, children’s online safety and allegations of “censorship.”

Brennen and Perault said they expect state legislators to seek to duplicate or build off proposals that have passed in other states, including efforts by Republicans to mirror laws in Texas and Florida targeting allegations of “bias” by social media companies and Democratic-led efforts to enshrine “safety by design” laws for children resembling California’s landmark new law

While the researchers said they anticipate state policymakers will continue to introduce comprehensive privacy bills, they also expect the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the federal right to an abortion to animate more targeted efforts around reproductive data. 

“Every Republican state is going to want to ensure that law enforcement agencies can get information from tech platforms in abortion-related cases,” Brennen said. 

He added, “Democrat states are going to be exactly the opposite. They’re going to want to preserve abortion-related speech in terms of facilitating access to lawful abortions, and … they're going to want to block law enforcement access to abortion [data].”

Our top tabs

Four tech companies get major Pentagon cloud-computing contract

Google, Oracle, Microsoft and Amazon will share the Pentagon’s $9 billion contract to build a global cloud-computing network for the U.S. military, the Associated Press’s Tara Copp and Matt O’Brien report. The awarding of the coveted contract comes after years of delays and legal battles.

“The Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability is envisioned to provide access to unclassified, secret and top-secret data to military personnel all over the globe,” Copp and O’Brien write. “It is anticipated to serve as a backbone for the Pentagon’s modern war operations, which will rely heavily on unmanned aircraft and space communications satellites, but will still need a way to quickly get the intelligence from those platforms to troops on the ground.”

Indiana sues TikTok over inappropriate content for young users, data security

In two lawsuits, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R) accused TikTok of addicting young users with its algorithm, promoting inappropriate content to teens and misleading users about the Chinese government’s ability to access TikTok data, the Wall Street Journal’s Erin Mulvaney reports. It represents the latest move by a state to take aim at TikTok; state governors have recently been banning the software from government devices.

“Internet companies have enjoyed broad legal immunity under federal law for content published on their platforms, based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act,” they write. “Indiana and other state enforcers believe that wielding state consumer protection laws will allow them to avoid Section 230’s liability limitations.” TikTok didn’t respond to the Wall Street Journal’s request for comment.

D.C. sues Amazon over driver tips

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine’s consumer protection lawsuit argues that the e-commerce giant tricked consumers into thinking that tips went to drivers, when they actually were used to subsidize wages, Karina Elwood reports. It’s the second lawsuit Racine (D) has filed against Amazon; the first suit, which accused the company of having monopoly power, was dismissed this year.

(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“In 2021, Amazon reimbursed the Amazon Flex drivers as part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and agreed to a nationwide injunction that prohibits the company from changing the way driver tips are handled without notifying drivers in advance,” Karina writes. Racine argues that Amazon hasn’t been held accountable for “consumer harm” violations of D.C.’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act.

Amazon says the suit is without merit. “Nothing is more important to us than customer trust. This lawsuit involves a practice we changed three years ago and is without merit — all of the customer tips at issue were already paid to drivers as part of a settlement last year with the FTC,” Amazon spokeswoman Maria Boschetti said in a statement.

Rant and rave

Talks for FTX to sponsor Taylor Swift’s tour fizzled out, the Financial Times reported. Law professor Tiffany C. Li:

Journalist Adam Maguire:

Journalist Claire Boston:

Inside the industry

Apple says it will allow iCloud backups to be fully encrypted (Joseph Menn)

Hill happenings

House Financial Services Chair Waters doesn't plan to subpoena Sam Bankman-Fried to testify at hearing on FTX collapse (CNBC)

Trending

Elizabeth Holmes’s ex-Theranos partner gets nearly 13 years in prison (Rachel Lerman)

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