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Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna says something has to be done about tech – but not too much

May 26, 2018
In The News

Starting this week, European regulators have been tasked with enforcing a sweeping new privacy law called the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. And the U.S. Representative whose district includes the headquarters of Google and Apple says we need something like that, but not as extreme.

“The answer can’t be, on a scale of one to 10, Europe’s regulations [are] a nine, we’re a zero,” Congressman Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “Why can’t we get to a four or a five?”

Earlier this month, Khanna was asked by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to draft an “internet bill of rights,” which he is hoping to refine and unveil before Congress recesses in August. Khanna said he will lobby tech leaders like Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to endorse the policy platform, which would include new regulations around privacy, security and the ability to move or delete your data from a platform.

“People are waking up to say, ‘Okay, we need to have some rules in this new world,’” Khanna said of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica affair that brought Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify in Washington. “And then they looked to the Congress and they said, ‘Wow. Those are the folks who are going to be writing those rules?’

“Think about how different the context would be if Facebook had to notify people about the breach,” he added. “It could have changed the consequences of that election. New York Times, others would have been writing about the Cambridge Analytica scandal on notification, if they had to notify the FTC.”

On the new podcast, Khanna explained why he’s optimistic that tech leaders will join his side now, even though endorsing the “bill of rights” means putting their name on new regulations for their industry. The pragmatic view is that someone like Pichai or Cook might want to join because the power of tech will continue to effect changes in the economy — so it might behoove them to get out in front of issues like privacy and job losses now, rather than wait for the tide of public opinion to turn.

“In the long run, it’s a good thing,” he said. “But its biggest problem is exclusivity. There are communities — the African-American community, rural America, Middle America, women — that have been excluded from this extraordinary potential.”

The lesson these companies should take away from the recent wave of techlash, Khanna expained, is to overcorrect: Take action proactively on the issues that won’t threaten your business, lest you wind up in the crossfire later.

“Is it going to be an existential threat to have stronger privacy regulations? No,” he said. “Is it going to be an existential threat to allow other platforms to emerge and have some competition? No. Is it going to be an existential threat to think about job creation and what you could do, and the fact that John Lewis is saying ‘technology rights are the new civil rights,’ and you have whole communities that don’t have equity in the new economy? Is that gonna kill you, to do things there? No!”